Great Compromise - History

Great Compromise - proposal presented by Connecticut delegates at the 1787 Constitutional Convention to compromise between the Virginia Plan and the New Jersey Plan. The Great Compromise suggested that a bicameral Congress be established, with representation in one house being determined by state population, and the other having equal representation from each state.

Grant-in-aid programs - federal funding given to states and local governments to fund policies and programs. The Morrill Act (1862) was the first grant-in-aid program.

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Connecticut Compromise

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Connecticut Compromise, also known as Great Compromise, in United States history, the compromise offered by Connecticut delegates Roger Sherman and Oliver Ellsworth during the drafting of the Constitution of the United States at the 1787 convention to solve the dispute between small and large states over representation in the new federal government. The compromise provided for a bicameral federal legislature that used a dual system of representation: the upper house would have equal representation from each state, while the lower house would have proportional representation based on a state’s population.

In 1787 the convention met in the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia, ostensibly to amend the Articles of Confederation (the first U.S. constitution, 1781–89). The idea of amending the Articles was discarded, though, and the assembly set about drawing up a new scheme of government. One area of disagreement between delegates from small states and those from large states was the apportionment of representation in the federal government. Edmund Randolph offered a plan known as the Virginia, or large state, plan, which provided for a bicameral legislature with representation of each state based on its population or wealth. William Paterson proposed the New Jersey, or small state, plan, which provided for equal representation in Congress. Neither the large nor the small states would yield. Ellsworth and Sherman, among others, proposed a bicameral legislature with proportional representation in the lower house (the House of Representatives) and equal representation of the states in the upper house (the Senate). All revenue measures would originate in the lower house. That compromise was approved July 16, 1787.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica This article was most recently revised and updated by Amy McKenna, Senior Editor.

The Mexican-American War

The Mexican-American War was a result of U.S. President James K. Polk’s belief that it was America’s “manifest destiny” to spread across the continent to the Pacific Ocean. Following the U.S. Victory, Mexico lost about one-third of its territory including nearly all of present-day California, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico. A national dispute arose as to whether or not slavery would be permitted in the new Western territories.

The Great Compromise (song)

The Great Compromise is a song written and performed by John Prine. [1] The song was included on Prine's album Diamonds in the Rough which was released by Atlantic Records in 1972. It is an anti-war song and a protest song. Its theme is the disillusionment of the country during the Vietnam War era. In the liner notes to his 1993 anthology Great Days, Prine writes of this song, "The idea I had in mind was that America was this girl you used to take to drive-in movies. And then when you went to get some popcorn, she turned around and screwed some guy in foreign sports car. I really love America. I just don't know how to get there anymore."

"The Great Compromise"
Single by John Prine
from the album Diamonds in the Rough
GenreFolk, Anti-war, Protest song
LabelAtlantic Records
Songwriter(s) John Prine

In 2011, Oh Boy Records released 1970 [2] recordings of Prine singing “The Great Compromise” on Singing Mailman Delivers. Before singing the song he says, “This is a song that Francis Scott Key and me wrote not too long ago. He writes political songs (you know), I write love songs. So we got together and wrote a song. It’s a hate song to a woman I love. It’s about a kid who went out to find America, and he found her in a bar room, drinking-she was feeling bad. So he felt sorry for her and asked her out to the drive-in.” [3]

The song was described as "Dylan-esque" in an obituary for Prine. [4]

'I used to sleep at the foot of old glory
And awake in the dawn's early light
But much to my surprise
When I opened my eyes
I was a victim of the great compromise'

  1. ^"The Great Compromise". The Celestial Monochord . Retrieved 2018-10-08 .
  2. ^
  3. "The Singing Mailman Delivers (Double CD)". Oh Boy Records . Retrieved 2020-12-19 .
  4. ^
  5. John Prine (2011). The Great Compromise [Singing Mailman Delivers]. Oh Boy Records.
  6. ^
  7. "7 Songs by the Late, Great John Prine You Should Know". . Retrieved 2021-03-15 .

