The Colorblind Constitution: Frederick Douglass on Race and America’s Founding

Hannah Sternberg /

In a move one blogger called “Huck Finning the Constitution,” the 112th Congress left out the infamous “three-fifths compromise” in their much-publicized reading of the Constitution on the House floor. The “three-fifths compromise” is a clause in Article I, Section 2, which states the number of Congressional representatives from a state will be calculated, in part, by including “three fifths of all other Persons” who are neither “free Persons” nor “Indians not taxed,” and was understood to apply to the counting of slaves. This clause was later nullified by Section 2 of the 14th Amendment.

In a classic damned-if-they-do, damned-if-they-don’t predicament, House leaders were faced with the choice between reading the defunct clause aloud, and garnering criticism for seemingly promoting a racist document, or omitting the passage, and being accused of sugar-coating the Constitution’s flaws. In either scenario, the Constitution comes across as an embarrassing older relative, insisting on spouting uncouth remarks, constantly engaging its more politically enlightened offspring in a game of interference.

Many prominent American intellectuals and civil rights leaders, as well as the bulk of the American academic establishment, claim that America’s founders, and the Constitution they wrote, were fundamentally racist. (more…)