Staff Report

NASHVILLE, TN — An very unpopular Tennessee state lawmaker Republican Rep. Justin Lafferty, drew criticism for defending a Constitutional provision that determined how enslaved Black people would be regarded by law, saying that it was intended to end slavery rather than uphold it.

Lafferty, while debating a bill that would ban critical race theory in schools, argued that the Three-Fifths Compromise of 1787, was actually an attempt to move away from what came to be known as the “peculiar institution.”

Lafferty called it “a direct effort to ensure that Southern states never got the population necessary to continue the practice of slavery everywhere else in the country” by limiting their Congressional representation”.  The Three-Fifths Compromise was an agreement between Northern and Southern delegates of the U.S. Constitutional Convention that three-fifths of the enslaved population would be counted to determine taxation and representation in the House of Representatives. Most historians agree that, if anything, the agreement gave more power to slave states, which did not relinquish people from bondage until they were forced to as a result of the Civil War.

Lafferty said that the nation’s founding fathers swallowed a “bitter pill” to gain the support of Southern states in the American Revolution. But the historical reality is that Southern states were able to count enslaved people —which they looked at as “property” —and boost their representation in the House of Representatives and thus their power, including their ability to continue holding people in bondage.

“Talking about incorporating another view of history while ignoring the very writings that we have access to is no way to go about it,” said Laffterty .

Laffterty was blasted by others in the Tennessee statehouse, who rejected the notion that the Three-Fifths Compromise was in any way beneficial.

“I thought it was horrible,” said Antonio Parkinson, a Democrat representing Nashville in the Tennessee House. “I don’t care if it’s policy or how you’re counting heads, there is nothing good about slavery.”

Some historians disagree with Lafferty’s interpretation. Joanne Freeman, a Yale University professor of history and early American studies, told CNN that the compromise had “nothing to do with ending slavery” and actually gave Southern states an unfair advantage.

“It embedded slavery into the Constitution, enabling Southerners to count their ‘property’ for representation — and thereby to dominate the government to preserve slavery and their hold on power,” Freeman explained. “Yes, Southerners wanted to count the entirety of their enslaved population — their ‘property’ — in their count for representation. The fact that they got only 3/5 of that count hardly counts as a blow against slavery.”

Although Lafferty’s argument was publicly unacceptable, the debate over critical race theory wound up favoring Republicans who were against it. The Tennessee House passed a law that banned its teaching in public schools in the state at the end of its legislative session.