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GOP Lawmaker's Comments on the 3/5 Compromise Spark Backlash

Justin Lafferty said it was adopted to end slavery
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 5, 2021 2:01 AM CDT

(Newser) – A Tennessee Republican falsely declared Tuesday that an 18th-century policy designating a slave as three-fifths of a person was adopted for “the purpose of ending slavery," commenting amid a debate over whether educators should be restricted while teaching about systematic racism in America. During lengthy debate on the GOP-controlled state House floor, several Black lawmakers expressed concerns about the bill's impact on how certain subjects would be taught in schools, specifically highlighting the Three-Fifths Compromise, the AP reports. The policy was made during the nation’s Constitutional Convention in 1787 and classified that three-fifths of a state's slave population could be counted toward its total population when apportioning taxes and states’ representation in Congress. Historians largely agree the compromise gave slaveholding states inordinate power over choosing a president—and decisions of the Continental Congress. That clout eventually faded when Northern state populations began to rapidly rise.

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Rep. Justin Lafferty, who is white, stood up and talked at length about what he saw as sparking the compromise. At one point he asked colleagues to note on paper their best guess for the reasons that led to the policy. “By limiting the number of population in the count, they specifically limited the number of representatives who would be available in the slave holding states and they did it for the purpose of ending slavery," said Lafferty, from Knoxville. “Well before Abraham Lincoln. Well before Civil War.” None of the other lawmakers in the chamber directly challenged Lafferty's false claims but some applauded when he finished talking. While the House overwhelmingly approved the legislation on Tuesday, the GOP-controlled Senate chamber refused to accept the House bill hours later. Its fate now remains unclear in the final days of the legislative session. (Much more here, including other states that are working to ban "critical race theory" from the classroom.)

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