Speed Bump Philosophies

Driving through a supermarket parking lot, one of my friends accelerated for a second, and then she decelerated just as quickly. “Speed bump!” she said out of the corner of her mouth. “Speed bump?” I asked, “But you accelerated?” “I’ve noticed,” she said with a small smile, “That when you accelerate over those old, dull speed bumps, it has less of an impact. If it’s one of the new ones, with ridges and all, you have to slow down, but you can roll right over those old ones without even noticing them if you accelerate at just the right time.”

Whether this is a truism in physics or not, I have found it to be such an accepted practice in politics that it can achieve a truism. I have found that if something is said quickly enough, and often enough, it can be accepted as a fact if it is slipped in with a number of other facts. Most people don’t parse sentences, and most other people don’t call other people out on heart-felt matters if they are displayed in rapid-fire manner. As with a speed bump, the philosophical idea is still there, it just isn’t called out, and it isn’t dealt with in an argumentative fashion, because the speaker cryptically conceals it in a number of other, inarguable facts.

“Slave families were separated, black men were lynched for even looking at a white woman, they were counted as 3/5ths a man, and entire industries were built on the backs of slave labor.”

These are but a few examples of the atrocities visited upon the black men, and women, and their families during the era of slavery. The entire list of these atrocities could be, and have been, documented in many forums. The fact that the enumerated population of slaves was counted as three-fifths a man is also true, but contrary to the popular opinion brought about by speed bump philosophers, this Three-Fifths Compromise was not enacted for the expressed purpose of making the slave any less a person.

Some might say that this compromise might have brought about the unintended result of diminishing the value of the black person, by government decree, regardless the greater intent. This diminished value, they might add, is at the core of some of the problems that black people suffer in the modern era.

While all this might be true, it is also important that we know what that greater intent of those legislators involved in the compromise was. Prior to the Philadelphia convention of 1787, legislators in the North feared that their fight to end slavery as a government-decreed institution in this country, would become a fruitless battle. The intention of the Three-Fifths Compromise dealt with the distribution of taxes, but more importantly it was done to artificially diminish the total number of residents in the South. This would, eventually, diminish the population-based representation of those that would later become the pro-slavery, Democrat Party in the House of Representatives. If slaves were counted as a full man, in regards the population, the Democrats would’ve overwhelmed the population-based representation found in The House of Representatives, and those Democrat Congressman would have continued to vote against abolishing slavery. To wit, those generally against ending slavery were against this Three-Fifths Compromise, and those for abolishing slavery were for it.

The question that some would ask, at this point, is how could Democrats be for slavery? How could any informed legislator vote to keep this institution of human suffering legal? Or better yet, who cares why they voted for it? History should not be kind to those individuals that voted for this, regardless of the reason, and the excuse of the times they lived in should not be used as an excuse.

All true. The reason that Democrats were for maintaining legalized slavery was the pressure they faced from their constituents. The answer is based on the fact that the economy of the South, at the time, was agriculture in general, and cotton in particular, and slaves were their workforce. The answer is that ending government-sanctioned slavery would have crushed the economy of the South, as most plantation owners presumably could not afford to pay the number of workers they needed to pick cotton and still turn a profit. The North, argued the South, could afford to be for abolishing slavery, as their economy was more stratified, but the South depended on agriculture in general, and slave labor in particular.

The reader can go ahead and insert various forms of indignation that revolve around the question “Who cares?” I would agree with all of them, but that is the long and short of why the Three Fifths compromise was instituted.

I’ve heard this Three Fifths compromise misrepresented in numerous talk shows, documentaries, and in water cooler conversations at work. The speed bump philosophy is that blacks were so dehumanized –in the period that existed between that which is normally associated the Founding Fathers period and the Reconstruction period that existed shortly after slavery ended– that they were counted as three-fifths of a man. This is a statement meant to illustrate the flaws in our founding, the flaws in our founders, and to emphasize the ugliness of the worm (slavery) at the core of our country. This revisionist history that has taken hold, due to the efforts of speed bump philosophers that have repeated it so often, and we have accidentally picked it up and repeated it as fact, because it’s rarely understood to the point of being successfully challenged.

“To recognize one religion over another in such a way offends people of other religions, violates the Constitutional separation of church and state, and creates a state-sponsored religion in a manner that goes against everything we stand for.” 

The key word in that quote is recognize. The state shall not recognize one religion over another. It does not state that no citizen shall be forbidden from expressing their religious beliefs. They question is how far can a state-sponsored institution go before it expresses a recognition of one religion over another. The opponents of religion have decided to abuse this word recognize to such a degree that one might believe Americans have a Constitutional protection from religion. It is undeniable that the Founders wanted freedom of religion in this country. It’s one of the primary reasons that some of the Founders, and their forebears, fled Britain in the first place. The Founders considered freedom of religion to be a staple in the definition of freedom in America. The heart of the modern day argument exists in this difference between the modifiers ‘of’ and ‘from’ religion. The Founders considered it a staple of freedom to be free to worship in any manner an individual chose, but they did not believe that it should be a Constitutional freedom that an individual should be free of any sight, or sound, of religion.

Where speed bump philosophers purposely confuse this issue, for those to listen and repeat, lies in what is commonly called a “wall of separation” letter that Thomas Jefferson wrote to the Danbury Baptists of Connecticut. This “wall of separation” letter was but an example of the letters and uneasy fears expressed by some of the Founders of the combination of government with religion, and the compulsory influence of religion on state issues. It is often noted that Jefferson saw theocratic fanaticism as the enemy of the American experiment, but he didn’t fear it so much that he influenced its inclusion in the Constitution.

So, champion Jefferson’s thoughts and writings all you want, but don’t attempt to confuse us by saying that he, or Washington, or Adams, or Franklin or Madison, ever made it a Constitutional freedom.

Most of us do not have a broad base of primary source information, and this embarrasses us, so we listen to secondary, sexy speakers interpret the information for us. This leaves us vulnerable to those speed bump philosophies that have enough truth in them to be believable. While it’s true, for example, that most 18th and 19th century men and women saw slavery as a viable institution, when one considers that the South’s population overwhelmed the North’s, and it’s also true that most 18th and 19th century men believed black people were inferior, it is not true that the particular piece of legislation called the Three-Fifths Compromise was agreed upon for the expressed intent of further dehumanizing them. While it’s also true that our Founding Fathers had serious misgivings about the influence religion could have over government, they did not ever provide a Constitutional separation. If you repeat these things often enough, most often in the manner my friend approached a speed bump, it can achieve a degree of mass consciousness that most people will accept them as true without doing any primary source research.


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