The new Republican leadership of the House of Representatives opened the new 112th Congress with a reading of the Constitution that they are sworn to support and defend. Some Members on both sides tried to make political hay out of the action, but for the most part it was a bipartisan effort that served to remind all of what they were there for.
But purposely the document they read wasn’t the Constitution of the United States, but an edited, modernized version. The original, housed in the Archives of the United States, spells out the method for apportioning congressional seats in Article I, Section 2:
Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.
“Three fifths of all other Persons.” Those “other Persons” meant slaves. The formula was changed by the fourteenth amendment, which ended slavery and, eliminated the three-fifths language.
Why would anybody bowdlerize the Constitution? Simple—it’s to maintain the fiction that the founders had perfect foresight, and that their language—or their omissions—must be followed slavishly for all time. And so, for example, since they didn’t allow the federal government to require Americans to buy health insurance, then the health care law must be unconstitutional. And so, for another example (more…)