The president of Emory University, James Wagner has drawn criticism for using the Three-Fifths Compromise of 1787 as an example of what he called “pragmatic half-victories” in his latest column for the university’s magazine.
“Some might suggest that the constitutional compromise reached for the lowest common denominator — for the barest minimum value on which both sides could agree,” Wagner wrote about the agreement between Southern and Northern states to count slaves as three-fifths of a person. “I rather think something different happened. Both sides found a way to temper ideology and continue working toward the highest aspiration they both shared—the aspiration to form a more perfect union. They set their sights higher, not lower, in order to identify their common goal and keep moving toward it.”
Wagner’s invocation of the agreement as a “lesson of our forebears” was immediately criticized on social media on Saturday; Salon also called “shockingly horrible” ; and Gawker suggested that same day that The Affordable Care Act, the Voting Rights Act, or “Do all homework, you get to watch The Simpsons” would have been more appropriate examples of political compromise.
As stated in Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 of the U.S. Constitution, the agreement mandated that, “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.”
The agreement was abandoned after the abolition of slavery, as mandated by the 13th Amendment.
[Image via Emory University Facebook page]