On May 17th of 1787, fifty-five men secretly met in Philadelphia to discuss a complete overhaul of the Federal government. With the exception of Rhode Island, these men came from all over the states: large and small, north and south. This diversity in delegates helped create a balance of ideas that would become known as constitutional compromises. Without these integral ideas coming together, we would not have the government we know today. The delegates of Virginia were the first and most voiced of the crowd. They came straight in with a clear idea of what they wanted to achieve.
Edmund Randolph, governor of Virginia, opened the debate with a long speech about the evils of the Articles of Confederation. He emphasized the importance of “a strong consolidated union in which the idea of states should be nearly annihilated” (Randolph). This idea of a strong national government was then reinforced by James Madison, who proposed a plan that would account for the control of this federal power and prevent it from falling into the tyranny of monarchy. He laid out a system which consisted of three branches of government: executive, judicial, and legislative.
These branches would divide the powers of the government and check one and other to prevent overreach. In his plan, the legislative branch would be the most powerful. It would be divided into two houses: the lower house, House of Representatives, and the upper house, the Senate. In both houses, the number of representatives for each state would be determined by its population. The general populous would then vote on who to send to the House of Representatives, and these elected officials would decide who to send to the Senate.
This congress oversaw the appointment of both the judicial branch’s federal judges, and the President (who had seven year terms). This plan that was laid out by Virginian’s became known as The Virginia “large state” Plan. The Virginia Plan outraged delegates from smaller states. They railed against the oppression of the states in such a centralized government. Instead, after much discussion on how to respond, delegate William Paterson proposed a plan that be more inclusive of smaller states. The plan called for simply amending the current Articles of Confederation, and extending its powers.
It called for a continuation of a unicameral congress with one vote chosen by state legislatures. Under the amendments, this congress had the ability to raise taxes, enforce federal law, and regulate trade. It also proposed a judiciary which could be appointed by the executive branch. This was called The New Jersey “small state” Plan. After a great amount of deliberation, a compromise was introduced by a delegate of Connecticut named Roger Sherman. He suggested a plan that would take both large and small states into account.
It proposed a bicameral legislature set up similarly to the Virginia Plan, however each house set its number of representatives differently. The House of Representatives would be based on the population of each state. On the other hand, the senate would always have two representatives per state, regardless of the its size. Although some were still not happy with its provisions, the proposal eventually passed. It became known as The Great Compromise. Once it was set, it became a matter of deciding how to determine population. The southern states wanted to include slaves as a part of their population to determine representatives.
The northern states argued that they were not free, tax paying individuals and should therefore not count. James Wilson, a delegate from Pennsylvania, offered a solution that would garner support of southern states, while continuing to appeal to the north. It stated that each enslaved individual count as three fifths of a person. This would allow them to account for slaves when determining representation under the provision that they paid three fifths of taxes per enslaved person counted. This was called the Three Fifths Compromise. The tensions between the north and south also extended to regulation of commerce.
The south did not want congress meddling with the slave trade. The north, however, wanted to end it entirely. They came up with a plan that would be known as The Commerce and Slave Trade Compromise. This was an agreement that the north would not interfere for the next two decades, given that the south agreed to pay taxes on slaves. It was voted on and passed. These compromises all played a historic role in shaping our government into the one we know today. Although in some cases dehumanizing and unideal, it helped propel the constitution and make into reality. Without them, we may never have reached any agreement.
Thanks to the founding fathers and members of the Constitutional Convention we have a government for the people and by the people of The United States of America. Section Two The current job approval rating for congress is set at nineteen percent. Since 2010, it has unprecedentedly stayed below twenty-five. Although this is largely due to the amount of partisan gridlock that has slowly gained more and more footing as the years have gone by, constituents and the media also play a big role. When asking voters about their congressman, approval ratings spike up to forty six percent.
This is because many constituents look favorably on the actions of their representatives, but then disapprove when it doesn’t match up with the bigger picture. Congressmen then reciprocate this sentiment when they act only upon the desires of their constituents, refusing to work with fellow congressmen to get something passed if it doesn’t directly benefit his/her bid for reelection. Finally, as if it weren’t enough already, the media adds to the negative sentiment by blasting congress for not getting enough passed, instead of covering the content and substance of what they have accomplished (all for good coverage ratings themselves).
This whole cycle becomes a never-ending slope that directly contributes to the negativity surrounding congress. How can congress ever achieve anything if all three parties think only of themselves and refuse to work together to achieve a greater purpose? Is that not the whole function on congress and our government to begin with? From a logistical perspective, having a unified government would theoretically be much more efficient in getting things done. However, this has proven to be ineffective multiple times when we have seen a unified congress and executive branch.
This is mainly due to each elected official still acting on their own behalf. (It could be refuted that this is due to the ability of the minority to halt congress if necessary. ) On the other hand, if we did have a unified government, the minority party would have no say in any major decisions that could greatly impact their lives. Such a lack of ability to do anything might take away all motivation and involvement from the minority. Thus, creating a sort of oligarchy in our government. Arguably, this would go against the very definition of a republic, which our country is founded upon.
Such a government would halt any positive movement or progress that could be made. As for the question of allowing one party to grind congress to a halt: without a doubt, it should continue to be allowed. It is absolutely justifiable. It speaks to the basic principle of balances which our government was founded upon. The voice of the minority should not be overlooked. The ability for one party to block the actions of another, political in nature or not, is an important part of making sure both sides of the argument are heard and an important part of the progression of our country.
Section Three I believe the founding fathers would be greatly dismayed by seeing the way our government has progressed in general. From the very beginning, the presidency was set up in a way that, would not allow there to be a single voice ruling the many. If they saw the executive overreach of modern presidents, they would attribute it to the tyranny of the monarchy which they so greatly opposed and fought against. Informal and implied powers of the president have grown as years have gone by. In former president Obama’s own words, “where they [congress] won’t act, I will”.
Historically, it is executive action is particularly prevalent during times of need or panic. For example, during World War Two, Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive action to send all Japanese-Americans to internment camps. It was done without even reaching the ears congress in a time of panic and doubt. Congress only adds to this extension of presidential powers though their unwillingness to take responsibility for important decisions being made, in fear that it may harm their ever-so-fragile reputation.
This punts powers, such as that of declaring war, back to the Commander-in-Chief himself. Although, admittedly, it can be very helpful to get certain things done quickly, especially in a time of need or panic (rather than waiting for congress to reach a decision), there can be grave consequences. It extends tolerance for presidents to disregard the system of checks and balances that is set in place in future instances. A classic example of this is the recent travel ban that was signed by President Trump. Fortunately, the courts have blocked it.
However, it seems he did not regard this check and balance as adequate. As a matter of fact, he went ahead and did it again (thankfully it was blocked again). Now, he publicly speaks in a way that regards our judicial system as completely unworthy. This is incredibly dangerous as it sets precedent for our presidents to blame their incompetence on the government which they themselves are a part of. It sets the tone for our branches of government to pit against each other, as if they were not all part of a whole.
This brings into question the power of the president to overlook the constitution as simply an obstacle and gives an unprecedented amount of power to the executive unlike we have seen before. In all, the power of the president should only be flexible in times of war and desperate need. It is the responsibility of our congress to act upon these instances of overreach and ensure the checks and balances on our executive branch remain fully in place. Allowing it to bend any more than it has may arguably open the doors to future tyrannical presidency. Our founding fathers will surely be crying in their graves.