Black citizens have been a “problem to be solved” since the inception of this country. The Founders never intended to include black Americans as American citizens. This is not a shock to anyone paying attention. During the Constitutional Convention, the nature of the problem had nothing to do with the humanity of black citizens – the morality of which, had already been decided – but whether to classify us as “property” or include us as members of households.
Property could not be counted for the purposes of congressional representation. On the other hand, male members of households could potentially be afforded the right to vote. Southern states had a vested interest in maximizing their overall representation and in suppressing the black vote. The northern states interests were diametrically opposed to augmenting the southern vote and there were some calls among northern Abolitionists to grant full citizenship to the enslaved.
What to do?
Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3 of the US Constitution states:
“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.”
“…three fifths of all other Persons”… they couldn’t even say it with their full chest. The Three-Fifths clause simultaneously increased the representation of southern states while it reduced the corresponding tax burden. Classic having your cake and eating it too.
How did representatives from northern states agree to selling out the masses of black humanity held in bondage in the south? I think it was for the sake of unity, the same principle that continues to betray black citizens to this day, and since black people aren’t considered fully human, it’s easier to betray us.
In “The Souls of Black Folk”, W.E.B DuBois described black humanity as a “third thing” or tertium quid:
“The second thought streaming from the death-ship and the curving river is the thought of the older South,–the sincere and passionate belief that somewhere between men and cattle, God created a tertium quid, and called it a Negro,–a clownish, simple creature, at times even lovable within its limitations, but straitly foreordained to walk within the Veil. To be sure, behind the thought lurks the afterthought,–some of them with favoring chance might become men, but in sheer self-defence we dare not let them, and we build about them walls so high, and hang between them and the light a veil so thick, that they shall not even think of breaking through.“
Betrayal is very common occurrence among peers, a staple theme running through all literature. How simpler then to betray a class of people who aren’t even considered fully human? In point of fact, the purpose of the Three-Fifths compromise for the northern states was to blunt the effect of the larger populations of the southern states. However, had the north pressed to declare enslaved black Americans as “property” the south would have been allotted 33 representatives in the House of Representatives. But with the Compromise, that number rose to 47.
Ironically, Frederick Douglass defends the Three-Fifths Compromise in a speech before the Scottish Anti-Slavery Society in Glasgow, Scotland on March 26, 1860:
“A black man in a free State is worth just two-fifths more than a black man in a slave State, as a basis of political power under the Constitution. Therefore, instead of encouraging slavery, the Constitution encourages freedom by giving an increase of “two-fifths” of political power to free over slave States. So much for the three-fifths clause; taking it at is worst, it still leans to freedom, not slavery; for, be it remembered that the Constitution nowhere forbids a coloured man to vote.“
I’d note however that he implicitly acknowledges the innate humanity of black citizens and, in my view, provides an intention toward black freedom that the drafters never really intended. At first glance, a “left-handed compliment” at best, or perhaps, the ultimate expression of “finding the silver lining.” However, I believe, in fact, that it’s a brilliant use of rhetoric. Douglass plainly states that freedom is superior to slavery and “obviously” the aim of the Constitution. Furthermore, nowhere in the Constitution is there an abolition against the black vote. So, therefore…
The south hasn’t needed masses of black labor for quite some time which is increasingly the issue with labor in general.
What do you do with people you no longer need?
If said people aren’t recognized as fully human in the first place, it’s fairly easy for the institutions which have historically exploited them to dispose of them by the most expedient (and often profitable) means possible and for historical “allies” to look the other way.