This folk song–related article is a stub. You can help Wikipedia by expanding it.


On May 29, 1787, Edmund Randolph of the Virginia delegation proposed the creation of a bicameral legislature. Under his proposal, membership in both houses would be allocated to each state proportional to its population however, candidates for the lower house would be nominated and elected by the people of each state. 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. This proposal was known as the Virginia Plan.

Less populous states like Delaware were afraid that such an arrangement would result in their voices and interests being drowned out by the larger states. Many delegates also felt that the Convention did not have the authority to completely scrap the Articles of Confederation, [1] as the Virginia Plan would have. [2] In response, on June 15, 1787, William Paterson of 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, as it was called, would have left the Articles of Confederation in place, but would have amended them to somewhat increase Congress's powers. [3]

At the time of the convention, the South was growing more quickly than the North, and Southern states had the most extensive Western claims. South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia were small in the 1780s, but they expected growth, and thus favored proportional representation. New York was one of the largest states at the time, but two of its three representatives (Alexander Hamilton being the exception) supported an equal representation per state, as part of their desire to see maximum autonomy for the states. However, New York's two other representatives departed the convention before the representation issue was voted upon, leaving Alexander Hamilton, and New York State, without a vote in the issue.

James Madison and Hamilton were two of the leaders of the proportional representation group. 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 (see History of the United States Senate).

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. Gunning Bedford Jr. of Delaware notoriously threatened on behalf of the small states, "the small ones w[ould] find some foreign ally of more honor and good faith, who will take them by the hand and do them justice".

Elbridge Gerry ridiculed the small states' claim of sovereignty, saying "that we never were independent States, were not such now, & never could be even on the principles of the Confederation. The States & the advocates for them were intoxicated with the idea of their sovereignty." [4]

On June 14, when the Convention was ready to consider the report on the Virginia plan, William Paterson of New Jersey requested an adjournment to allow certain delegations more time to prepare a substitute plan. The request was granted, and, on the next day, Paterson submitted nine resolutions embodying necessary 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 each State should have an equal vote, and in the lower house, each State should have one representative for every 40,000 inhabitants, [5] counting slaves as three-fifths of an inhabitant, [5] and that money bills should originate in the lower house (not subject to amendment by the upper chamber).

After six weeks of turmoil, North Carolina switched its vote to equal representation per state, Massachusetts abstained, and a compromise was reached, being called the "Great Compromise". In the "Great Compromise", every state was given equal representation, previously known as the New Jersey Plan, in one house of Congress, and proportional representation, known before as the Virginia Plan, in the other. Because it was considered more responsive to majority sentiment, the House of Representatives was given the power to originate all legislation dealing with the federal budget and revenues/taxation, per the Origination Clause.

Roger Sherman and Oliver Ellsworth, both of 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. Sherman sided with the two-house national legislature of the Virginia Plan, but proposed "That the proportion of suffrage in the 1st. Branch [house] should be according to the respective numbers of free inhabitants and that in the second branch or Senate, each State should have one vote and no more." [6] Although Sherman was well liked and respected among the delegates, his plan failed at first. It was not until July 23 that representation was finally settled. [6]

What was ultimately included in the constitution was a modified form of this plan, partly because the larger states disliked it. In committee, Benjamin Franklin modified Sherman's proposal to make it more acceptable to the larger states. He added the requirement that revenue bills originate in the House.

