James Wagner, President, Emory University op ed. for Sunday afternoon
James Wagner, President, Emory University has offered the idea that compromises for a ‘more perfect union’ comes in many forms. The link presents Mr. Wagner’s reply to the storm of comment to the original, which follows. Here is an excerpt:
One instance of constitutional compromise was the agreement to count three-fifths of the slave population for purposes of state representation in Congress. Southern delegates wanted to count the whole slave population, which would have given the South greater influence over national policy. Northern delegates argued that slaves should not be counted at all, because they had no vote. As the price for achieving the ultimate aim of the Constitution—“to form a more perfect union”—the two sides compromised on this immediate issue of how to count slaves in the new nation. Pragmatic half-victories kept in view the higher aspiration of drawing the country more closely together.
Some might suggest that the constitutional compromise reached for the lowest common denominator—for the barest minimum value on which both sides could agree. 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.
“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.”
This is a new and unfamiliar use of the word “perfect.”
maybe “more” perfect.
without reading the whole thing, i am inclined to agree with Wagner. without a compromise that allowed the South to hope to be on equal terms with the more populous North, there would have been no Union at all.
For what it’s worth, one of the first acts of the new Union was to enact the Northwest Ordinance which forbid slavery in all states created out of the territory north of the Ohio river.
And while slavery is an evil, you weren’t going to end it overnight without a great civil war. Which we were not ready for.
Please understand that “3/5ths” was a compromise for purposes of representation, not a declaration that a slave was 3/5 of a person.
Dale understanding the political realities underlying the 3/5ths compromise doesn’t translate to making it the Platonic Ideal of Compromise.
Which is the error here.
You don’t pay protection money to mobsters. The South could have made a case based on acreage. Or assessed value of Real Estate or of capital generally allowing the North to take credit for budding industrial plant while the South took credit for the capital value of the slave population. Which wouldn’t have been bad mismatches for then current economic and political theory.
But a case that political representation should be allocated by sheer number of human males discounted by their condition was such an invidious and odious case of special pleading that it’s ‘positive’ result in the form of the Constitution should be regarded as a deep stain on the Founders. And “well it worked for the immediate purpose” is not a defense.
We’re slaves people or simple property? Were corporations? It is worth noting that certain corporations, notably the Universities were in England given representation in Parliament. Choice of which had nothing to do with the townsfolk surrounding the Colleges nor was the amount of representation based on that population. The idea that raw numbers of human beings should would or could enter into that calculation being unheard of. In light of that giving credit for 3/5ths of your slaves for the purposes of establishing seats in Congress was just a reflection of raw power representing no coherent philosophy at all. You might as well calculated it on the amount of riding horses and hunting dogs maintained by Southern Cavaliers.
One flaw in this line of argument is that the people most effected, the slaves, were not involved in the bargaining nor did they have any representation. Thus in a way it was the perfect model of compromise. One crafted by our betters.
“without a compromise that allowed the South to hope to be on equal terms with the more populous North, there would have been no Union at all.”
With the compromise, there was still secession. With the compromise, there was still a civil war over the breakup of the Union. Had the outcome of this war been different, the compromise would have prevented nothing. In what sense, then, was this an aspiration to a “more perfect” union. It was a cynical effort to kick the can down the road. In that sense, it worked.
I would have expected better from the President of a top-50 university. Of course, Emory is in the old South . . .
I am not sure what a “platonic ideal of compromise” would be. Nor do I think the eventual civil war can be argued against the compromise.
I have learned never to expect human beings to be “logical” or to believe their opponent is logical.
I don’t know why they came up with the idea of counting 3/5 of slaves as “population” but i like to think that even in their unenlightened state they were on their way to seeing slaves as human beings… something that NO part of the world did until much before that time.
if nothing else, bringing the South, with its 3/5 persons, into the Union set the stage for a political dialogue that put the question of slavery front and center in the “most perfect” democracy reaching toward the concept of “all men are created equal.”
it is poor mental hygiene to look back on folks living in a different time and imagine yourselves superior to them because you have had the advantage of their “learning experience.”
this is simply bigotry turned inside out.
Dale it might be nice to see evidence that “NO part of the world did much before that time” held the belief that slaves were not actually human and that the American version was some sort of advance.
Frankly this is just another version of “At least we aren’t a Socialist Hellhole like Sweden”, something easier to maintain if you know fuck-all about Sweden.
