Wednesday, September 14, 2005

For Constitution Day

This September 17th, let's not forget to celebrate that day in 1787 when African Americans each became three-fifths of a person and North America acquired that peerless political plumbing that is the Senate, the House, the Presidency, the Supreme Court and the rules pertaining thereto. Wahoo! Do treat yourself to a read.

Alternatively, you might wait until December 15 and honor the "Bill of Rights"--the 1791 legislative origin of our top ten amendments and source of almost everything good and interesting about the U.S. Constitution.

Or how about we take Constitution Day to stand for the principle that we can always do better, here in the United States--even when we get it wrong the first time--and so let's all continue to try.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...
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Rob Helpy-Chalk said...
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Ronald Coleman said...

The Constitution never "declared," decreed or enacted African Americans, blacks or even slaves to be three-fifths of a person.

Murky Thoughts said...

Article I, Clause 3 says:
"Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States...according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons...and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons."

So African Americans each counted only three fifths toward a state's "Numbers." Numbers of what? People! For the purposes of political representation in the thus constituted government by and for the people, we're to count each voting white man, his wife and all of his children as one member apiece of the people, but we reckon his slaves at three fifths.

Ronald Coleman said...

No, "not numbers of what? People!" Numbers of representatives who, as we see, can barely be people at all!

That doesn't mean we give the Constitution a medal. It failed to address the issue of slavery, in fact essentially preserved it, and had many defects which, as you note, the Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments cured. But you don't need to oversell the point and misrepresent what Art. I, Clause 3 meant. It was simply a way to ensure that slaves, who as you know were disenfranchised "chattel," would not result in a gross overcount of population in the Southern States and thereby give them what you must agree would be a very undeserved advantage in the House of Representatives and the Electoral College -- which would not have done the slaves any good at all (far from it, right?).

And, incidentally, this clause does not say a thing about "African Americans," does it? Slaves are, of course, the "other persons." There is no racial component to "other persons," i.e., other than "free persons." As you know, many slaves were equally white, or even more white, than they were black. And black citizens of any state would not have been affected by Art. I, Cl. 3 at all!

See you on the other side...

Murky Thoughts said...

"which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons"

Nope, "Number" does not represent the representatives. The Number in the state is that from which you calculate how many reps that state gets in the federal capital.

Murky Thoughts said...

Just to be explicit, I isolated that clause because it makes no sense if we read "Number" to reference the representatives, so I consider it proof that that would be a misreading

Murky Thoughts said...

...where by "that clause" I mean "

"which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons"

Now I see how Clinton got into trouble.