Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Sanford Levinson on the Three Fifths Compromise


The New York Times' Room For Debate is holding a discussion on "The Constitution's Immoral Compromise," the infamous three-fifths clause of Article I, section 2, clause 3. Sandy's essay is here.

It's worth noting that the choice was not necessarily between the three-fifths clause or no constitution at all.  The compromises that people reach depend on the agenda before them and the suggestions made in the course of deliberations.  The North agreed to a package of provisions that benefited the South, including the electoral college and the fugitive slave clause.  We do not know whether a different package of provisions without the three-fifths clause but retaining the others would have satisfied the Southern delegates. It might be, as Hank Chambers suggests, that the result would have been more representation of property of all types, and a far less democratic system than the one that ultimately developed.  Such a compromise might have prevented the Civil War, but also entrenched the power of  large landholding families, akin to what happened in other nations, for example, in parts of Latin America.

Older Posts
Newer Posts