The Flawed Genius of the Constitution

The Flawed Genius of the Constitution

The document counted my great-great-grandfather as three-fifths of a free person. But the Framers don’t own the version we live by today. We do. The document is our responsibility now.

Why do i love the U.S. Constitution? This instrument formally converted the worth of my great-great-grandfather Sidiphus into three-fifths’ that of a free person. Living in the East Indies as a free man, Sidiphus had been tricked into enslavement—recruited to a Georgia farm just before the Civil War by the promise of a foremanship. Had he managed to escape Georgia and bondage prior to the onset of the war, the Constitution would not have protected his God-given natural rights.

Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution determined that representation in Congress and direct taxation would be apportioned to the states by adding up the whole number of free people, plus “three-fifths of all other persons”—meaning enslaved persons—“excluding Indians not taxed.” These words carried into the Constitution a compromise first formulated in 1783 in a proposed amendment to the Articles of Confederation. That compromise was later adopted in the Constitution to resolve the conundrum of how to tax the plantation wealth of the South without giving white landowners outsize power in Congress by including enslaved people in the official count of the population.

Given the crime against humanity written into the Constitution because compromise was necessary to form a union—and given the sharp and unabating attention that the nation’s Founders and their writings have received in recent months—I had better have a rock-solid explanation for my love of that document. Simple love of country, land of my mother’s milk, won’t do. My love must be sighted, not blind.