Tenessee lawmaker speaks from the House floor.

Tennessee Lawmaker Takes To the House Floor To Argue the Three-Fifths Compromise Was Good Actually

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During a debate in the Tennesee House Tuesday, Republican state Rep. Justin Lafferty argued that the Three-Fifths Compromise, which determined in the 18th Century that enslaved people would be counted as 3/5 of a person for population purposes, was actually designed to help “end slavery.”

“The Three-Fifths Compromise was a direct effort to ensure that southern states never got the population necessary to continue the practice of slavery everywhere else in the country,” he claimed.

“By limiting the number of population in the count, [the Founders] specifically limited the number of representatives that would be available in the slaveholding states, and they did it for the purpose of ending slavery. Well before Abraham Lincoln. Well before Civil War,” he continued. “Do we talk about that? I don’t hear that anywhere in this conversation across the country.”

That is … not what happened. Which is probably the reason he doesn’t hear it talked about much.

When state delegates were debating the country’s voting system during the Constitutional Convention in 1787, they came to the agreement that enslaved people would count as three-fifths of a person as a way to represent the wealth of Southern slaveowners. By counting enslaved people as less than a full human, those white southerners got to use them to increase their representation in federal government but they got to pay less in taxes than they would if counted fully.

The entire thing reduces enslaved people to property, so how exactly could it have been for the purposes of ending slavery?

What makes all of this even worse is that the debate at which Lafferty said all this nonsense was around the issue of including issues of systemic racism in public school history curricula.

“I don’t know how we’ve gotten here, I don’t know what we do about it, but talking about changing our history–changing’s not the right word,” Lafferty said. “Talking about incorporating another view of history, while ignoring the very writings that we have access to, is no way to go about it.”

If this is the viewpoint that people are taking away from our current and past history lessons then yes, we clearly need another view incorporated in there.

As for the idea that Lafferty doesn’t hear his view of history talked about much in our national conversation about race, I wish that were true. But he’s not the first Republican lawmaker to try to rewrite this specific bit of history.

Plus, there was Donald Trump’s whole vendetta against the 1619 Project, which reframed the country’s history with slavery as its foundation. Lafferty is not the first Republican to get super offended at the idea of recognizing America’s history of racism and I’m sure he won’t be the last. He even got applause for his comments here from his fellow Republicans.

The bill they were debating would ban public schools from teaching about issues of systemic racism in Tennessee.

(via American Independent, image: screencap)

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Vivian Kane
Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.