The United States Constitution is a bundle of compromises mainly because there were contending groups during its early stages of conceptualization and even during its formation. On one side, there were those who criticized the first constitution of America—the Articles of Confederation—for lacking several key provisions and adjustments that could give the government more power. Those who were for the reformation of the Articles and for the creation of a stronger national government are called the “federalists”.
On the other hand, there were also those who feared that giving the national government too much power may result to the infringement on the welfare of the individual citizens of the country. Those who opposed the endowment of wider powers to the national government would later on accept the compromise of securing a “Bill of Rights” so that the government especially the Congress will not make laws that violate the rights of the citizens.
Apparently, the Bill of Rights came to be the first manifestation of a compromise that sought to resolve the contending issues at that time. While the Articles of Confederation was later on replaced by the United States Constitution, the Constitution did not entirely survive the years without plenty of changes to it. Part of the reason to it is the fact that there was a fear at the time that granting the national government full powers would allow the situation wherein the people are aggravated in exchange for expediency and productivity on the part of the government.
The first amendment to the Constitution came to be known as the Bill of Rights which lists the essential rights that each American is entitled to. The Bill of Rights provides the first ten amendments to the Constitution as proposed by Thomas Jefferson. Although the Bill of Rights was eventually ratified, it did not easily pass through Congress without the criticisms of those who oppose it, one of whom is Alexander Hamilton, a leading figure among the so-called “federalists” (Chan, 2004).
The federalists generally saw the establishment of a Bill of Rights as a constitutional amendment that could limit the rights of individuals because it merely protects the rights that are explicitly stated in it. That being the case, the rights that are not included in the Bill may not be acknowledged as part of the recognized rights. The opposition to the federalists—the so-called “anti-federalists”—however claimed that it is not necessarily the case.
As a result, the Ninth Amendment was included which sought to protect the rights that are not enumerated in the Constitution. In general, the significant issues raised by the contending parties were addressed through the Massachusetts Compromise. While the compromise paved the way for reaching the needed support for establishing the Constitution as proposed by the federalists, it also gave credit to the sentiments of the anti-federalists, thereby securing the passing of the Bill of Rights as part of the condition in passing the Constitution.
Another interesting aspect of the Constitution is the fact that slavery was not immediately abolished entirely after the Constitution was passed. It was only after the Thirteenth Amendment when slavery and involuntary servitude were finally abolished by the law. Moreover, the successful ratification of the Constitution would have hardly been realized had there been no compromises which sought to protect the interests of the slave-owners at the time when the Constitution was well on its way to being formally recognized.
Concessions had to be made so that the framers of the Constitution would gather support from those who were pro-slavery. Otherwise, they would have been unable to pass the Constitution (Furstenberg, 2003). The compromises with regard to the issue of slavery during the debates over the Constitution at the Constitutional Convention include the proposal of those who were against slavery to count “slaves” as three-fifths of all other persons since the number of free persons determined the representation in Congress at the time.
It was made clear, however, that the “three-fifths” count for every slave was not meant to dehumanize them but rather to penalize those who owned slaves. Another compromise reached during the Constitutional Convention is the protection of the slave trade; it was a concession that the delegates who were for slavery proposed. However, the compromise did not hinder the individual states from altogether outlawing or restricting the existing slave trade after the passing of the Constitution. Lastly, fugitive slaves were expected to be returned to the state from which they came from.
It was a compromise that distinguished the federal government from the individual states in the sense that slavery practiced in some states was not to be sanctioned by the Constitution. To a certain extent, federal laws did not legitimize slavery as an institution although neither did it sanction slavery as far as the individual states are concerned. The compromise essentially permitted the return of fugitive slaves from the original states that they were held in labor without stressing the point that these slaves should be freed as part of the concession to the demands of the pro-slavery delegates in the Convention.
Through the years, the Constitution of the United States of America has had several initial clauses and key amendments that underscored the urgent need to make compromises in order to complete the task of creating a Constitution that will embody the principles of the nation.
Chan, M. D. (2004). Alexander Hamilton on Slavery. The Review of Politics, 66(2), 207-231. Furstenberg, F. (2003). Beyond Freedom and Slavery: Autonomy, Virtue, and Resistance in Early American Political Discourse. The Journal of American History, 89(4), 1295-1330.
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