HOW WAS THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION A SERIES OF COMPROMISES?

 

Directions: Read the following and then answer the questions that appear below:

 

The year was 1787. The place: the State House inPhiladelphia, the same location where the Declaration of Independence had been signed 11 years earlier. For four months, 55 delegates from the several states met to frame a Constitution for a federal republic that would last into “remote futurity.” This is the story of the delegates to that convention and the framing of the federal Constitution.

 

GREAT COMPROMISE

Based on the Connecticut Compromise (July 16, 1787), the Great Compromise was a plan proposed by theConnecticutdelegates to the Constitutional Convention establishing a two-house legislature. The Virginia Plan, supported by the large states, called for a legislature in which representation was based on population. The New Jersey Plan, supported by the small states, favored a legislature in which each state would be represented equally. Under the Great Compromise the U.S. Senate became the body based on equal representation, with two senators from each state, and the House of Representatives the body based on population. It should be noted that every state must have at least one member.

 

THE THREE-FIFTHS COMPROMISE

The three-fifths figure was the outgrowth of a debate that had taken place within the Continental Congress in 1783. A special committee recommended apportioning taxes by population. The Continental Congress debated the ratio of slaves to free persons at great length. Northerners favored a 4-to-3 ratio, while southerners favored a 2-to-1 or 4-to-1 ratio. Finally, James Madison suggested a compromise: a 5-to-3 ratio. All but two states –New HampshireandRhode Island– approved this recommendation. But because the Articles of Confederation required unanimous agreement, the proposal was defeated. When the Constitutional Convention met in 1787, it adoptedMadison’s earlier suggestion.

 

The Three-Fifths Compromise greatly augmented southern political power. In the Continental Congress, where each state had an equal vote, there were only five states in which slavery was a major institution. Thus the southern states had about 38 percent of the seats in the Continental Congress. Because of the 1787 Three-Fifths Compromise, the southern states had nearly 45 percent of the seats in the first U.S. Congress, which took office in 1790.

 

SLAVE TRADE

The most controversial issues discussed at the Constitutional Convention involved slavery. Among the matters that Convention debated was whether states were obligated to return runaway slaves; whether slaves would count in apportioning representation or taxation; whether Congress had the power to abolish or regulate the slave trade from Africa or the West Indies or to regulate the interstate slave trade; and whether Congress had the right to prohibit slavery in the western territories. In the end, the northern delegates’ commitment to union proved to be greater than any commitment to weaken slavery. Pierce Butler of South Carolina proposed that states be required to return fugitive slaves.

 

ELECTORAL COLLEGE

There was a fear among the states as to how an executive would be chosen. In the first design of the Electoral College (described in Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution): Each State was allocated a number of Electors equal to the number of its U.S. Senators (always 2) plus the number of its U.S. Representatives (which may change each decade according to the size of each State’s population as determined in the decennial census). This arrangement built upon an earlier compromise in the design of the Congress itself and thus satisfied both large and small States.

 

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Identify the term: Connecticut Compromise.
  2. Why were each of these changes to the national government a compromise among the variousUnited States of America?  a. Great Compromise, b. Three-Fifths Compromise, c. Slave Trade, d. Electoral College.
  3. Which of these would you consider the most important? Explain your answer.
  4. In what ways did the constitutional convention both run counter (opposite) to and also fulfill the spirit of the Revolution?

 

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