GOP lawmaker: Three-Fifths Compromise was to end slavery

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In this still image from video provided by the Tennessee General Assembly, Rep. Justin Lafferty, R-Knoxville, speaks on the floor of the House of Representatives at the State Capitol in Nashville, Tenn., on Tuesday, May 4, 2021. Lafferty falsely declared that an 18th century policy designating a slave as three-fifths of a person was adopted for the purpose of ending slavery," commenting amid a debate over whether educators should be restricted while teaching about systematic racism in America. (Tennessee General Assembly via AP)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A Tennessee Republican falsely declared Tuesday that an 18th century policy designating a slave as three-fifths of a person was adopted for “the purpose of ending slavery," commenting amid a debate over whether educators should be restricted while teaching about systematic racism in America.

During lengthy debate on the GOP-controlled House floor, several Black lawmakers expressed concerns about the bill's impact on how certain subjects would be taught in schools, specifically highlighting the Three-Fifths Compromise. The policy was made during the nation’s Constitutional Convention in 1787 and classified that three-fifths of a state's slave population could be counted toward its total population when apportioning taxes and states’ representation in Congress.

Historians largely agree the compromise gave slaveholding states inordinate power over choosing a president — and decisions of the Continental Congress. That clout eventually faded when Northern state populations began to rapidly rise.

Rep. Justin Lafferty, who is white, stood up and talked at length about what he saw as sparking the compromise. At one point he asked colleagues to note on paper their best guess for the reasons that led to the policy.

“By limiting the number of population in the count, they specifically limited the number of representatives who would be available in the slave holding states and they did it for the purpose of ending slavery," said Lafferty, from Knoxville. “Well before Abraham Lincoln. Well before Civil War.”

None of the other lawmakers in the chamber directly challenged Lafferty's false claims but some applauded when he finished talking.

Rep. Antonio Parkinson, a Memphis Democrat and chairman of the General Assembly’s Black Caucus, said in a later statement that Lafferty's comments were troublesome.

“Rep. Lafferty’s statement about how the Three-Fifths Compromise was created to end slavery was alarming but the real insult was when the House Republicans clapped for him when he finished his diatribe,” he said.