The Strategic Retreat

The 3/5ths Fallacy

usaOne of the last classes I took at university was Black Power. It was a pretty good class. I learned a lot about the roots of the black power movement, African history and present-day class struggles plus my professor wore a dashiki. Along with useful information I was also taught some crap; all white people are racist, black people cannot be racist and that once upon a time black people were considered 3/5ths of a person.

While I disagree with the belief that my skin color makes me racist I don’t feel like arguing that point. Mainly because it’s a silly assertion. What bothers me is the 3/5ths fallacy. It makes a good bullet point for an emotional argument but its modern invocation is, without fail, uninformed and ignorant.

When people talk about being 3/5ths of a person they are referring to Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 of the U.S. Constitution. This is commonly called the 3/5ths compromise. I see this talking point used in blogs and speeches all the time which either makes me chuckle or frown, depending upon my mood. Here’s why:

If slave owners had their way then slaves would have been counted as at least one person, multiples of one person if they could have gotten away with it. The people who wanted slaves to not count at all were the good (not as bad) people. There has never been a time in our history where the vote a black person was worth 3/5ths the vote of a white person.

The counting of slaves, as provisioned for in the constitution, was to decide how much power slave owners had in voting for the Federal government. That’s it. The more a slave counted for the more a slave owner prospered. A slave was never 3/5ths of a person, a white person owning a slave was 8/5ths of a person. A person owning ten slaves was 35/5ths of a person. This allowed slave states to be over represented in congress and aided the continuation of slavery.

In actuality a slave wasn’t really considered a person at all. The only reasons slaves were given any percentage points was to give more power to those oppressing them. It’s not the lack of 2/5ths that should offend, it’s the inclusion of the 3/5ths. Well that and the whole forced servitude thing. That probably sucked pretty hard.

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