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America's Counter-Revolution
The Constitution Revisited

From the back cover:

This book challenges the assumption that the Constitution was a landmark in the struggle for liberty. Instead, Sheldon Richman argues, it was the product of a counter-revolution, a setback for the radicalism represented by America’s break with the British empire. Drawing on careful, credible historical scholarship and contemporary political analysis, Richman suggests that this counter-revolution was the work of conservatives who sought a nation of “power, consequence, and grandeur.” America’s Counter-Revolution makes a persuasive case that the Constitution was a victory not for liberty but for the agendas and interests of a militaristic, aristocratic, privilege-seeking ruling class.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Can We Finally Understand the Three-Fifths Clause?

Considering how often the original Constitution's three-fifths clause is invoked in the fight against racism, you'd think people would look it up. Its point was not that African-American slaves were three-fifths human. How could it be? The slaveholders wanted them counted as five-fifths human! The clause related to apportionment for determining the states' representation in the new House of Representatives. Naturally, the slaveholders wanted slaves counted as whole persons because that would maximize the slave states' political power. But because of push-back by the Northern states, the slaveholders had to settle for three-fifths. It was a compromise from their demand for five-fifths. Zero, which the abolitionists would have wanted, was not a live option.

The flaw in the slaveholders' position was that they wanted captive African Americans to be counted as whole persons only for representation purposes. The abolitionists wanted them counted as whole persons in every respect; that is, they wanted them freed.


Joe Cobb said...

It is of course true the slaves were to be counted as 3/5 for the apportionment for the House of Representatives, but the other purpose of Article I, Section 2, is that TAXES would be collected on a "per capita" basis when the Congress levied an "apportionment" on the State governments, for Federal revenue needs. This should be the system we use today, but the 16th Amendment specifically repealed the tax-apportionment detail.

Sheldon Richman said...

The 16th amendment removed the apportionment requirement for the income tax, but the income tax per se was never construed by the courts as a direct tax and hence did not need apportionment. The income tax was always regarded as an indirect tax, not requiring apportionment. What triggered the amendment was the Pollock Supreme Court case (1895), which had ruled that a tax on property income functioned like a direct tax on property and hence required apportionment. (It's a myth that the Court ever said a tax on wages and salaries was unconstitutional.)