The proposal for apportionment for the determination of each state’s number of seats in the House of Representatives became an issue when the Constitution was being drafted in 1787. Aside from being a complex system and method for calculating the population through the census and then establishing a number of seats for representation, the issue as to who was eligible to be counted for the population was a topic of controversy. However, it is no surprise that this agreement is known as the Three-Fifths Compromise, for the Constitution itself was born out of compromise between the Framers of the Constitution.
However, the Three-Fifths Compromise is arguably the most controversial topic, for it delegates that all slaves of a particular state are to be counted as three-fifths of a white person. The population of slaves would be counted as three-fifths in total when apportioning Representatives, as well as Presidential electors and taxes.
The Three-Fifths Compromise was proposed by James Wilson and Roger Sherman, who were both delegates for the Constitutional Convention of 1787. However, the Three-Fifth Compromise has its roots further back in history, dating back to the Continental Congress in 1783. The Compromise was a result of the apportionment of taxes being related to land values.
Initially, taxes were levied not in accordance to the population numbers, but the actual value of the land. Many states began to depreciate the value of the land in order to provide for relief from their taxes. A committee was held that would rectify the situation by implementing the apportionment of taxes in relation to the state’s population. However, this idea was met with the dispute over how to consider slaves in the apportionment process and the actual ratio of slaves to free people at that time.
For the most part, those who opposed slavery only wanted to consider the free people of a population, while those in favor wanted to include slaves in the population count. This would provide for slave holders to have many more seats in the House of Representatives and more representation in the Electoral College. Many ratios were considered, such as three-fourths, one-half, and one-quarter. After much debate, it would be James Madison that would suggest the Three-Fifths Compromise. However, the Three-Fifths Compromise would not be adopted until the Constitutional Convention because the Compromise was not approved by all of the states and the Articles of Federation required a unanimous vote.
The implementation of the Three-Fifths Compromise would greatly increase the representation and political power of slave-owning states. The Southern states, if represented equally, would have accounted for 33 of the seats in the House of Representatives. However, because of the Three-Fifths Compromise, the Southern states accounted for 47 seats in the House of Representatives of the first United States Congress of 1790. This would allow for the South to garner enough power at the political level, giving them control in Presidential elections.
However, as time moved forward, the Three-Fifths Compromise would not provide the advantage for which the Southern states and slave-owners had hoped. The Northern states grew more rapidly in terms of population than the South. Even though Southern states had essentially dominated all political platforms prior to the Civil War, afterward that control would be relinquished slowly but surely. It would not be until the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was be enacted in 1865 that the Three-Fifths Compromise would be rendered obsolete.