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Constitution through Compromise

Representation remained the core issue for the Philadelphia Convention. What was the best way for authority to be delegated from the people and the states to a central government?

A proposal put forward by delegates from Connecticut struck a compromise. They suggested that representatives in each house of the proposed bicameral legislature be selected through different means. The upper house (or senate) would reflect the importance of state sovereignty by including two people from each state regardless of size. Meanwhile, the lower house (the House of Representatives) would have different numbers of representatives from each state determined by population. Representation would be adjusted every ten years through a federal census that counted every person in the country.

By coming up with a mixed solution that balanced state sovereignty and popular sovereignty tied to actual population, the Constitution was forged through what is known as the Connecticut Compromise.

Other major issues still needed to be resolved. Who would be allowed to vote in elections? For the popular lower house, any white man who paid taxes could vote. Even those without property could vote for their representative in the House of Representatives. This expanded suffrage in some states. To balance this opening, the two Senators in the upper house of the national government would be elected by the state legislatures. The president would be elected at the state level through an electoral college whose numbers reflected representation in the legislature.

Some delegates considered slavery an evil institution and George Mason of Virginia suggested the trans-Atlantic slave trade be made illegal by the new national rules. Delegates from South Carolina and Georgia where slavery was expanding in the late-18th century, angrily opposed this limitation. If limitations to slavery were proposed, then they would leave the convention and oppose its proposed new plan for a stronger central government.

The delegates agreed that a strengthened union was more important than the revolutionary ideal of equality. The proposed constitution actually strengthened the power of slave states. The "three-fifths formula" was established for determining representation in the lower house of the legislature. Slave states wanted to have additional political power based on the number of human beings that they held as slaves. Delegates from Free states wouldn't allow such a manipulation of political principles, so the compromise that resulted meant counting enslaved persons as three-fifths of a free person for the sake of calculating the number of people a state could elect to the House of Representatives.

After months of difficult debate in Philadelphia from May to September 1787, the delegates had fashioned new rules for a stronger central government that extended national power well beyond the scope of the Articles of Confederation. The Constitution created a national legislature that could pass the supreme law of the land and raise taxes, and which had greater control over commerce. The proposed rules also would restrict state actions. At the end of the long process of creating the new plan, thirty-eight of the remaining forty-one delegates showed their support by signing the proposed Constitution. This small group of national superstars had created a major new framework through hard work and compromise.


Source: Constitution through Compromise
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