The Three-Fifths Compromise: Definition, Summary & Quiz

Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:01 The Three-Fifths Compromise
  • 1:03 Two Constitutions
  • 3:12 Conflict
  • 3:57 Lesson Summary
Create An Account
To Start This Course Today
Used by over 10 million students worldwide
Create An Account
Try it free for 5 days
Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Michael Knoedl

Michael teaches high school Social Studies and has a M.S. in Sports Management.

While drafting the Constitution, the Founding Fathers argued about how slavery and representation could coexist. Learn here why the Founders decided to allow some, but not all, slaves to count toward states' population.

The Three-Fifths Compromise

The Three-Fifths Compromise outlined the process for states to count slaves as part of the population in order to determine representation and taxation for the federal government. The Southern states wanted to count all slaves toward the population for representation purposes but did not want to be taxed on the slaves because they considered them property. The Northern states did not want all the slaves counted toward the population because that would take representation away from the North, but that was outweighed by the North's attempts to shift the burden of taxation off themselves.

The South's argument, if attempted in the modern nation, would not be far off from counting family pets as part of the population for representation purposes but not wanting to be taxed on Fido and Fluffy. The two sides of the argument agreed to count three out of every five slaves toward state populations and for taxation.

Two Constitutions

The Articles of Confederation, ratified in 1781, based taxation off land value in each state. When the Articles faltered and were replaced by the ratification of the United States Constitution in 1789, the Founders decided that taxation should be based on population rather than land value. This change brought the issue of slavery to the national and political stage.

Under the Articles, states were able to undervalue their land to decrease the amount of taxes they were responsible to pay. An underfunded Continental Congress had to look into the situation and find a solution. Northern states wanted to count slavery in high numbers because that would put more of a tax burden on the South and less on the North. Southern states wanted to use slaves as part of the population for representation, but the tax issue was not very popular to the South.

James Madison offered the idea of counting three out of five slaves toward the population, which was a compromise between the Northern idea of counting three out of four slaves and the Southern plan of counting one out of four slaves toward the population. Counting three out of five slaves toward each state's population was agreed to by all states except New Hampshire and Rhode Island. The Articles of Confederation required a unanimous vote to pass an amendment, so the ruling was shot down.


While drafting the constitution in 1787, the Founding Fathers understood that there had to be a decision on slavery and representation if they were to change the tax code. The decision to count three out of five slaves as members of the population greatly benefited the Southern states. Prior to slaves counting toward the population, the Southern states occupied 38% of the seats in the House. After slaves were counted, Southern states' representation in the House went up to 45% in 1790.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 10 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member

Already a member? Log In

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 49 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 2,000 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Click "next lesson" whenever you finish a lesson and quiz. Got It
You now have full access to our lessons and courses. Watch the lesson now or keep exploring. Got It
You're 25% of the way through this course! Keep going at this rate,and you'll be done before you know it.
The first step is always the hardest! Congrats on finishing your first lesson.
Way to go! If you watch at least 30 minutes of lessons each day you'll master your goals before you know it.
Congratulations on earning a badge for watching 10 videos but you've only scratched the surface. Keep it up!
You've just watched 20 videos and earned a badge for your accomplishment!
You've just earned a badge for watching 50 different lessons. Keep it up, you're making great progress!
You just watched your 100th video lesson. You have earned a badge for this achievement!
Congratulations! You just finished watching your 200th lesson and earned a badge!
Congratulations! You just finished watching your 300th lesson and earned a badge!
You are a superstar! You have earned the prestigious 500 video lessons watched badge.
Incredible. You have just entered the exclusive club and earned the 1000 videos watched badge.
You have earned a badge for watching 20 minutes of lessons.
You have earned a badge for watching 50 minutes of lessons.
You have earned a badge for watching 100 minutes of lessons.
You have earned a badge for watching 250 minutes of lessons.
You have earned a badge for watching 500 minutes of lessons.
You have earned a badge for watching 1000 minutes of lessons.