Suppose the Constitution viewed Chris Matthews as three-fifths of a person. Let's say we counted Chris, but didn't count his right leg that famously tingles when President Obama speaks? Ridiculous, isn't it?And it is just as ridiculous for Chris Matthews to say the Founders regarded enslaved black people as "three-fifths of a person." (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3036697//vp/41261376#41261376)
Is Matthews' claim even logical? If you opposed slavery - as most of the Founders did - and wanted to reduce the power of slaveholding states, you would argue for not counting slaves at all.
The three-fifths compromise held forth this dynamic promise: If you will voluntarily abolish slavery, your state will get a bonus in the Electoral College and in the U.S. House of Representatives. Seven of the original thirteen states did just that.
Chris Matthews repeats this false charge against those who drafted and ratified our Constitution so that he can sneer at the idea of the Founders "working tirelessly to end slavery."
Not so ridiculous. Thomas Jefferson's draft for the Declaration of Independence included a denunciation of the odious Slave Trade. It was edited out and he was heart-broken, saying it had been "mutilated." As a Congressman, Jefferson offered a bill to ban slavery from west of the Appalachians. It failed by one vote. Jefferson mourned, "Heaven was silent in that awful moment." Later, Jefferson joined Congress's move to ban slavery from the Northwest Territory.
As President, he pleaded with Congress in 1806 to act early to ban the Atlantic Slave Trade. The Constitution said Congress could act, but only after 20 years, another tragic but - for the sake of union - necessary compromise. The Constitution never said Congress had to ban the slave trade. Jefferson pressed the issue home.
George Washington told Lafayette that no one desired a legislative formula for ending slavery more than he did. As President, he signed the reenactment of the Northwest Ordinance with its critical ban on slavery. He freed his slaves in his will - after carefully training them for independent living. His will provided funds for freed slaves. His estate continued to pay these funds into the 1830s. If only all slaveholders had followed his wonderful example.
James Madison said the Framers of the Constitution were "unwilling to admit there could be property in men." State laws had always provided for slavery, alas. But Madison said the delegates to the Constitutional Convention did not want a Union that recognized humans as chattels.
Then, of course, there were such Founders as George Mason and Gouverneur Morris, both of whom denounced slavery at the Constitutional Convention.
Alexander Hamilton opposed slavery all his life. His financial system was predicated on the idea that free labor and free enterprise should be the American way.
Benjamin Franklin, in his last public act, petitioned Congress to abolish slavery. John Jay, our first U.S. Chief Justice, founded the New York Manumission Society. Does that count as working tirelessly to end slavery?
Lincoln spoke of the Founders' belief that "nothing stamped in the divine image was sent into the world to be trod upon." Frederick Douglass called the Constitution an anti-slavery document. Not a word would need changing to abolish the injustice. I think I would rather stand with the Founders, with Lincoln, with Douglass, than with Chris Matthews' tortured interpretations of our nation's past. Whenever I read their stirring words, I get this tingling up and down my leg.
Robert Morrison is senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council.