The Great Compromise

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United States Constitution

Previous to 1787 the Articles of Confederation had wreaked havoc upon the nation. The United States of America was hated by many of the major powers in Europe, resulting in trade relations being almost nonexistent. The states did not obey the requirements of the Treaty of Paris, currency was worthless as the states print their own versions of paper money, and the national government had no power to protect the nation from threat. Representatives of four states at the Annapolis Convention agree to hold a convention in Philadelphia to edit the Articles of Confederation. With the nation in need of critical change, 55 white male delegates from the states assembled in Philadelphia for a secret-from-the-public discussion led by George Washington.

Upon the decision to create an entirely new system of government through a new document there was remaining a great schism between representatives on fundamental issues. Therefore, compromises on the issues of representation and slavery had to be made to keep all states signed under the new Constitution.

The Virginia Plan

The rallying cry of the American Revolution was: “No taxation without representation!” Hence, one of the fundamental issues in drafting a new document of government was how proper representation could be established to keep all states in equality. Two plans for accurate representation were brought to Philadelphia. The first being the Virginia Plan, which involved a bicameral legislature of which representation of the lower house would be selected by the people based on a state’s population and once decided upon the lower house would elect the upper house. This plan in effect established more power for the larger states, such as Virginia.

The New Jersey Plan

The second being the New Jersey plan, which involved retaining the unicameral legislator with equal representation for states, and installing a federal government to provide a union for the state. This plan in effect established more power for the smaller states, such as New Jersey. The debate between the larger and smaller states ensued, almost causing the convention to end with no solution but resulting with the idea of compromising for equality of representation within each state.

The Connecticut Plan

Eventually, the delegates settled on the Connecticut Plan or what came to be widely known as The Great Compromise. Under this plan a two-house congress was established. In the Senate, each state would be given equal representation, appeasing the smaller states. In the House of Representatives, each state would be represented in accordance with their population, appeasing the larger states. This separation of powers, in fear of similarity to the tyrannical system of Great Britain, kept the states and national government in balance from being neither almighty nor powerless.

Representation for Slaves

The Great Compromise also established a system for the representation and taxation of slavery. The division of the north and south reappears as the north does not rely on slavery while the south does. The convention members establish that the slave trade cannot be under ban for the next 20 years, slaves escaping to the north must be returned to their owners, and incoming slaves could not be taxed more than ten dollars. While the north tolerates slavery, they of course desire slaves to be included in taxation of the southern states but not counted for representation in the House of Representation according to their population. The south of course desires slaves to be counted towards representation population but not included in taxation. Sent to the grand committee this decision was highly controversial. Based on racist aphorism that a slave was only 3/5 as productive and only worked 3/5 as hard, the committee drafted the 3/5 compromise. 3/5 of the slaves would be counted into the population for representation and taxation.

Our constitution was a document written of compromises to keep all states in unity under the new government. Solving the many debates and arguments between 55 delegates proved to be challenging but possible.

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