The 3/5ths rule in the U.S. Constitution

In today’s excerpt – in the U.S. Constitution, Indians who renounced their tribe were counted toward a given state’s population for the purpose of determining how many members of the House of Representatives each state had. “Other persons,” the Constitution’s euphemism for “slaves,” counted as 3/5 of a person for this same purpose. The debate over this horrible compromise unleashed a level of vitriol among the framers that barely subsided before it erupted again scarcely more than thirty years later and then finally erupted in the American Civil War:

United States Constitution, Article I, Section 2: Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, 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 other Persons.

“Census enumerators began to include Indians who had renounced their tribes in 1860. The instructions provided for the 1880 census said ‘Indians not taxed’ meant ‘Indians living on reservations under the care of Government agents, or roaming individually, or in bands, over unsettled tracts of country.’ In 1940 the government did away with the category ‘Indians not taxed.’

“[The ‘other persons’ clause] is one of the most infamous clauses in the Constitution, because not only did it countenance slavery but it was seen as doubly demeaning to the men and women held in bondage that they
were each counted as but three-fifths of a person. The political dynamic behind this clause, however, is full of ironies. It was the North that opposed counting a slave as a whole person. It was the South that wanted slaves to be so counted. The three-fifths compromise meant that the ill-gotten gains of slavery were no longer solely financial but that slaveholders were to receive political gains as well – the more slaves a state had, the more representatives it would have in the Congress. …

“Under the Articles [of Confederation that preceded the Constitution], in which each state had the same representation, there was no incentive to show a large population, and states faced the threat of a population-based tax. So they had an incentive to understate their true population. The Constitution changed the equation. Suddenly representation in Congress was no longer equal for each state but was based on population. So states now had reason to bolster their population. The issue was an existential one for the country. William Davie of North Carolina is recorded in The Records of the Federal Convention as saying that he ‘saw that it was meant by some gentlemen to
deprive the Southern States of any share of Representation for their blacks. He was sure that N. Carola. would never confederate on any terms that did not rate them at least as 3/5. If the Eastern States meant therefore to exclude them altogether the business was at an end.’

“Of the three-fifths clause, Gouverneur Morris, the Pennsylvania
delegate, said this to the Convention: ‘The admission of slaves into the
Representation when fairly explained comes to this: that the inhabitant
of Georgia and S. C. who goes to the Coast of Africa, and in defiance
of the most sacred laws of humanity tears away his fellow creatures
from their dearest connections & damns them to the most cruel
bondages, shall have more votes in a Govt. instituted for protection of
the rights of mankind, than the Citizen of Pa or N. Jersey who views
with a laudable horror, so nefarious a practice.’ The three-fifths clause,
Luther Martin declared in The Genuine Information, involved ‘the
absurdity of increasing the power of a State in making laws for free
men in proportion as that State violated the rights of freedom.’ ”

Seth Lipsky, The Citizen’s Constitution, Basic Books, Copyright 2009 by Seth Lipsky, pp. 7-8.

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Delanceyplace is a brief daily email with an excerpt or quote we view as interesting or noteworthy, offered with commentary to provide context. There is no theme, except that most excerpts will come from a non-fiction work, mainly works of history, and we hope will have a more universal relevance than simply the subject of the book from which they came.

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Published in: on March 10, 2010 at 12:58 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Collapse of Long-Standing Empires

Excerpt from Delancey Place

In todays excerpt – the collapse of a long-standing empire has very often occurred in a very short span of time:

“What is most striking about [Rome’s] history is the speed of the Roman Empire’s collapse. In just five decades, the population of Rome itself fell by three-quarters. Archaeological evidence from the late fifth century – inferior housing, more primitive pottery, fewer coins, smaller cattle – hows that the benign influence of Rome diminished rapidly in the rest of western Europe. What [Oxford historian Brian] Ward-Perkins calls ‘the end of civilization’ came within the span of a single generation.

“Other great empires have suffered comparably swift collapses. The Ming dynasty in China began in 1368, when the warlord Zhu Yuanzhang renamed himself Emperor Hongwu, the word hongwu meaning ‘vast military power.’ For most of the next three centuries, Ming China was the world’s most sophisticated civilization by almost any measure. Then, in the mid-seventeenth century, political factionalism, fiscal crisis, famine, and epidemic disease opened the door to rebellion within and incursions from without. In 1636, the Manchu leader Huang Taiji proclaimed the advent of the Qing dynasty. Just eight years later, Beijing, the magnificent Ming capital, fell to the rebel leader Li Zicheng, and the last Ming emperor hanged himself out of shame. The transition from Confucian equipoise to anarchy took little more than a decade.

“In much the same way, the Bourbon monarchy in France passed from triumph to terror with astonishing rapidity. French intervention on the side of the colonial rebels against British rule in North America in the 1770s seemed like a good idea at the time – a chance for revenge after Great Britain’s victory in the Seven Years’ War a decade earlier – but it served to tip French finances into a critical state. In May 1789, the summoning of the Estates-General, France’s long-dormant representative assembly, unleashed a political chain reaction that led to a swift collapse of royal legitimacy in France. Only four years later, in January 1793, Louis XVI was decapitated by guillotine. …

“The sun set on the British Empire almost as suddenly. In February 1945, Prime Minister Winston Churchill was at Yalta, dividing up the world with U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin. As World War II was ending, he was swept from office in the July 1945 general election. Within a decade, the United Kingdom had conceded independence to Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma, Egypt, Eritrea, India, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Libya, Madagascar, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. The Suez crisis in 1956 proved that the United Kingdom could not act in defiance of the United States in the Middle East, setting the seal on the end of empire. Although it took until the 1960s for independence to reach sub-Saharan Africa and the remnants of colonial rule east of the Suez, the United Kingdom’s [centuries old] age of hegemony was effectively over less than a dozen years after its victories over Germany and Japan.

“The most recent and familiar example of precipitous decline is, of course, the collapse of the Soviet Union. With the benefit of hindsight, historians have traced all kinds of rot within the Soviet system back to the Brezhnev era and beyond. Perhaps, as the historian and political scientist Stephen Kotkin has argued, it was only the high oil prices of the 1970s that ‘averted Armageddon.’ But this did not seem to be the case at the time. In March 1985, when Mikhail Gorbachev became general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, the CIA estimated the Soviet economy to be approximately 60 percent the size of the U.S. economy. This estimate is now known to have been wrong, but the Soviet nuclear arsenal was genuinely larger than the U.S. stockpile. And governments in what was then called the Third World, from Vietnam to Nicaragua, had been tilting in the Soviets’ favor for most of the previous 20 years. Yet less than five years after Gorbachev took power, the Soviet imperium in central and Eastern Europe had fallen apart, followed by the Soviet Union itself in 1991. If ever an empire fell off a cliff – rather than gently declining – it was the one founded by Lenin.”

Niall Ferguson, Complexity and Collapse, Foreign Affairs, March/April 2010, pp. 28-30.

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Published in: on March 2, 2010 at 10:45 am  Leave a Comment  
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