Lesson Objectives:- The Constitutional Convention
- Factions at the Convention
- The Virginia Plan, the New Jersey Plan, and the Great Compromise
- The Three-Fifths Compromise and slavery
- Separation of powers
- The Executive
On September 11th, 1786, the Virginia legislature requested a meeting among the states to talk business.
It was not long before it became clear that the national government needed some serious tweaking if America was going to function as a country.
So on May 25th, 1787, the Constitutional Convention convened "to consider the exigencies of the union."
Out of 74 delegates chosen, only 55 attended the Constitutional Convention. There were two main factions at the Convention.
The Nationalists were men such as George Washington and Benjamin Franklin who wanted a national government with some actual power.
The Republican Nationalists were those such as James Madison and James Wilson who wanted a national government that was supported by the people.
There were also delegates who were still against giving any real power to a national government.
In a masterful stroke, James Madison and his Virginia delegates came out strong when George Washington opened up the debate.
They proposed a Bicameral Legislature, which is a legislature made up of two parts, called chambers. That is the House of Representatives and the Senate that we have today.
The Virginia delegates further proposed a national executive that the legislature would elect, as well as a national judiciary – also elected by the legislature.
Smaller states realized that they had to start submitting proposals themselves or they would be dominated by the larger states.
New Jersey started with an alternative when they offered that each state would have one vote in a Congress that would make the laws that govern the land, one main responsibility being to tax the people.
But the most important part of New Jersey's Plan was the Supremacy Doctrine, which asserted the priority of national law over state laws. This principle is stated in Article VI of our Constitution.
The New Jersey Plan was a no-go for the Nationalists and the Virginia Plan was not happening for the smaller states.
A compromise had to be struck. It was called the Great Compromise, which is the compromise between the New Jersey and Virginia plans that resulted in one chamber of Congress based on population, and another chamber representing each state equally. The Great Compromise was also called the Connecticut Compromise.
Having a Senate and a House of Representatives settled the controversy between the states.
An issue came up concerning slaves since slavery was still legal. The North did not have many, but it was a big trade in the South.
As far as population was concerned, how were the slaves going to be counted? The South wanted to count slaves as an equal part of their population, but the North objected.
The resulting Three-Fifths Compromise meant that each slave was counted as three-fifths of a person when it came to calculating population.
The slavery issue was not completely settled. There were delegates who opposed the idea of owning another person.
However, they feared that the union would split if they did not find a compromise. "Great as the evil is, a dismemberment of the Union would be even worse,“ said James Madison.
So, the Southern states were allowed to continue trading slaves even though there were many delegates against it.
The Southern delegates further stipulated that export taxes would not be imposed since the Southern states relied heavily on agricultural exports.
Another agreement that was made was that the president would select Supreme Court justices and the Senate would confirm them.
James Madison played a major role in the whole process and his proposals for government have often been called the Madisonian Model.
The Madisonian Model is a structure of government in which the powers of the government are separated into three branches: executive, legislative, and judicial.
The Madisonian Model includes a way to protect the people from any branch dominating the others. It does this through a system of checks and balances.
Checks and Balances is a major principle of the American system of government whereby the powers of each branch of the government act as a check on the actions of the others.
The president of the United States is the Executive who is elected by the Electoral College.
The Electoral College is a group of persons, called electors, that officially elects the president and the vice president of the United States. The electors are chosen by each state and in the District of Columbia.
In this way, the framers of the Constitution ensured that the people would choose the president, but through a system where each state has as many electors as it does representatives in both the Senate and the House.
A five-man team known as the Committee of Detail put the finishing touches on the Constitution.
By signing time, only 42 of the delegates were still present and 3 refused to sign. As a result, the new Constitution was approved by 39 delegates of the 55 that came to the Constitutional Convention.