Tennessee State Representative Justin Lafferty (right) has been verified by historians and accused of attempting to distort US history after he claimed in a speech in the State House on Tuesday that the three-fifths compromise had been established “for the purpose of ending slavery.” “
The Three-Fifths Compromise was an agreement made during the founding of the nation that counted slaves as three-fifths of a person when determining a state’s population. The slave states wanted to count their entire enslaved population for representation in Congress, and the northern states did not want them to be counted at all. The deal ultimately gave the slavers inordinate representation and influence in government.
“The three-fifths compromise was a direct effort to ensure that the southern states never get the population needed to continue the practice of slavery anywhere else in the country,” said Lafferty, a native of Knoxville.
He argued that “by limiting the number of the population in the enumeration, they specifically limited the number of representatives that would be available in slave states, and they did so for the purpose of ending slavery” .
It was a “bitter pill” that was needed to limit the power of slave states, he argued.
Lafferty was speaking in favor of a Republican-backed amendment to a bill that would withhold funding for schools that teach Critical Race Theory, an academic setting that examines how historic racism in the United States has led to laws and institutions that perpetuate and maintain racial inequalities.
This follows a broader effort by Republicans across the country to deny that racism was a key part of the nation’s roots and leads to pervasive racial inequalities. Conservatives in several other states have proposed similar legislation.
His speech was met with applause from Republican lawmakers.
Several historians have intervened after an excerpt from Lafferty’s speech was circulated widely online.
Manisha Sinha, a historian who holds the Draper Chair in American History at the University of Connecticut, told HuffPost in an email that Lafferty’s comments “are completely incorrect and would be discredited by any respectable historian or even a college student who knows American history. “
“It was certainly not an anti-slavery clause but a pro-slavery clause which gave slavery additional protections and recognition in the US Constitution, much like the fugitive slavery clause which sought to implement southern slavery laws in the North, ”Sinha said.
Lafferty not only whitewashed US history, but gave “an alternate history with alternate facts and arguments,” she said.
Sinha called this sort of misinterpretation of the story dangerous, noting that it can only have bad consequences.
“To spread such lies is to deny the long history of slavery and racism that we have not yet completely overcome,” she said.
A representative for Lafferty did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.
Other historians, including Joanna Freeman, full professor of history and American studies at Yale University; and Kevin M. Levin, historian, author and history educator; also spoke to correct Lafferty’s claims.
Wine also noted that “one of the ways you convince Americans that racism and white supremacy are not central to our history is to politicize and distort it.”
State Representative Antonio Parkinson, Democrat of Memphis and Chairman of the Black Caucus, mentionned Lafferty’s comments were alarming, “but the real insult was when Republicans at home applauded him when he finished his rant.”
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