(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

While the US Constitution is probably one of the most amazing group of thoughts ever assembled by human beings it didn’t just magically fall into place.

There were five great compromises made during the 1787 Constitutional Convention that the states had to agree on to create the “instruction manual” that has guided our republic for the past 200 plus years.

Compromise #1 – Houses of Congress

There were two ideas for creating a congress to represent the people of each state.

The Virginia Plan proposed two houses, one of which would be elected by the people and the second would contain people selected from a pool nominated by each state legislature.

The national legislature would then select the president and national judiciary.

The New Jersey Plan wanted to decentralize government and allow each state to have only one vote.

The “Great Compromise of 1787” combined the two plans creating two houses, one of which would be based on state population by election of the people, and the second house would have two representatives from each state who would be appointed by their state legislators.

Compromise #2 – Slavery Representation

With representation decided by population the question of how to count slaves was brought up by southern states who wanted each one counted for representation.

Northern states opposed that idea because their economy was not as dependent on slave labor. They felt counting all slaves would give the south a population advantage in representation.

The “Three-Fifths Compromise” would solve the issue by declaring that every five slaves would be counted as three people in terms of population representation. Slaves were counted by not given the right to vote.

Compromise #3 - Tariffs

Import tariffs were an important part of early US history. Northern business owners wanted tariffs to discourage foreign competition for goods coming into the US.

The south, on the other hand, was afraid that tariffs might hurt the trade for cotton and other crops they produced and exported.

After much discussion it was decided that tariffs would be imposed on US imports to protect local businesses and not impose tariffs on exports leaving the US.

Compromise #4 – Slave Trade

Slavery was vital to the economy of the southern states and those states felt that government intrusion was not needed in the regulation of the buying and selling of slaves.

The northern states, not as dependent on slaves for their economy, wanted importing and selling of slaves stopped.

Slavery continued until the 1808 Congress finally banned the importing and sale of slaves. Eventually slavery was outlawed everywhere in the US after the conclusion of the Civil War in 1865.

Compromise #5 – Electoral College

The original “Articles of Confederation” had no provision for the election of a president so the Continental Congress had to come up with one.

Most delegates thought the president should be popularly elected but others thought voters would be to uninformed to make that decision. Much like today’s voters.

This compromise created the “Electoral College” that allowed citizens from each state to vote for candidates, then “electors” cast the final vote for the president.

Even if the popular vote for one candidate is more, the opposing candidate can still win if they have more electoral votes, as was the case of Bush Gore in 2000.

Some Final Thoughts

When looking at some of these decisions it’s easy to see that the founders put a lot of thought into their compromises.

While we do agree that slavery was a very dark stain on our early history we corrected that error in thinking later on.

While some would like our Constitution to be a “living document” there are many protections and provisions that are just as valuable to our freedoms today as they were when written 200 years ago.

Let’s hope that future leaders will take the time to come up with compromises on current and future issues and that they will continue to make the USA the “last best place on earth.”

What compromises to the Constitution would you make? Comments below.

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