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Tennessee legislator praises Three-Fifths Compromise on state House floor

Tennessee state Rep. Justin Lafferty (R) on Tuesday argued that the Three-Fifths Compromise should be held up as a positive but "bitter" part of U.S. history when arguing for a bill that would prohibit critical race theory from being taught in Tennessee public schools.

The Tennessee House of Representatives was debating a bill that would prohibit critical race theory from being taught in schools.

“I’ve sat here praying for about five or 10 minutes about how I'm going to try and address the body in this issue. Still not sure I have the answer, but if you guys will bear with me, I'll see where it takes us,” Lafferty said on the House floor.

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The lawmaker went on to argue that the agreement to count three-fifths of a slave population when determining taxation and representation in the U.S. House was intended to help end slavery “well before Abraham Lincoln, well before Civil War.”

He said it “was a direct effort to ensure that Southern states never got the population necessary to continue the practice of slavery everywhere else in the country” by limiting the number of representatives slave-owning states had in Congress.

It's an argument that occasionally comes up among lawmakers, though historians generally agree the Three-Fifths Compromise, which was reached in 1787, increased the power of slave-holding states. Slavery was not abolished in the U.S. for another 90 years.

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He also lauded the country’s founders for “biting a bitter, bitter pill” of slavery in order to ensure the support of the Southern states in the Revolutionary War.

“I don't hear that anywhere in this conversation across the country. I don't know how we've gotten here. I don't know what we do about it, but talking about changing our history — changing is not the right word — talking about incorporating another view of history while ignoring the very writings that we have access to is no way to go about it,” Lafferty said.

After Lafferty stopped speaking, Republican members of the House stood up and applauded his remarks.

Antonio Parkinson, the chairman of the Black Caucus in the Tennessee House, told The New York Times Lafferty’s comments were offensive.

“I thought it was horrible,” Parkinson said, adding that no matter the argument, it was impossible to defend policies that protected slavery and failed to account for the full humanity of African Americans. “I don’t care if it’s policy or how you’re counting heads, there is nothing good about slavery.”

The Hill has reached out to Lafferty for clarification on his remarks.

This bill in Tennessee is the latest of a crop of GOP-backed bills in state legislatures that seek to block the teaching of critical race theory, which teaches that racism is ingrained in American institutions, in schools.