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Massachusetts Anti-Federalists Oppose the Three-Fifths Compromise

The ratification of the United States Constitution was the subject of intense debate between 1787 and 1789. One particularly controversial issue was the Three Fifths Compromise, which settled how enslaved people would be counted for purposes of representation and taxation. Delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia had agreed that three-fifths of the slave population would be counted for representation purposes, thus giving southern states greater representation in the House while remaining exempt from paying taxes on the other two-fifths of the slave population. Although the authors of this article from 1788 focus on the second aspect of the Compromise, it was the issue of representation in Congress that proved to have far greater consequences. Southern states gained disproportionate power in determining issues (particularly those related to slavery) while denying the vote to vast segments of their populations.

In the first place, as direct taxes are to be apportioned according to the numbers in each state, and as Massachusetts has none in it but what are declared free men, so the whole, blacks as well as whites, must be numbered; this must therefore operate against us, as two fifths of the slaves in the southern states are to be left out of the numeration. Consequently, three Massachusetts infants will increase the tax to equal to five sturdy full grown negroes of theirs, who work every day in the week for their masters, saving the Sabbath, upon which they are allowed to get something for their own support. We can see no justice in this way of apportioning taxes. Neither can we see any good reason why this was consented to on the part of our delegates.

Source | Herbert J. Storing, ed., The Complete Anti-Federalist, vol. 6 (University of Chicago Press, 1981), 256.
Creator | Consider Arms, Malachi Maynard, Samuel Field
Item Type | Article/Essay
Cite This document | Consider Arms, Malachi Maynard, Samuel Field, “Massachusetts Anti-Federalists Oppose the Three-Fifths Compromise,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed September 20, 2019, https://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/506.

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