Article I, Section 2:
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.
Those words, written by Thomas Jefferson, with help from John Adams, is the founding document of the current iteration of the United States, as ratified by New Hampshire on 21 June 1788. It is loosely based on the Massachusetts Constitution, which is even older - going into effect in this Commonwealth in 1780.
Perusing the Mass Constitution though - there is no reference to the "Three Fifths" clause ensconced in the national document. It's somewhat nebulous to put a finger, on, but in all my readings, the best I can find is thus: The North/South divide between the several states is not a new thing, nor was it new during the Civil War era. Simply take a look at a map. New England in particular should leap out at you - as a whole, the six-state region is smaller than most entire states south of the Mason-Dixon line.
Then-powerful northern states were concerned that the larger southern states would have undue influence in the new government - so a multitude of compromises were reached. Things we take for granted today, like our bicameral representation, or the Electoral College, were designed primarily to pacify the south, and maintain the power-base in the north.
Southern population was much larger, first because they had more land, but secondly, because they had more slaves. The "Three-Fifths" rule was to count that "property" for purposes of representation, without actually giving them any rights whatsoever.
It did take war to force the initial changes. During the Reconstruction era, a number of new laws were passed by the victorious Union. Among them was the Fourteenth Amendment, which reads in part:
Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.
The reaction was swift; most southern states responded with what are called "Jim Crow
" laws, which removed the rights of former slaves, and for the most part disenfranchised then for generations to come.
Between 1890 and 1910, ten of the eleven former Confederate states, starting with Mississippi, passed new constitutions or amendments that effectively disenfranchised most blacks and tens of thousands of poor whites through a combination of poll taxes, literacy and comprehension tests, and residency and record-keeping requirements. Grandfather clauses temporarily permitted some illiterate whites to vote but gave no relief to most blacks.
From the late 19th century, through two world wars, and up to the Civil Rights act of 1964 - this was the normal course of life in the United States. Blacks and other minorities were occasionally granted a few more rights and accessability, but only when it was convenient for the needs of the existing power base. The most obvious examples being during WWII - many minorities started the war serving in menial tasks as ordinary laborers, kitchen staff, cooks, and the like - but by the end of the war they were commanding ships and flying combat missions alongside their white counterparts. As many of those men learned at war, when a black man is shot, he bleeds the same as you. But that solidarity didn't last.
We should all know the story of young Emmett Till
. Without going into too many details about the case, ponder that he was murdered in 1955, which is a mere 65 years ago and well within living memory of the United States. In some ways, that was one of the very first steps of the Civil Rights movement...but it took another decade before greater rights were finally codified into law on 2 July 1964.
It is not, however, a Constitutional Amendment. While the Civil Rights Act is a Federal Statute and carries the same weight as Constitutional Law - there are ways to circumvent it. Again, many of the several states have found ways to circumvent the law.
Even my fair city, who I like to hold above all others in most regards, is guilty and complicit in these acts. If you need proof, you should be familiar with this photo from the extraordinarily violent busing era here in Boston
. I walk by this very spot several times a week, so it's never far from my mind.
I saw a story in the Boston Globe this morning that notes the Civil Rights act is not yet a senior citizen, as it was passed just 56 years ago. That makes me somewhat contemporary - I was born in 1966. I have no memories of the violence and struggle of the late 60s. MLK, RFK, riots - all of that is a history book for me.
But....and I made this point last night, "No child is bad from the beginning, they only imitate their atmosphere". Racism is not ingrained; it's taught. And this is probably the great divide. Generations of Americans continue to teach their children that the federal government is bad, people that don't look the same as us are inferior, and you should always oppose "the man". Why? Because their great-great-grandaddy fought with General Lee at Spotsylvania.
In this modern age of instant communication and connection, you'd think it would be easy to overcome these shortcomings. I live in a college town, and we're a suburb of a college city. There's more than 150,000 college students in the greater Boston area, from around the country and around the world. By nature of that vast "melting pot" - we've forced together individuals with different points of view and prejudices and forced them to get along. Does it always work? No...but being in that environment increases the chances that you'll find somebody who is completely different physically, religiously, socially, culturally...and maybe you might just find that upon learning who that person is, they're not that different after all.
I've been thinking a lot about the last true national crisis we faced - and that would be the cataclysmic struggle that was World War II. I can only imagine what would have happened were a leader with the capabilities of Donald Trump was in the White House on the eve of that conflict. Given the uncertain times in which we live in today - we would all be wise to reflect on the words of the President who was fortunately in charge in those days.
So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself â€” nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and of vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. And I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.