3/5 clause

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    I work in a school and overheard a history teacher telling a student that the Southern delegates were against counting slaves as a whole person because they considered them inferior. This doesn’t make sense to me. It seems that they would be trying to get as much representation as possible, and that the Northern delegates would be the ones against counting them as whole persons. If there’s one thing I know about the history of African-Americans in this country, it is that they have continually been used as political pawns by whoever could use them to their own advantage, and that continues in the present day. What’s the real story here?


    Most people, even “history teachers,” have no idea why the compromise was written into the Constitution nor the debate surrounding the issue.

    Southerners wished to count slaves as a whole person at the Philadelphia Convention, with one delegate from North Carolina even calling them “rational beings,” while Northerners rejected the idea and insisted that slaves were nothing more than chattel. You are correct that the heart of the debate was representation, and the underlying issue was specifically the taxing power of the government. Southerners feared that the North would tax them out of existence with direct taxes and navigation laws; thus, a higher population toward representation meant a better chance of blocking these laws. Mason even proposed a prohibition on navigation laws without a 2/3 majority. The 3/5 compromise was born out of an agreement between the SC and CT delegations.


    At one point, James Madison said slaves ought to count 100% for purposes of apportioning the upper house and 0% for purposes of apportioning the lower. In the end, Southerners wanted to count slaves 100% for representation purposes, while Northerners wanted to count them 100% for taxation purposes. The result was the 3/5 compromise.


    Did the Confederate Constitution have a 3/5 clause?


    Yes, the Confederate Constitution contained a 3/5 clause.

    “Representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several States, which may be included within this Confederacy, according to their respective numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole number of free persons, including those bound to service for a term of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three-fifths of all slaves.”

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