Many know that enslaved Africans were considered three-fifths human by the U.S. Constitution, but not many are aware of how the dehumanization of enslaved Africans set the stage for the institution that is currently used to elect the President and Vice President of the United States of America.
It should be common knowledge that American citizens do not directly elect the President of the United States. Instead, each state is entitled to a number of elected intermediaries, called “electors,” which vary from state to state and are subject to increase or decrease every ten years based on recorded population changes. These electors make up the Electoral College, the institution that determines the next President of our country.
Why do we have these elected delegates instead of our President being selected by popular vote?
Well, it’s an uncomfortable answer, but, like most things in America, the enslavement of Africans had a lot to do with it.
While creating the U.S. Constitution, James Madison, known as the “Father of the Constitution,” actually favored a popular vote instead of an electoral vote to elect the President, as did all slave owners. Nearly half of the delegation who wrote the Constitution owned slaves, including Madison who would later become the fourth President of the United States.
But why would slave owners prefer a popular vote instead of an electoral vote?
Representation. Although slave owners considered enslaved Africans property, they also wanted their property to be counted as part of their population to increase their political influence.
Speaking on the consideration of a popular vote, James Madison wrote:
“There was one difficulty however of a serious nature attending an immediate choice by the people. The right of suffrage was much more diffusive in the Northern than the Southern States; and the latter could have no influence in the election on the score of Negroes. The substitution of electors obviated this difficulty and seemed on the whole to be liable to the fewest objections.”
So we don’t have a popular vote because the outnumbered Northern delegates wanted to limit the power of slave owning southern delegates and level the playing field? That’s a good thing right?
Like most truths, the answer is not always at the surface.
The reason southern delegates did not object to the use of electoral votes is because the Three-Fifths Compromise was agreed upon.
This agreement between southern and northern delegates determined that enslaved Africans would be counted as three fifths human for the purpose of determining a state’s total population “for legislative representation and taxing purposes.” This amended population was then used to determine the number of seats that each state would be entitled to in the House of Representatives for the next decade.
The decision provided southern states with a third more seats in Congress and a third more electoral votes than what they would have been entitled to if enslaved Africans had been ignored all together. Although slave owners walked away with a bigger piece of the pie, the compromise did at least limit the amount of representatives southern states would have been entitled to if the number of enslaved Africans had been counted as whole persons.
This decision allowed slaveholder interests to dominate the United States government from its inception until the 1900s. Even after the Three-Fifths Compromise was annulled and enslaved Africans were recognized as human beings and not property with the 13th Amendment in 1865, slave owning states still came out on top due to the fact that recognizing Africans as whole persons instead of three-fifths human increased southern population and provided southern delegates with an even bigger representation in the U.S. government.
The Great Migration, in which so-called African Americans moved from the South between 1916-1970, served to greatly impact the Electoral College by increasing the population in Western, Midwestern and Northern states who largely opposed slavery. They still, however, did not believe that black men should be equal to white men. This is a belief still characterized in America today, made evident by wealth, employment, education and incarceration disparities.
An Electoral College determines the President of the United States because the dehumanization of Africans served to further the political agenda of slave owning Europeans. When people say everything is not about race, it’s learned ignorance. To borrow from Mizzou: “This country was built on my b(l)ack.” Nothing within its body was created for the full equality of black men and women. When you cast your vote, remember that. We are no longer physically enslaved, but nor are we any closer to full equality. That truth has persisted intensely in the face of our democracy regardless of our leader being Democrat or Republican, yet still we allow ourselves to concede to the idea that one is for us while the other is against us. Dear black people, both are against you