Sunday, February 21, 2016

Correcting Historical Misconceptions and Debunking Myths about the United States Constitution

In addition to the misconceptions and myths about the Constitution as amended that I addressed in my last post, there are a number of common misconceptions and myths about provisions of that document that have since been amended or about American history at the time of its amendment and the meaning of those amendments.  Because a better understanding of American constitutional history is important, I am including them in this post:

The Three Fifths Rule (Article I, Section II) did not count “blacks” as three fifths of a person, but only slaves as three fifths.  Free blacks were counted as equally as any other free person, while white slaves were counted as three fifths of a person.  The purpose of this anti-slavery provision was to limit the apportionment to slave states of Representatives in the House, which is based upon population.  By not counting slaves equally to free persons, the number of Representatives from slave states in the lower chamber of Congress was thereby reduced and the power of the slave States to enact legislation favorable to slavery was diminished. 

The Constitution did not deny freedoms to slaves, as slaves were described in it as “Persons” (See Article I, Section II, Article I, Section 9 and Article IV, Section 1).  The Constitution guarantees the liberty of all people, not only citizens of the several States.  Notwithstanding the Constitution’s tolerance of state or even federal violations of liberty that legally permitted persons to be “held to service,” slaves were otherwise not denied any other freedoms, rights, privileges and immunities and were not treated unequally by that document.  

The Constitution did not originally deny the privilege to vote to blacks or women.  In fact, blacks and women in some States had already been exercising the franchise well before the passage of the Fifteenth and Nineteenth Amendments, respectively.  Therefore, the Fifteenth Amendment did not “give blacks” the right to vote and the Nineteenth Amendment did not “give women” the right to vote.  These amendments guaranteed that the privilege to vote “shall not be denied” because of race, color or previous condition of servitude, or because of sex, respectively.  This more general negative wording thus also guarantees that whites and males, for example, cannot be denied the franchise.

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