NASHVILLE – The Three-Fifths Compromise, one reached agreement during the negotiations In 1787 to draft the Constitution of the United States, found that, for the purposes of representation and taxation, only three-fifths of a state's enslaved people would be included in the total population. It is considered one of the most racist deals between the states during the founding of the country.
But in a speech at the Tennessee General Assembly on Tuesday, a representative defended the compromise, arguing that it was "a bitter pill" needed to curtail the power of slave-holding states and helped pave the way to end slavery – comments reproved by critics, including black colleagues, as insulting and demeaning.
“By limiting the population in the census,” state representative Justin Lafferty, a Republican from Knoxville, said on the House floor, Constitutional Convention participants “specifically limited the number of representatives that would be available in the slave-owning states. , and they did it with the goal of ending slavery – well before Abraham Lincoln, well before the Civil War. ”
The comments came as lawmakers were in Tennessee debating legislation on Tuesday aimed at limitation what public and charter schools can teach students about the influence of institutional racism and privilege.
Antonio Parkinson, a Memphis Democrat and the Speaker of the Black Caucus in the Tennessee House of Representatives, called Mr. Lafferty's comments offensive, saying that the applause from other lawmakers after he ended the speech had been particularly provocative.
"I hated it," said Mr. Parkinson's, adding that, regardless of the argument, it was impossible to defend policies that protected slavery and failed to account for the full humanity of African Americans. "I don't care if it's policy or how you count heads, there's nothing good about slavery."
Republicans have called for a measure that would cut funding for schools teaching critical race theory, an academic movement that claims historical patterns of discrimination have created race-based disadvantages. It's part of a wider effort from conservatives across the country to push back against the argument that racism was an important part of the nation's origin story and created imbalances that persist.
In his speech, Mr Lafferty reiterated an argument that has been around for a long time made by some scholars and raised by lawmakers in other states. Counting enslaved people was a major sticking point in the convention. Northerners argued that none of them should be included in the total population, but Southerners wanted them to be fully counted, further strengthening the political power of the region and shielding slavery from attempts at abolition.
Ron Hanks, a Republican state representative in Colorado, was attacked last month after saying that the & # 39; Three-Fifths Compromise & # 39; "no one disputed humanity". In Oregon, Dennis Linthicum, a Republican senator, was criticized with a similar argument in 2019and said the compromise was not rooted in a belief of the country's founding fathers that "three-fifths was an appropriate measure for a man."
Mr Lafferty, who did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday, said in the speech that he was irritated by what he saw as a greater drive to see the country's history in a harder light.
“I'm not saying anything on this floor today with any malice towards one of my friends on the other side,” said Mr. Lafferty. "I'm only saying this because I'm tired, everyone. The people of this nation are tired. If you look for trouble – if that's all you're after – I guarantee you'll find it."