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The Great Compromise

The Great Compromise

The Great Compromise, also known as the Connecticut Compromise, is one of the most influential and intense debates that arose during the Constitutional Convention in the summer of 1787. What was the Great Compromise, and what did it do? Who proposed the Great Compromise? And how did the Great Compromise resolve the dispute about representation? Keep reading for a definition of the Great Compromise, the result, and more.

The Great Compromise Definition

This is the resolution proposed by Connecticut Delegates, specifically Roger Sherman, during the Constitutional Convention that combined the Virginia Plan by James Madison and the New Jersey Plan by William Paterson to establish the foundational structure of the Legislative Branch of the U.S. Constitution. Created a bicameral system in which the lower House of Representatives would be elected at large, and representation was proportional to a state's population. The Upper House, the Senate, would be elected by state legislatures, and each state has proportional representation with two Senators.

The Great Compromise Summary

The Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787 began to amend the Articles of Confederation. However, by the time the delegates assembled in Carpenters Hall, a strong nationalist movement began to influence some delegates to propose an entirely new system of government with more control over the states. One of those delegates was James Madison.

The Virginia Plan v. The New Jersey Plan

The Great Compromise, Portrait of James Madison, StudySmarterA portrait of James Madison. Source: Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

James Madison arrived at the Constitutional Convention prepared to present a case for an entirely new form of government. What he proposed is called the Virginia plan. Offered as a resolution on May 29, his plan was multifaceted and addressed many of the issues of representation, the structure of government, and nationalist sentiments he felt were lacking in the Articles of Confederation. The Virginia plan presented three critical points of debate and a solution for each.

Solving Representation: The Virginia Plan v. The New Jersey Plan

The Virginia Plan

The New Jersey Plan

The plan rejected state sovereignty in favor of a superior national government, including the power to override state laws. Second, the people would establish the federal government, not the states that established the Articles of Confederation, and national laws would operate directly on the citizens of the varying states. Third, Madison’s plan proposed a three-tiered election system and a bicameral legislature to address representation. Ordinary voters would elect only the lower house of the national legislature, naming the upper house members. Then both houses would choose the executive and judicial branches.

Proposed by William Paterson, held onto the structure of the Articles of Confederation. It would give the Confederation the power to raise revenue, control commerce, and make binding resolutions on the states, but it preserved the state’s control of their laws. It also guaranteed state equality in the federal government by maintaining that each state would have one vote in a unicameral legislature.

Madison's plan had two major flaws for those delegates not yet convinced of the nationalist agenda. First, the notion that the federal government could veto state laws was aberrant to most state politicians and citizens. Second, the Virginia plan would give most federal power to the populous states because representation in the lower house depended on the state's population. Many smaller states objected to this plan and rallied behind William Paterson of New Jersey’s proposed plan. Had the Virginia Plan been adopted, it would have created a government where national authority reigned unchallenged and state power greatly diminished.

The Debate over Representation

This debate over representation between large and small states became the most critical discussion of the convention. Many delegates realized that no other compromises could be made over any additional questions without resolving this issue. The debate over representation lasted two months. Only a few states had agreed to use Madison’s plans as the basis of discussion, let alone how to structure representation in the government.

The debate quickly focused on three key questions involving representation. Should there be proportional representation in both houses of the national legislature? The New Jersey Plan supporters made this question more prominent by agreeing to a bicameral legislature. They saw it as another means of gaining representation for smaller states in the government. What should representation in either or both houses be proportional to; people, property, or a combination of both? Additionally, how should the representatives of each house be elected? The three questions were intertwined since a decision on one could determine the answers to others. Matters were considerably more complex, with more than two opinions on each issue.

The Great Compromise: Constitution

The Great Compromise, A Portrait of Roger Sherman, StudySmarterA Portrait of Roger Sherman. Source: Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

As the delegates debated over two months, they only came to agree on a few matters. By June 21st, the delegates had decided to use the governmental structure of the Virginia plan; they agreed that the people should have a direct say in the choice of some national legislators, and they rejected Madison’s proposal for senators to be elected by the House of Representatives. The debate continued over proportional representation in the Senate and the power of state governments.

The Connecticut Compromise - Sherman and Ellsworth

In mid-summer, the delegates from Connecticut proposed a resolution authored by Roger Sherman and Oliver Ellsworth. The upper house, the Senate, would comprise two representatives from each state, elected by the state legislatures, maintaining the equality in the legislative branch demanded by the smaller states.

