Why Three-Fifths Was Better Than One

by Chris Bodenner

A reader writes:

I'm continually surprised at how many people don't understand the three-fifths compromise in the original U.S. Constitution, usually describing it somewhat like Cord Jefferson does: "the three-fifths compromise, in which the government decided that black slaves were subhuman". The clear implication here that the Constitution codified a black slave was worth only 60% of a normal human, because they didn't count as much as "free Persons" in establishing proportional representation in the House.

But this understanding is completely backwards; black slaves would have been better off if the Constitution counted them at one-fifth, or not at all.  The southern states would have been much happier had the slaves counted as whole persons, or better yet, 5 persons each! 

Why?  Because it would have meant that the southern, slaveowning, states would have had even greater control of the House and the Electoral College than they initially ended up with (it's no accident thay 9 of the first 12 presidents were Southern).  Since slaves couldn't vote, they were not being counted as people, but as property, giving greater political power to their owners.  It was the northern states that pushed to have slaves not count at all in apportioning representatives (and "direct Taxes"), but since the southern states were both less populous and outnumbered (8-5, or 16-10 in the Senate-to-be), concessions such as this were thought necessary to gain their ratification of the Constitution and entry into the Union.