3/5th Clause in the Constitution. What is it and why was it put in?


Article I, Section. 2 [Slaves count as 3/5 persons]
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 [i.e., slaves].

This essentially says that the slaves were only 3/5ths of a person. And there was a reason for this to be put into the Constitution. But, before the explanation is put in here, here is what happened today in the House when the Constitution was read.

When the Constitution was read today, they left out parts because they were either supposedly offensive or outdated. One of the things they left out because it was offensive, was the 3/5th’s clause that was in Article 1 Section 2 of the Constitution.

The only way that this can be offensive is if you don’t know the history as to why this clause was put in the Constitution. And there was a reason. A good one.

The 3/5ths clause was put in the Constitution not to let everyone know that the slaves were not really human, but because if they were put in as 100% human, slavery would have been a lot harder to get rid of. That is the reason the founding fathers put that in the Constitution, to help get rid of slavery. Here is an explanation of it.


Delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 hotly debated the issue of slavery. George Mason of Virginia argued eloquently against slavery, warning his fellow delegates:

“Every master of slaves is born a petty tyrant. They bring the judgment of heaven on a country. As nations cannot be rewarded or punished in the next world, they must be in this. By an inevitable chain of causes and effects, providence punishes national sins by national calamities.”
Southern delegates, on the other hand, argued strenuously that the new government should not be allowed to interfere with the institution of slavery. Delegate John Rutledge of South Carolina, for example, told delegates that “religion and humanity have nothing to do with the questions” of whether the Constitution should protect slavery–it was simply a question of property rights.

The Constitution that the delegates proposed included several provisions that explicity recognized and protected slavery. Without these provisions, southern delegates would not support the new Constitution–and without the southern states on board, the Constitution had no chance of being ratified. Provisions allowed southern states to count slaves as 3/5 persons for purposes of apportionment in Congress (even though the slaves could not, of course, vote), expressly denied to Congress the power to prohibit importation of new slaves until 1808, and prevented free states from enacting laws protecting fugitive slaves.

Slavery, as all students of history know, continued to be a divisive issue up through the Civil War. Southern states worried that the balance in Congress might tip against slavery, and so were anxious to extend slavery to new territories and states. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 (enacted at a time when slave states and non-slave states had equal representation in the Senate) permitted slavery in Missouri, but prohibited slavery in portions of the Louisiana purchase north of 36°30′.

The Supreme Court, in its infamous decision in Dred Scott v Sandford (1857), ruled that Congress lacked the power to prohibit slavery in its territories. In so doing, Scott v Sandford invited slave owners to pour into the territories and pass pro-slavery constitutions. The decision made the Civil War inevitable. Chief Justice Roger Taney, writing for the majority in Scott, also concluded that people of African ancestry (whether free or a slave, including Scott) could never become “citizens” within the meaning of the Constitution, and hence lacked the ability to bring suit in federal court.

Dred Scott


Before the Civil War ended, Congress passed, and sent to the states for ratification, the Thirteenth Amendment which abolished “slavery” and “involuntary servitude” and authorized Congress to enact “appropriate legislation” implementing the abolition. The Amendment was understood to also make blacks citizens of the United States (overruling Dred Scott on that point). The House vote to propose the Thirteenth Amendment followed the Senate vote, and barely made the 2/3 majority requirement. When the vote was announced the galleries cheered, congressmen embraced and wept, and Capitol cannons boomed a 100-gun salute. Congressmena George Julian of Indiana wrote in his diary, “I have felt, ever since the vote, as if I were in a new country.” Ratification by the states quickly followed, and Secretary of State Seward proclaimed the Amendment adopted on December 18, 1865.

Less than a year after ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, Congress used its newly conferred power to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1866, giving black citizens “the same right in every state…to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, …to inherit, purchase, sell, and convey real and personal property; and to the full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of person and property as is enjoyed by white citizens.” Supporters if the 1866 law argued that its guarantees constituted “appropriate” means of “enforcing” the right of blacks not to be held in bondage.

The Thirteenth Amendment, unlike most provisions in the Constitution, is self-executing, in that it directly reaches-even without action by Congress- conduct by private individuals (slave holders). Because of this fact, Congress’s power under the Thirteenth Amendment allows it to punish forms of private conduct when it might not be able to do so under an amendment such as the Fourteenth, which restricts the conduct of states (prohibiting states from denying equal protection of the laws or due process).

