United States Government/The Constitutional Convention
The United States were basically divided into two classes- the large (more populous) states and the small (less populous) states. The large states included Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Massachusetts. The small states included Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and even Maryland. Also, one may consider Georgia and the two Carolinas as small states, but these states hoped to increase their population and become large by importing slaves and attracting "immigrants" from other states. These were called “in-between states”
The large states wanted to have proportional representation in Congress. They wished that the more populous states have more representatives than the less populous states. However, fearing that they would be overwhelmed by large numbers of representatives from other states, the small state delegates suggested that all states receive equal representation like under the Articles.
James Madison of Virginia proposed a plan, which was presented by Edmund Randolph, supported by the large states, the Virginia Plan. It entailed:
- A very powerful Congress of two houses based on proportional representation
- One house elected by the people, and the second house elected by the first one
- An executive chosen by Congress
- Congressional power to cancel any state law
- Based on population
Meanwhile, New Jersey politician William Paterson proposed a plan on behalf of the small states. It involved:
- A Congress equivalent in structure to the Articles Congress
- A Congress more powerful than the Articles Congress, but not as powerful as the Virginia Plan Congress
- An executive chosen by Congress
- Congressional law being supreme over state law
Thirdly, Alexander Hamilton of New York proposed a plan extremely similar to the British government. The British plan included:
- A legislature of two houses
- One house chosen by the people for limited terms
- Another house chosen by a special body for life terms
- An executive chosen by a special body for a life term
- Congressional power to cancel any state law.
- Based on population
Hamilton's plan was rejected very quickly- it reminded the delegates too much of the tyranny and unhappiness under the King of the State of Great Britain.
Connecticut Delegate Roger Sherman suggested that the small and large states compromise. He felt that the large states would never accept equal representation, while the small ones would never accept just proportional representation. His compromise, known as the Great Compromise, suggested the following:
- A Congress with two houses
- One house based on proportional representation
- Another house based on equal representation
Though Sherman's compromise was initially rejected, the delegates were forced to accept it eventually. Otherwise, the Convention would have clearly broken down on the issue of representation.
Once the issue of representation was resolved, other issues seemed relatively easy to negotiate. The delegates continued to compromise on several issues, including the executive.
Firstly, the delegates were concerned about a single individual as executive. The King, they said, was an individual with too much power. However, the argument failed when some pointed out that every single state in the union had one Chief Executive called a President or a Governor, rather than a Council of Presidents or Governors, and none of the states suffered from that Governor's tyranny. Similarly, the executive was granted substantial but not absolute power, after the example of the individual states.
(Pennsylvania at one time in its history had a council of three Presidents.)
The manner of choosing the executive was the only one of concern. The following were proposed as electors for the President:
- The People
- The state Legislatures
- The state Governors
- The Congress
The Framers rejected the idea of election by the People because they felt that, it would be impractical in the days of difficult communication, and inappropriate because the people would "naturally" vote for local candidates without any regard for those from other states. Also, they rejected the state or Congressional choice because they assumed that the President would feel indebted to and controlled by the states or the Congress. Such a problem would be present with any permanent body. Thus, they established a temporary body whose sole purpose was to elect the President- the Electoral College. (See Part III, Chapter 2.)
The problem of slavery, after the issue of representation, was probably the most dangerous one for the Convention to tackle. If the Convention adopted a plan that upset one region, then the states of that region might have withdrawn from the Convention, breaking up the meeting.
Related to the issue of representation was the counting of slaves to decide the population of a state for the purpose of proportional representation in Congress. The South wanted slaves to count, but the North feared that the South could increase its power in Congress by importing more slaves. The Three-Fifths Compromise suggested the same standard as the Article of Confederation-"other persons," or slaves would be counted as three-fifths of persons. The three-fifths rule would be applied for deciding proportions in Congress and amounts of direct tax due from each state.
Another compromise relating to slavery involved the importation of slaves. The Constitutional Convention compromised by allowing the slave trade to continue until 1808, when the Congress could lawfully ban it.
The tired delegates were faced with a problem - that of a Bill of Rights. The delegates, however, refused to take the risk of breaking up the Convention and wasting hard work by debating specific rights. Thus, they assumed that a newly assembled Congress would add these Amendments, or they felt that the present Constitutional protections were sufficient.
In order for the Constitution to gain effect, the Convention required that nine states approve it. In addition, the states not ratifying, or approving, the Constitution would not be subject to it.