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The Grand Compromise

A brief history of the Grand Compromise:

Because of the importance in understanding the magnitude of trying to pass a revolutionary Constitutional Amendment, we need to examine Article V of the Constitution, specifically the portion of Article V that states “… that no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate” .This language represents one of the most fundament bedrock ideas in the Constitution.

In order to understand it, we must go back to the origins of the Grand Compromise and dissect the reasoning that went into the final language during the 1787 Constitutional Convention.  The Great Compromise, also known as the Connecticut Compromise or The Sherman Compromise, was an agreement that was reached during the convention that defined the political power of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

The problem in 1787, as it is to this day, was the disparity in size and population between the larger states and the smaller states. Any representation for cities was never a consideration during the Convention.  And it is easy to understand why considering that the largest American cities at the time (1790 Census) were Philadelphia: 42,000; New York City: 33,000; Boston: 18,000; Charleston: 16,000 and Baltimore came in fifth with a population of 13,000.  So it is easy to see that cities were not considered to wield any political power at the time.

The “Great Compromise” agreement that was reached during the Convention codified the legislative structure and representation that each state would have under the United States Constitution. It established the two chambers of Congress, which are made up from the lower house of (The House of Representatives) a proportional representation body and made the upper house (The Senate) a body equally weighted between the states with each state represented by two senators. The actual language reads:


ARTICLE 1 SECTION 2          

“The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State…”


ARTICLE V    ( Entrenchment Clause)                                            

“… and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.”


The historical pivoting for power that is at the heart of the struggle between the Federal Government and the States that is enshrined in the language of the Constitution starts on May 29, 1787 and came to a conclusion on July 19th 1787. 

The sparring for political power started in earnest when the Virginia delegation proposed the creation of a bicameral legislature. Under this proposal, membership in both chambers would be allocated to each state and would be proportional to its population; however, candidates for the lower house would be nominated and elected by the people of each state and allowed some political equality to the people. Candidates for the upper house would be nominated by the state legislatures of each state and then elected by the members of the lower house. In addition, it would scrap the Articles of Confederation.  This proposal was known as the Virginia Plan.

Less populated states were afraid that such an arrangement would result in their interests being overshadowed by the larger States. Many delegates also felt that the Convention did not have the authority to completely scrap the Articles of Confederation.  In a rebuttal to the Virginia plan, the New Jersey delegation proposed a legislature consisting of a single house. Each state was to have equal representation in this body, regardless of population. The New Jersey Plan would have left the Articles of Confederation in place, but would have amended them to somewhat increase Congress’s powers.

At the time of the convention, the southern States were small but were growing more quickly than the northern States and the southern States had more claims to the lands to the west and thus favored proportional representation.

Alexander Hamilton supported equal representation per state, as part of his desire to see maximum autonomy for the states. The two representatives other than Hamilton from New York had left the convention before the representation issue was resolved, leaving Hamilton, and New York State, without a vote.

James Madison and Hamilton were two of the leaders that strongly supported proportional representation. Madison argued that a conspiracy of large states against the small states was unrealistic as the large states were so different from each other. Hamilton argued that the states were artificial entities made up of individuals, and accused small state representatives of wanting power, not liberty.

For their part, the small state representatives argued that the states were, in fact, of a legally equal status, and that proportional representation would be unfair to their states. 

On June 14, a request was made to introduce a substitute plan. The request was granted, and, on the next day, the substitute plan submitted included nine resolutions embodying certain amendments to the Articles of Confederation, which was followed by a vigorous debate. On June 19, the delegates rejected the   New Jersey Plan and voted to proceed with a discussion of the Virginia Plan. The small States became increasingly discontented, and some threatened to withdraw. On July 2, the Convention was deadlocked over giving each State an equal vote in the upper house, with five States in the affirmative, five in the negative, and one divided.

The problem was referred to a committee consisting of one delegate from each State to reach a compromise. On July 5, the committee submitted its report, which became the basis for the “Great Compromise" of the Convention. The report recommended that in the upper house of each State should have an equal vote and in the lower house of each State should have one representative for every 40,000 inhabitants.

The Connecticut delegation, created a compromise that, in a sense, blended the Virginia (large-state) and New Jersey (small-state) proposals regarding congressional apportionment. Ultimately, however, its main contribution was in determining the apportionment of the Senate. What was ultimately agreed upon and was included in the Constitution was that each State would have two Senators.

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