Tennessee state representative Justin Lafferty is under fire after defending the Three-Fifths Compromise and falsely claiming it helped pave the way for the end of slavery during a speech in the state’s General Assembly.
Lafferty claimed during last Tuesday’s speech that the compromise was designed as a measure to end slavery and limit the power of slaveholding states. That of course runs contrary to what nearly all historians say about the 1787 agreement, which is considered one of the most racist arrangements from America’s early days. The Three Fifths Compromise was a deal struck by the states during the creation of the U.S. Constitution that established, for taxation and representation purposes, that only three-fifths of a state’s enslaved people would count toward its total population. But according to Lafferty, it was part of a long game to end slavery well before Lincoln and the Civil War.
Lafferty’s remarks came as lawmakers in Knoxville debated legislation that seeks to withhold funding from public and charter schools that teach critical race theory, a curriculum that looks at the influence of institutional racism and white privilege. Lafferty and his fellow GOP legislators are intent on pushing back on the movement across the U.S. to more accurately frame the founding of America and the role slavery played in it. Lafferty said doing so would only cause more division.
“I say this only because I’m tired, y’all. The people of this nation are tired. If you start looking for trouble — if that’s all you’re bent on — I guarantee you, you’re going to find it.”
CNN’s Laura Jarrett offered a bit of a history lesson on the Three-Fifths Compromise that perhaps lawmakers like Lafferty should watch.
Memphis Democrat Antonio Parkinson, who is the chairman of the Black Caucus in the Tennessee House of Representatives, was disgusted by Lafferty’s defense of a racist policy. “I thought it was just horrible. I don’t care if it’s policy or how you’re counting heads, there is nothing good about slavery,” Parkinson told The NY Times.
Perhaps even more disturbing than Lafferty’s historically ignorant statements was that several of his Republican colleagues applauded after he finished.
Lafferty is not the only Republican lawmaker to be criticized for trying to cast the Three-Fifths Compromise in more favorable light. Colorado state representative Ron Hanks, was slammed last month after he defended it as “ not impugning anybody’s humanity.”
Oregon state senator Dennis Linthicum was criticized for making a similar argument in 2019.