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U.S. Constitution 3/5th-clause and Black Patriots

Updated on September 21, 2013

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)

Brady-Handy Photograph Collection (Library of Congress)
Brady-Handy Photograph Collection (Library of Congress) | Source

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.

Is the U.S. Constitution a document that is

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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.

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    • Ms Dee profile imageAUTHOR

      Deidre Shelden 

      6 years ago from Texas, USA

      Lisa K, great background context explaining why the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution really are not pro-slavery. I see what you see too, that the Democrat Party uses America's slavery past against our black citizens.

    • profile image

      Lisa K 

      6 years ago

      .. I misspoke, "Life Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness" is in the Declaration of Independence. However, the point that Jefferson took out the word "Property" because it would include owning slaves, to open the future for ending slavery still applies. ... We need to educate our children, the public to the true meaning of our documents, the fundamentals of our Representative Republic, the true meanings AND RESPONSIBILITIES of Liberty, our Capitalistic Free Market system, and life in our Free Society, which is being threatened by the current administration.

    • profile image

      Lisa K 

      6 years ago

      Jefferson knew if he tried to end slavery, the document would have been rejected all together. But he did take out the word PROPERTY (knew that meant slaves too) out of "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness" because it would open the gate for future ending of slavery. America, like ALL other cultures throughout time, HAD slavery, it is NOT exclusive to Blacks. We showed the world how to end it (along with England), and to establish a society based on freedom for EACH American citizen. In these modern times, there still are, sadly, cultures who still have slavery, including BLACK on BLACK societies in Africa. That's who people should be criticizing. The socialist Progressives, the "Shadow Party" who has taken over the Democrat Party has, for many years, told the public & baited the Black citizens to use this past as a trophy of victimization and entitlements of continued reparations, to create a 'grateful victim' base of voters-a worse form of slavery because they don't even realize they are being enslaved-a social/economic/mental slavery! Read 2 important books: "Stolen History" and "The Shadow Party."

    • Ms Dee profile imageAUTHOR

      Deidre Shelden 

      7 years ago from Texas, USA

      kashannkilson, it is so nice to have your comment! I was surprised to see on this hub's poll that there were some votes thinking the Constitution is pro-slavery. Maybe they didn't read the hub? So, I appreciate your explaining it in your words. Yes, much of America was pro-slavery. Amen! Today, at least, America is anti-slavery. It's taken a VERY long time for the country to move on from there and is much better than when I was growing up. I'm sure many would say it still has a long ways to go, but at least it seems it is moving in the right direction on this particular issue.

    • kashannkilson profile image


      7 years ago from Portland, OR

      Ms. Dee I love that you continue to write about this stuff- these are conversations are greatly needed.

      Regarding the Hub at hand: here's the actual sentence in question from Article I Section 2 from the Constitution:

      "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."

      This addition of this line was actual quite a contention point as the Constitution was being written- the delegates opposed to slavery didn't want slaves counted at all, the South wanted each slave to be counted as a whole person. The reasoning was simple- the more "people" in a state, the more representation in the house and electoral college.

      Really it was a battle to keep the southern states from having disproportionate voting power.

      So yeah it's technically accurate to say the Constitution does not imply that slaves were only 3/5 of a person, but the point is that while the Constitution in itself wasn't pro-slavery, the majority of the United States was in fact pro-slavery.

      Slaves had NO RIGHTS at all, much less the right to vote. They could bought, sold, beaten, and killed with no consequence.

      And sure, guys like Washington, Jefferson, and Patrick Henry bemoaned slavery much like smokers bemoan cigarettes- yeah we shouldn't do it, but we just can't stop. They continued to own, buy, and sell slaves moral objections or not.

      All that being said, the good news is that you and I have never met a slave owner nor a slave. We live in an America today that finds such a concept abhorrent and disgusting and it's ground that ,God willing, we don't have to ever walk again.

      Slavery was real. It happened. For a long time it was an accepted part of society. We don't have to run from it, it was what it was, we dealt with it and moved on.

