Beam: Compromise can work miracles

By By Jim Beam / American Press

The U.S. Congress continues to struggle

in an effort to reach agreement on a variety of issues critical to this

nation’s well-being

primarily because the word “compromise” has become a dirty word

for many conservatives. Those in the Republican Party, for

example, who are occasionally willing to give some ground, are

quickly labeled RINOs (Republicans in name only).

Those familiar with this country’s

history find that attitude troubling. The U.S. Constitution, often

described as the greatest

document ever written in the history of mankind, was built on what

have come to be known as “The Great Compromises.” The 55

men who wrote the Constitution went to the Philadelphia

Constitutional Convention in 1787 with widely divergent views about

how our democracy should be fashioned. Only 12 states took part in

the meetings at Independence Hall. Rhode Island wasn’t


The first major decision centered on how Congress should be constituted. Smaller states wanted one house (unicameral), and

the larger states recommended two houses (bicameral).

Edmund Randolph introduced the

“Virginia Plan” that was drafted by James Madison. Each house would be

based on population,

and that would give the larger states the greatest representation.

But that wasn’t all. Since the president, judges and other

officers were to be appointed by Congress, the larger states would

be in complete control of much of the federal government.

William Patterson introduced the “New Jersey Plan” that called for a unicameral Congress where all states would be equally

represented in the one house.

“Magruder’s American Government,” a civics textbook written by William A. McClenaghan, said the debate over this issue lasted

for weeks. And the result has come to be known as the greatest of the constitution’s compromises.

Roger Sherman of Connecticut, suggested the compromise that was accepted. It said Congress would consist of two houses, a

Senate composed of two senators from each state, and a House whose members would be selected based on population.

That compromise created another

problem. Should the Southern states be allowed to count their slaves

when figuring population?

The text says this argument was fierce. The delegates finally

agreed to a compromise that said those states could count all

“free persons” but only “three-fifths of other persons.” The

compromise became null and void at the end of the War Between

the States.

The next compromise settled an argument

over control of commerce. If the national government were in control,


were afraid the North might shut off its profitable cotton trade

with England. The compromise said Congress could regulate

interstate and foreign commerce, but it was forbidden to tax

exports, favor one port over another or interfere with the slave

trade until at least 1808.

Another compromise settled the issue of whether the president should be chosen by Congress or by direct popular election.

The convention spent more time on that issue than anything else. Delegates thought direct election would lead to disorder

and mob rule and the people were too scattered to know enough about the candidates.

Election by Congress was favored first,

but the framers decided to set up the Electoral College that still

exists today. States

were allowed to decide how to pick their electors, but that was

changed when the 12th Amendment was adopted in 1804. It set

up popular votes for president in the states, and those candidates

winning the most popular votes in each state won its electoral


Magruder writes, “And so it went. In many ways, and perhaps very important to its great and lasting strength, the Constitution

is a “bundle of compromises.”

Compromises don’t come easily. All

sides have to give a little in order to be successful. And historians

say that was true

of the Constitution. Most of them weren’t completely satisfied

with the finished product, but it has stood the tests of times.

Benjamin Franklin spoke for many of the framers after their job was done.

“I agree to this Constitution, with all

its faults, if they are such; ... I doubt whether any other convention

we can obtain

may be able to make a better Constitution,” Franklin said. “For

when you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of

their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men all

their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion,

their local interests, and their selfish views. From such an

assembly can a perfect production be expected? It therefore astonishes

me, Sir, to find this system approaching so near to perfection as

it does; and I think it will astonish our enemies...”

Obviously, the men and women in

Congress today don’t remember how our founding fathers were able to

overcome the same prejudices,

passions, opinions, local interests and selfish views that have

surfaced in Washington, D.C. It’s called compromise, what

the dictionary describes as “an agreement or a settlement of a

dispute that is reached by each side making concessions.”

You don’t have to sell your soul or sacrifice your principles when you compromise on difficult issues. Great men and women

in American history have been doing it for the last 226 years.

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Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or