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taxation

The levying of a tax. In the U.S. Constitution, Congress has the power to lay and collect taxes (Article 1, Section 8), and the 16th Amendment to the Constitution allows Congress to levy an income tax. Because of a history of taxing power abuses, American founders required all federal taxation to be subject to the consent of the governed through representation. Article 1, Section 9 of the Constitution stipulates that "No capitation, or other direct, tax shall be laid, unless in proportion to the census of enumeration before directed to be taking," guaranteeing the spreading out of the tax burden across the states according to population.

This vote would establish the three-fifths clause in the Constitution.  Its final vote (6 ayes, 2 noes and 2 divided states) reveals solid, but hardly overwhelming support.  Much had changed since June 11, when the topic was first broached.  Although this vote ties the issue of representation to that of taxation, the debates make clear that the three-fifths ratio for the purpose of calculating direct taxation was not a contentious issue at the Convention.  The compromise was between those states that did not want slaves counted at all for the purpose of representation and those that wanted to count slaves fully.  Gouverneur Morris would later try once more on August 8 (Paragraph 2085) to base representation on free persons only, but his attempt to reopen the topic would fail resoundingly.  Indeed the votes taken on August 8 and 21 (Paragraph 2078, 2092, and 2702) demonstrate that most of the states had by that time become reconciled to this compromise.

While it may gall later critics that the Southern states gained greater political power on the basis of their slaves, its worthwhile to remember what Frederick Douglass said of this clause:

             “It is a downright disability laid upon the slaveholding States; one which deprives those States of two-fifths of their natural basis of representation.  A black man in a free State is worth just two-fifths more than a black man in a slave State, as a basis of political power under the Constitution.  Therefore, instead of encouraging slavery, the Constitution encourages freedom by giving an increase of ‘two-fifths’ of political power to free over slave States. . . . it still leans to freedom.”  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).

Annotated by luzzell on September 05, 2013

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).

Annotated by luzzell on September 05, 2013