Slavery has a very complicated history across time and cultures and slaves at certain times and places held immense power and wealth. Just off hand this was characteristic of much of Egypt’s classical history, of Imperial Rome, and various periods in China. At lower levels of society slaves were often literally considered parts of the ‘familia’ and the powers of life and death over them held by say the Roman ‘paterfamilias’ were identical to those over his own children.
In the ancient west almost anyone could become a slave, being a loser in war or just being in the wrong place when the raiders came by could turn a Queen into a slave. In turn there were in most places few formal limits on the possibility for emancipation and or marriage, I large part because race based slavery was the exception and not the norm before the Modern Age launched in the 16th century.
The whole thing is infinitely complicated but what I am afraid we have here is just a well meaning strain of the old “well they had it better in Mississippii than Africa” argument, because after all they must of.
Because America. And Exceptionalism,
Whereas by the time of the Constitutional Comvention the British Anti-Slavery movement was well advanced and chattel slavery within Western Europe mostly a curiosity, something only seen in Barbary Coast and Turkish galley slaves (rowers) on the periphery of Europe, and many of those actually captured Europeans and not ‘sub humans’ at all.
This isn’t my area of history precisely. But then some sort of kind and degree of slavery was present in all ancient and medieval areas I ever did study and I can say that the sort of flat out chattel/commodity slavery seen in the Americas was NOT typical and the argument from historical progress too often resorted to is just not valid.
I defer to your knowledge of history… indeed I think I already knew most of what you are saying here.
Nevertheless slaves as non humans has a pretty ancient history too.
Almost the way rich people in America look on poor people.
What I might resent if I were not such an advanced person myself is your characterization of my argument as “well they had it better in Mississippi than in Africa.”
c’mon. you know better than that.
and as for the “platonic ideal”… i take the idea that the compromise if “3/5ths” was a member of the class of all compromises, and that “class” is the equivalent of the platonic ideal… brought forward a few centuries when mathematical abstraction was more fashionable than imaginary heavens of pure ideas.
i have no idea how an “argument from historical progress” could ever be “valid” or “invalid.” It’s just not that sort of thing.
But I will stand by the idea that the 3/5 compromise was (probably) necessary for the establishment of a “more perfect” union, and the arguments presented here against that idea are simply self deceptive chest thwacking. “we” are not better than “them.” we do stand in a different place.
there is nothing in my nature or background that would lead me to defend “slavery” on moral or economic grounds. after all look what happened to Ireland as a result of making a slave of that Englishman Patrick.
But don’t ask me to preen myself on my superiority to Tom Jefferson because I don’t own slaves and he did. Or to John Adams because he “paid protection money to mobsters.”
I think one thing you might learn from history is that times change.
Or are you really proposing that somehow in the settlement of North America all the virtuous people ended up north of the Mason-Dixon line, and the evil people ended up south, where they extorted dishonorable compromise after dishonorable compromise..
“Nevertheless slaves as non humans has a pretty ancient history too.”
Well not one documented by you in any way in your post. On the other hand the following was pretty categoric-and complete with ALL CAPS.
” something that NO part of the world did until much before that time.”
Backing an assertion with an assertion is not QUITE a historical argument.
As to this, well it is just exceptionalism entering by the back door:
“if nothing else, bringing the South, with its 3/5 persons, into the Union set the stage for a political dialogue that put the question of slavery front and center in the “most perfect” democracy reaching toward the concept of “all men are created equal.”
After all already in 1787 Josiah Wedgwood commissioned his famous Anti-Slavery medallion with the inscription of ‘Am I not a man and a brother?’.
BTW Wedgewood sent a copy to Benjamin Franklin and it became quite popular “among the ladies”. Then again Quackers on both sides of the Atlantic had long been active in the nascent anti-slavery movement. And when it came to action the British left the Americans much in the shameful dust on this question. The formal British Anti-Slavery Movement launched at precisely the same time as the Declaration and the drafting of the Constitution.
That is on your final point: History was ALREADY changing on this topic. And on the whole Jefferson and Adams (who certainly were aware of contemporary thought and action in Britain) rather cravenly went along with what the almost certainly knew was a moral abomination.
Personally I am sympathetic to relativism. But it isn’t an all purpose get out of jail free card for what are after all highly educated Englightenment figures. They knew better. Or should of.
Finally if you don’t see the ghost of Historicism hiding in your overall argument, so be it. The belief in ‘progress’ is so pervasism in liberalism (of both types) as to be as insensible as air.
