#TBT: The Great Compromise

Posted by Blake Wright on November 27, 2014 at 8:00 AM

By Alyssa Berg 

As millennials who’ve grown up in an era of ever-increasing partisanship in the House and the Senate, our bicameral Congress’ origins in cooperation seem almost unfathomable. However, the delegates present at the 1787 Constitutional Convention overcame bitter ideological divides on the issue of congressional representation to reach an agreement we now know as The Great Compromise. 


Since declaring independence from England in 1776, the 13 original United States built their fledgling Federal government on the framework of a document known as the Articles of Confederation. Under this original constitution, the nation was governed by The Congress of the Confederation, a unicameral body made up of representatives appointed be either the legislatures or the assemblies of the states as they existed at that time. This original constitution, however, lacked the strength needed to govern our new and growing nation. 


One of the Articles’ most disputed aspects was the allowance of just one vote in Congress to each state, regardless of size or population. Thus, when delegates from each state met in Philadelphia for the Constitutional Convention of 1787 to establish a new system of self-rule, one of the most hotly-contests topics was the restructuring of Congress. The larger states favored proportional representation, which would allow them to wield voting power in Congress that was equal in weight to the size of their populations. Smaller states, on the other hand, fought to keep representation equal for fear of losing their voice at the policymaking table. Argument over the issue threatened to derail the convention’s progress, as both sides argued vehemently for their interests.


However, one legislator offered a compromise designed to appease the desires and abate the worries of large and small states alike. Future U.S. Senator Roger Sherman, a delegate from Connecticut at the convention, proposed a bicameral Congress with proportional representation in one chamber and equal representation in the other. At first, Sherman’s suggestion seemed so radical that the convention dismissed his plan entirely. However, upon further consideration, Sherman’s revolutionary idea proved to bridge the gap between large and small states, and was adopted by the Constitutional Convention under the moniker of “The Great Compromise.” 


Sherman’s consideration of the needs of all states, both large and small, serves as an enduring example of the power of compromise. Nearly 230 years later, the United States Senate is still a chamber of equal representation or every state, while the House of Representatives gives states a voice proportional to their share of the nation’s population. While the divisions at the Congressional Convention were a bit different than today’s partisan divides, America’s forefathers exemplified a willingness to view issues from the side of their opponents and a commitment to finding common ground that continues to serve as a standard of cooperation today.