Monday, April 27, 2015
Yet, I generally don't have time to read the lengthy works of the stupid, ignorant, and the dishonest. Since I don't believe Alexander is stupid or ignorant her book leads me to conclude that she is dishonest. There were other warning signs along the way but I finally stopped reading The New Jim Crow when I got to this whopper on page 26: "Under the terms of our country's founding document slaves were defined as three-fifths of a man, not a real, whole human being. Upon this racist fiction rests the entire structure of American democracy."
The Three-Fifths Compromise was a simple recognition that, for purposes of taxation and political representation only, slaves were chattel property under dominion of their owners and not citizens or free agents. There is nothing racist or fictitious about that. In her critique of the historic compromise and her normative assumption that slaves should have been recognized as whole human beings Alexander sides with the Southern slave owners at the 1787 Constitutional Convention.
A fair argument can be made that supporters of liberty at the Convention should have insisted on counting slaves as exactly zero-fifths of a man for taxation and representation purposes but that is not Alexander's argument. This would have been the most humane and just position and, if adopted (and the Constitution ratified with it), it would have undoubtedly hastened the end of slavery, perhaps without a bloody civil war.
It should be underscored that, under the terms of the Three-Fifths Compromise free Blacks in the North and South were recognized as whole human beings. In any case, the Three-Fifths Compromise ceased to be operative after the Civil War and the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment (1865). And it never supported "the entire structure of American democracy", as Alexander claims.