I love reading Lew Rockwell’s daily e-mail. I don’t always agree with the articles he passes along, but they are always good for thought.
This one just happens to be one with which I vehemently disagree, where Walter Williams criticizes Rep. Charlie Rangel’s admonishment regarding the 3/5 compromise:
My questions for those who condemn the three-fifths compromise are: Would blacks have been better off if slaves had been counted as a whole person? Should the North not have compromised at all and a union not have come into being? Would Rangel and Sharpton have agreed with Southerners at the Constitutional Convention, who argued slaves should “stand on an equality with whites” in determining congressional representation and Electoral College votes? Abolitionist Frederick Douglass understood the compromise, saying that the three-fifths clause was “a downright disability laid upon the slaveholding states” that deprived them of “two-fifths of their natural basis of representation.”
Now I can understand if someone chooses to make a “presentist” argument that the southern Founding Fathers were implacably wedded to the institution of slavery. To argue, on the other side of the coin, that this failure of the Founding Fathers to eliminate slavery and live up to their ideals is somehow an attack on the Constitution?
Here’s my hypothesis about people who use slavery to trash the Founders: They have contempt for our constitutional guarantees of liberty. Slavery is merely a convenient moral posturing tool as they try to reduce respect for our Constitution.
Call a spade a spade — slavery was an abomination. Those who practiced and defended the institution did so at the cost of 600,000 American lives as North and South fought bitterly over “states rights” to keep their chattel property enslaved. The aftermath of economic enslavement that followed physical liberation through Jim Crow laws and segregation only compounded the problem.
Today, we still struggle against inequalities of opportunity, even as we implicitly grant inequalities of outcome (and in a society that prizes free markets and meritocracy, hope that those who can excel will do so).
Nothing could be more antithetical to the American experiment than stripping away the rights of fellow human beings. Slavery was one of those dichotomies… and Rangel is right to remind Americans of this historical injustice.