Column: A closer read on the Constitution
Responding to the letter by Chuck Mann of Greensboro (ěRead the entire Constitution,î Jan. 10), I can agree that reading the Constitution in the House chamber was a good thing. But Mr. Mannís interpretation, just as that of Jesse Jackson Jr., was incorrect.
As with many things in history, the wording of the original (unamended) Constitution has been politicized and interpreted by the politically correct crowd to suit their own particular ends.
Here is the partial text of that part of the original Constitution: ěRepresentatives 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.î
This was part of a formula used to apportion representatives to the House of Representatives based on the population of any particular district in a state. The Constitution went on to read that ěthe Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative …î
The ěwhole numbers of free personsî meant that all free persons of the general population, including free blacks, would be counted for congressional apportionment purposes. The term ěthree fifths of all other persons,î referred to the general slave population, not to the individual slave being three-fifths of a man.
Slaves could not vote, own property or serve on juries. In certain areas, the slave population outnumbered the free population. For example, if 90,000 free men lived in a certain district, that district would be entitled to three representatives. If 120,000 slaves lived in the same district, three-fifths of that slave population would be 72,000. That number allowed two additional representatives for that district, for a total of five.
According to the original Constitution, ěThe State of New Hampshire shall be entitled to chuse [sic] three, Massachusetts eight, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations one, Connecticut five, New York six, Virginia ten, North Carolina five, South Carolina five and Georgia three.î
Why did Virginia get to choose 10 representatives, the most of any of the states at that time? It was most likely because of the large number of slaves in the state. The same could be said about North and South Carolina, with five Representatives each as opposed to the highly populous Northern states, although a few slaves did live and work in the north. We also should recall that a number of free blacks would own slaves in many of the Southern states, including North and South Carolina. Those free blacks would be counted with the general population for apportionment purposes, and only three-fifths of their aggregate slave population would be counted for the same purpose.
Arguments have been made that indentured servants were nothing more than slaves, although after a period of years when their debt was paid for passage to the new country, usually from a European country, they were freed. The original Constitution treated indentured servants as free men, and congressional apportionment was determined by adding to the whole number of free persons, those bound to service for a term of years.
A possible reason that the original Constitution was not read by members of the house is that except for its historical relevance, it does not apply to todayís business.
Only that which is applicable to the function of Congress today was read. After all, slavery was laid to rest by the Thirteenth Amendment, which was ratified in December 1865. Considering the challenges our country faces in the world today, itís about time that all of us laid the issue to rest.
Bill Ward is a writer and historian living in Salisbury.