Friday, November 9, 2007
Presidential Elections and the 3/5 Compromise
During the Constitutional Convention, James Madison noted an important observation he had made. He claimed that of all the difficulties that separated Northern and Southern states, slavery was by far the biggest. As we all know, the founders of the American Republic sanctioned a 3/5 compromise to the Constitution. This compromise guaranteed the Southern states greater representation in Congress by counting slaves as 3/5 of a person. Essentially, this meant that the South would have a larger say in government at the expense of its slave population (which of course was not allowed to vote).
Northerners saw this as misrepresentation. Their feelings were that since slaves could not vote, they should not be counted amongst the general population of the South. In essence, the North felt cheated by the hypocrisy of the South's demand for greater representation, especially since the representation came at the expense of slaves.
The effects of the 3/5 Compromise became evident at election time. In the election of 1800, Thomas Jefferson defeated John Adams by only 7 electoral votes. The election was clearly divided by the slavery issue. The north had predominantly gone with Adams, while the South sided with Jefferson. As the votes were counted, Northern politicians quickly realized that without the 3/5 Compromise, Jefferson would have defeated. The fact that slaves had been counted as part of the South's representation had given Jefferson the victory. Later elections would have the same results. The election of James Madison and Martin Van Buren would all be influenced by the 3/5 Compromise.
It is worth noting that the South owed a tremendous political debt to a large chunk of the population they chose to keep in bondage.