The vote on the Connecticut Compromise on July 16 left the Senate looking like the Confederation Congress. In the preceding weeks of debate, James Madison of Virginia, Rufus King of New York, and Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania each vigorously opposed the compromise for this reason. [7] For the nationalists, the Convention's vote for the compromise was a stunning defeat. However, on July 23, they found a way to salvage their vision of an elite, independent Senate. Just before most of the convention's work was referred to the Committee of Detail, Gouverneur Morris and Rufus King moved that states' members in the Senate be given individual votes, rather than voting en bloc, as they had in the Confederation Congress. Then Oliver Ellsworth, a leading proponent of the Connecticut Compromise, supported their motion, and the Convention reached the enduring compromise. [8]

Since the Convention had early acquiesced in the Virginia Plan's proposal that senators have long terms, restoring that Plan's vision of individually powerful senators stopped the Senate from becoming a strong safeguard of federalism. State governments lost their direct say in Congress's decisions to make national laws. As the personally influential senators received terms much longer than the state legislators who elected them, they became substantially independent. The compromise continued to serve the self-interests of small-state political leaders, who were assured of access to more seats in the Senate than they might otherwise have obtained. [9]

Senate representation was explicitly protected in Article Five of the United States Constitution:

. no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate. [10]

This agreement allowed deliberations to continue and thus led to the Three-Fifths Compromise, which further complicated the issue of popular representation in the House.

Repeal of the Three-Fifths Compromise

The 13th Amendment of 1865 effectively gutted the three-fifths compromise by outlawing the enslavement of Black people. But when the 14th Amendment was ratified in 1868, it officially repealed the three-fifths compromise. Section 2 of the amendment states that seats in the House of Representatives were to be determined based on “the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed."

The repeal of the compromise gave the South more representation, since the members of the formerly enslaved Black population were now counted fully. Yet, this population continued to be denied the full benefits of citizenship. The South enacted laws such as “grandfather clauses” meant to disenfranchise Black people, even as their population gave them more influence in Congress. The additional voting power not only gave Southern states more seats in the House but more electoral votes, too.

Congress members from other regions sought to reduce the South's voting power because Black people were being stripped of their voting rights there, but a 1900 proposal to do so never materialized. Ironically, this is because the South had too much representation in Congress to allow for a switch. Until as recently as the 1960s, Southern Democrats, known as Dixiecrats, continued to wield a disproportionate amount of power in Congress. This power was based in part on the Black residents, who were counted for the purposes of representation but who were prevented from voting through grandfather clauses and other laws that threatened their livelihoods and even their lives. The Dixiecrats used the power they had in Congress to block attempts to make the South a more equitable place.

Eventually, however, federal legislation such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 would thwart their efforts. During the civil rights movement, Black Americans demanded the right to vote and ultimately became an influential voting bloc. They have helped a slew of Black political candidates get elected in the South and nationally, including the nation’s first Black president, Barack Obama, demonstrating the significance of their full representation.

Let’s Make a Deal: The Great Compromise

The framers of the Constitution knew better than to use the word “slave” or “slavery” in their blueprint for republican government. What an embarrassment that would be for a nation founded on the principle of freedom. But slavery figured into two particularly contentious issues taken up by the Constitutional Convention of 1787: how to apportion congressional representation and how to regulate commerce. While each delegate to the convention had the good of the nation in mind, each also represented the interests of his own state and region, and interest-driven haggling often interrupted more high-minded debate. They argued, cajoled and bluffed, just as politicians do now, and in the end no delegate received all of what he wanted.

Even though most of these statesmen, including many from the South, regarded slavery as reprehensible, the institution had to be sanctioned somehow or else Southern economies, which depended on slave labor, would be threatened. Pierce Butler of South Carolina fatly stated his region’s greatest concern: “The security the Southern States want is that their negroes may not be taken from them.” Without some guarantee from the North, Southern delegates would likely bolt the convention, and the Constitution would die aborning.

An early knockdown, drag-out fight over whether the states would have equal or proportional representation in Congress ended in the so-called Great Compromise. Each state would have two representatives in the Senate the number of representatives in the House would be determined by a state’s population. But there was a hitch: Should slaves be counted when figuring out the apportionment of representatives amongst the various states?

Of course! said Southern delegates. A slave’s labor, just like that of a free person, contributes to national wealth and strength.