    • Ms Dee profile imageAUTHOR

      Deidre Shelden 

      7 years ago from Texas, USA

      What a privilege, Dexter, to have your comment here with your experience. It is so different from mine that I feel my blindness to what has happened to a large section of our nation's citizens. Thank you so much for your information--facts that awaken me so much further to the appalling treatment of fellow human beings in our own country. Yes, good intentions are not enough and need to be followed be good actions and honest and upright treatment of others. I hope you keep sharing here from your experience, and maybe more little awakenings, in addition to my own, will happen.

    • Dexter Yarbrough profile image

      Dexter Yarbrough 

      7 years ago from United States

      Hi Ms. Dee! Congratulations on a great hub. As an fyi, in the black community (I grew up in Chicago) we were taught that blacks were considered 3/5th's of a human being by the US Constitution and many still hold that belief - mainly because the wording is still in the document (aside from the amendments that changed it).

      As far as the US Constitution being an anti-slavery document, many blacks (including myself) could be persuaded that that the intention may be there but the actions of many of the signers, as well as the people - North and South - were diametrically different. It is kind of like going to a restaurant and telling my blind date that I am a vegetarian, but when the waitress comes to the table, I order a T-Bone steak. My date would see me as disingenuous.

      As such, while the document may have great intentions, those intentions are only as good as the paper it was written on when they aren't backed by actions. Some might conclude that a civil war was fought to bring justice (that is debatable, along with Abe Lincoln's true feelings towards black people) but the fact remains that if black people weren't enslaved in the first place, a war would not have been necessary.

      In any event, I would like to share your hub with others. I think many other blacks would be interested in knowing the truth about the 3/5th's determination.

      Thanks again for this "series" Ms. Dee. You have done a great job in educating us about the true contributions of black people to this nation.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Excellent hub Ms Dee.

      If I only read the first paragraph of your hub, I would have voted that the U.S. constitution was pro slavery.

      I thought what a bunch of nonsense that blacks were considered only 3/5 of a person. That is just plain dumb.

    • RealHousewife profile image

      Kelly Umphenour 

      7 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      Right I was just saying that if we looked back at the texts that we learned from in school - we'd all get a good laugh!!

    • Ms Dee profile imageAUTHOR

      Deidre Shelden 

      7 years ago from Texas, USA

      TMM, good to have your read and additional information. Yes, having looked at "the Frankfurt School and Cultural marxism" I became even more motivated to do my little part by putting out hubs like this on our REAL American history. Our nation has been attacked for decades (over a century) at our core--our founding values and beliefs have been the target, shoving mention of them out of the public arena.

    • TMMason profile image


      7 years ago from FL.

      Have you taken the time to look into the Frankfurt School and Cultural marxism? They are who have hidden and twisted our history.

    • FitnezzJim profile image


      7 years ago from Fredericksburg, Virginia

      Good Hub, Ms Dee. My opinion is that this particular history lesson needs to be presented better and more factually in our schools.

      I would have also mentioned that the three-fifths clause was only in effect for the first century or so in our Countries life. It took a Civil War to correct it, and the correction has been in effect far longer than the original clause. As such, folks who raise the concern of a three-fifths clause as evidence supporting how they feel about slavery are engaging in the time honored practice of 'beating a dead horse'. The current version of the Constitution is maintained at one of our governments websites,

    • SubRon7 profile image

      James W. Nelson 

      7 years ago from eastern North Dakota

      Nice to have you filling in for the history we were not taught, MsDee. Good job.

    • Ms Dee profile imageAUTHOR

      Deidre Shelden 

      7 years ago from Texas, USA

      TMM, thanks so much for your comment. This is another part of our hidden history, isn't it. Yes, we need more patriotic citizens who will make known and stand on our nation's original founding principles.

    • TMMason profile image


      7 years ago from FL.

      The American left and Progressives have intentionally twisted the intent of this clause, and its reasoning, so as to spew their, "America is racist..." BS.

      A shame what we have allowed them to do to this nation and our childrens minds.

      Excellent Hub, Ms Dee.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      7 years ago from Sunny Florida

      This is a very interesting hub and not something that was taught when I went to school. I enjoyed it very much.


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