Saturday, January 26, 2013

David Robertson's "The Original Compromise"

David Brian Robertson is Curator's Distinguished Teaching Professor of Political Science at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. He is the author of The Constitution and America's Destiny and Federalism and the Making of America.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Original Compromise: What the Constitution's Framers Were Really Thinking, and reported the following:
I wrote the Original Compromise to show how a political analyst would tell the story of the U.S. Constitutional Convention. I admire skilled, effective, and idealistic politicians who try to accomplish ambitious, positive goals. I recently saw such politicians at work in the movie Lincoln, as I saw them in the records of the Convention.

Page 99 comes at a critical moment: June 30, 1787, the last day of the Convention’s fifth week. Anger is boiling over as the delegates quarrel about representation in the Senate. James Madison and James Wilson fight tenaciously to peg the number of each state’s Senators on the size of the state’s population (as in the House of Representatives). Madison’s political strategy for the Convention turned on this point. Madison was trying to hold together a coalition of six states, including the three largest states (Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia) and three growing Southern states (Georgia and the Carolinas). If Madison won the proportional representation in the Senate, he believed these six states, with more votes in the new Congress than in the Confederation Congress, would likely be willing to increase national power.

But delegates from the states outside Madison’s coalition – the smaller New England and Middle Atlantic states – fiercely resisted proportional representation in the Senate. They feared that a Senate dominated by large states could endanger their interests. Alarmed by the broad scope of Madison’s plans, Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut bitterly complains that “We are razing the foundations of the building [the national government], when we need only repair the roof.”

Madison, worried about wavering support among his allies, attacks Connecticut’s past behavior and injects the issue of slavery into the debate – a step he had scrupulously avoided until this moment. Raising the slavery issue marked a dangerous gamble on Madison’s part. He knew that the issue divided his Northern and Southern allies.

By July 16, the Convention approved the Connecticut Compromise, providing each state with equal representation in the Senate. Madison’s loss wrecked his strategy, and it propelled the delegates into a prolonged series of battles over national authority and the powers of the government’s branches. The Convention produced a government plan forged in compromise – one that, like the Convention itself, requires compromises to succeed.
Learn more about The Original Compromise at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue