Why is the American Constitution called the Great Compromise?

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Why is the American Constitution called the ‘Great Compromise’?

On May 14th 1787, 55 state delegates began to arrive in Pennsylvania, each with very different ideas about how the governing of their nation should function. The delegates came from different cultural state backgrounds, and the one concept that had genuinely united them – their opposition to the tyrannical rule of George III, had now disintegrated. Added to the natural dualism of the delegate ideas taken to the Convention, the delegates were under substantial pressure to efficiently deliver a blueprint for how their country was to run, because of the economic and social problems that had plagued the ‘United’ States in the aftermath of the War of Independence. There were various issues to be discussed and debated at the Convention, each with their proponents and detractors. The inevitable conflicts that occurred between delegates over the issues of representation, slavery, the role and power of the federal government, the extent of its regulation of commerce and the composition and power of the executive, combined with the way in which the convention was under pressure to deliver in order to put an end to the nation’s socio-economic problems, meant that degrees of ‘compromise’ between delegates were unavoidable in the eventual outcome.

The most contentious disputes revolved around the composition and election of the legislature, and how "proportional representation" was to be defined in an American context.  The main question here was, should the government (a decidedly federal one by this stage) be representative of the states, or of their populations themselves? The state delegates were identifiably divided on this issue – the ‘big’ state delegate’s like those from Virginia and the Carolina’s presented arguments to form a legislature based on the population of states, where the states with the larger populations were granted more representation in the legislature than the smaller ones. The ‘small’ state delegates like those from New Jersey declared that the legislature should represent the states themselves, with each state being given equal representation. James Madison (delegate for Virginia) proposed the ‘Virginia plan’, whereby there would be a bi-cameral legislature with both chambers solely representative of state population. However, in response, William Paterson (representative of New Jersey) proposed the ‘New Jersey plan’ which was based around the formation of a uni-cameral legislature in which each state was equally represented. On June 19th, 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 2nd, 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. After six weeks of tumult, North Carolina switched its vote to equal representation per state and Massachusetts abstained, and so a compromise was reached, which has since become known as the "Great (or Connecticut) Compromise." Fundamentally, the fact that two competing ‘plans’ for the legislature were drafted and proposed, with the result being mix of both, is clear evidence that a compromise took place on the issue of representation. Indeed, not only was the outcome known as the ‘Connecticut Compromise’, but the ‘Congress’ that American has today is the embodiment of such a compromise – it has two chambers, the Senate based on representation of the states, where they each have two members, and the House, which is representative of the population of the states with densely-populated states like California possessing 53 members and less populated ones like Utah holding only 3 seats.

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With reference to the issue of slavery, again there is evidence of a compromise taking place between delegates. Twenty-five of the Convention's 55 delegates owned slaves, including all of the delegates from Virginia and South Carolina. Slaves comprised approximately one-fifth of the population of the states and apart from northernmost New England, where slavery had largely been eliminated, slaves lived throughout all regions of the country. The majority of the slaves (more than 90%), lived in the South, where approximately 1 in 3 families were slave owners (in the largest and wealthiest state, Virginia, that figure was nearly 1 ...

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