Tenn. congressman defends Three-fifths Compromise

"We ended up biting a bitter, bitter pill that haunts us today."

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Tennessee state Rep. Justin Lafferty (R), is facing criticism for defending the Three-Fifths Compromise. The agreement was drafted during the nation’s Constitutional Convention in 1787 and classified a slave as three-fifths of a person when determining representation in Congress and tax obligations of each state.

Rep. Lafferty delivered an impassioned speech in the Tennessee General Assembly on Tuesday, during which he said the Three-Fifths Compromise was included in the Constitution “for the purpose of ending slavery”— which isn’t true. Lafferty’s remarks came as he backed a Republican-sponsored bill that aims to ban the teaching of critical race theory in schools.

Read More: Democrats condemn Colorado lawmaker for lynching, Three-fifths Compromise comments

As theGRIO previously reported, critical race theory is a concept that explains the way white supremacy and America’s history of inequality and racism continue to have an impact on modern-day society. Kimberle Crenshaw, a law professor at UCLA and Columbia, told CNN last year, it was “an approach to grappling with a history of White supremacy that rejects the belief that what’s in the past is in the past and that the laws and systems that grow from that past are detached from it.” 

“We ended up biting a bitter, bitter pill that haunts us today. And we did it to lay the foundation for all this that we enjoy in this country,” Lafferty said Tuesday, referencing the compromise, The American Independent reports.

“The Three-Fifths Compromise was a direct effort to ensure that southern states never got the population necessary to continue the practice of slavery everywhere else in the country,” he added. 

“By limiting the number of population in the count, they specifically limited the number of representatives that would be available in the slaveholding states, and they did it for the purpose of ending slavery,” he said. “Well before Abraham Lincoln. Well before Civil War.”

The Three-Fifths Compromise was crafted to uphold white supremacy in the South. Historian Paul Finkelman, President of Gratz College, noted in The New York Times that the agreement was “one of a number of proslavery provisions of the Constitution that antislavery Northerners could have resisted.” 

Read More: Bill banning critical race theory in public schools becomes law

Tennessee Republicans are currently working overtime to push through legislation that whitewashes history and restricts lessons about race and racism taught in public schools. As previously reported, according to Education Week, several states — including The 1619 Project helmer Nikole Hannah-Jones’ native state of Iowa, as well as Louisiana, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and West Virginia — have drafted bills that would ban the teaching of what they deem “divisive” or “racist and sexist” concepts. Similar bills have also passed in Utah and Arkansas. 

“I don’t say anything on this floor today with any malice toward any of my friends on the other side,” Lafferty said. “I say this only because I’m tired, y’all. The people of this nation are tired. If you start looking for trouble — if that’s all you’re bent on — I guarantee you, you’re going to find it.” 

Lawmakers in Tennessee have moved to ban critical race theory instruction in public schools. The state’s House Education Administration Committee voted 12-3 to prohibit teaching elements of the theory.

theGRIO’s Biba Adams contributed to this report.

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