Reporter puts Republican lawmaker on the spot over bill banning teaching much of U.S. history

Information about Reporter puts Republican lawmaker on the spot over bill banning teaching much of U.S. history

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Adam Sexton, a reporter for New Hampshire ABC affiliate WMUR, did valuable work in putting the question to Layton. It did not go well for her, but it went worse for historical fact. Sexton asked Layton how a teacher should address something like the Three-fifths Compromise, which is “a racist aspect of America’s founding.”

“Well, when you’re bringing this up in the classroom, you should go back to some of the historical documents,” Layton opened her response, before going on to reveal that she herself had not gone back to any of the historical documents. Among other gems, she claimed that the drafters of the compromise “actually were worried that if, for representation, they counted each slave as a whole vote and a whole voter, that then there might be more slavery throughout the country and that it would be unequal because a viewpoint that was on its way out would be over-represented.” 

A viewpoint that was on its way out? Ma’am, that was the 1780s. More than 70 years later, 11 states seceded from the U.S. and fought a bloody war to maintain slavery. The Three-fifths Compromise was not about a viewpoint that was on its way out. It was about raw political power, and also about taxation: Would enslaved people be counted as property for the purposes of taxation? What was the best outcome for the South if enslaved people were taxed as property to the same extent they were counted for congressional apportionment?

Sexton pressed Layton: “It was rational, but it was also racist though, right?”

Layton sounded extremely uncomfortable in her response, but she was not backing down. “I mean, it’s not a good thing to do,” she said. But racist? She wasn’t going that far. In discussing whether people were counted as people.

“If you look at it, it was all slaves,” she continued. “So when you had indentured servants that were coming over from Ireland they also counted as three-fifths.” This is false. People “bound to Service for a Term of Years,” i.e., indentured servants, were explicitly included as whole people in the compromise. Layton wasn’t done. “My family, the Indians, I’m part Cherokee, we were also counted as three-fifths within that,” she said. In fact, the compromise stipulated “excluding Indians not taxed.” 

The thing about Layton’s blizzard of historical errors is that the biggest one—bigger than getting it wrong on the intent of the Three-fifths Compromise or who was and was not included in it—is the central issue of the bill she’s sponsoring: The Three-fifths Compromise shows that indeed there was racism in the founding of the United States. That’s why she cannot admit that what she’s talking about here is not just “abhorrent” and “terrible” and “a toxic view” but racist

The level of denial of historical reality that goes into the Republican campaign against CRT or The 1619 Project is staggering. The people pushing this campaign have to be able to look historical facts like hundreds of years of legal slavery written into the nation’s Constitution in the face and say, “Nope, not evidence of racism at the founding.” And they do it. They do it constantly. They are writing that insistence into law in state after state. At a certain point, the only explanation for this is the one that is both obvious and draws the most hysterical denials: The people pushing these laws are themselves really f’ing racist.

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Sexton: If this became law, what would be the appropriate way for a teacher to address something like the Three-fifths Compromise in the Constitution, which basically invalidated the humanity of enslaved people, who were Black, in America? That’s a racist aspect of America’s founding. Does that run afoul somehow to bring this up in a classroom?

Layton: Well, when you’re bringing this up in the classroom, you should go back to some of the historical documents. The Three-fifths Compromise actually made it so the slaveholding South didn’t have more of a voice in Congress. They actually were worried that if, for representation, they counted each slave as a whole vote and a whole voter, that then there might be more slavery throughout the country and that it would be unequal because a viewpoint that was on its way out would be overrepresented. So the idea of saying that somebody is less than a human is abhorrent. It’s terrible. It’s something that we shouldn’t do. They were trying to figure out how to have a representative democracy without having a toxic view take hold and overwhelm the rest of this new-forming country.

Sexton: It was rational, but it was also racist though, right?

Layton [sounding uncomfortable]: I mean, it’s not a good thing to do. If you look at it, it was all slaves. So when you had indentured servants that were coming over from Ireland they also counted as three-fifths. My family, the Indians, I’m part Cherokee, we were also counted as three-fifths within that. So it wasn’t good, but when you look at what else was happening in the world at the time, you didn’t have representative democracies.

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