What Was The Great Compromise?

The Great Compromise helped determine how each of the US states was to be represented in the Congress.
The Great Compromise helped determine how each of the US states was to be represented in the Congress.

What Was The Great Compromise?

The Great Compromise, also known as the Connecticut Compromise, the Great Compromise of 1787, or the Sherman Compromise, was an agreement made between large and small states which partly defined the representation each state would have under the United States Constitution, as well as in legislature. It occurred in 1787. The Connecticut Compromise resulted from a debate among delegates on how each state could have representation in the Congress. The Great Compromise led to the creation of a two-chambered Congress. Also created was the House of Representative which is determined by a state’s population. The agreement retained the bicameral legislature, but the upper house had to change to accommodate two senators to represent each state. The deal reshaped the American government structure striking a balance between the highly populated states and their demands while at the same time taking into consideration the less-populous state and their interests.

Overview And Background

The United States underwent painful years in the 1780s. The 1781 ratification of the Articles of Confederation provided an inadequate governmental structure. It failed to regulate trade, levy taxes, and draft soldiers. Also, it failed to solve the slavery issue which polarized the Northwest Territory. The country’s economy which had severely plummeted following the Anglo-American Revolution struggled to rebound. Debt, especially the accumulated war debts became an enormous issue in the US. Many citizens found it increasingly difficult to generate enough income to pay for their daily expenses as well as taxes. As much as the people looked up to the state for help, no social welfare relief developed. Furthermore, the contentious politics also divided the citizens. This instability called for a delegation in 1785, proposed by Alexander Hamilton which would address a national reform. James Madison responded with support and asked other states to send their delegates to Annapolis, Maryland for a conference. However, only five states representatives attended, but even so, they approved a plan in whichever state would send delegates to the 1787 Philadelphian convection. In May 1787, 55 delegates representing 12 states, Rhodes Island was absent, met in Philadelphia to discuss the limitations of the Articles of Federation. The Constitutional Convention started later on when Madison proposed the Virginia Plan which Patterson countered with the New Jersey Plan.

What The Great Compromise Involved?

Before the 1787 Constitutional Convention, larger states like Virginia favored congressional representation based on a state’s population. On the other hand, smaller states wanted equal representation. Edmund Randolph and James Madison proposed the Virginia Plan on May 29, 1787. This plan outlined that the government should comprise of three branches the legislature, executive, and judiciary. The three branches would serve a two-housed legislature. The population was to elect the members of the lower house and they, in turn, would elect representatives in the Upper House. In other words, both houses included a population proportional representation. Madison also proposed that Congress get a veto for all state laws. The New Jersey Plan, put forward on June 15, 1787, by William Patterson, called for equal representation of each state like it was in the Articles of Confederation system but sought to increase Congress power. It called for a one-house legislature, equal representation of each state, and popular elections. Patterson also proposed a lifetime Supreme Court appointed by executive officers. He focused on the probability that the national government would violate the sovereignty of the states. At this point, the less populous states representatives feared that the agreement would result in larger states drowning the voices and interests rendering them useless in the national scale. Madison, on the other hand, argued that the most important states were very different from each other. Hamilton pointed out that each state was an artificial entity made up of individuals. He thus accused smaller states of being power hungry.

As such, the two sides rejected each other’s plans. The disagreements called for reflection leading to a negotiation on how to determine the future of the US government. Roger Sherman, a Connecticut delegate suggested a plan that eventually turned out as the Great Compromise. His plan included a two-legislative form of government in the US, the Senate and the House of Representatives. For every 300,000 citizens, a state received one member to serve in the House of representative and two senators. On July 16, 1787, despite Benjamin Franklin efforts to block equal voting rights of the smaller states, the proposal did pass even though by only one vote. Thus the name compromise was conjured, and it paved the way for the constitutional final passage and became an important stepping stone in the creation and development of the United States.

Upon deciding on the representation issue, the debate focused on the slaves existing in a state’s population and which led to the formation of the Three-Fifths Compromise. Under this agreement, each state had to count three-fifths of its slaves into its total population. Before this agreement, slave-holding states called for an increase in their representation in Congress by counting all slaves as part of the community. On the other hand, opponents argued that since slaves were not citizens they thus had no rights. Counting them in the context of the population was not necessary.

The Results Of The Great Compromise

The most significant effect of the Great Compromise was the change in the American Government structure. The agreement focused on working out the interests of large states like Virginia and New York, and the smaller states such as New Hampshire and Rhodes Island, striking a balance between proportional and general representation. The most visible term achieved under the compromise was that each state would split congressional delegates between; representatives who would then be elected by district so as to serve in the lower house and senators to represent individual states in the Upper House. The practical effect was in the creation of a two-tiered system that could address the needs of the people in the lower house, and the upper house could handle the interests of states. The Electoral College and Presidential elections formation splinted from this split between direct and indirect representation.

The Great Compromise of 1787 gave larger states representation in the lower house according to population, and the smaller states attained equal representation in the upper house. Many delegates called for proportional representation in both houses while the smaller state delegates decided not having a constitution was better than having Madison’s proposed system. As such the compromise balanced the needs of both the smaller states which wanted a unicameral legislature and the larger states that were rooting for a bicameral legislature, paving the way for constitutional development. Ultimately, the Connecticut Compromise kept the Convention together and led to the system of bicameral Congress in which the lower House is based on proportional representation, and each state has equal representation in the Upper House.


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