The Great Compromise

The Great Compromise

The Great Compromise of 1787 is an event of great importance in the US history. It laid the foundation of the present day structure of the US Congress. It was an attempt to address the concern of proper representation of both the larger, more populous states and those with smaller population.
The Connecticut Compromise of 1787 refers to the settlement of the dispute that rose due to conflicting views put forward by the Virginia Plan and the New Jersey plan. These plans proposed changes in the Articles of Confederation that was the aim of the Philadelphia Convention of 1787. However, whereas the Virginia Plan seemed to provide a greater representation of the more populous states in the national government, the New Jersey Plan was proposed by the smaller states aimed at preventing the balance of the US government from tilting in favor of the more populous states as per the Virginia Plan.
The Background
For a better understanding of this event, we first need to understand the political background of the United States that led to such a conflict that necessitated it. Let's begin with the Philadelphia Convention of 1787.
The Philadelphia Convention
During the later half of the 18th century 13 colonies rejected governance of the British Parliament on the basis of lack of proper representation. The colonies set up 13 provincial congresses that governed each state independently. Although initially the colonies aimed at better governance through appropriate representation of the people, the fervor for complete independence picked up momentum. Throughout their struggle these colonies co-operated against the British, and then the monarchy in what is known as the American Revolutionary War (1775 - 1783). It was the Treaty of Paris (1783) with which any claims of the British over the American soil came to an end. During this period the thirteen colonies sent representatives that formed the Continental Congress that met periodically to deal with the needs of the colonies with respect to the political scenario. The second Continental Congress designed a new government in the form of the articles of Confederation. This was ratified in 1781 and became the first constitution of the United States. It was under this that the United States of America was being governed since its Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. However, need for changes in the legislation was felt, to deal with the conflicts among the various states. The result was that the Philadelphia Convention was called in 1787 which lasted from May 25 to September 17.
The Virginia Plan
The states saw the Philadelphia Convention as an opportunity of ensuring better representation in the national government. Before any final changes could be made and incorporated in the constitution, a number of plans were put forward. Virginia Plan was just one of them.
Traveling in those days was difficult and delegates from all states were not able to reach the venue of the convention on time. In the meanwhile James Madison (the fourth President of the United States) drafted the Virginia Plan. It proposed formation of a bicameral legislature which refers to having two chambers in the Parliament. As per this plan representation of each state in both the houses would be based on the size of the population of the states. The lower house would be elected by the people whereas the upper house would be elected by the members of lower house. The executive would be selected by the legislature. The responsibility of the executive would be to implement the laws passed by the legislature. The Virginia Plan also provided for the creation of a judiciary that other than having some judiciary powers would also have certain executive powers.
The New Jersey Plan
This plan was in response to the Virginia Plan. Also known as the Small State Plan, this plan was introduced by delegate William Patterson. It was in response to the concern of smaller states that ratification of the Virginia Plan would give a greater representation to the larger, more populous states at national level. This plan proposed to maintain the Continental Congress in which every state had equal representation. As per the plan, the Congress would have greater power with respect to levying and collection of taxes. It also provided for a creation of the executive elected by the legislature and a judiciary that would be appointed by the executives.
Resolution of the Conflict
The New Jersey plan was rejected. Nevertheless, it played an important role in the formation of the current United States parliamentary structure. The compromise that was reached by Roger Sherman and Oliver Ellsworth on July 16, 1787 incorporated the Virginia and the New Jersey plan in parts. It formed a bicameral legislature as proposed by the former. It also decided that the lower house would have representatives in proportion to population of each state. These representatives would be elected by the people. However, while deciding on the representation of states in the upper house, as per the tenets of the Compromise, each state would have two members, irrespective of its population.
The structure of the legislature that was proposed by the Compromise was incorporated almost in its original form by the US Constitution. However, this event did not ensure end of conflicts as far as representation of the population of various states was concerned. The issue was further fueled by debate about the role of slave population in deciding representation of states in the legislature. However, this bone of contention was laid to rest with the three-fifths compromise of 1787.
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