Three-Fifths Compromise: slaves counted as 3/5 of a person


United States

Discrimination & Inequity Labor & Economy

At the July 1787 Constitution Convention in Philadelphia, the “Three-Fifths Compromise” was born, whereby individuals held in slavery came to be defined as three-fifths of a person.

This new law measuring citizenship and personhood rose from the tensions between southern slave states and northern “free states.” Although Africans held in slavery would still not be considered citizens nor be allowed to vote, southern states wanted slaves to be considered persons to increase the proportional representation of the South in the House of Representatives. Northern states, however, wanted to prevent the South from gaining greater political power.

In the end, the compromise demonstrated the force of pro-slavery Southerners and enabled them to maintain slavery. Even after the slave trade was outlawed in 1808, Southern states continued to increase their political power by forcing enslaved people to have children. It was not until the Dred Scott v. Stanford case (see also: Dred Scott Decision Denies Citizenship to Black Americans,1847-1857) that the three-fifths compromise was challenged.