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Constitutional Journal

- Thursday, July 12, 1787 Yesterday the Convention voted down a compromise on representation under which slaves would be counted as a fraction of free whites.

A CONVENTION majority voted today to sanction the Southern State slave doctrine, namely that a black slave is both property and three-fifths of a free white person when computing political representation.

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Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania paved the way for today's compromise action, clearly the product of a prearranged agreement. Mr. Morris proposed that representation be tied to taxation. Pierce Butler of South Carolina, without hesitation, said there was ``justice'' in Mr. Morris's proposal. One observer believes his move was designed to quiet the fears of Southerners over the future of the slave issue.

Gen. Cotesworth Pinckney added he ``likes the idea,'' agreeing with Mr. Morris that taxation should be restricted to direct taxes and the Legislature be restrained from taxing exports. As a South Carolinian whose exports depend on the labor of blacks, he wanted any agreement on the representation ratio fixed and ``the execution of it enforced by the Constitution.''

North Carolina's William Davie cast a chill over the humid Convention hall when he said some delegates wanted to deprive the Southern States of any share of representation for their blacks. The North Carolina lawyer and planter warned that his State would never confederate on any terms that did not include defining blacks as three-fifths of whites. ``If the Eastern States meant therefore to exclude them all together, the business was at an end,'' he bluntly added.

Rufus King of Massachusetts was the only delegate who spoke up against the threat of a Southern walkout. Warning that a union without justice could not last long, Mr. King said it was shortsighted not to realize that the Southern States are more numerous than the North and that the South will use the threat of a walkout to awe justice. He went on:

``If they threaten to separate now in case injury shall be done them, will their threats be less urgent or effectual, when force shall back their demands. Even in the intervening period there will be no point of time at which they will not be able to say, do us justice or we will separate.''

Then, by a vote of 6-2, with two States divided, delegates approved representation and direct taxation based on a State's free white population and three-fifths of its slave population. Mr. King is reported to have voted against the proposal. One observer points out that, although disapproving of slavery, he may believe the compromise is necessary as the only practical way of securing sectional agreement.

Later the Massachusetts lawyer noted that the three-fifths ratio in counting slaves was included in the current Articles of Confederation by the Continental Congress in April 1783.

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The key players in today's session included not only Mr. Morris of Pennsylvania but also the three delegates from Connecticut. Although Oliver Ellsworth and Dr. William Johnson offered compromise proposals that failed to be adopted, Connecticut's Roger Sherman is reported by one observer to have struck a bargain with South Carolina's John Rutledge on the slave issue over a private dinner at the Indian Queen Inn two weeks ago. If this is true, it means that the important players at this Convention are not always those who have given the longest and most frequent speeches.

These day-by-day reports on the Constitutional Convention will continue tomorrow.

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