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ConstitutionalCompromises

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Constitutional Compromises
The Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia during the spring and summer of 1787 to
discuss amending or replacing the effective but limited Articles of Confederation, which had governed the
United States between 1777 and 1789. Under it the independent states agreed to work together in cases of
self-defense and to help form new states as necessary. At the convention regional, cultural and economic
differences divided the proceedings. After lengthy debate, three major compromises that shaped the
foundation of the resulting U.S. Constitution were decided upon to solve the differences between the
states. Below are an exploration of the problems and compromises to those problems that laid the
foundation for the creation of the US Constitution and for transforming the united States of America into
the United States of America.
The Connecticut Compromise
Everyone agreed that there should be three separate branches of government with separate
powers among them. How those branches would function though was a major concern. There were
two plans presented to determine the function of the new government. One was James Madison’s
Virginia Plan and the other was William Paterson’s New Jersey Plan.
The Virginia Plan proposed a government with a Legislature that had two houses. The lower
house would be elected directly by the people with the number of representatives each state got being
base don how many free people lived in the state. This house would then elect the other house of the
legislature, choosing members from a group recommended by the governments of each state to
represent their state. Both houses were then to elect the head of the Executive branch themselves with
no input form the public. The Legislature would also appoint the members of the Judiciary. It also
called for a Council of Revision made up of the Judiciary and members of the Legislature that would
review all laws passed and have a final veto power over them.
The New Jersey Plan was developed as a reaction against the Virginia Plan. At issue was the
idea of power, how would power be distributed so that the larger states would get what they felt to be
their proper role in the government while also keeping the smaller states like New Jersey from being
overwhelmed by the power of the larger states like Virginia? To ensure the smaller states had power
in the new government the New Jersey Plan proposed a Legislature with one house where each state
would have exactly a single vote. The Legislature would then appoint an Executive with two people
in it who would hold office for a year and not be re-electable. The Executive would appoint members
of the Judiciary who would be the court of final appeal.
To resolve the conflict between these two plans, Roger Sherman, a delegate from
Connecticut, proposed his Connecticut Plan. The plan created two separate houses in Congress: a
House of Representatives that had representation based on population and a Senate with equal
representation. This gave the larger states a part of the government where they would be the biggest
influences -the House of Representatives- and the smaller states a part of the government where the
small and large states were equal and would have to agree in some measure to pass law- the Senate.
Benjamin Franklin modified Sherman's proposal to make it more acceptable to the larger states by
adding the requirement that revenue (or tax) bills must originate in the House.
Three-Fifths Compromise
With the Connecticut Compromise enacted, the convention needed to decide how to
apportion seats in the House of Representatives. Who would be counted as part of a state’s
population? The more people counted in your population the more power you had in the House of
Representatives. Those from Northern states were generally opposed to slavery and argued that only
free people should count as part of the population count. This proposal problematic to states in the
South, where black nonvoting slaves sometimes accounted for a quarter or more of their total
population. If the Northern proposition was followed, then the House of Representatives would be
dominated by anti-slavery Northerners. In response Southerners from slave-holding states argued that
all people living in a state, including slaves should be counted in their total population. Northerners
objected to this idea. They were worried that the Southern proposal would give slave owners too
much power. The issue threatened to derail the entire convention.
In the end, Roger Sherman, this time accompanied by James Wilson, made the proposal that
saved the convention by suggesting that a proportion of a slave population be counted to determine
the number of representatives in the House of Representatives. After many rounds of debate where
multiple proposals for what would be the best fraction of a slave population to count were proposed,
James Madison proposed to count three-fifths of a slaveholding state's slave population toward its
total population and the convention agreed. Southerners were satisfied because it increased their
representation in the House of Representatives. Northerners were satisfied that it limited Southern
representation in the House at a level lower than Southerners had wanted and that a slave states'
slaves would be counted in population data used to levy taxes.
Slave Trade Compromise
Slavery reared its head in another way: some Northern abolitionists wanted to abolish the
practice altogether. For the South, whose economy relied on slave labor for agricultural production,
this was an unacceptable proposition. Southerners were concerned that they were giving power to a
national government that could ban slavery at some point in the future. In fact, many thought it
inevitable that the slave trade would be band as ten states had already outlawed it and many delegates
heatedly denounced it. But the three states that allowed it — Georgia and the two Carolinas —
threatened to leave the convention if the trade were banned. Therefore, the North and South worked
out a Slave Trade Compromise that forbade Congress from banning the slave trade for 20 years. For
the North, this meant the slave trade hypothetically could be banned in the future, while the South
was given a 20-year grace period to continue the trade and create a native stock of slaves from which
an unending supply could be drawn.
Southern states also wanted other states to return escaped slaves. The Articles of
Confederation had not guaranteed this. But when Congress adopted the Northwest Ordinance, it a
clause. The Southern delegates demanded a fugitive slave clause in the Constitution requiring that
slaves who escaped to the North would be returned to their owners. This was part of a deal with
Northern states. In exchange for the fugitive slave clause, the New England states got concessions for
taxing goods coming into and leaving the country for trade. The fugitive slave clause (enforced
through legislation passed in 1793 and 1850) allowed escaped slaves to be chased into the North and
caught. It also resulted in the illegal kidnapping and return to slavery of thousands of free blacks. The
issue of being forced to legally protect slavery and aid in hunting down escaped slaves angered many
Northerners and ultimately was one of the major causes of the Civil War.