Connecticut Compromise

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The Connecticut Compromise of 1787 in the United States, later known as the Great Compromise, was struck in the creation of legislative bodies. It joined the Virginia Plan, which favored representation based on population, and the New Jersey plan, which featured each state being equal. Roger Sherman, from Connecticut, played a large role in constructing the compromise.

The compromise proposed two houses: a lower house which was elected in proportion to population, and an upper house, where the people of each state, regardless of size, collectively would have equal representation. This resulted in the current United States House of Representatives and U.S. Senate, respectively.

It can be argued that the Great Compromise wasn't really a compromise at all. There was never much dispute that the lower house would have population representation; that states were given equal votes in the upper house was a capitulation to small state demands. In this sense, the small states did not make concessions. Also, none of the major Framers of the Constitution - Madison, Hamilton, Randolph, or Morris - favored equal representation.

At the time of the Convention, every state but Pennsylvania had a bicameral legislature. Thus, there was already a strong consensus for a two-house national legislature, with the only argument being apportionment of the upper house.

Delegates from small states did propose a New Jersey Plan that would have a unicameral legislature, but this plan was proposed only after the states had agreed on June 11th 6-5 to have a Senate with proportional representation.

At the Constitutional Convention, the leaders of the proportional representation group included James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, James Wilson, Edmund Randolph. Proponents of small state representation were representatives from small states, such as Gunning Bedford, Jr. of Delaware and William Paterson of New Jersey. Small state delegates claimed that they would be overwhelmed in a Senate with proportional representation. They said that the three largest states could outvote the rest of the country.

To that line of reasoning, James Madison argued that large states did not share interests, and thus small state fears of large state tyranny were fantasies:

Was a combination of the large ones [states] dreaded? This must arise either from some interest common to Virginia, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania and distinguishing them from the other states (of from the mere circumstance of similarity of size). Did any such common interest exist? . . . In point of manners, religions, and other circimstances, which sometimes beget affection between different communities, they were not more assimilated that the other states.l In ponit of the staple productions they were as dissimilar as any three other States in the Union. The Staple of Massachusetts was fish, of Pennsylvania flour, of Virginia tobacco. Was a combination to be apprehended from the mere circumstance of equality of size? Experience suggested no such danger. (Sizing Up the Senate, 33-34)

Small states said that they would lose their liberty if they were outvoted by their more populous neighbors, to this Alexander Hamilton replied:

It has been said that if the smaller States renounce their equality they renounce at the same time their liberty. The truth is that it is a contest for power, not for liberty . . . the State of Delaware having 40,000 souls will lose power, if she has 1/10 only of the votes allowed to Pennsylvania having 400,000: but will the people of Delaware be less free, if each citizen [of Delaware] has an equal vote for each citizen of Pennsylvania?" (Sizing Up the Senate, 33)

Several arguments for state equality were clearly self-interested.

Gunning Bedford, Jr. of Delaware admitted such openly. "Can it be expected that the small states will act from pure disinterestedness? Are we to act with greater purity than the rest of mankind?" (Sizing Up the Senate, 33)

At some points small state delegates even gave up arguments on fairness, and threatened to ally themselves with foreign princes. Gunning Bedford, Jr. of Delaware declared that if the Senate did not have equality, "the small [states] w[ould] find some foreign ally of more honor and good faith, who will take them by the hand and do them justice." (New Republic, August 7th, 2002)

Finally, the large state delegates gave in. Delegates from North Carolina and Massachusetts switched their votes from proportional representation to equality. On the final vote, the five states that favored equal apportionment in the Senate--Delaware, North Carolina, Maryland, New Jersey, and Connecticut--actually only represented one third of the nation's population. The four states that voted against the proposal--Virginia, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Georgia--actually represented more people than the proponents. Convention delegate James Wilson wrote "Our Constituents, had they voted as their representatives did, would have stood as 2/3 against equality, and 1/3 only in favor of it." (Harpers Magazine, May 2004, 36) Two of New York State's three delegates favored equality.

It is doubtful that the Constitutional Convention would have proceeded if this Great Compromise had not been reached, therefore the Constitution and the United States as we know it today may never have come into existence.


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