US Constitution - racist?

I just saw a claim on another site that the US Constitution is explicitly racist against black people but it gave no more detail then that.

Any ideas as to what was meant?

Probably the sections mentioning slavery and counting black people as 3/5 of a person.

Of course, the original document has been extensively amended, in part to remedy some of these past flaws.

So these clauses are no longer present?
He was speaking in the present tense.

Nothing in the Constitution is ever removed, per se. It has been removed as a legal rule.

Secondly, the purpose of these clauses is, as usual, misinterpreted by modern idiots trying to prove that people back then were racist. They probably were, but the 3/5 Compromise represented a substantial weakening of the slave interests, as it drastically reduced their representation in Congress.

Well you won’t find the term “Negro” or “black” or even “slave” in the original, unamended text - the most damning phrase in in Article 1, section 2:

“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.”

“other Persons” being slaves. Slavery is specifically outlawed in the 13th amendment, and the 14th amendment overrules the above phrase, but the text remains in the constitution.

No clauses have ever been removed from the document known as the US Constitution. They are still present in each and every copy made. The amendments, however, mean those clauses are no longer in effect.

It is a little disturbing to actually read the original (something surprisingly few people seem to have done) and see those phrases. Particularly, I’m sure, if you’re a person of color who back in those days would have been directly affected by them.

On the other hand, removing those clauses would be re-writing history - even though it is now embarrassing/shameful, I think the truth should be maintained. The US Constitution is, yes, a racist document in modern terms.

The 3/5 clause is in Article 1 Section 3 and reads:

So it doesn’t specifically say “black” but it’s pretty clear the reference is to black slaves.

I don’t recall the exact place in the constitution where the slave trade was discussed, but it was, if I recall, written into the document that the external slave trade would not be eliminated until after 1808.

There might be other examples, but those two stand out in my mind.

Well, 3/5 is less than 1, but it’s greater than zero, which might seem the fair count for slaves, since they couldn’t vote or receive benefit from government.

As for “idiots misinterpreting the Constitution”, there are some Dopers who seem to believe that document to be divinely inspired, just like Moses’ Ten Commandments. It might be interesting to hear their take on the “3/5” clause. :rolleyes:

Some of them owned slaves, so it’s pretty easy to prove.

That’s wrong. As the name suggests, The 3/5 Compromise was a compromise. Slaves couldn’t vote and were not considered people in other legal respects, so there was an argument to be made that they should not be counted in the census at all. That would have tilted Congressional power strongly to states that had few slaves. On the other hand, counting them as a full person would have given a large advantage to states with big slave populations. I think there were actually more black slaves than white people in some of the Southern colonies. Ignoring slaves was unacceptable to the Southern colonies, counting them as a full person was unacceptable to the Northern colonies. They split the problem almost down the middle.

Exactly. That they were far in advance of their time is often forgotten.

Yes and no. Slaves didn’t have all the legal rights and protections they should have had, but they had some (however rarely they were able to excercise them). They were defintiely considered people in the legal sense.

Thus, it wasn’t a split down the middle, though. The basic idea was that the House would represent the people at large, and the “Compromise” substantially weakened the heavy slaveholding states. In fact, the entire ntoion of it is rather odd and sets out a special case. Regardless of what it looks like today, it represented a huge victory over slavery (and at the time, it was not clear that the the country would seperate into sectionalism over it).

Indeed, the point is not that “persons of color” are sub-human to the tune of 3/5 of a person. But a Southern congressman who owes his seat to the lage numbers of slaves in his state will nevertheless probably vote against their interests and for those of their oppressors.

Actually, religious conservatives are more obsessed with the Declaraton of Independence as though it were divinely inspired. It contains a couple passing references to God, so that magically establishes the US as a Christian nation.

The Constitution was a product of its time, so in that context it was definitely inspired. That the wrongs of the time were later remedied through the amendment process changes that not a whit. In fact, it confirms its genius because the authors left a way out, that egregious oversights could be remedied when it became necessary.

