1788 in Federalist No. 54
Proposed at the Constitutional Congress of 1787
Article I, Section 2, of the U.S. Constitution of 1787
“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.”
Origin of Compromise
The Articles of Confederation based taxation off of each state’s land value. When the Articles were replaced by the Constitution in 1789, the Founders decided that the laws of taxation should be based on a state’s population, rather than the value of its land. This change is the perfect example of the Three-Fifths Compromise propelling slavery to the forefront of the argument.
Under the Articles, states were able to underestimate the value of their land so as to decrease the amount of taxes they had to pay on it. Northern states wanted to be able to count slaves due to the tax burden that would place on the south, and the reduction in taxes that the northerners would be able to enjoy. Southern states wanted to include slaves in the population for representation. They did not view the tax issue as a high priority the way the northern states did.
Northern states wanted to count slavery in high numbers because that would put more of a tax burden on the South and less on the North. Southern states wanted to use slaves as part of the population for representation, but the tax issue was not very popular to the South.
James Madison offered the idea of counting three out of five slaves toward the population. This was a compromise of the ideas that the North and the South had come up with The North wanting to count three out of four slaves for taxation, while the South wanted to count one out of four slaves for taxation. Each state’s population was agreed to by all states except New Hampshire and Rhode Island. The Articles of Confederation required a unanimous vote to pass an amendment, so the ruling was shot down.
The Three-Fifths Compromise greatly augmented southern political power. In the Continental Congress, where each state had an equal vote, there were only five states in which slavery was a major institution. Thus the southern states had about 38 percent of the seats in the Continental Congress. Because of the 1787 Three-Fifths Compromise, the southern states had nearly 45 percent of the seats in the first U.S. Congress, which took office in 1790. By 1793, slaveholding states had 47 congressmen but would have had just 33 if not for the compromise. The dominance wouldn’t last that long with the northern states growing more rapidly in terms of population than the South. Prior to the Civil War the South dominated all political platforms, but afterwards that control would slowly relinquish. It wouldn’t be until 1865 when the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution would be enacted. Which ended slavery and rendered the Three-Fifths Compromise obsolete.