3/5ths of a Democracy: America’s Original Sin

3/5ths of a Democracy: America’s Original Sin

In Pre-production Discussion


We grew up believing that America was a true representative democracy. That was not quite the truth. The Three-Fifth’s Compromise is one of the tenets of our Democracy that continues to affect us in 2019 and beyond. That constitutional “Compromise” counted enslaved persons as three-fifths of a white person. This policy was adopted during the drafting of the Constitution in 1787. In short, America was establishing how to count population for the House of Representatives and later on for the Electoral College.

Slave states advocated to count slaves in their population figures to increase their presence in the House of Representatives. Free states only wanted to count free people. The number of legislators from each state became dependent on the state’s population. It is one of the reasons we have a census every 10 years. The southern states were ultimately successful in to stacking the deck with a 3/5ths bounce on their total population figures. This disparity helped them to control congress and safeguard their economic system based on the cotton trade. It also increased the likelihood of winning elections through the Electoral College. It insured that the first three out of four presidential elections were won by southerners.

The Electoral College was established to give slave states an increased voice in the federal government; which ultimately, gave the south an advantage in Presidential Elections. Historians often argue that the Electoral College is the only reason Thomas Jefferson was elected. Trump’s electoral college victory, even though he lost by nearly three million votes is the result of this unfair formula that was the result of the Constitutional Convention Compromise of 1787. All votes are still not counted fairly in our presidential and senatorial elections.

Slaves were classified as worth 3/5 of a white person for purposes of taxation and the census. It took the civil war to change their status and award, at best, second-class citizenship. It took another hundred years to guarantee the right to vote and live lives as equal participants in our country. Will the final chapter towards full equality be written with victories over voter suppression, gerrymandering and the abolishment of the Electoral College?

It will be chaos if Trump prevails in the Electoral College while losing the popular vote again by the millions. It would be the end of our representative democracy as we know it.  What can we do to stop this slide towards dictatorship; of a permanently installed minority ruling without respect for the majority? We can leverage media to reach every nook and cranny to warn and inform every American citizen — of every stripe and persuasion — about such a dangerous chain of events. It is a plea for a true American democracy.

“Those who do not know history are condemned to repeat it.” With this in mind, I have invited the acclaimed Professor of American History and writer, Ted Widmer to join our media project and he has graciously accepted. Professor Widmer is now visiting professor at the Macauley Honors College at the City University of NY school of graduate studies. From 2012 to 2013, he was a senior advisor to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Between 2010 and 2015, he helped to create and often contributed to The New York Times “Disunion,” a digital history of the Civil War. His new book, published by Simon & Shuster is due out in the spring and concerns itself with the tumultuous times between 1859-60, before Abraham Lincoln became President.

Theatrical, Broadcast, On-Demand Streaming to On-Campus Teach-ins
3/5ths of a Democracy: America’s Original Sin is designed to play in large and small theatrical venues across the country during the 2020 electoral season and beyond. The documentary will be designed to screen in theaters, on college and high school campuses, in classrooms, community centers, and online on-demand viewings. It goal it to promote dialogue and debate via campus and community teach-ins. Not since the Civil Rights and Viet Nam War era has there been such a need for a national discussion on our current political environment.

Project Content

  • 1) National theatrical distribution
  • 2) Television Broadcast of the documentary
  • 3) Online, on-demand screening
  • 4) On campus public performance screenings and events
  • 5) Interactive Website Devoted to:
    a. Video Resource Library
    b. Grassroots and Youth Journalist Uploads
    c. Professional Development Programs
  • 6) Community screenings
  • 7) Online MOOCs for Universities and Law Schools
  • 8) Companion book(s) and community guides
  • 9) Classroom study guides
  • 10) Academic Conferences
  • 11) Electronic Newsletter for schools
  • 12) National and Local Televised Town Hall Meetings

Executive Producers/Directors
Executive Producer/Director: Harry Wiland is the Co-President and Co-CEO of Media Policy Center (MPC) (www.mediapolicycenter.org) in Santa Monica, CA. He graduated Brooklyn College with a major in Chemistry and from Columbia University with a MFA in Film & Television. Wiland has produced and directed public television and multimedia for over 35 years. With business partner, Dale Bell, they founded the 501c3 Media Policy Center and developed its media model. Wiland has been a Director Member of the Directors Guild of America since 1985, and a member of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences since 2003. In 2006, he and Dale Bell were elected Ashoka Lifetime Fellows (www.ashoka.org); they are the only media professionals and the only business partnership to be so honored. Current public television projects include Do No Harm: The Opioid Epidemic, and Our Kids hosted by Harvard Professor Robert Putnam.

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