NPR logo

Thomas Jefferson, the 'Negro President'

Only Available in Archive Formats.
Thomas Jefferson, the 'Negro President'

Thomas Jefferson, the 'Negro President'

Chronicle of Founding Father's Three-Fifths Slave Vote Victory

Thomas Jefferson, the 'Negro President'

Only Available in Archive Formats.

Web Extra: Hear Author Garry Wills read from his book 'Negro President: Jefferson and the Slave Power'

Only Available in Archive Formats.

Cover for Negro President: Jefferson and the Slave Power (Houghton Mifflin Co., 2003) hide caption

toggle caption

The memories of the tight presidential race in 2000 are still fresh in the minds of many voters as the 2004 contest approaches. But history tells of another tight race two centuries earlier — and a candidate who won, in part, because of his support in the South, and the "three-fifths" rule in the Constitution.

Thomas Jefferson won that election on the strength of slave representation. Slaves didn't vote, of course. But the Constitution mandated that slaves be considered three-fifths of a person, giving a great deal of power to slaves owners and slave states.

NPR's Tavis Smiley speaks with Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Garry Wills, author of Negro President: Jefferson and the Slave Power, a chronicle of that election and the clause that provided the margin of victory.

Available Online

Wills, a professor of history at Northwestern University, writes how Jefferson beat his Federalist opponent John Adams, even though he received fewer actual votes. His margin of victory was the 12 votes granted him by the three-fifths representation of slaves in Congressional delegations and the Electoral College.