The Thirteenth Amendment has not produced nearly the volume of Supreme Court decisions as has the Fourteenth Amendment, or even the Fifteenth Amendment (guaranteeing the vote to black citizens). In 1916, in Butler v Perry, the Court rejected a challenge brought by a Florida man to a state law that required all able-bodied men between 21 and 45, when called to do so, to work for up to 60 hours on maintaining public roads. The plaintiff, convicted of failing to put in his time on the roads and sentenced to jail, argued that the law mandated “involuntary servitude” in violation of the Thirteenth Amendment. Justice McReynolds, writing for the Court, concluded “the term ‘involuntary servitude’ was intended to cover those forms of compulsory labor akin to African slavery which, in practical operation, would tend to produce like undesirable results.”

Jones vs Alfred H. Mayer Co. (1968) arose when the developer of a surburban St. Louis subdivision refused to sell Joseph Jones a home because he was black. Jones sued the developer, alleging a violation of the 1866 Civil Rights Act (42 U.S.C. 1982) which granted “all citizens of the United States…the same right as is enjoyed by white citizens…to purchase…real property.” The Court rejected the developer’s argument that Congress lacked the power under Section 2 of the 13th Amendment to ban private discrimination in housing. According to the Court in Jones, so long as Congress could rationally conclude that private discrimination in the housing market was “a badge of slavery,” the statute should be upheld.

Finally, in Memphis v Greene (1981) the Court reversed a 6th Circuit ruling that the closing of a road separating an all-white neighborhood from a predominately black neighborhood constituted a violation of the Thirteenth Amendment. The Court found that the modest inconvenience and speculative loss of property value to black residents was insufficient either to be considered “a badge of slavery” protected against by the Thirteenth Amendment, or a violation of the 1866 Civil Rights Act enacted under the power granted to Congress by Section 2 of the amendment. Four dissenting justices would have found the closing to violate the 1866 Act.

No matter what our society is trying to tell us now, banning things of the past because they do not fit with the PC template of today is stupid. What we need to do, is learn our history, and reading the whole Constitution, and then finding out why it was written the way it was would be a good start. Banning parts of it because they are offensive or outdated is not the way to do it. When you do it that way, it is just cowardice. NOTHING MORE. Today’s reading of the Constitution was a good way to start, but it was pure cowardice to not read it the way it was written, leaving things out that actually should be there.

May God bless our efforts to help get America back, and put God back into our country.
God, Bless America. Bless Americans.

-Robert-

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About Robert P. Garding

I am a Reagan Conservative, who is very alarmed at the Liberals who have just lost their majority over our government, but continue to act like it never happened. They have to be stopped. NOW or even sooner.
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21 Responses to 3/5th Clause in the Constitution. What is it and why was it put in?

  1. Seane-Anna says:

    Cowardice does seem to be the right word, Robert. It’s beyond me why the Congressmen didn’t just read the whole Constitution and then, when done, explain the reason for the 3/5 clause. Guess that would’ve been too much work.
    reply from Robert: I guess that is the reason. And being PC about it. It is easier to be politically correct and change history, rather than read things the way they were written, and then explain. Totally lazy people. Thank for God for the new Republicans with no sense of humor, and the others there, like Mike Pence and others who have been fighting for this country against great odds.

  2. Dave says:

    Please read the 13th and 14th amendment and you will see why it was not read in the opening of Congress this year!
    reply from Robert: I know why they weren’t read. They do not fit the new Political Correctness format the liberals have been fighting to put in place for decades now. As for the Amendments. I know what they say.
    13. Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crim whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
    Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation

    14. Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor denmy to any person within it’s jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws……
    if you want, I will also include Sections 2, 3 4, and 5…but I think you get the message. I keep a copy of the constitution here on my desk.

  3. Matt Jones says:

    the 3/5ths clause did not help get rid of slavery at all. in fact it helped the rich white southern plantation owners which were a part of the ‘plantocracy’ keep representation in the senate and congress when in fact their actual representation should have been much lower since slaves where not able to vote. thus the 3/5ths clause actually helped prolong slavery if anything.
    reply from Robert: I had a feeling that this was true.

  4. Horace Wilson says:

    The real reason republicans did not want to read the entire constitution is that they think it is a flawless document that has never changed. The issue is not because it isn’t PC, that is stupid. If we don’t recognize mistakes of the past how can we improve? I think we all agree that slavery was bad. It is ok to realize that. We can still be a great country. The 3/5ths clause was intended as a compromise between southern states that wanted slaves to count as citizens so their population would be greater and they would have more ‘voting’ power, even though slaves could not vote. The northern states saw this as flawed, but offered the 3/5ths clause as a compromise to avoid succession and such.
    reply from Robert: You are wrong from the start. It is Obama and the democrats who do not like the Constitution and think it is a flawed document. Obama said so himself. But, you are right, that if we don’t recognize the mistakes of the past we can’t improve. the trouble is, we are forgetting and going back over the mistakes made and redoing them. It’s time to take this country back and put true Conservatives in charge for once.
    God bless everyone, no exceptions.

