The Constitution and Slavery:
Provisions in the Original Constitution
Article I, Section. 2 [Slaves count as 3/5 persons]
Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons [i.e., slaves]…
Delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 hotly debated the issue of slavery. George Mason of Virginia argued eloquently against slavery, warning his fellow delegates:
"Every master of slaves is born a petty tyrant. They bring the judgment of heaven on a country. As nations cannot be rewarded or punished in the next world, they must be in this. By an inevitable chain of causes and effects, providence punishes national sins by national calamities."
Southern delegates, on the other hand, argued strenuously that the new government should not be allowed to interfere with the institution of slavery. Delegate John Rutledge of South Carolina, for example, told delegates that "religion and humanity have nothing to do with the questions" of whether the Constitution should protect slavery--it was simply a question of property rights.
The Constitution that the delegates proposed included several provisions that explicitly recognized and protected slavery. Without these provisions, southern delegates would not support the new Constitution--and without the southern states on board, the Constitution had no chance of being ratified. Provisions allowed southern states to count slaves as 3/5 persons for purposes of apportionment in Congress (even though the slaves could not, of course, vote), expressly denied to Congress the power to prohibit importation of new slaves until 1808, and prevented free states from enacting laws protecting fugitive slaves.(Excerpts taken from, Exploring Constitutional Conflicts – The Thirteenth Amendment: The Abolition of Slavery, http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/conlaw/thirteenthamendment.html )
The above excerpts detail the struggles our country faced regarding slavery, immorality, politics and property. At issue was whether or not slaves should be counted as a “whole person” or a percentage of a person. It was determined that slaves would be counted as “3/5ths” of a human being. Ultimately, they were viewed as property like cattle, cats, dogs… Slave owners had to convince themselves that Africans were not human beings, therefore, it was ok to treat them as property.
Imagery is powerful. Although legally our Nation has long since abandoned this barbaric practice, the lingering impact of the “less than human” imagery has infiltrated, inculcated and deeply embedded itself into the fabric that constricts our relationships. “Less than human” imagery feeds painful stereotypes… stereo types that suggest that an individual has a high tolerance for pain because they are “big and strong as an ox...,” stereotypes that suggest that an individual may not even feel the pain and if they do, they deserve it!
I remember when I had my first son. The young lady sharing the maternity room with me cried day and night, screaming in pain. A nurse said to me, “She is screaming in pain because she is too lazy to get up and walk. I tried to get her to walk around and she refused so she will take much longer to heal. You don’t want to end up like that do you?” I had just had a c-section the day before with staples still in my abdominal area. My son was in the neonatal intensive care unit clinging to life. He was located, literally on the other side of the hospital.
The nurse told me that I needed to walk to go and see him. Although I was in pain, I wanted to see my son and thought that maybe walking would be the best thing. So with I V pole in tow and in hospital footies, I drug myself slowly down to the nicu. As I arrived, the nurse on staff with my son was horrified. “How did you get down here?” she exclaimed. When I told her that I walked she was livid! She explained that I could have hemorrhaged or passed out. She immediately ordered a wheel chair for me and told me never to do that again while in that condition.
As for my roommate (a young, unwed African American woman), her mother came in and demanded that the doctors re-examine her. It turned out that her uterus was hemorrhaging after the birth of her baby. She almost died. So much for the two of us “lazy” women! I never saw that nurse again. Hopefully he was removed from the staff.
In recent days our Nation is processing inequities regarding law enforcement and minority communities. The mantra, “I CAN’T BREATHE,” is being heard across America. The image of an unarmed African American man being choked and pressed face down to the ground as he gasped for breath is haunting our consciousness. If he were of a lighter hue and smaller stature would he have been treated differently? Locally, a twelve year old boy, mistaken for a “20 year old male” received mixed messages while carrying a toy gun (unfortunately too realistic in appearance). He was shot to death in less than two minutes after police arrival… “Put up your hands and drop your weapon.” The toy gun was in the boys pants. In order for him to “drop it,” he had to pull it out. The police shot him even before exiting their vehicle.
A famous line in the 1970’s movie The Godfather, declared (after discussing where to drop and move drugs…) “We’ll keep it among the dark people. They are animals anyway. Who cares if they lose their souls?”
It is easier to abuse and oppress those we view as less than human. The Lord, however, said that we are all made in God’s image.
To consider the imagery concept further, I encourage you to view the following:
CNN News Anchor, Anderson Cooper's documentary
"A Look at Race Relations Through A Child's Eyes"
Post a comment or send me an email at Shepastor1@hotmail.com
Until next Wednesday,
In Faith, Hope and Perseverance,