Monday, October 23, 2017

The Three Fifths Compromise

This piece was written by Peter Walpole for worship on Sunday, October 22nd, 2017.  This was the day we took part in the second UU White Supremacy Teach-In.

In order to preserve the unity of the infant nation
the Constitutional Convention agreed upon “the three fifths compromise.”
Three fifths.

The number of Congressional representatives allotted each state
would be determined by population. White men (and only they could vote)
each counted as one person; White women and children
were counted as fully human; Native Americans did not count at all;
and slaves were counted as three fifths of a person.
This compromise gave Southern states a disproportionate weight in Congress.
The slaves had no political voice whatsoever; slaveholders, however,
profited by the work of the slaves’ minds and bodies, and the weight of their very being,
in raw cold numbers, to expand the South’s political power.
Congress selected the President, back then. Did you know
Of the first twelve American Presidents, only John Adams, and his son John Quincy,
did not own slaves? The power of the three fifths compromise was not that subtle
and it’s influence on law and policy was extensive.

The three fifths compromise and the Electoral College were the price the South demanded
for maintaining the unity of the nation.  The Electoral College:
what harm could that do, down the road? Three fifths, three fifths.

Three fifths. Would you like three fifths of a cookie?— that might help my diet, actually.
Better than no cookie at all! Three fifths. Three fifths of your dinner, then—
Ah! Actually, I was kind of hungry -- or three fifths of making love —
Oh baby that’s — whoops, we’re done. (Sorry, friends, if that hits
close to home for anyone.) I want to hit close to home.

Three fifths. Three fifths. Are we not there yet?
Three fifths of your income -- tell me about it! Taxes!
No, no, three fifths of your take home pay, in fact.
Not far off racial pay inequalities, but let’s not go there, no,
Let’s get right down to it: three fifths of your life. Good news!
Your medical history and DNA tests suggest you will live to 90!
So, at three fifths, we’ll make that 54, shall we?
Wait . . . three fifths, three fifths -- how many in your family, dear?
Five? Splendid -- makes the math come out neatly.
We’ll send a truck round for two of you in the morning. Say good bye.
Wait! I never agreed to this! Who agreed to this?
Oh, George Washington, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, Ben Franklin,
lots of others; some winced, some fulminated, but
In order to seal the deal — agreed. Three fifths.
It was the price they had to pay, however steep, for unity:
that it should be encoded into the DNA of the American nation
That a great sea of human souls would be valued as three fifths human.
Kick the can down the road, to Harper’s Ferry,
to Antietam, to Selma, to Charlottesville.

Three fifths of Heather Heyer did not die.
She died entire, five fifths, the full measure of devotion.
And in dying lost her voice to say what she died for.
The obligation falls to the living to consider among us:
did she die for unity? I prefer to think, my solitary, angry voice,
that she died for integrity, risking all, her life and memory,

her loves and joys, standing up against a non-negotiable wrong.

© 2017 Peter Walpole

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