Rep Steve Cohen (D-TN) responded to Giuliani's bad comment by impugning that America's founding fathers were racist. On Friday he tweeted:
Rudy Giuliani questioned how much,or even if, President Obama loves America.Maybe he thinks he loves it 3/5 as much as Giuliani & his pals
— Steve Cohen (@RepCohen) February 20, 2015
If Rep. Cohen had ever read a history book he would have understood the absurdity of that comment. He was of course referring to the three-fifths compromise, outlined in Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 of the United States Constitution:
"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.”Cohen points to that 3/5th figure as an indication that our founding fathers were a bunch of racists who believed that the African Slaves were less than human. The truth is the framers of the constitution from the northern anti-slavery colonies who insisted on counting the slaves as less than “full persons.” Their reason was to prevent the slave states from getting too many congressman and electoral votes lest they become too powerful and prevent Slavery from ever being abolished.
The Slave states wanted their slaves to be counted as a full person so they could dominate the House of Representatives and the Presidency. Those states that were reliant on slavery for their economy would have the benefit of counting the slaves for census reasons and control the political power of their large numbers as the slaves were not allowed to vote.
The Northern States did not want them counted at all, to prevent the south from getting too powerful. The “three fifths of all other Persons” refers to the slave population as a whole, it was not an indication of a belief that people of color had only 60% of the "value" of Caucasians and was meant to weaken the power of slavery advocates.
If Rep. Cohen took American history in high school, he might remember that the Three-Fifths Compromise, was originally proposed by Roger Sherman of Connecticut, and James Wilson of Pennsylvania, both anti slavery states.
The Federalist papers show the mindset of the founding fathers were not in favor of the continuation of Slavery, but were instead trying to wean their Southern brethren away from Slavery.
For example in Federalist #38 Madison justified the constitutional provision allowing slave trading for 20 years because it was an improvement:
Is the importation of slaves permitted by the new Constitution for twenty years? By the old, it is permitted forever.In Federalist #42 he says
It were doubtless to be wished, that the power of prohibiting the importation of slaves had not been postponed until the year 1808, or rather that it had been suffered to have immediate operation. But it is not difficult to account, either for this restriction on the general government, or for the manner in which the whole clause is expressed. It ought to be considered as a great point gained in favor of humanity, that a period of twenty years may terminate forever, within these States, a traffic which has so long and so loudly upbraided the barbarism of modern policy; that within that period, it will receive a considerable discouragement from the federal government, and may be totally abolished, by a concurrence of the few States which continue the unnatural traffic, in the prohibitory example which has been given by so great a majority of the Union. Happy would it be for the unfortunate Africans, if an equal prospect lay before them of being redeemed from the oppressions of their European brethren! Attempts have been made to pervert this clause into an objection against the Constitution, by representing it on one side as a criminal toleration of an illicit practice, and on another as calculated to prevent voluntary and beneficial emigrations from Europe to America. I mention these misconstructions, not with a view to give them an answer, for they deserve none, but as specimens of the manner and spirit in which some have thought fit to conduct their opposition to the proposed government.Ben Franklin, freed his slaves and was a key founder of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society. Alexander Hamilton was opposed to slavery and, with John Jay and other anti-slavery advocates, helped to found the first African free school in New York City. Jay helped to found the New York Manumission (literally voluntary freeing of slaves) Society and, when he was governor of New York in 1798, signed into law the state statute ending slavery as of 1821.
When Constitution signer William Livingston heard of the New York Manumission society he, as Governor of New Jersey, wrote them, offering:
“I would most ardently wish to become a member of it [the society in New York] and… I can safely promise them that neither my tongue, nor my pen, nor purse shall be wanting to promote the abolition of what to me appears so inconsistent with humanity and Christianity… May the great and the equal Father of the human race, who has expressly declared His abhorrence of oppression, and that He is no respecter of persons, succeed a design so laudably calculated to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke.”Washington was a paradox, he was a slave owner hated slavery (actually he married rich and the slaves were originally owned by his wife).
“I can only say that there is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do to see a plan adopted for the abolition of it [slavery].”-George WashingtonWashington’s successor John Adams did not own slaves and hated the Practice:
“[M]y opinion against it [slavery] has always been known… [N]ever in my life did I own a slave.”-John AdamsWhen examining the three-fifths compromise, one must remember that the Constitution itself was a counter-revolution. Its authors were sent to Philadelphia to amend the Articles of Confederation, instead they met in secret, locked themselves into a room and came out with an entirely new governmental system. Without the three-fifths compromise the counter-revolution would have failed and there would be a much different, and probably much less free America today.
This is not to justify slavery or the fact that it lasted another eighty years after the constitution was enacted. Slavery will always be a horrible chapter in American History, but the three-fifths compromise was not. The three-fifths clause was not a measurement of human worth; it was an attempt to reduce the number of pro-slavery proponents in Congress. By including only three-fifths of the total numbers of slaves into the congressional calculations, Southern states were actually being denied additional pro-slavery representatives in Congress and electoral votes for selecting the president.
With his tweet Rep. Cohen demonstrated his lack of understanding of American History, or his basic stupidity, or possibly both.
Oh and Rep. Cohen If you read this I would like to make one request as Jewish American-- Could you consider changing your last name? It really isn't helpful to the Jewish people for people to read you tweet and realize it was a Jewish person who made that stupid tweet. Haven't we suffered enough?