Looking at the Constitution with the 20/20 hindsight of over 200 years of history is not fair. Should the constitution not have been ratified 200 years ago because of portions that offend you now, portions that are no longer applicable in this era? I think not. All in all I’d say the Constitution has held up exceptionally well under the circumstances.

They did have some legal protections, but if you’re not able to exercise a right, then for practical purposes you don’t have it.

I’ll defer to you on that point. The Constitution says “all other persons,” which suggests slaves were considered people.

Again, I’m not convinced here it was a victory or that it weakened them. Slaveholding states got a weaker outcome than they would have if slaves had been counted as entire persons, yes. But if you say it weakened them, you’re implying they were in a stronger position before the compromise. I don’t think that’s correct. I think you’re assuming that they would have been counted as entire persons if not for this compromise. And the whole point is that the delegates did not agree on that issue. Under the Articles of Confederation, I’m reading that slaves were not counted at all, although that for tax purposes rather than representation.

I’m not going to get into legal theory, but let’s not pretend that a subversion of the law’s practice is the same as not having rule of law.

Yes, but they were not “counted” for something exceedingly unimportant (or outright bad), whereas Congressional representation was hugely important (and in which case slaves were taxed anyhow). In fact, I’d say the Articles are irrelevant, because the entire point was to change them. Counting them was the default for the Constitution.

There was an unsuccessful attempt to amend the Articles in 1783 to count slaves, and that was where the 3/5s number first originated.

This isn’t true. The Dred Scott decision decisively declared that slaves were property and were not people in the eyes of the law. It was the subject of much debate earlier, both in the Constitutional Convention and for the entire history of the country before the Civil War. Few people thought that even free blacks were or could be citizens. Few thought that even free blacks were equal in their basic humanity. Most considered slaves to be property because that was the natural order that God has designated. There was no body of law that I’m familiar with that considered slaves anything other than property in South, and Dred Scott extended that to the nation as a whole.

It was not a huge victory. In fact, the 3/5 compromise had existed earlier in the Articles of Confederation to determine how state levies should be apportioned. (See Decision in Philadelphia, by Christopher Collier and James Lincoln Collier).

Why? Remember that the Constitution allowed the government only to allot direct taxes according to population. Therefore there were two issues that counting slaves as part of the population affected. (The Articles of Confederation gave one vote to each state, so only the tax issue was considered then.)

The North had a larger population than the South if slaves were not included, and there were more northern states as well. (You can’t use use states vs. non-slave states, because slavery was legal in most of the northern states. Their economic system wasn’t dependent on slaves and so they had so few that counting them made no difference.) The South knew that getting equal representation in Congress was far more important than winning on the tax issue, because Congress would write the tax laws. Both sides, however, had reason to consider slaves as property rather than people at various times for various reasons and did so in so many words.

Nor is it a special case. Most of the Constitution involves compromises that gave the South what it wanted because it declared that it simply would not enter into the compact if slavery and its interests were slighted. The Constitution is heavily weighted toward the South. In fact, the Convention flatly voted down giving slaves any value at all on July 11. And then reversed itself on July 12.

Again, why? Enormous back room deals were struck. It’s hard to boil them down (the Colliers use two full chapters on this) but essentially the deal was that slavery would be prohibited in the states that would form from the Northwest Territory but in return the South got all the states south of that. The colonies had claims to much western land and the wealthiest men in the South had speculated heavily in land. They stood to lose everything if the territories were given to the government to hand out as in the North. So they took the 3/5th deal on representation in return for a land grab and the knowledge that they would get slave states to balance off free states. And they compromised on a range of tax and excise issues that the North wanted but had to bend to the South to get through.

The trade-offs are much more complicated than anything we remember today, mostly because they involved issues that were of huge importance then and meaningless now.

