On Easter Sunday the Obama family went to church at Shiloh Baptist Church to hear a sermon by Pastor Wallace Charles Smith. Pastor Smith has a record of pushing a very race baited agenda. During his sermon, Smith chose to attack the original Constitution of the United States, and our founders. He spoke of the 3/5th person classification in the Constitution for slaves.
One of the biggest problems we have in trying to learn our American history is the lack of knowledge and understanding of the broader story surrounding the topic. This one issue has been lifted out by so many with agendas to promote. Most people know very little about what actually happened in any historical context.
Let's take a look at this one issue, but let's not look back with our own current understanding and experiences and try to project them on those debating the draft of that Constitution that hot summer of 1787. The slave debate was already between the North and the South was already under way, it had been 168 years since slavery began in America in 1619. Keep in mind it was deeply entrenched long before the idea of a free Republic was even dreamed of.
Frankly it was a miracle that the many diverse interests in that room were able to create a brand new nation, birthed the most successful Republic in the history of man that summer. There were large states and small, heavily populated and sparsely populated, there were business driven states, and agrarian driven, and of course slave states and free states, all who demanded that their interests were considered and protected.
The Senate was created with two Senators who would be chosen by the States to represent their own interests. Since these men would be chosen by the States and appointed to the Senate, they knew that they would be men of means and stature in their states. So the Senate was designed to give the small states equal say since all would have two votes. It was also created as a voice for the wealthy of the nation.
The House was created with a representative for up to thirty thousand citizens. So this was a nod to the large or heavily populated states since they would dominate the votes in the House. Each state was only guaranteed one Congressman for those small states. The House was generally considered a place for those who were not necessarily of wealth, thus the People's House.
Now at first glance the idea of only classifying men and women as only 3/5ths of a person sounds like the result of glaring racism. However, as Paul Harvey would say, the rest of the story. Why did this 3/5ths rule come about?
The Southern, slave holding states, wanted to have each slave counted as a person. This was because at that time there were more slaves in the South than there were free men. By counting the slaves for the House Districting would guarantee the South would dominate the House of Representatives and would be able to push through whatever agenda they wanted.
Most of those from the North in that room were either outright anti-slavery, or leaning strongly that way. What they didn't want was giving the South a free hand in being able to vote every new state that would be added later as a slave state. They hoped to limit the growth of slavery, or even eliminate it. The hostility between the representatives from the North and South during this debate was so hot that they realized it was going to kill the Constitution before it began. To keep the Constitution alive they had to actually write a rule that the very word "slavery" would not be allowed to be spoken during the rest of the Constitutional Convention or in the House or Senate for the next twenty years. They were terrified that if it was spoken the debate would get so hot that the South would pull out and no longer join the new Republic.
The 3/5 rule was a final compromise to keep the Southern Slave states from forever controlling the House, but it gave them a dominant position at first, creating a situation where the Southern States would actually ratify the Constitution and make The United States of America a reality.
The irony, what appears to cast the U. S. Constitution a racist document by classifying African Americans as 3/5ths of a person was actually designed to ultimately keep slavery from spreading and growing in America. Those who held slaves, wanted to continue and grow it as an institution wanted each slave counted as a full person. It was those who wanted to end slavery and curtail it's growth didn't want to count them at all, but settled on 3/5ths.
For us to understand our history, we need to learn more about it than the headlines.