An annotation on Passage 458 of James Madison's Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787 458


This is the first vote on the three-fifths ratio in the Constitutional Convention, and there are a few significant details worth noticing.  First, the motion was seconded by Charles Pinckney of South Carolina (which is understandable), but it was initiated by a Pennsylvanian, which seems strange given the prevalence of anti-slavery sentiment in that state.  Second, the rationale originally given for the ratio was that it conformed to the ratio that the Confederation Congress had already almost adopted for the purpose of requisitioning taxation (even though the ratio here would be used for a very different purpose – apportioning representation).  Third, there was only one objection to this rule when it was first advanced, by Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts.  And fourth, it passed overwhelmingly in this vote by the Committee of the Whole: 9 to 2.  It is possible, too, that the dissenters (New Jersey and Delaware) objected more to the idea that the rule for apportioning representation would be proportional rather than the fact that slaves would be counted at a ratio of three-fifths.  This issue would later become one of the more virulent battles within the Convention, but it is clear that the theoretical implications of the three-fifths rule was not immediately apparent to most of the participants.  In order to follow the tortured route that the three-fifths clause took on its way to adoption into the Constitution, follow the votes taken in:  (Paragraphs 458, 461, 1229, 1251, 1260, 1289, 1293, 1314, 2078, 2092, and 2702).