It can be said that in a democracy, unity among the many cannot exist without compromise. Following the conclusion of the American Revolutionary War in 1776, the Articles of Confederation (the “Articles”) were written to allay fears about, and promote liberty, for its citizens, by legitimizing the rights of individual states. However, the Articles provided such restrictive powers for the underfunded national government to counteract deficiencies, that the union was at risk of collapse.
A series of meetings, known as the Constitutional Convention (the “Convention”), was held to fix America’s dysfunctional political system, resulting in re-writing the American Constitution. Throughout the process of ratifying this historic document, many disputes arose driven by divergent fears and values. Despite the numerous heated disagreements, the parties’ disparate fears were sufficiently allayed through carefully crafted compromises.
In the end, the overarching and shared fear of the downside, including a loss of life and liberty through a possible civil war, outweighed the individual fears of the varied participants about potential weaknesses of the new Constitution. Unity was tested while compromises were negotiated. Thus, the productive ratification debate mitigated both a shared, as well as disparate fears. The success of the ratification debate, in creating this enduring new Constitution, proved that the Country was in fact, more united than divided.
Ever since Americans gained their freedom from Great Britain in the Revolutionary War, many seemed fearful of being governed by a strong, centralized government. The colonists had previously been denied proper representation in the English Parliament, which also greatly affected their outlook about self-governance. At odds, were those fearful of tyranny by the people (typically those who became federalists, concerned with too much democracy), and those fearful of tyranny by the government (typically those who became the anti-federalists, concerned with too little democracy).
Many federalists were anxious that there was no central authority to protect their property or to protect creditors rights. For instance, when the extreme federalist, Alexander Hamilton, suggested that “executive power ought to be vested in a single man, elected for life,” many argued against him, claiming that Hamilton’s plan was just short of a dreaded monarchy (DALIA page 979??? what book? 179? ). Some anti-federalist delegates were fearful that a new covert monarchic leader would, as President, become as powerful as a king and states’ rights would disappear.
A compromise was reached during the Convention, to allay the differing fears of both sides. Through separation of powers, hree equal co-branches of government were created to limit concentration of power, thereby instituting checks and balances among the Executive Branch, the Legislative Branch and the Judicial Branch of the central government. In creating this solution, unity was preserved through a compromise which soothed the fears over either too much, or too little democracy under the new Constitution.
Furthermore, the ratification debate showed that residents of both the north and south, were very concerned about their financial circumstances. For example, when the topic of limiting the importation of slaves was discussed at the Convention, the representatives from the southern states threatened to leave the union over it. The southerners were fearful that their entire economy and way of life would be destroyed, as they depended on the continuation of slavery for a cheap labor. Alternatively, slavery was largely distasteful to many northerners.
Northern parties at the Convention typically understood that it was disadvantageous to them, that slaves would be treated as people in population count for representation purposes, but as untaxed property for import purposes. In the end, both the southerners and the northerners voted with their pocketbook; they were fearful of the financial consequences for their constituents.. A compromise was reached to appease the south, that slave importation would not be limited for the next 20 years.
However, to appease the north, Congress would be permitted to levy a duty of $10 per head on each slave that was imported. In reaching this solution, unity was thus preserved, by quelling the parties’ fears over financial considerations. Finally, and perhaps most critically, many American colonists were afraid of the loss of representation and thus power, under a new form of governance which included proportional representation. Those representatives from states with a large population, such as Virginia, felt that representation in government should be based on headcount within a state.
This allocation would give larger states more power, thus mitigating their fear of loss of prestige or influence. Those representatives from states with a small population, such as New Jersey, were fearful that the larger states would squash them; the small states wanted equal representation among all states, and thus equal power. Within the first few months of the Convention, a major disagreement, maybe the most acrimonious, arose from two clashing plans: the Virginia plan and the New Jersey plan.
Not only did the Virginian delegate, James Madison argue that the number of representatives should be based on population, to increase his state’s headcount and thus its power even further, he also argued for the inclusion of slaves in the population tally. A delegate of New Jersey, William Paterson could not endorse the inclusion of slaves arguing that the southerners did not consider slaves to be people. Paterson contended that if slaves were not people, but rather property, they should not be included in the population count.
After innumerable arguments and gridlock between the small and large states, a compromise was reached. First, under the Connecticut, or Great Compromise, there would be a bicameral government in the Congress. This Congress would be comprised of one Legislative organization, the House of Representatives, having delegates based upon a state’s population, and the other Legislative organization, the Senate, with each state having an equal number of delegates (i. e. , two) per state. The second compromise was that three out of every five slaves would be counted in the headcount of a state, for population tallying purposes.
The heated moral issues that arose during the ratification debate, between largely northern and southern states, were set aside for expediency. Thus, unity among the parties was preserved through compromise despite the delegates’ fears over loss of power, due to the size of their state. In 1787,55 colonial men representing 12 states met to create “a more perfect union” by increasing federal authority, while maintaining citizens rights. In order to achieve this goal, disparate fears had to be mitigated through carefully constructed compromises.
However, despite the varying concerns of the rich and the poor, the large and the small, and the north and the south, the parties all shared an undisputed fear from the War of Independence: the loss of life and liberty. The sharing of this overarching concern, along with the parties’ ability to compromise to mollify their disparate fears, allowed for the Convention to be a success. For these reasons, while the strength of the nation’s unity was sorely tested during this time, the ratification debate proved that the Country was more united than divided.