Tuesday, April 12, 2022

the last book I ever read (Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy's Guide to the Constitution, excerpt nine)

from Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy's Guide to the Constitution by Elie Mystal:

The Union survived the Civil War, but its slavers’ Constitution did not.

If I’d been in charge, I’d have written an entirely new document. I’m sure that everybody knows that the original document counted slaves as “three fifths” of a free individual, but I’m not sure that most people appreciate how deeply cynical this clause was, beyond the obvious racism.

First of all, the actual text referred to three-fifths of “all other persons,” because the slavers who wrote it didn’t want to put the word slaves in their precious document. It’s one of the most obvious indications that the founders knew damn well that slavery was wrong and didn’t give a shit. But when you dig deeper, you realize that the three-fifths clause was put in there to help the slavers and the slave states. The Northern states out-peopled the Southern states, and so, rightly, the Southerners were worried about a federal government controlled by the states in the North with more people in them. You know, like a democracy or something. To counteract the places with the most people, the slave states put a bunch of antidemocratic loopholes in their Constitution, while also trying to inflate their own numbers by counting slaves who—by their own evil logic—had not right to representation. But they couldn’t just say that slaves should be counted as full people, because then why are they holding people in bondage? So the counted slaves as three-fifths of a person to give their captors more congressional representation.

A document that flawed, one animated by such evil, and one that so spectacularly failed that the country fought a live-ammo Civil War less than a hundred years after its conception, should have been thrown out with the bathwater. That’s what they did in South Africa. In South Africa, they didn’t just track chance and strike through the old apartheid constitution. You can’t make Freddy Krueger friendly by giving him a new hat. Instead, they wrote an entirely new document, in a constitutional convention that represented all of the people, and they took two years to do it. Adopted in 1996, the South African Constitution now stands as a model for the world, while we have a “constitutional crisis” every time a Republican president figures out a new way to commit crimes.

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