The 1787 Constitutional Convention – David Barton, What Biblical Principle Is This?

a570af34_optJuly 12, 1787 (Click to read Madison’s notes on the day)


The delegates argued again over representation of slaves. The delegates approved a motion to have a census within 6 years of the First Congress with the process repeated every 10 years thereafter. The final motion passed was:

On the question on the whole proposition, as proportioning representation to direct taxation, and both to the white and three-fifths of the black inhabitants, and requiring a census within six years, and within every ten years afterwards, — Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, aye — 6; New Jersey, Delaware, no — 2; Massachusetts, South Carolina, divided.

Influences on the Delegates

The delegates focused their arguments on how to fairly represent states by wealth and population. For many delegates, slaves were wealth and a measure of their value was some percentage of their numbers. About the dilemma, Virginia’s Edmund Randolph said:

He urged strenuously that express security ought to be provided for including slaves in the ratio of representation. He lamented that such a species of property existed. But as it did exist, the holders of it would require this security. It was perceived that the design was entertained by some of excluding slaves altogether; the Legislature therefore ought not to be left at liberty.

The discussion seemed mostly about fairly linking taxation and representation. Delegates from slave holding states believed their “species of property” added to wealth which under the proposed system would not help increase their representation since their numbers of white inhabitants were relatively small.
David Barton has claimed that every clause of the Constitution has a biblical principle as a foundation. Mr. Barton, I want to know what biblical principles guided the discussion in the July 12, 1787 debate? What Bible verse can we go to which supported unequal representation of African slaves? How about the matter of representation being based on wealth?

Delegates Argue over How to Represent Africans

The delegates took strong positions over slave representation. General Pinckney of South Carolina linked the value of the labor of slaves to representation in Congress. Since wealth was being discussed as a means of assigning representation and taxation, he protested that South Carolina would be taxed on the wealth but represented by the number of white inhabitants. He said that wasn’t fair.

He [General Pinckney] was alarmed at what was said1 yesterday, concerning the negroes. He was now again alarmed at what had been thrown out concerning the taxing of exports. South Carolina has in one year exported to the amount of £600,000 sterling, all which was the fruit of the labor of her blacks. Will she be represented in proportion to this amount? She will not. Neither ought she then to be subject to a tax on it. He hoped a clause would be inserted in the system, restraining the Legislature from taxing exports.

The delegate from North Carolina drew a line in the sand over 3/5 representation of blacks.

Mr. DAVIE said it was high time now to speak out. He saw that it was meant by some gentlemen to deprive the Southern States of any share of representation for their blacks. He was sure that North Carolina would never confederate on any terms that did not rate them at least as three-fifths. If the Eastern States meant, therefore, to exclude them altogether, the business was at an end.

William Johnson from Connecticut responded that he believed blacks should be represented equally with whites.

Doctor JOHNSON thought that wealth and population were the true, equitable rules of representation; but he conceived that these two principles resolved themselves into one, population being the best measure of wealth. He concluded, therefore, that the number of people ought to be established as the rule, and that all descriptions, including blacks equally with the whites, ought to fall within the computation. As various opinions had been expressed on the subject, he would move that a committee might be appointed to take them into consideration, and report them.

Morris said everybody was going to have to compromise.

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS. It had been said that it is high time to speak out. As one member, he would candidly do so. He came here to form a compact for the good of America. He was ready to do so with all the States. He hoped and believed that all would enter into such a compact. If they would not, he was ready to join with any States that would. But as the compact was to be voluntary, it is in vain for the Eastern States to insist on what the Southern States will never agree to. It is equally vain for the latter to require what the other States can never admit; and he verily believed the people of Pennsylvania will never agree to a representation of negroes. What can be desired by these States more than has been already proposed — that the Legislature shall from time to time regulate representation according to population and wealth?

In the end, the delegates votes to apportion representation based on the number of whites and 3/5ths of the black population.

Representation According to Wealth: A Biblical Principle?

Morris moved and most of the delegates agreed that representation should be according to wealth.

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS moved to add to the clause empowering the Legislature to vary the representation according to the principles of wealth and numbers of inhabitants, a proviso, “that taxation shall be in proportion to representation.”

If you’re reading, Mr. Barton, what biblical principle is this? Where in the Bible do we find that? While I recognize that population is how we do it, where did these Christian founders come up with that idea?

1787 Constitutional Convention Series

To read my series examining the proceedings of the Constitution Convention, click here.  In this series, I am writing about any obvious influences on the development of the Constitution which were mentioned by the delegates to the Convention. Specifically, I am testing David Barton’s claim that “every clause” of the Constitution is based on biblical principles. Thus far, I have found nothing supporting the claim. However, stay tuned, the series will run until mid-September.
Constitutional Convention Series (click the link)
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