Three-Fifths Compromise

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In 1787, at the time of the Constitutional Convention, slavery in the United States was a harsh reality. The census of 1790 counted slaves in nearly every state, the only exceptions being Massachusetts and the "districts" of Vermont and Maine. In the entire country 3.8 million people were counted; 700,000 of them, or 18 percent, were slaves. These statistics are a striking example of the prominence of slavery in the history of the United States. They also exemplify the obvious contradiction between the institution of slavery and the advocacy of equality presented by the framers of our Constitution. Despite the freedoms reserved in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, slavery was not only tolerated, it was regulated.

The ratification of the United States Constitution depended on the agreement of the North and the South, and the issue of slavery was a major obstruction to this agreement. Each state’s representation was determined by the number of person’s residing in that state. The North did not want to count the slaves as part of this number because it would mean less representation for them in the government. Their argument was that since slaves were considered property, they should be equated with other chattel property, like cattle and mules. The South, on the other hand, was determined to count slaves into their population due to the high proportion of slaves in the southern region of the country. Without the support of the South, the ratification of the Constitution was doubtful, so the 3/5 Compromise was written. Article 1, section 2 of the Constitution states that “population for the purposes of representation and taxation would be determined by adding the whole number of free people, including indentured servants, plus 3/5 of all slaves”. This was also called The Enumeration Clause.

Slavery is also referenced in the Constitution in Article 1, section 9, which prohibited limitation on the slave trade. The delegates at the Constitutional...
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