The Constitutional Convention


The Constitutional Convention- In May 1787, fifty-five delegates from 12 states (excluding Rhode Island) convened in Philadelphia. Despite having only been given permission to “revise” the Articles of Confederation, the participants moved fast to create a new governance structure.

The Virginia Strategy

The Virginia Plan, a proposal by James Madison, was at the core of the early disputes. It proposed for a bicameral (two-house) legislature with the capacity to create legislation, which was backed by the big states. The lower house was chosen by the lower house from candidates nominated by state legislatures, whereas the upper house was chosen by the lower house from candidates nominated by the state legislatures. The population was used to determine representation in both chambers. The legislature chose the executive for a one-year term and was in charge of enforcing all laws. The judges were also appointed to one or more supreme courts and lower national courts by the legislature. A Council of Revision comprised of the executive and judges had the power to veto laws passed by the legislature or the states; overriding a veto by the Council required a vote by both chambers.

New Jersey’s Plan

Smaller states were in favor of a more moderate departure from the Articles of Confederation. The New Jersey Plan preserved the one-house legislature, but enlarged its responsibilities to include revenue raising and commerce regulation. The members were chosen by the state legislatures and each state received one vote. The legislature was asked to elect a multi-person executive. The executives, who were removed from office by a majority of the governors, also appointed Supreme Court judges. The legislature’s laws were binding on the states, and the multiperson executive had the authority to enforce them.

The Great Consensus

Although the New Jersey Plan was defeated, the issue of congressional representation continued to divide the Convention. Small states desired equal representation, whereas large states demanded proportionate representation (based on population) (one state, one vote). The Great Compromise (also known as the Connecticut Compromise) stipulated that seats in the House of Representatives be distributed based on population, with members elected directly by the people. Each state would have two senators in the Senate, who would vote independently and be chosen by their legislatures.

Slavery-related decisions

In the Southern states, slaves made up a considerable portion of the population. A formula used by Congress in 1783 resolved the question of whether or not to count slaves. The population was calculated by adding the “total number of free persons” and “three-fifths of all other persons” for purposes of representation in the House and assessing direct taxes to the states. Slaves were referred to as “all other humans.” The delegates to the Convention, in addition to accepting the Three-Fifths Compromise, authorized the slave trade to continue by denying Congress the ability to prohibit it before 1808 and agreeing that fugitive slaves should be returned to their masters.

In the presidential election, there was a compromise.

The Convention agreed on a single-person administration but disagreed on how the president should be chosen (by Congress or by the people) and for how long he should serve. The Electoral College was the answer. Each state’s legislatures picked electors equal to their total number of congressional members. The electors then chose two candidates, one of whom could not be a resident of their state. The person who obtained the most votes was elected president, while the person who received the next most votes was elected vice president. In the event of a tie, the election was decided by the House of Representatives, with each state having one vote. The president’s term was established at four years, with no limit on the number of terms he might serve.


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