Rosie O’Donnell: Not One Of Our Brightest Minds

Bloated funnywoman Rosie O’Donnell is at it again. Her self loathing has once again brought out the worst in her. This time, she opines about my favorite holy man on the political landscape these days, ‘Hollywood’ Jeremiah Wright. Predictably, she finds wisdom in his rants. But are we surprised?

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Rosie O’Donnell’s History Lesson
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Two Big Problems with Rosie’s Analysis

Well, Rosie is off her rocker. But she makes two points that I find increasingly ubiquitous, and I decided to take this opportunity to set the record straight. I do owe Rosie for making both boneheaded comments in one interview – it made my job easier.

I’ll cover each major mistake in its own post. Today’s analysis has to do with the ‘Three-Fifths Compromise’ of the Constitutional Convention in 1787. Tomorrow, I’ll make some historical observations about The Tuskegee Experiment.

Blacks as 3/5ths of a Human Being

Rosie’s Constitutional analysis incorrectly suggests that blacks were considered 3/4 of a person, rather than 3/5ths. But Rosie’s heart was in the right place, so I’ll let that slide.

I’ve heard this one since my college days, and it has been a maddening and ubiquitous presence in the political discourse for many years now. The insistence is that those dreadful rich white men a couple of centuries ago were so inherently bigoted that they considered black people as something less than fully human.

The fact is that some of those guys did consider black people as property, and not human beings. Many others did not share their view. And the fact is that the ‘Three-Fifths Compromise’ is not a truiumph of bigotry, but a small – yet notable – victory for the opponents of slavery.

The relevant portion of the US Constitution is found in Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3:

“Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.”

Well, the interesting thing is that when you actually look at the text, it’s clear that it doesn’t say that black people are 3/5th of a human being at all.

This section has to do with calculating the number of Representatives each state gets in the House. This number is calculated by a state’s population, so states with more people are better represented in the House than states with fewer people. Fair is fair, after all.

Now a detail that escapes many of our most fertile minds is that the pro-slavery states wanted to fully count all of their slaves for purposes of the calculation of the number of Representatives a state receives. It makes sense – by fully counting slaves, they would get greater representation and influence in The House.

The anti-slavery states made the compelling argument that since the pro-slavery states didn’t recognize the slaves as free people, but rather property, they shouldn’t be counted at all for purposes of calculating congressional representation.

This was a major point of contention at the Constitutional Convention. Ultimately, it was agreed that for purposes of the composition of the House, 3/5ths of nonfree persons would be used in the calculation of representatives.

That’s not to say that black people were considered 3/5ths of a human being. Indeed, while this is often cited as an example of the bigotry of the era, the truth is that this was seen as a victory for the anti-slavery states and the anti-slavery movement.

Now to be fair, the Founders realized that the slavery issue couldn’t be resolved in their time. While many Founders were against slavery on moral and/or religious grounds, others were advocates of the dreadful practice. As a practical matter, the Union could not have been formed if the anti-slavery advocates took a strong stand. So they kicked the ball down the court, leaving it to a later generation to resolve.

As those who paid attention in school know, that would be resolved in the 1860s during the American Civil War.

Tomorrow: Some facts about The Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male