The president of Emory has gotten quite the ass-kicking for calling the 3/5s rule an example of a good compromise. I admit, I’m perplexed by the push back in part because I’m skeptical of the counterfactual histories his critics presume.
Certainly the best thing was for all people at all times to recognize the immediate humanity of all people. It would have been desirable and magnificent if such could have been an option.
But we are far from that time. Can we know how those founders thought? Certainly counting blacks completely would have given them some humanity; but it would have mainly strengthened southern power: they wouldn’t have been able to vote.
The most moral option would have been for Southern States to admit they were wrong and the voting rights of their slaves. But, however luscious and joyful such an image is, it was probably not an option anyone considered. Unpropertied white men couldn’t vote either.
Perhaps not counting slaves at all would have been the just option, given they had no real representation. But in that case, we would not have had a country. And it also signifies that slaves were not actually people.
I do not think that this compromise was the best world. In my world, if I were God, all people have always been equal, brilliant, understand evolution, the big bang, and math. We would all love everyone. But in a different world, one I do not understand, perhaps the 3/5’s rule was a compromise that was worthy. One does not need to believe that slavery or the dehumanization of blacks was moral to also acknowledge that we make compromises that are imperfect, frail and open to change. As this one was. The better option for blacks at this time – counting as nothing – may have been worse in the long run. We do not know.
But I do think the president of Emory has been misunderstood by well-meaning people.