Ring Around the Phonics

article I

Slavery was a horrific practice. But there has been a lot of confusion about what the Constitution actually says about slavery. . So I decided to read the early documents rather than recent assumptions. I share it with you here.

Does the Constitution say “slaves are three fifths of a person”? You will not find the word slave or slavery in the Constitution anywhere. Article I Section 2 is known as the Three Fifths Clause. Here is what it says:

Article I Section 2 of the Constitution states:

The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States, and the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature.

No Person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained to the Age of twenty five Years, and been seven Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State in which he shall be chosen.

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. The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct. The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative; and until such enumeration shall be made, the State of New Hampshire shall be entitled to chuse three, Massachusetts eight, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations one, Connecticut five, New-York six, New Jersey four, Pennsylvania eight, Delaware one, Maryland six, Virginia ten, North Carolina five, South Carolina five, and Georgia three.

When vacancies happen in the Representation from any State, the Executive Authority thereof shall issue Writs of Election to fill such Vacancies.

The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.

Not About Slavery?

One can easily make some false conclusions from Article I Section 2. But not if you know where that Article is located in the Constitution. It is also important to know a little history.

1. Article I (Section 2) was not about slavery. Check it out: it is all about State’s representation in the House of Representatives. That is where it’s location is. Slavery only entered the discussion as a result of an attempted power grab. Each State wanted to make sure they had ample voting powers. Slave states sought to have greater voting powers by counting slaves even though they could not vote.

2. The State Representatives were in a heated discussion that almost killed the Union. Slave states insisted on a representation strictly according to the number of inhabitants, whether they were slaves or free persons. The non-slave States wanted representation according to the number of free persons. The latter did not want any slave counted. Non-slave states argued that if you can count your slaves, we can count our horses.

So the former version would have given the slave holding States a big advantage, and encouraged more slavery. By simply importing more slaves, a State could have easily increased their representation, and power in the House Of Representatives. The disagreement was so volatile that it nearly ended the creation of the Constitution of these United States.

3. They finally reached a compromise. Three fifths of slaves were to be counted as the basis of the appointment of Representatives. Interesting note: They purposely did not use the word slaves for reasons to be explained below. However “other persons” did referr to the slave population.

Why the word slavery is not in the Constitution:

You will not find the word “slavery” in the original Constitution. There is a reason for that. The framers did not want the Constitution to enforce or endorse slavery. In fact; George Mason, said:

“[Slavery is a] slow Poison, which is daily contaminating the Minds & Morals of our People. Every Gentleman here is born a petty Tyrant…. And in such an infernal School are to be educated our future Legislators & Rulers. So some founders argued to preserve slavery in the colonies, but others strongly opposed it. “

Did you know?

The Constitution Was Written To End Slave Trade in 1808

Article I Section 9: “The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each person.”

Like most central planning, it had unintended consequences. It did make importing slaves illegal. But slave owners began using slaves as breeders. That drove prices and profits up.

“James Madison is known as the architect of the Constitution“. He said,

“Twenty years will produce all the mischief that can be apprehended from the liberty to import slaves. So long a term will be more dishonorable to the American character than to say nothing about it in the Constitution”


In his book “The Familiar Exposition Of The American Constitution”, Justice Joseph Story writes:

“This clause (Article I section 9) as is manifest from its language, was designed solely to reserve to the Southern states, for a limited period, the right to import slaves. It is to the honor of America, that she should have set the first example on interdicting and abolishing the slave trade, in modern times.” (pg 185).

He further writes (on page 186): “And it ought be considered as a great point gained, in favor of humanity, that a period of twenty years should enable Congress to terminate, in America (as Congress in fact has terminated the African slave trade) a traffic, which has so long and so loudly upbraided the morals and justice of modern nations.” It is interesting to note: that his book was written well before the Civil War.

Note: Joseph Story was Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1811 to 1845. He was a child of the American Revolution, born three years after the Declaration of Independence. His book was once required reading in our schools.

Note: Slaves were smuggled after 1808. But it was unconstitutional to do so. It was illegal. Any group that becomes too big and powerful attracts oppressors especially government. That is why it is so very important to have a Limited government. The colonists, having freed themselves form British oppression, understood that.

Wait a minute. did you think the Revolution was about a tea tax? Not hardly. The Declaration of Independence explains some of the things the colonists suffered under King George.

The video below explains even more about slavery in the U.S.. Frederick Douglas was once a slave. He worked in the underground railroad to free slaves. This is what Fredric Douglas said about the Constitution and slavery.

No Reading Among Slaves

Now one can easily understand why the slave owners did not want blacks taught to read. They would have understood what Martin Luther King understood: The Constitution does not enforce itself.

“In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men – yes, black men as well as white men – would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness… America has given the Negro people (His words not mine) a bad check, a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.” ….Martin Luther King

The Underground Railroad and the Founders:

Visiting a black college had a profound effect on Ben Franklin. Several years later he joined an abolition Society. Franklin came to believe that slavery should be ended, and eventually freed his own two slaves.

American history is not perfect. We had Founding Fathers who practiced slavery. But why do we no longer hear about those who opposed it? Why do we not hear about those who participated in the “Underground Railroad” to free the slaves? Why do public schools no longer teach the Constitution?

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