A nation—and a conservative movement—that prohibits thought

Terry Morris writes:

A black man was giving a presentation on the “Fair Tax” to a gathering of local Tea Partiers to which I was invited. The speaker mentioned the three-fifths counting of slaves in the original Constitution and how it is commonly misrepresented. Since he was doing a poor job of explaining his point, I asked permission to interject. I explained to the group that the Constitution in counting in each state, for the purposes of representation and taxes, “the whole number of free persons … and … three fifths of all other Persons” (i.e. slaves), was not denying blacks’ personhood, and indeed that the provision had nothing to do with the human worth of blacks. The purpose of the provision was to reduce Southern representation in the Congress, thus reducing the power of the slave states. I was instantly unofficially ousted from the group for defending the stipulation as reasonable.

LA replies:

Specifically, the slaves were not citizens and could not vote. They were not part of the body politic. So the question of whether they should be counted for the purposes of representation was legitimate and unavoidable. The Southern states wanted them to be counted fully. The Northern states wanted them not to be counted at all. What this means is that the slave states, which by today’s lights were presumably more anti-black, wanted each black to be counted as one hundred percent of a person, thus expanding those states’ representation in Congress, while the non-slave states, which by today’s lights were presumably less anti-black, wanted each black to be counted as zero percent of a person, thus greatly lessening the Southern states’ representation in Congress. The disagreement was resolved by means of the three-fifths compromise.

These simple facts, which fifty years ago any moderately intelligent twelve year old in America could have understood, are beyond the comprehension of today’s Republicans and conservatives. The obligatory reaction of instant, instinctive, total loathing of anything that smacks of anti-blackness makes it impossible for them to think about and to understand any issue pertaining to blacks, even a distant, historical issue such as the three-fifths provision.

LA continues:

The specific reason the three-fifths controversy can’t be discussed intelligently is that the basis of the issue was that slaves were not citizens and were not part of the body politic. But in presenting that undeniable historical fact as the basis of the issue, a person would sound as though he were accepting that fact, rather than condemning it. So it’s easier for conservatives not to argue at all against the false indictment of America over the three-fifths issue, but just leap on the anti-American bandwagon.

The upshot of this conservative intellectual failure and cowardice is that America is condemned not just for slavery, but for reaching a reasonable accommodation on how the slave population would be counted for purposes of representation.

- end of initial entry -

Terry Morris writes:

Comparing your edited version of my comment with the original, I note that you make me appear to be a more capable writer than I am. But it’s a fair rendition of the event as it actually occurred. So thanks.

Concerning the specific question of whether the Framers considered slaves to be fully human, I simply did what the speaker failed to do, which prompted me to ask for the floor—I quoted the phrase in question, “three-fifths of all other persons,” emphasizing the word persons.

My “ousting” from the group was not at all traumatizing, or completely unexpected. I had already met privately with the group’s leader some weeks before. A meeting at which I explained that our missions, while similar in some cases, were very different in others, and I gave a few examples. I also said that I would no longer pledge allegiance to a flag which, regardless of what it originally represented, now stands for the utter destruction of all vestiges of traditional Americanism. That one was particularly hard for her to take, but I explained that regardless of what we wish it stood for, the reality, which she was in effect denying, is that it doesn’t stand for our values and likely never will again.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at August 22, 2012 10:16 AM | Send

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