  5. Horace Wilson says:

    I think you helped make my point. You see, I did say that republicans thought the Constitution was a flawless document… The point is that it was wrong to count someone as 3/5ths of a person. And that was actually in the Constitution. So it is a fact that the Constitution was flawed as it was written. Now it is better, after it has changed. But to recognize that seems a little too problematic for Republicans.
    And that was me who said God bless everyone, no exceptions, not you.
    reply from Robert: Forgive me on that one…I miss read what you wrote. But I never said God Bless everyone except……I have said in the past God Bless Obama. Help him to do good for this country. But, he hasn’t done much that has been good for this country. So if he is trying to destroy this country’s economy, why would I want God to bless his efforts to do so. At least, I do not wish him to die or get hurt, like the liberals do when it comes to the Tea Partiers or the Conservatives.

  6. Horace Wilson says:

    OK, looks like we agree on one thing. And I was merely making the claim that I was the one who said God Bless Everyone, no exceptions. The way you clipped your comment it looked as if you had said it (I believe this was unintentional on your part, but I just wanted to clarify). That is very different from the notion that I was telling you that you said God bless everyone, except… I think you should take a look at what 8 years of Bush economics has done to our economy, it didn’t just tank in two years. The tax cuts to the rich are not trickling down…that is a proven fact.
    reply from Robert: The problem is, everyone seems to talk about Bush like everything he did was horrible for the economy. When Obama took over the White House, unemployment was less that 5%….yet everyone says that the economy was in horrible shape when Bush left office. NO it wasn’t. The economy was still going great, though you are right it was starting to go down. Mostly because Bush had given up his standards after years of being told by the press and the left that he was destroying the country when he wasn’t. Bush did spend way too much, but Obama has spent so much more that it is almost inconceivable. In the first two years of Obama’s presidency, Obama has spent more than every president from Washington to Bush inclusive. If that kind of spending isn’t what destroyed the economy, then I don’t know what did. spending never saves the economy, especially when the money doesn’t exist.

  7. Ron Gintz says:

    Robert, I was enjoying the back-and-for between you and Horace until you made the absolutely, false, unfounded and unsupported claim that “Obama has spent more than every president from Washington to Bush inclusive.” The 2009 budget was adopted before Obama took office. The $1.5 trillion deficit must be borne by both Bush and Obama. Why is Bush culpable for budget deficits after he left office? 1) Bush tax cuts in 2001 and 2003 cost $1.8 trillion is lost Treasury receipts from enactment to 2010. Granted, extension of those tax cuts received bi-partison support in December, 2010. The Bush tax cuts coincided with the start of two wars, which to date have cost roughly $1.5 trillion. The Medicare Modernization Act (Plan B prescription plan) championed by Bush in 2003 costs taxpayers $100 billion in subsidies to Medicare recipients ANNUALLY. The $700 billion TARP plan was enacted while Bush was still in office. Those Bush initiatives alone surpass spending initiatives pushed by Obama, including health care reform. Though your other comments and observations were reasoned and thoughtful, your political bias got the better of you in this case.
    reply from Robert: You brought up one of the falsehoods of the left that a tax cut costs money. It doesn’t. A tax cut doesn’t cost anything. But it boosts business, and also boosts revenue to the government. How is that costing money? Tax cuts encourage people to spend more, buy more and build up their businesses more. How is that costing money? So I am still right. I got those figures from the Rush Limbaugh show, when he said the same thing. I will try to find the link that he used for it, proving that statement about Obama is true.

  8. Matt Siler says:

    You completely misconstrue the purpose of the 3/5ths clause. Your irrational justification of conservatism and condemnation of liberalism is exactly the issue that the founding fathers wished to avoid. Please brush up on your American history and learn about the United States before you make absurd claims like you have. As a history professor, I am appalled that you would try to claim such ridiculous tenants as your foundation for political belief. If you have the constitution on your desk, it would be worthwhile to give it a good once over before you post such nonsense.

  9. Kevin Johnson says:

    To Matt Siler:
    Please explain the 3/5ths clause. I am interested in hearing your explanation.
    Thanks.

  10. alex says:

    You are a little off. They teach you that in grade school but its wrong.slaves weren’t 3 5s of a person the population of slaves’ votes. Only. 3 5 s would count … the reason for this was because they didn’t want slave states winning.

  11. bigdawg says:

    all of you are wrong slaves are good obama is bad.
    reply from Robert: I don’t really understand your comment. Slavery is bad. Always was, but Obama is also bad. And I understand what is going on here in America. I have been watching it go downhill for most of my 60 years…..with one government program after another that is meant to take away from the American people our independence and freedoms.

  12. Placing the onus on the Northern States does not make the comment any less egregious. Pointing fingers rather than dealing with the reality of the remark is ridiculous.

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