Project 21 New Visions

Bob Parks

The New York Times: Three-Fifths Of A Newspaper


by Bob Parks (bio)

It's sad enough that the editors at the New York Times believe it is a "theatrical production of unusual pomposity" for the new Republican congressional leadership to require "that every bill cite its basis in the Constitution" and that they ordered that the Constitution be aloud in the House chamber.

It may only be me, but I'd be willing to bet these Times editors would be running down the hallways, arms a-flailin' and citing a pure constructionist position on the First Amendment guarantee of a free press if the new Congress required government oversight of the content of their sorry excuse for a newspaper.

Times editors rightfully note courts exist to determine the constitutionality of laws. But, in this age of austerity, isn't it saving time and effort by stopping a bill in its infancy if its author can't vouch for its constitutionality?

Of course, the Times didn't stop there. Showing the originality of a rapper skimming through the Rhino music catalog in search of a 70s hit from which to lift an eight-bar hook, the Times — in its unsigned editorial January 4 — reached into the liberal playbook and rather clumsily interjected the race card into the discussion:

In any case, it is a presumptuous and self-righteous act, suggesting that they alone understand the true meaning of a text that the founders wisely left open to generations of reinterpretation. Certainly the Republican leadership is not trying to suggest that African-Americans still be counted as three-fifths of a person.

Just because Republicans want to make sure proposed legislation meets constitutional muster and have a reverence to our nation's founding document doesn't mean they believe blacks be counted as three-fifths of a person.

Maybe, by playing the race card as part of their rebuttal, the Times believes somewhere around three-fifths of its readership is functionally ignorant of history.

Or maybe it's three-fifths of the New York Times editors?

Here's my three-fifths worth of a lesson in American history...

When the Constitution was being written, participants the Constitutional Convention who hailed from the South wanted to include blacks in census tallies because it would increase their representation. Slaves outnumbered whites in slave states. It was among the hopes of the southerners that, by increasing the number of pro-slavery congressmen, abolitionist legislation introduced by northerners could be blunted or defeated outright.

There was, however, a philosophical problem: blacks in Southern states had no rights. Northerners at the Constitutional Convention considered it a joke that blacks only be counted when it would be beneficial to the South.

Northerners argued that, since southerners considered blacks to be their property, why not make all property count for the purpose of determining congressional representation. Thus, northerners wanted to include horses, cattle, homes, furniture, pets and other property in their population tallies.

The South denounced the proposal, so anti-slavery northerner James Wilson of Pennsylvania came up with a compromise. Blacks in Southern states would be counted as three-fifths of a person. That way, slaves would be counted but could not necessarily be used by the South to amass undue power in the new Congress. It had the effect of limiting the power of the slave states, especially over the long-term.

The "Three-Fifths Compromise" — as it came to be known — had nothing to do with the worth of a person and everything to do with diminishing the power of Southern racists.

It's progressives at the New York Times today who continue to distort the history of an entire people purely for political gain:

Certainly the Republican leadership is not trying to suggest that African-Americans still be counted as three-fifths of a person.

Of course they aren't. But the editors at the New York Times apparently have very little regard for the intelligence of their readers.

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Bob Parks is a member of the national advisory council of the Project 21 black leadership network and operates the Black and Right web site (http://www.black-and-right.com).  Comments may be sent to [email protected]. A version of this commentary previously appeared on the Newsbusters web site.

Published by the National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints permitted provided source is credited. New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21, other Project 21 members, or the National Center for Public Policy Research, its board or staff.


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