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Apportionment Petition

Apportionment Petition/tiles/non-collection/p/pm_033imgtile1.xml
Image courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration
Apportionment Petition/tiles/non-collection/p/pm_033imgtile2.xml
Image courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration


Constituents in Ashtabula, Ohio, sent Joshua Giddings a petition asking that Northern states be allowed to count animal property in the same manner that Southern states enumerated enslaved people to balance sectional representation in Congress. The House created the Select Committee on the Massachusetts Resolutions in 1843 to address the issue of congressional apportionment, which is the number of Representatives in the U.S. House of Representatives for each state based proportionally on the population of that state. Specifically, the committee was concerned by how the U.S. Constitution’s so-called “Three-Fifths Compromise” counted enslaved people, considered as property, to be three-fifths of a white person, boosting Southern representation in Congress. The committee considered resolutions advanced by the Massachusetts legislature that would have amended the Constitution to remove the clause so that apportionment and taxation would be based only on the free population of a state.

Massachusetts Representative John Quincy Adams, who chaired the committee, concurred with the majority in the committee’s final report to not consider the Massachusetts legislature’s resolutions. But his reasoning differed from his colleagues, most of whom believed that the Three-Fifths Compromise was necessary to create the Constitution, and afterwards, to preserve the Union. “The principle of republican popular representation is, that the terms of representative and constituent are correlative,” Adams argued, “that there can be no representative without a constituent, and that the constituent can become such only by his own free will and choice; and hence it is that the principle of universal suffrage becomes a fundamental doctrine of democracy.”

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