U.S. Constitution 3/5th-clause and Black Patriots
Many argue that the U.S. Constitution is a pro-slavery document. Their proof is the 3/5 of a person clause in Article 1, Section 2, and claim that this is saying blacks are only 3/5 of a person. America has had, by contrast, many courageous and effective black leaders that played pivotal roles in our government as early as the late 1800s.
Blacks and whites worked together
Richard Allen (1760-1831) was raised as a slave on a Delaware plantation. However, he ended up founding the first black denomination in America, together with Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
Richard becomes a very zealous Christian when hears a visiting Methodist evangelist on the plantation preaching the Gospel. He went around telling the Gospel until even the slave master became a Christian. The slave master gives the slaves their freedom, and Richard then leaves and walks north to Philadelphia (then 40,000 population), where he eventually ends up preaching in a church to 2,000 people a week. That was a huge mega-church size back then and, by the way, it was a white church!
These two, Richard Allen and Dr. Rush, also teamed up together with Absalom Jones (1746-1818)—the first black bishop of the Episcopal Church—to treat much of Philadelphia during the yellow fever epidemic of 1793.
Dr. Rush, who came to be known as the father of American medicine, was one of the very few who had remained of Philadelphia’s 70 doctors. Most had left in fear of contracting the fever themselves, as no one knew back then what caused yellow fever and so terrorized everyone with about 120 deaths each day—killing one-tenth of the city.
Frederick Douglass (1818–1895)
The three-fifths clause pro-slavery or anti-slavery?
The U.S. Constitution was written in 1787, establishing the American political system. After the Civil War, some argued that the the 3/5 of a person clause made Constitution a pro-slavery document. Another black leader who very effectively played a pivotal role was one of the earliest black Americans to investigate this claim, the famous abolitionist, Frederick Douglass.
Douglass had been born into slavery and escaped to New York. After delivering an anti-slavery message in Massachusetts, he was immediately hired to work for the state’s anti-slavery society, serving too as a preacher at a Methodist church.
During this time he studied under abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison who taught him that the Constitution was a pro-slavery document. Douglass’ early speeches and writings reflected Garrison’s claim. However, as he studied the Constitution and the writings of those who wrote the Constitution, what he found revolutionized his thinking. He concluded that rather than a pro-slavery, it was an anti-slavery document!
Great Black Patriots and the 3/5th clause
The three-fifths clause is about representation
Douglass found that the Constitution referred only to the representation of people in government, not to the worth of any person.
The Constitution established that a state would receive one congressional representative for every 30,000 inhabitants. However, the southern states saw this as an opportunity to strengthen slavery, as slaves accounted for much of the southern population. The southern states wanted to count their slaves as regular inhabitants and, thereby,almost double the number of pro-slavery congressmen.
The anti-slavery Founders in the north strenuously objected to this, since slave owners in the south considered their slaves only as property. They would be using their property to increase their power in Congress and increase the possibility of slavery continuing. The fewer the pro-slavery representatives to Congress, the sooner slavery could be eradicated from the nation.
It was a compromise between north and south
The final compromise was that only 60% of the slave population counted toward representation, or 3/5ths of slaves would be counted to calculate the number of southern representatives to Congress. This helped to greatly reduce the number of representatives to Congress from states with extraordinarily large slave populations. It had nothing to do with the worth of any individual. In fact, freed blacks both in the north and the south were often extended the full rights of a citizen, and regularly voted.
This is why Frederick Douglass could emphatically declare that all of the original Constitution was anti-slavery. The Constitution the Founders wrote was anti-slavery, even before the Civil War and the constitutional amendments; 1865 13th Amendment ending slavery and the 1866 14th Amendment removing the 3/5th clause.
Historical figures like Douglass and others are not mentioned in our school textbooks. Why? You would have to talk about Christians, and talk about Christians is avoided in textbooks as much as possible. It is pretty hard to find black American patriots who were not Christians.
- The Constitution of the United States: Amendments 11-27
Read here the entire text of Amendments 11-27 made to the Constitution of the United States.
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