Kashana Cauley writes: In an interview with Laura Ingraham on Fox News last night, the White House chief of staff, John Kelly, said “the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War,” a statement that would shock, among others, the founding fathers. After spirited debates at the 1787 Constitutional Convention, they included Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 in our Constitution, which said each slave, for legislative representation and taxation purposes, counted as three-fifths of a person. That provision is known as the Three-Fifths Compromise, a term that clearly states that Northerners and Southerners were, in fact, quite able to reach weird compromises on slavery.
But our country’s tortured attempt to find some kind of balance on whether it was right to enslave African-Americans wasn’t limited to the Three-Fifths Compromise. To argue that the Civil War came about because Americans couldn’t compromise on whether black slaves were truly people or not would require us to ignore at least six other major compromises on slavery, from the first fugitive slave law in 1793, which said that escaped slaves in any state could be caught, tried and returned to their masters, to the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which allowed residents of the two territories to vote on whether to allow slavery. Slaveowners and abolitionists compromised on slavery over and over again, throwing black people’s rights onto the bargaining table like betting chips in a casino.
The Civil War ended slavery, but the legacy of all the prewar compromising on black people’s rights sparked new fights: the fleeting freedoms of Reconstruction; the punishing hand of Jim Crow; the limited triumphs of the civil rights movement; the quiet indignities of practices like racially restrictive covenants, which allowed homeowners to place terminology in property deeds to restrict ownership by race; and redlining, which reduced the value of homes in black neighborhoods compared with their white counterparts. [Continue reading…]