The three-fifths compromise came as a result of the Connecticut compromise during the Constitutional Convention of 1787. The Connecticut compromise was an agreement made between the smaller states and the larger states on how to apportion delegates and electors to the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. This bicameral legislature was to be determined by both a set number of two electors for each state to the Lower House and number of delegates based on population of each state to the Upper House. This sparked an argument between the Northern and Southern states that was ultimately resolved by the Three-Fifths compromise.
While a major focus of the Constitutional Convention was to determine the structure of the government, slavery came to the forefront as another core debate that would continue to be a dividing force for many years to come. The three-fifths compromise was a negotiation, between the slaveholding delegates and those that advocated abolition, on how to count slaves for the purpose of distributing state taxes and the apportionment of the members of the U.S. House of Representatives. Initially, the southern states did not want their slaves to be counted as part of the taxed population, unless they were going to be represented in the government in some form. This was what the southern states referred to as, “taxation without representation” (Garry Wills p. 51). Later, during the Philadelphia Convention of 1787, when it came time to discuss apportionment and state representation in the House of Representatives the south changed there position. Delegates of the Northern states, being primarily opposed to slavery, were in favor of only counting free inhabitants of each state towards the total population, and the Southern states were in favor of having slaves be counted towards their total population. This debate between the delegates lasted sometime before a compromise was made.
At the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, the delegates of each state continued to argue about the issue of how to count slaves as apart of the United States population. This was a concern because there needed to be balance of representation between the Northern and Southern states. The issue that haunted the southern slaveholders was that the Northern states represented about 60 percent of all white free males at that time and the Southern states only represented about 40. If slaves were counted then the population between the north and south would have been about even. The debate lasted weeks before the delegates from each state finally reached the decision to count three-fifths of all slaves in the census that was to be preformed every ten years. Although the representatives of the Southern states wanted to have a higher percentage of slaves counted towards total population, they were fine with the outcome because they were positive that the future would bring them higher populations and new states in favor of slavery. The Northern states were not as happy with the compromise but felt that it was necessary to follow through with the three-fifths rule and move on with the formation of the United States constitution. “The document prohibited congress from abolishing the African slave trade for twenty years. It required states to return to their owners fugitives from bondage. And it provided that three-fifths of slave population would be counted in determining each states representation in the House of Representatives and its electoral votes for president”(Eric Foner, P.225)
Over time, the effects of the three-fifths compromise led to disproportionate representation of slaveholding states and a continual separation between the North and South. “The constitution gave the national government no power to interfere with slavery in the states. And the three-fifths clause allowed the white South to exercise far greater power in national affairs than the size of its free population warranted. It greatly enhanced the number of southern votes in the House of Representatives and therefore in the electoral college”(Eric Foner, pp.225-226). Because of the three-fifths clause in the constitution the southern slave states ruled our national government for a long period of time. “Of the first sixteen presidential elections, between 1788 and 1848, all but four placed a southern slaveholder in the White House (Eric Foner, p.226). A war between the Northern and Southern states over the abolishment of slavery, known as the Civil War, was result of the southern slaveholding states reign of our nation and was directly linked to the three-fifths compromise.
Fiorina, Morris P., Paul E. Peterson, Bertram Johnson, and William G. Mayer. "The U.S. Constitution." America's New Democracy. 5th ed. New York: Longman, 2009. 23-44. Print. Custom Edition for Salt Lake Community College.
Foner, Eric. "Founding A Nation: A New Constitution." Give Me Liberty!: An American History. New York: W.W. Norton, 2006. 220-27. Print.
Wills, Garry. "1800: Why Were Slaves Counted?" Negro President: Jefferson and the Slave Power. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2005. 50-61. Print.