Great Compromise

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The defeat of the new jersey plan provoked the fiercest battle at the constitutional convention of 1787. Small-state nationalists believed that they could not obtain ratification of any constitution that put their states at the political mercy of the large ones. The struggle focused on representation in the bicameral Congress. Small-state delegates, seeking compromise, would accept representation in the lower house based on population, but as to the upper house they would not retreat from the principle of state equality. roger sherman of Connecticut declared that he would agree to two houses with "proportional representation in one of them, provided each State have an equal voice in the other." william s. johnson of Connecticut explained that in one house "the people ought to be represented, in the other, the States." State representation was essential to a Union "partly national, partly federal," declared oliver ellsworth of Connecticut. But the stubbornness of the large state faction resulted in a 5–5 tie vote on what would later be called the "Connecticut Compromise." Its initial defeat brought the convention, in Sherman's words, "to a full stop," and the convention stood at the brink of failure. Concessions were politically necessary. A special committee shrewdly recommended the compromise urged by Connecticut. That recommendation carried by the slimmest majority, averting a breakup of the convention. The principle of state equality having been won, small-state nationalists then supported a motion allowing members of the Senate to vote as individuals, although luther martin objected that individual voting violated "the idea of the States being represented."

Leonard W. Levy


Brant, Irving 1950 James Madison: Father of the Constitution, 1787–1800. Pages 79–100. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill.

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Great Compromise

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