But that leads to the point that it’s a fallacy to label the players with terms that would have made no sense to any of the sides at that time. By our standards, everybody was racist because the basic belief structures of society were so different. It’s more important to understand those differences and try to see them in terms of their era. The Founders felt it was much more important to have a Constitution than not have one, even if that Constitution was deeply flawed.

And it’s biased against women too. Argue that one for a while.

No it didn’t. The Dred Scott decision recognized slave personhood, while at the same time saying that slaves were property.

There are earlier cases, in both state and federal law, that specifically define slaves as a class of persons. Look at Thomas Morris’s “Southern Slavery and the Law 1619-1860”, which, among other things, looks at the question of slave personhood.

In case people don’t recognize it, that quote is from the Dred Scott decision. That link gives the full text.

Here are some other quotes from Taney:

However, Exapno, there is a massive problem with your argument.

First, Taney was full of it. Historians by the dozen have left his ass in ruins (metaphorically). He wrote the law more or less arbitrarily and probably with extremely immoral support fom the BUchanon administration.

Second, regardless of his decisions as to slaves as property, he went further and claimed they were not, and could not be citizens. This was not only farcical under the befoer nthe time, at his time, and after his time, but has not been seriously held as a properm legal result of the law by, well, anyone!

In fact, salves could and did use the courts to their advantage, and in fact frequently received legal remedies in such cases. The Dred Scott decision only happened because some southern courts (as well as society) had become infected by a rather virulent and iron-bound racism and itself a huge perversion of the law - a perversion that just a few years prior would have been recognized as vile extra-judicial abuse of the office.

This is a bit of an anachronistic position–since “person” as we understand it today does not mean what “person” meant in the era of Dred Scott.

The (relatively) short version is:

Historically, a person’s status defined their legal rights. So while today, you have certain rights just because you are a “person,” the same was not true in the colonial era. Instead, only certain types of person were entitled to rights in the colonial era. Men had full rights. Women and children were under certain disabilities (and married women were, in large part, femmes couvert–considered to be literally “covered” by the personhood of the husband")

What does this mean: It means that when we think of a “person,” we think of an empowered, legally capable entity. This just isn’t true in the colonial era.

For example, (since we’re already on the topic of) slaves, the same isn’t true–as in Dred Scott, slaves, although “persons” were held not to be able to sue in court, did not have due process rights before being returned to their owners (in fact, the owners had due process rights not to be deprived of their slaves).

One easy way to see this is in the 1776 declaration of rights of virginia (later enacted as part of its constitution).

So here we have statements that “all men” were free and independent, and have inherent rights, including life and liberty, and trial by jury. But it’s VIRGINIA. one of the biggest slave states there was. None of these “rights” applied to slaves. Not free, not independent, and not entitled to trial by jury if a dispute arose over their enslaved status.

How do you combine these two concepts? Status. These were legal rights of “men”–full legal persons, not women, not children, not slaves. Women and children had some rights, slaves had none.

The point is that saying dred scott said slaves were “persons” is more or less meaningless in terms of how we now understand “persons in the eyes of the law” as Expano Mapcase states. The full, right-bearing “person in the eyes of the law” was an adult white male. Slaves were, technically, “people”–but as the dred scott decision made quite clear, not “people” entitled to any protection of law against their owner.

Cite for those who held it farcical at the time? In a modern, post-13th and post-14th amendment context, it is farcical. In any era, Very, deeply, fundamentally wrong, immoral, and inhuman. From a colonial legal perspective consistent. It’s a perversion of the law in the context of the modern era–but in a colonial era, where rights were based on status, it wasn’t a farcical application of the then-current law.

Slaves could, sometimes, use northern courts. Not southern, and (after dred scott), not federal.

What quote is from the Dred Scott decision? “slaves were property and were not people in the eyes of the law.” I don’t see that quote in the decision.

And nowhere in what you’ve quoted does it say that slaves aren’t to be considered people. It says they’re property. It says that the “enslaved African race” weren’t part of the American people, and it says that the negro race is excluded from civilized governments. But it doesn’t say that slaves aren’t people; just that they’re not Americans.