Can we agree that our education of the younger generations has been less than stellar concerning our civic heritage? What does the typical high school graduate—or college graduate, for that matter—know about our Constitution, for example?
Let’s do a bit of remediation today.
Going back in time, to 1787, just over a decade post-Declaration of Independence from rule under the British monarch, and just four years after the end of the Revolutionary War, it was increasingly evident that the original agreement among the states, the Articles of Confederation, was inadequate.
James Madison persuaded delegates from the original states to gather that summer to address the inadequacies. Ostensibly they were coming together to tweak the Articles of Confederation, but in reality they would meet to totally replace the Articles with something altogether new. It was a dangerous and daring undertaking, when the United States was still a fledgling nation. It helped that Madison persuaded the well-respected George Washington to both attend and preside.
The Great Compromise
|"The Connecticut Compromise" by Bradley Stevens|
The Constitutional Convention took place in Philadelphia from May 25 to September 17, 1987. A lot of discussion went on during those months. A thorny question was how to distribute power among the states. What was in it for the little states, if the big states held all the power by virtue of their population size? But how could there possibly be fairness, if tiny states like Rhode Island were held equal to large states like Virginia? The voter in the small states would have far more voting power than the voter in the large states.
A bicameral legislature wasn’t a totally new idea, because Britain had upper and lower houses of Parliament, and several of the states did as well. But it was in using these two houses to balance out the inequities of size that made it possible to unite the states while also keeping them separately sovereign.
The Great Compromise, sometimes referred to as the Connecticut Compromise, was put forward by the delegates from Connecticut, who combined the Virginia large state proposal with New Jersey’s small state proposal. The compromise was to use proportional representation in the lower House of Representatives, and give states equal representation in the upper chamber, the Senate.
Originally, as now, the congressional representatives in the House were voted directly by their constituents in the various states. Large states would of course have more representatives. The Senate, however, was set up to be appointed by state legislatures. The Senate, then, would literally be representing the interests of the states, while the House would be representing the individual local voters in the various states.
Senators began to be elected by direct vote within their states following passage of the Seventeenth Amendment in 1913—which arguably means senators are also responding to the clamor of voters rather than state interests. Nevertheless, the Senate is a slower moving, more deliberative legislative chamber, by design.
Because of the Great Compromise, we are indeed a nation of United States, and not just a large centrally governed nation of majority rule.
If we did not have something to balance out pure democracy, then large population centers would have all the controlling power. An additional discussion for another day is about the Electoral College, which uses the power of states, rather than population centers, to elect the president.
Imagine if only tyranny-leaning high population centers had all the power. That’s what we’d have without the compromise to partially balance power for smaller populated areas. California and New York would reign over us all. Texas gets included as one of the big states, but you’d be giving power to the big cities in Texas: Houston, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, all of which are usually run by Democrats. And you’d be ignoring the many millions who live in rural, less densely populated areas.
The cry “one person one vote” makes sense, until you realize that your vote gets ignored if you’re not going along with the typical urban voter, who gets to meet the candidates, who end up not actually representing you or your interests.
The Other Compromise
There’s another important compromise in the Constitution, that is even less understood. It is an anti-slavery compromise.
This came after the Great Compromise, so it was already agreed that the House of Representatives would be by population. The question was about whether to count slaves, who could not vote. If they were counted, that would give more seats in the House to slave states, which would mean greater influence from those states to maintain the institution of slavery.
The men who wrote and signed the words “all men are created equal” found slavery out of line with their grounding philosophy. They saw slavery as something imposed on them by the British crown. Delegates in only three of the colonies vocally advocated for slavery: North and South Carolina and Georgia. Many of the founders who had been slaveholders as British citizens freed them as Americans: George Washington, John Dickinson, Caesar Rodney, William Livingston, George Wythe, John Randolph, and others.
Washington, whose property was acquired by marriage, arranged in his will to free the family’s slaves upon his wife’s death. But, knowing that freeing them was his purpose, Martha freed them right away. Jefferson introduced a bill to outlaw slavery. In his state, until they were free to change the law, it was illegal to free slaves, although he wanted to. John Adams made it clear he never had and never would own a slave; his son John Quincy Adams was called “the hell hound of abolition” for his anti-slavery exertions.
The strong majority of the founders were anti-slavery, and were seeking ways to rid the culture of that evil. Wallbuilders catalogs a good list of the founders views on slavery, here.
The Three-Fifths Compromise, counting three out of every five slaves as a person, gave the southern states 33 perfect more seats in Congress—and Electoral College votes—than if the slaves had been ignored, but significantly fewer seats than if the slaves had been counted equally with free people.
It was a tough thing to compromise on. But, without it, there would have been no United States. So the compromise was intended to allow for movement towards abolishing slavery, not to continue it.
Historian Carol Swain explains in this PragerU video:
Compromise isn’t something people of principle like to do. Isn’t it better just to persuade the people who are wrong to convert to seeing things the right way? In theory, yes. In practice, no. Many people are easily persuaded by the wrong things—emotional stories, sound bites that fail to give the whole picture, peer pressure to believe the way those around them believe. That’s the problem with politics, which is about moving the masses of people in a particular direction.
So, sometimes, when there’s a long-term ultimate goal, a short-term compromise might be necessary.
But direction is important. A compromise that takes us north on the Spherical Model—upward toward freedom, prosperity, and civilization—might be necessary as a step toward the goal. The Three-Fifths Compromise went in the right direction, toward freeing slaves, even though it didn’t outright do away with slavery. It took longer for that, but we got there—as one of the singular civilizations in human history to do so.
A compromise that just takes us less far down into tyranny—that’s a harder compromise to justify. Let’s pray that, in working with people who are not of the same mind we are, we can have our representatives use our founders as a pattern and compromise only when it’s a step upward.