And I have got to leave. Because the heat from the burning strawman in your last paragraph is driving me from my keyboard.
it all depends what treating someone as a human being means.
we are still learning about that, a little at a time.
as for the straw man… i think you have your fallacies mixed. a straw man would have been setting up an argument in front of a jury, alleging it to be your argument, and then pointing out the inadequacies of that argument. i was merely telling you what your argument sounded like to me. no one here but us chickens.
further note on the straw man straw man.
i’d have thought you would have noticed, having assigned to me the argument “better in mississippi than in africa” not to mention the “socialist hellhole” argument.
as for “history already changing…” no doubt. that’s the way history changes. a little at a time. whatever john wedgewood said. and whatever those kinder and gentler black slavers… though not chattel slavers themselves.. may have felt about the evils of slavery, they still sold their fellow, no doubt humans, to the white devil. who more than likely was a sea captain from that more enlightened England of which you speak.
so let me try one more time. in order to form a more perfect union it was “necessary” to reach a compromise on the question of representation between the low (white) population agrarian south and the high white population commercial north.
no doubt they could have counted horses or trees, but for some reason they counted slaves as people.
i don’t know the reason… but “cravenly went along”?
no. you know more history than i do, but you aren’t even asking the right questions here.
As an aside, it goes without saying that Native Americans weren’t counted at all. Later, when the South insisted on putting the Constitution to the test, the US was conducting a war against the Dakota Sioux in Minnesota. The Sioux had agreed to cede some of their lands in exchange for retaining trading and hunting rights in certain game-rich areas. The agreement fell through when incoming white settlers hunted out all the available land, including the portions reserved for the Dakota. The resulting Indian uprising caused the defeat of the war chief Little Crow and a severe shortage of food for the Sioux. Many Dakota starved and the Union Army inflicted severe casualities on any who resisted “pacification.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dakota_War_of_1862)
There were many other smaller conflicts with the Indians that kept the Union Army busy on two fronts throughout the Civil War. Southerners either didn’t know or chose to ignore the Union’s obvious superiority in arms, sources of supplies/equipment, rail transportation and logistics of their adversary. You have to overlook a lot to call the secessionists smart.
But, Southerners are polite. When writing of such things as the 3/5’s rule Wagner’s approach to the subject is the standard one. After all, you can’t expect non-Southerners to understand such things. Let’s hear it for the Lost Cause.
The worthy Northern and Southern gentlemen who reached the 3/5’s “comprimise” were merely being themselves. Later, they could line up to engage in a truly horrible war while maintaining the notion that God was on their side. Meanwhile, the Dakota were of concern to no one but themselves, a footnote in American history. One way or another, bipartisan comprimise has little to recommend it unless you’re on the winning side. NancyO
“I don’t know why they came up with the idea of counting 3/5 of slaves as “population” but i like to think that even in their unenlightened state they were on their way to seeing slaves as human beings… something that NO part of the world did until much before that time.”
Dale “on their way to seeing” implies some sort of progress and/or historicism.
“NO part of the world” further claims that the particular progress reached in their “unenlightened state” was STILL an advance on that of any other part of the world up to that time.
It is that combination that forms the core of the “better in Mississippi than Africa” argument advanced by many current slavery apologists.
As to “socialist hellhole” that stemmed from your claims about “NO part of the world” which to me seemed awfully uninformed about the actual and typical state of slavery and status of slaves through history and can only be understood as arguing from emotion and not from any particular knowledge base much as those who make the “at least we are not French” OR “if Obamacare passes I am going to move to Canada” claims based on some fantasy notion of what France and Canada actually are all about on a daily basis. Damn 35 hour work weeks and universal health care.
In my opinion the 3/5th’s compromise cannot be defended on its own terms in its own time and still less based on arguments along the lines of “heck it was the best we could do, and at least we were not the rest of the world where slaves were treated even worse since the dawn of history”. Because without evidence I don’t accept either proposition.
And I can’t help the company that conclusion would seem to leave you among.
actually, you can help the company that you put me among.
i was apparently arguing a point that gets lost when people see red.
Bruce says “In my opinion the 3/5th’s compromise cannot be defended on its own terms in its own time and still less based on arguments along the lines of “heck it was the best we could do, and at least we were not the rest of the world where slaves were treated even worse since the dawn of history”. Because without evidence I don’t accept either proposition”
This is my sentiment. One needn’t go much beyond the legal status accorded slaves in the British Empire…but also probably did not prevent British entrepreneurs from throwing slaves over the side of the ship to drown if being stopped by British navy for inspection.
I believe American brands of slavery were ‘exceptional’ for the times.