On his radio show today, an African-American caller questioned Glenn Beck’s deification of the Founding Fathers by bringing up the fact that the Constitution “didn’t even recognize my people as even human.” The caller was referring to the three-fifths clause — a provision which counted slaves as three-fifths of a person for purposes of congressional representation and taxation. Beck hit back with a full-throated defense of the three-fifths law, saying it was actually an abolitionist provision:
CALLER: I notice you reference the founding fathers a lot, and to me it’s kind of offensive because most of those guys were slave owners, the Constitution that they wrote up — they didn’t even recognize my people as even human. […]
BECK: That is a common misconception. … Do you know who wanted slaves to be counted as a full person? … Slave owners. … The reason why they wanted that is because of the balance of power. The South could control the numbers in Congress. Their representation would go through the roof. … That’s why, in the Constitution, African-Americans were deemed three-fifths people, because the Founders wanted to end slavery and they knew if the South could count slaves as full individuals you would never get the control to be able to abolish it.
This is another example of Beck distorting history to fit his contemporary agenda. Beck paints a picture of infallible Founders fighting evil Southerners who want to keep their slaves. The problem with this is, of course, is that many of the Founders were from the South and about half of the Constitution’s framers — including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson — owned slaves.
Beck also distorts the motives of the Founders to whitewash their actions by suggesting that Northerners allowed the three-fifths rule purely as an eventual means to ending slavery. But his theory doesn’t explain why the Constitution prohibited outlawing the Atlantic slave trade for twenty years after ratification nor why it included a clause requiring runaway slaves be returned to their owners.
And Beck ignores other serious injustices of the Founders, such as the disenfranchisement of women. The Founding Fathers existed in a different time with different norms that excused discrimination. But Beck cannot be excused for his defense of a law that allowed slavery to persist for decades. Beck’s other previous racially-charged comments have cause him to lose 92 sponsors.