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Compromise: The Life Blood of the Republic
“A joiner, when he wants to fit two boards, takes off with his plane the uneven parts from each side, and thus they fit. Let us do the same.”
June 30, 1787
At the time Ben Franklin delivered this line, the Constitutional Convention had hit a major stalemate. Small states and large states were unable to agree on how they each should be represented in the new Congress. Large states preferred proportional representation, granting them more control over the new legislatures. While small states preferred equal representation of each state to ensure they were not steam rolled by the more populous states. While that debate raged, the counting of slaves for purposes of apportionment also weighed on the Convention, potentially adding more representatives, and control of the future Congress, to the slave holding states.
After an exhausting session with no movement, the Convention voted on a new committee of delegates to help break the impasse. Then they took a three-day recess and broke for the 4th of July holiday.
Upon return from the holiday, the committee’s fiery exchanges returned, without much progress. Ben Franklin waited for his moment and then provided his input, what would later be known as, “The Great Compromise.”
Under Franklin’s plan, the House of Representatives, elected by districts of up to 40,000 people, gave larger states an advantage over their smaller counterparts. The House would also have the sole power to start tax and spending bills. However, the smaller states would have equal power in the Senate, which would have equal representation in the chamber.
On July 5th, Franklin’s “Great Compromise” was presented to the full convention. The full convention sat and argued over it for over a week, again with little progress. The issue of slavery continued to hang over the convention. While not always directly, this rather large elephant in the room filled up more space than the summer heat in Philadelphia. While a month earlier the Three-Fifths Compromise had already been struck in Committee of the Whole, as the measure of apportionment, abolitionist and slave owning sides still had not come to a full consensus on the matter as a Convention.
These three weeks were a real breaking point for the Constitution. Not only was the issue of slavery a hard compromise to try and find, but it also was a fight for power between the large states and little states. Finding the balance to appease all side eluded the delegates for quite awhile and almost dissolved the convention entirely.
But the small states held firm and their threats to walk out of the convention seemed credible. Apparently, that and weeks of rehashing the debate broke down the larger states. Maybe it was also the recent July 4th holiday giving them a little “Spirit of ’76.” Whichever reason it ended up being, the stalemate was broken and the House and Senate were born.
Today is Election Day, I use this example because there is much more that unites us than divides us. No matter which party or candidate you lean toward or vote for, we are all still Americans.
The Constitution created provided a process for us all to live under and choose those who govern. It’s our duty to exercise that right and vote for who we want to be in charge. And if you are unhappy with the choices, then get involved. Join your local political party, join a group that advocates for what you believe in, or run for office. Get out and make the change you desire.
If you choose to do nothing, then buckle up for the ride, but keep the complaining to a minimum.