No way! replied Northern delegates. Only citizens should have a voice in the government. Counting slaves would grant enormous powers to Southern slaveholders, who would in essence cast votes on behalf of the people they held in bondage.

Since neither side would concede, delegates came to a workable but not very rational compromise: In calculating how many representatives could go to Congress, each state would include its “whole Number of free Persons,” exclude “Indians not taxed” and then add “three fifths of all other Persons,” the chosen euphemism for enslaved human beings. Those are the words of our original Constitution, before it was altered by the 13th and 14th amendments.

But how in the world did they come up with three-fifths?

For that we need to go back to 1783, four years before the convention, when Congress faced an inversely related problem. At that time, while trying to make the Articles of Confederation more workable, Congress wanted to find a formula for how much money each state needed to contribute to the common treasury. Should slaves be counted in that calculation?

Of course not! Southerners exclaimed. If we count slaves, who are property, why not count horses in the North? Besides, slaves are not as productive as free people.

By all means! Northerners responded. Slave labor is productive, so any measure of property must reflect that.

To keep the embryonic nation together, congressional delegates tried to fashion a compromise. Southerners offered to count one-half (50 percent) of the enslaved population, but Northerners insisted on two-thirds (67 percent). After considerable haggling, Congress split the difference: three-fifths (60 percent). Although this compromise passed Congress by a substantial majority, it failed to receive unanimous approval from the separate state legislatures, as required for any amendment to the Articles of Confederation.

In 1787, once again at an impasse, the framers of our Constitution simply dusted off the three-fifths fraction, even though the argument had turned into its mirror opposite. When counting slaves added an extra burden to the South’s financial obligations, the North said count them, while the South said not to. But when slaves turned from a liability to an asset for purposes of representation, the South said count them, while the North said not to. Both sides reversed their positions. Logic? Morality? Not exactly. Delegates did whatever had to be done to move the show along. They wanted a new Constitution for the entire nation, and haggle as they might, they would do most anything to get it.

On August 6, after the convention had debated various issues for more than two months, a five-man Committee of Detail fleshed out a rough draft of what would become the Constitution. In that draft, to reassure the Southern states, the committee stipulated that Congress would not be allowed to tax or prohibit “the migration or importation of such persons as the several States shall think proper to admit.”

Two weeks later, when that provision came up for debate, Maryland’s Luther Martin, a slaveowner himself, moved immediately to strike it out. Since each imported slave would add to a state’s representation, states would be rewarded politically for engaging in the slave trade. “It was inconsistent with the principles of the revolution and dishonorable to the American character to have such a feature in the Constitution,” he argued.

Virginia’s George Mason, also a large slaveowner (his plantation was very close to Washington’s Mount Vernon), supported Martin’s motion for both practical and moral reasons. Slavery impeded “the immigration of Whites, who really enrich & strengthen a Country,” while it also produced “the most pernicious effect on manners.” In words that are now often quoted, Mason boldly pronounced: “Every master of slaves is born a petty tyrant. They bring the judgment of heaven on a Country. As nations can not be rewarded or punished in the next world they must be in this.”

Did these slaveholders seriously oppose the very institution that supported them? Not entirely. Neither Martin nor Mason had any problem counting enslaved people, or at least some fraction thereof, to boost the representation of their respective states. But the issue this time was the importation of slaves—and both Maryland and Virginia already had as many as they needed.

The profitability of rice plantations in South Carolina, on the other hand, depended on more slave labor than was currently available, so delegates from that state wanted to keep importation open. Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, a South Carolina patrician, called out Mason for his high-toned stance, alleging baser motives: “As to Virginia she will gain by stopping the importations. Her slaves will rise in value, & she has more than she wants.” This surplus of slaves would allow Virginians to establish “a monopoly in their favor,” setting “their own terms for such as they might sell.” Mason’s moralizing merely protected Virginia’s local industry—breeding slaves for the market—which foreign imports would impair.

