The Constitution: Three Fifths

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. (Previous sentence amended by the 14th Amendment, Section 2)

Although a person didn’t have to be royalty (or rich) to be part of Congress, there were still barriers. Native Americans (Indians), for example weren’t taxed so they didn’t get to be counted as part of the census—they’re not going to be part of Congress. Originally, representatives and “direct taxes” (whatever that means—apparently it could cover just about any form of taxes) to the government among the States of the Union (that being the States which are United under this Constitution thus forming a New Government), were figured out by the addition (or a counting) of all free individuals—including those who are contractually not-Free for a set amount of years.

And it’s here where we come face to face with the original 3/5th Person rule Compromise.

People like to make up things and say that slave owners counted their slaves as sub-human…only 3/5th of a person (like this recent New York Times editorial implies Republicans might push for by reading the Constitution:

In any case, it is a presumptuous and self-righteous act, suggesting that they alone understand the true meaning of a text that the founders wisely left open to generations of reinterpretation. Certainly the Republican leadership is not trying to suggest that African-Americans still be counted as three-fifths of a person.)

Get this: slave owners wanted slaves counted as full persons; abolitionists wanted them rated as non-persons.


Well, note what’s going on in this section. If you have a State that has more persons counted in a census, you get more representative power in Congress. If you get more representative power in Congress, you have the ability to ensure that the votes are favorable in your direction.

Abolitionists didn’t want to give the slavery-states that Representative power but there was no conceivable way, without destroying the infant Union before it was full born, to deny them some sort of power. Plus, the South had more clout: they were richer, smarter, and fairly powerful. The 3/5th of a person Compromise allowed the South to have their voting power and gave the North some sort of comfort, albeit with some very unfortunate repercussions.

The charts I made earlier can’t be made to work everywhere, I think I can use them here by saying that the Compromise could have been seen as an expansion of State Power but it was really just a way of playing the system.


The North wound up getting more people and thus more Representatives. If a slave counts as 3/5th of a person, that means the South needed to increase the amount of slaves to ensure they maintain representative power. A slave owner with 100 slaves will need to up his holdings by 67 slaves to ensure he has a good number added to the census. With no language in the constitution addressing the issue (say a degrading scale or something which would make having more slaves eventually a very costly taxable commodity but the South wouldn’t have cared about because they would have been so ahead of the game they could’ve fixed it later or something), the slave business boomed.

That’s overly simplistic though since I’m not really dealing with the history of slavery in the United States but rather reading the Constitution. Anyway, the 14th Amendment adjusted some of that language from this section:

14th Amendment, Section 2. Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed.

This, of course, occurred because of the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th amendment which reads:

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

It was a point in American History where, if the Constitution were not ratified by the Southern States we would have been worrying about the wealthy Confederate States of America. But even with the ratified Constitution bearing the 13th Amendment we still had problems. Blacks were free, surely, but what rights did they have? Note:

But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice-President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.

Okay, so males over 21 have to be allowed to vote or the state takes a hit regarding their Representation and census counting. Hrmm, that doesn’t seem to get rid of the problem, does it? I mean, if you were a former slave-owner, what would scare you more: taking a Representative hit or having the people you used to own have the right to put new Representatives in place? Sure, no one wants to lose Representatives but Ex-Slaves With Power would have been frightening.

Enter the 15th, the last of the Reconstruction Amendments.

15th Amendment, Section 1 and 2.  The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Now it’s made explicit: race, color, or previous state of servitude allows these persons, which are counted and added to the representative base, to vote. To be explicit, their right to vote cannot “be denied or shortened.” They have equal protection under the Constitution.

Of course, that didn’t end things in the South. The ex-slaves and blacks could still be counted as part of the census regarding the amount of Representatives, but they figured out all sorts of ways to stop them from voting. The burning cross on the lawn warned “You’re free to vote, but there will be consequences.”

Both of these Amendments were furthered by the 19th Amendment which states as follows:

19th Amendment The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

So now, we see that the right of citizens (which is the right to vote for representatives and to be taxed as a whole person) is extended to women. Congress is also granted power to implement laws to ensure that this right is not denied.

You would think that this is a power that infringes on the freedoms of the American public, but it technically isn’t. What the Government essentially said was “We are not a government that has Slavery” and “We are a government that doesn’t deny voting from its citizens” and the states ratified those things.

There’s a lot more that can be said but I want to keep trucking along.