Introduction to Congress 8

The following is an extract from Lesson 2 of An Introduction to the U.S. Congress. You can get the whole thing here:

Exactly how to make the change to representative democracy was a much-debated topic during the Constitutional Convention. There were three main issues, each drawn from the tensions we listed in Lesson 1:

  • Two weeks ago – Should Congress derive its power from the people or from the state governments?
  • Last week – Should large states be balanced against small states?
  • This week – Should enslaved people be counted towards a state’s population?

Enslaved people: The framers debated who to count in the census. This disagreement came from the decision to make representation in the House proportional to state populations. Southern delegates argued that enslaved people should be counted in the census, thus giving them more delegates. Northern delegates argued against this. Those who opposed slavery worried that counting enslaved people would give the southern states more power in the House to continue the practice of slavery. The delegates settled on a compromise referred to as the Three-Fifths Compromise. Each enslaved person would be counted as three-fifths of a free person.

That compromise did not last. All people are now counted equally, following the Thirteenth Amendment that outlawed enslavement.

FOR REFLECTION: If representation in the House must be proportional to the population, then what does this imply about the need for a regular, accurate census?

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