The lower chamber, the House of Representatives, is apportioned by state population- through a national census every ten years. The debate over this proposal lasted another few weeks, such as discussion over each chamber’s powers and control began, such as giving the lower house the ability of the “purse” to control legislature involving taxes, tariffs, and funding while giving the upper house the power of approving executive appointments to office and courts. After bitter debate, delegates from the populous states reluctantly agreed to this “Great Compromise.”

Result of the Great Compromise

One aspect of a compromise is that all involved feel they have gained something they wanted while also feeling they could have more. In the Great Compromise, the delegates of the large and small states felt this way. A legislative branch in which the larger states did not have the control and power in the national legislature they thought they thoroughly deserved. Their more significant populations meant they should have a greater influence on national issues. The smaller states gained some centralized control through the senate but had to give up the prospect of fully equal representation with the larger states on the national level.

The final result of the Great Compromise was a two-house legislative branch. The Lower House would be the House of Representatives, elected at large by the people, and each state in the House has proportional representation based on population. The Upper House would be the Senate, and each state would have two Senators elected by the state legislatures. This system gives the states with larger populations more representation in the Lower House, while the Upper House would have equal representation and give some sovereignty back to the states.

The delegates debated and concluded on the powers of each legislative body, such as giving the power of appropriation- monetary policy and taxation, to the Lower House and giving the authority to approve appointments to the Upper House, and giving each House the power to veto bills from the other.

The results of the Great Compromise created the foundations for the U.S. Constitution's legislative branch, but it led to one more crucial debate about representation. Who should be counted in a state population? And should slaves be a part of a state's population? These debates would continue for weeks and eventually lead to the infamous Three-Fifths Compromise.

The Great Compromise - Key takeaways

  • The debate over representation between large and small states became the most critical discussion of the convention.
  • James Madison proposed the Virginia Plan as a solution to representation in the legislative branch, supported by the delegates of states with large populations
  • William Paterson proposed the New Jersey Plan, supported by the delegates of states with smaller populations.
  • Roger Sherman of Connecticut proposed a compromising plan that combined the two other plans, called the Great Compromise.
  • The Great Compromise created a bicameral system in which the House of Representatives' lower house will be elected at large, and representation was proportional to a state's population. The Upper House, the Senate, would be elected by state legislatures, and each state has proportional representation with two Senators.

References

  1. Klarman, M. J. (2016). The Framers’ Coup: The Making of the United States Constitution. Oxford University Press, USA.

Frequently Asked Questions about The Great Compromise

This is the resolution proposed by Connecticut Delegates, specifically Roger Sherman, during the Constitutional Convention that combined the proposed Virginia Plan by James Madison and the New Jersey Plan by William Paterson to establish the foundational structure of the Legislative Branch of the U.S. Constitution. Created a bicameral system in which the House of Representatives lower house will be elected at large, and representation was proportional to a state's population. The Upper House, the Senate, would be elected by state legislatures, and each state has proportional representation with two Senators. 

The Great Compromise resolved the issue of representation in the legislative branch between the proposed Virginia and New Jersey Plans

Roger Sherman and Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut

In mid-summer, The delegates from Connecticut proposed a resolution authored by Roger Sherman and Oliver Ellsworth. The upper house, the Senate, would comprise two representatives from each state, elected by the state legislatures, maintaining the equality in the legislative branch demanded by the smaller states. The lower chamber, the House of Representatives, is apportioned by state population- through a national census every ten years. 

The upper house, the Senate, would comprise two representatives from each state, elected by the state legislatures, maintaining the equality in the legislative branch demanded by the smaller states. The lower chamber, the House of Representatives, is apportioned by state population- through a national census every ten years.  

Final The Great Compromise Quiz

Question

The Delegation from what state proposed the Great Compromise? 

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Answer

Connecticut 

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Question

Who authored the proposal of the Great Compromise? 

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Answer

Roger Sherman and Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut

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Question

What proposal became the foundational structure of the legislative branch? 

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Answer

The Virginia Plan

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Question

Who proposed the Virginia Plan? 

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Answer

James Madison 

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Question

What was the plan for representation supported by delegates of small states? 

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Answer

The New Jersey Plan

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Question

According to the Virginia plan, how were Senators elected? 

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Answer

They would be elected by the state delegations to the House of Representatives. 

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Question

Through the Great Compromise, how would Senators be elected? 

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Answer

By State Legislatures 

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How would delegates to the House of Representatives be elected? 

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Answer

At large by the citizens of the states

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Question

How would the appropriation of delegates be decided in the House of Representatives? 

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Answer

A census to be completed 3 years after the first congress and then once every ten years. 

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Question

Bills regarding taxation and monetary policy must originate in which legislative chamber? 

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Answer

The House of Representatives

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