Other delegates from South Carolina and neighboring Georgia chimed in to defend the “right” to own slaves.

Charles Pinckney (Charles Cotesworth Pinckney’s cousin) argued from history: “If slavery be wrong, it is justified by the example of all the world.” He “cited the case of Greece Rome & other antient States the sanction given by France England, Holland & other modern States. In all ages one half of mankind have been slaves.”

Georgia’s Abraham Baldwin (a transplanted son of Connecticut) offered an argument that defenders of slavery would repeat many times before the Civil War: Slavery was “a local matter,” not a “national object,” and Georgia would refuse to accept any attempt “to abridge one of her favorite prerogatives.” Charles Pinckney offered a similar threat: “South Carolina can never receive the plan [the Constitution] if it prohibits the slave trade.” There must be no “meddling with the importation of negroes.”

South Carolina’s John Rutledge was particularly blunt: “Religion & humanity had nothing to do with this question—interest alone is the governing principle with nations.” It was perhaps the brashest, and most honest, statement of the summer.

We might think that New England delegates, who opposed slavery, would fight to ban slave importation, but they did not. “Let us not intermeddle” in the dispute between the Upper and Lower – South, said Connecticut’s Oliver Ellsworth. “The morality or wisdom of slavery are considerations belonging to the States themselves.” Further, because slaves “multiply so fast in Virginia & Maryland that it is cheaper to raise than import them, whilst in the sickly rice swamps foreign supplies are necessary,” it would “be unjust towards S. Carolina & Georgia” to limit their importation.

Why did New England delegates argue in favor of slave importation? Most directly, some New England ship owners and merchants took part in the foreign and interstate slave trade, and attempts to limit that enterprise would cut against the interests of these constituents. This was countered, though, by the antislavery views of other constituents.

More complex political motives were also at play. Just as the South depended on slavery, New England could not survive without maritime commerce—but the Committee of Detail’s draft required that no navigation act could be passed without a two-thirds supermajority in both houses of Congress. Such a high hurdle bothered New Englanders, who worried that a minority of states could impede important commercial legislation, but it pleased Southerners because it prevented Northerners, who would enjoy a slight majority in Congress, from passing laws that hurt Southern interests.

With these various regional issues on the table, delegates from New England and delegates from the Deep South cut a deal. First, New Englanders agreed that Congress could not prohibit slave importation until the year 1800, nor could it levy import duties on slaves “exceeding the average” of other duties. In return, delegates from the Deep South agreed to drop the requirement for a congressional supermajority in commercial regulation. Further, the contingent from the Deep South demanded and received two other concessions: an extension of the allowance for slave importation until 1808 and a fugitive slave clause that in the 19th century would give rise to poisonous controversy: “If any person bound to service or labor in any of the U. States shall escape into another State, he…shall be delivered up to the person justly claiming their service or labor.”

Virginia and Maryland were left out of this deal: They had opposed both slave importation and making commercial regulations easier, but they lost out on both counts. When they refused to sign the Constitution, George Mason and Edmund Randolph (also of Virginia) complained bitterly about making navigation laws easier. Luther Martin (of Maryland) simply left the convention.

All these issues were decided on the basis of interests, not philosophy. Although delegates had brought abstract notions of sovereignty to bear on the interest-driven battles leading to the Great Compromise on representation, political motivations in the multifaceted compromises over slavery were more difficult to disguise. In the thick of the debate over slave importation, Rufus King of Massachusetts commented, “the subject should be considered in a political light only,” and that is exactly the way delegates to the Constitutional Convention dispatched the embarrassing matter of slavery.

Philosophical talk of liberty and human rights gave way in the end to legislative deal-making. When Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania, who favored abolition, said he “would sooner submit himself to a tax for paying for all the negroes in the U. States, than saddle posterity with such a Constitution,” the other delegates simply ignored him. There would be no emancipation in the Unites States Constitution—not just yet. It would take a war, and more constitutional haggling, to do that.

