On his radio show today, Glenn Beck tried to defend Michele Bachmann’s claim that the Founding Fathers tried to end slavery by attacking MSNBC’s Chris Mathews. Beck stated that the 3/5 compromise was an attempt to end slavery. He called the 3/5 compromise, “All of it, because that’s exactly the way the Founders tried to get rid of slavery.”
Here is the audio from Media Matters:
While trying to defend Michele Bachmann’s claim that the Founding Fathers ended slavery, Beck went on the attack against MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. After playing a heavily edited clip of Chris Mathews calling Bachmann a balloon head for her claim that the Founders dealt with slavery, Beck said, “You know what Chris, let me play your game. You progressives say you only care about people’s health. You want this healthcare. Well you know you hold up FDR, and TR, and Woodrow Wilson as one of the greatest presidents of all time. Yet, you say you want healthcare. Well you didn’t do healthcare. FDR didn’t do healthcare. JFK didn’t do healthcare. You know you say you wanna take care of the poor, but you don’t really take care of the poor. Sure you started with Social Security, but you didn’t take of the poor. You progressives are liars. You are nothing but frauds.”
Beck continued, “That is the same argument that you have to use, Chris on your progressive movement for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, anything to do with children’s health, all of your stupid little food things that you do, all of it. All of it, because that’s exactly the way the Founders tried to get rid of slavery.” Beck went on to personally attack Mathews for four minutes, including the claim that the Hardball host hates black people. Beck continued to incorrectly claim that the 3/5 clause was meant to get rid of slavery.
In an email to Media Matters, University of Pennsylvania history professor Rick Beeman explain that Beck has the 3/5 clause totally wrong, “My goodness — Glenn Beck got it completely wrong. They put [the three-fifths clause] there because delegates from the Southern states would never have agreed to the Constitution unless some weight was given to their slave populations in the apportionment of representation. They wanted slaves counted 100%, but when they saw that they could not get that, they settled for 3/5. The practical effect of that, far from making easier to abolish slavery, made it more difficult. It gave added weight to southern political power in Congress, it inflated Southern power in the apportioning of electoral votes, which led to a succession of Southern presidents. Ironically, the best thing that could have been done with respect to making it easier to abolish slavery would have been to have given slaves NO weight in the apportioning of representation.”
The 3/5 clause was not put into the Constitution to abolish slavery. As Professor Beeman points out the 3/5 agreement actually helped to keep slavery alive, because the slave holding states benefited from their slaves being counted at all. 3/5 was a compromise made so that the Southern delegates would support the Constitution. The 3/5 compromise was a pragmatic political move that was never intended to end slavery. Glenn Beck is simply filling his audience with false information.
From a practical point of view, why would Southern and slavery supporting delegates ever have endorsed the 3/5 compromise if it was an attempt to end slavery? Common sense and a basic understanding of the issue and the politics of the day tell us that they never would have. What to do with one of the issues that could have derailed the entire Constitutional Convention. Glenn Beck demonstrated his lack of factual information for his point by trying to change the subject to an attack on progressives and resorting to blustering personal attacks on Chris Mathews.
Frederick Douglass did argue that the 3/5 clause hurt slaveholders by denying them 2/5 representation, but Beck is confusing an argument over the ramifications of the compromise with the intent of the compromise. The Founding Fathers never intended to use the 3/5 compromise to end slavery. It was a political maneuver used to get a thorny issue off the table. Politicians would continue to sweep slavery under the rug until the run up to the Civil War.
Glenn Beck has it completely wrong, and he is not bothered, but seems to be celebrating that his untrue history of the United States is making millions of Americans dumber, one distorted fact at a time.