February, 2019

Fredrick Douglass

Black History Month generally highlights outstanding African-Americans from 1960's on.  Almost nothing is reported regarding blacks who impacted our history from the very founding of our republic.  Last year on Black History Month we described the work of Richard Allen, a slave in Delaware who came to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ through a Methodist evangelist.  He, in turn, led his owner to the Lord.  His owner then set all of his slaves free.  Most stayed and worked for him.  However, Allen walked northward to Philadelphia, where he left an indelible imprint on that city's history.  That story is still up, if you look for February, 2018 under Editorial Comment.

This year, I want to introduce you to Fredrick Douglass, born into slavery; but as an adult, escaped and fled to New York.  Three years later he gave an impassioned anti-slavery speech in Massachusetts which resulted in him being hired by the Massachusetts Anti-slavery Society.  He also became one of the preachers at the Zion Methodist Church in Boston.

Douglass was influenced by the members of the Anti-Slavery Society to believe that the Constitution was a Pro-Slavery document.  They held that position because of what is called "the three-fifths clause."  That clause (Article 1, Section 2) says that when counting the population of the states for the purpose of determining how many representatives that state should have in the U. S. House of Representatives, each slave should be counted for only three-fifths of a person.  Douglass bought that understanding, until he began to look into what the Constitution actually said, and what the authors of the Constitution actually wrote concerning that clause.  Could it be that the authors of the Constitution actually enshrined slavery into the Constitution, and purposely stated that each slave was only worth three-fifths of a person?

Douglass discovered that the southern slave states refused to ratify the Constitution, because the northern anti-slave states had much larger populations, and they could legislate against the southern states, and force their will on them - not only about slavery, but about any other subject which might come before Congress.  They believed that the two largest states could force their will on the other eleven just by virtue of their populations.  By the way, that has not changed.  Today, the four or five largest population states could force their will on the other 45 or 46 states; and we have seen that possibility in the last three presidential elections.  Because of that fear, the slave states wanted to count their slaves as a part of their population.

The northern states objected, saying that the slaves were considered property, not people, by the slave owners; and therefore property cannot vote or represent itself.  By the way, free blacks in the south, were permitted to vote.  And there is something else you might not know.  Free black landowners made up 3-percent of the slave owners; Native Americans made up 7-percent; and the rest of the slave owners were white.  The northern states said that horses, cows, even houses were property; and if the southern states wanted to count their property (the slaves) as a part of their population, then the northern states wanted to count their property too.  They were at a deadlock.  

They finally reached a compromise.  Slaves would be counted for representation purposes only at three-fifths of a person.  It had nothing to do with their personal worth.  It had only to do with representation.  So, for a state like South Carolina, which had a slave population equal to its free population, it meant that for every 30,000 free people, they would get one representative in the House of Representatives.  Then, for every 50,000 slaves, they would get another representative; thus making it more difficult for the larger states to impose their will on the southern states.

Fredrick Douglass' work was published.  In addition, he spoke around the country showing Americans that the Constitution was not a Pro-Slavery document; but actually was an Anti-Slavery document.  

Fredrick Douglass, a runaway slave, was a well-know figure in the Abolition movement - one of many African-Americans who were purposely deleted from our history by President Woodrow Wilson.  But that is another story.

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