In the end, even Morris accepted the imperfectly constructed document that bound the United States together. “Considering the present plan as the best that was to be attained,” he would “take it with all its faults.” Bigger issues, Morris reasoned, were at stake: “The moment this plan goes forth all other considerations will be laid aside, and the great question will be, shall there be a national government, or not?”

Ray Raphael’s most recent book is Constitutional Myths: What We Get Wrong and How to Get It Right.

Originally published in the December 2013 issue of American History. To subscribe, click here.

Successful and Vulnerable

In the 1950s, with Cold War anxieties and McCarthyism at their height and resurgent Republicans eager to dismantle the New Deal, politics was a contentious business, and TVA was in the middle of the fight.

Though connections between the Cold War and TVA may seem tenuous now, opponents of TVA in the 1950s regarded their stand as part of the larger struggle against international communism. Ike himself had referred to TVA as an example of “creeping socialism” and told friends in private, “I’d like to sell the whole thing.”

In its first 20 years, TVA had been politically controversial but obviously successful in its mission. By the end of World War II, TVA had become the nation’s leading electricity supplier. Since the agency’s founding in 1933, per capita income in the Valley had risen dramatically, from 44 percent of the national average to 61 percent in 1953.

But, ironically, TVA’s own success increased its political vulnerability. With the completion of Kentucky Dam in 1944, the agency had reached the limits of hydroelectric power generation at the very moment when increasing prosperity boosted the demand for power. From 1950 to 1954, Congress appropriated more than $1 billion for TVA, almost all of it to finance the construction of coal-fired steam plants to meet the rising demand.

The move to steam plants and the appropriations needed to finance it galvanized TVA’s opposition. In 1948, the Republican-controlled Congress turned down TVA’s request to build a coal-fired plant at New Johnsonville, Tenn. Funds were appropriated for the plant after the Democrats came back in elections that fall. However, Republicans returned to power with Eisenhower’s election in 1952 and again turned off the funds, this time for the construction of a plant at Fulton, Tenn., just north of Memphis.

Who Proposed the Great Compromise

Who Proposed the Great Compromise? Their so-called Great Compromise (or Connecticut Compromise in honor of its architects, Connecticut delegates Roger Sherman and Oliver Ellsworth) provided a dual system of congressional representation.

Who Proposed the Great Compromise

With the compromise, Sherman ensured that the Constitution would be the best document the states would approve. He did not believe that the states would willingly surrender much of their authority to a stronger central government. He was right. Ratification would be a difficult process in the most powerful states of Virginia, Massachusetts, and New York. In Connecticut, he used his considerable influence to win approval for the Constitution, which was ratified by a crushing majority. His September 1787 letter to the legislature, transmitting the Constitution for its review, specifically denied that the new government would infringe upon state sovereignty. “The equal representation of the states in the Senate, and the voice of that branch in the appointment of offices will secure the rights of the lesser, as well as the greater states.” And though “some additional powers are vested in Congress…those powers extend only to matters respecting the common interests of the Union, and are specially defined, so that the particular states retain their sovereignty in all other matters.” He wanted Connecticut to support the Constitution without fear because Connecticut would remain sovereign, not the central government.

Election of the President: The Electoral College

The Articles of Confederation did not provide for a chief executive of the United States. Therefore, when delegates decided that a president was necessary, there was a disagreement over how he should be elected to office. While some delegates felt that the president should be popularly elected, others feared that the electorate would not be informed enough to make that decision.

The delegates came up with other alternatives, such as going through each state's Senate to elect the president. In the end, the two sides compromised with the creation of the Electoral College, which is made up of electors roughly proportional to population. Citizens actually vote for electors bound to a particular candidate who then votes for the president.

Watch the video: Constitution-#1-Great Compromise (January 2022).