How Much Of The Constitution Should They Have Read?

The US Constitution is a contract between the government and those governed. It delineates the powers that We the People allow our government to have. It is the law of the land and it is unique in the history of the world.

The House of Representatives opened with a reading of the US Constitution. The Republicans chose to have read the current document leaving out the items that had been changed. This upset liberals and among them was Jesse Jackson, Jr. who believes that reading the current, amended Constitution, glossed over history, particularly the part that dealt with slavery.

While the Constitution does not mention slavery (in the original document) there is no doubt it was addressed. Article 1, Section 2 discusses representation and how people are counted. In it, there is the three-fifths clause. The document says that the number of people will 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.

Notice that it does not say slaves but there is no doubt, and history supports the fact, that the three-fifths applied to them. This part was changed by Section 2 of the Fourteenth Amendment.

According to Jackson, not reading this clause shows that the Republicans glossed over the racist part of the document where slaves were only considered to be three-fifths of a human.

Of course the clause does not make slaves three-fifths of a person. It was a method to count the census and determine how Representatives would be apportioned. It was made this way as a method to end slavery and not to mark slaves as less than a full human.

Slave owners wanted all slaves counted so that they would have greater representation in Congress. If all the slaves were counted, the southern slave owners would have many more members in the House and any efforts to end slavery would have been defeated based on the numbers. By reducing the population, the Founders were able to reduce the number of Representatives from the slave states. This was a balance between those who wanted no slaves counted (because they could not vote) and those who wanted all of them counted so they would have greater numbers of Representatives.

It is important to note that the three-fifths number is from an earlier attempt to organize when the Articles of Confederation were being revised. The slave owners did not want any of their slaves counted when it came to taxing because they would have had to pay more taxes. At that time the three-fifths rule was a compromise agreed upon though the measure eventually failed.

When it came time to compromise on the population used to determine representation, the three-fifths rule was a method that had previously been agreed to so it was inserted to gain passage of the Constitution and to limit the number of Representatives from slave owning states.

Glenn Beck has mentioned that our Constitution is a great document because the Founders gave us a way to change or add to it. This allows us to correct injustices and to add things necessary to run our country. The beauty is that we leave the changed parts in the document so that anyone reading it at anytime can see what we did and how we changed. The three-fifths clause changed because of the Fourteenth Amendment just like the Twenty-First Amendment changed the Eighteenth. The beauty is that both of the changed parts remain but are superseded by newer parts.

Beck thinks that the entire document should have been read to show our scars and how we advanced. Jackson thinks we should have read it in its entirety as well though his reason is to show the racist part of the Constitution. The reality though, is that Jackson is incorrect because Article 1, Section 2 was not racist. It was merely a method to count people or representation and to limit the power of slave owners. If he took the time to learn he would see that this was a brilliant move to eventually end slavery.

I do not disagree with Beck or Jackson about reading the entire thing if the purpose of the exercise was an educational one. Then each section could be read and people could see why we did what we did and how it was changed.

But the reading in the House was designed to present the document in its current form, the form in which we must apply it. The Republicans were simply reading the rules as they now apply.

The Founders wanted to end slavery and they worked on that. Yes, it is true some of them were slave owners but about 70% of those who signed the Declaration of Independence were not slave owners and most of our Founders released their slaves.

George Washington’s will freed his slaves upon the death of his wife, Martha, and provided for the care and education of their children until the age of 25 out of funds from his estate.

As an educational tool the Constitution should be read in its entirety so that people can understand our history.

But for the exercise that took place in the House the only parts that needed to be read are those that currently apply because it is those to which we will hold our members of Congress accountable.

UPDATE: The usual suspects are upset. Seems they want to take the country back to slavery.

Cave Canem!
Never surrender, never submit.
Big Dog


If you enjoy what you read consider signing up to receive email notification of new posts. There are several options in the sidebar and I am sure you can find one that suits you. If you prefer, consider adding this site to your favorite feed reader. If you receive emails and wish to stop them follow the instructions included in the email.

Print This Post

If you enjoy what you read consider signing up to receive email notification of new posts. There are several options in the sidebar and I am sure you can find one that suits you. If you prefer, consider adding this site to your favorite feed reader. If you receive emails and wish to stop them follow the instructions included in the email.

2 Responses to “How Much Of The Constitution Should They Have Read?”

  1. Blake says:

    It was amazing to me how much trouble the Libs had reading the document, as though they had to translate it from , say, Farsi or Urdu, on the spot- There were some Reps who had a hard time also- Perhaps they should have practiced ahead of time, so they wouldn’t have looked like this was sprung on them out of the blue.
    After all, they take the oath to support and defend the Constitution.
    They should be much more familiar with that they are supposed to defend, or they just look like fools.

  2. Eoj Trahneir says:

    I went to an American University, recently. I studied business, and business law.

    US Constitution was one of the “elective” course. It wasn’t an all-encompassing course, just one semester on the US Constitution.

    But BD, what you just explained in one “Post” was worth more to me than what I paid for, for the entire semester (and as an alien with valid student visa, I proudly add) at non-resident prices.

    Thank you.