The Constitution of 1787: Compromises and Debates | Free Essay Example

The Constitution of 1787: Compromises and Debates

Words: 1163
Topic: History


The drafting of the Constitution is one of the most important moments in the history of the United States. The country was starting to take shape, and difficult questions began to appear in the political scene that required a new document to be created that would better suit the new nation. To resolve this issue during a difficult time for the country, the new Constitution was created in 1787. The process of its creation is filled with a variety of debates and compromises. This paper will compare the old Articles of Confederation and the new Constitution, as well as examine the compromises that occurred during its drafting process, the debate between Federalists and Anti-Federalists, as well as evaluate the Bill of Rights.

Comparison of the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution

The Articles of Confederation was the first document that was used to create the government of America. It was created with the needs of the revolutionary war in mind, but during the time of peace, it proved to be unsuitable for a number of reasons. The government set up by the articles was extremely weak. No leader was elected, and all the decisions had to be approved by a majority of two-thirds of representatives from the states. This resulted in very ineffective policymaking, and major decisions were often impossible to be made due to a difference in views. The Articles of Confederation did not allow the government to collect taxes, which resulted in a myriad of issues after the war was over, including an armed rebellion. The government was also unable to resolve an issue known as “the western problem” which concerned claims on western areas of the country which were not fully explored and established at the time. On the other hand, the new Constitution was designed to create a strong government that would be able to resolve issues, while also representing the will of the states. The Constitution responds to almost every weakness of the Articles of Confederation, while also establishing a new system of government and election (Brinkley, 2015).

Compromises During the Drafting of the Constitution

A number of compromises had to be made during the drafting of the constitution. One such compromise revolved around commerce. The country at the time was separated in its industrialization, with the majority of the industry present in the North, and the South was relying on agriculture. However, the majority of goods purchased in the South were imported from Britain. To cub competition, the northern states proposed that the government should be able to impose import tariffs and export tariffs. However, only import tariffs were allowed by the final document. An attempt to stop the international slave trade occurred during the constitutional convention. However, the opposition from the southern states resulted in a compromise where a delay in this issue would be made until 1808 was made. In addition, it resulted in the law that stipulated that fugitive slaves had to be returned to their state of origin after being caught. However, an even larger compromise had to be made during the convention (Finkelman, 2014).

Roger Sherman’s Plan

A difficult stalemate on the topic of representation of the states in the House of Representatives threatened to disband the convention before the document could be completed. Two plans of representation were proposed. One was from Virginia, and it stated that the number of representatives should be based on the population of each state, and one from New Jersey that argued for representation being equal for every state. The debate around the issue was extensive and highly divisive. However, Roger Sherman proposed a solution that was later called the “Great Compromise” due to its role in the creation of the constitution. Sherman proposed a combination of two plans. Two chambers were created in Congress. These chambers were: the Senate, representatives of which are chosen based on equal representation, and the House of Representatives where the population is used to determine their number. This created a new issue, however. Slave-owning states proposed that slaves should be counted as population, despite not having any rights. States, where slavery was illegal, did not agree and a new compromise had to be made. Only three-fifths of the slave population in the state would be counted (Finkelman, 2014).

The Debate Between Federalists and Anti-Federalists

After the Constitution was signed, a long process of its ratification took place. The states had to be convinced that the new document would be beneficial to them, and would not be used to create an oppressive regime. However, a new debate began between people who supported the federal government and those that did not. Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison were the most vocal proponents of the federal government. Through more than 80 essays titled the “Federalist Papers,” they attempted to dissolve the fears of the people and support the Constitution. They were educated and wealthy people who supported private property as a way of improving the country. Anti-federalists represented a commoner class who feared that the government would have too much power and would be able to set up a tyrannical regime, not unlike the British Empire. However, the federalist papers had a number of direct responses to this fear. For example, the Federalist Papers state that the Constitution is designed to prevent the government from creating an army that would be able to instill a tyrannical rule though giving people the power to be armed as heavily as the army (Faber, 2015).

Perhaps the largest debate occurred due to the lack of a Bill of Rights in the Constitution. The majority of states already had their own bills and replacing them with a new document that does not contain an alternative was highly alarming for Anti-Federalists. This issue especially concerned John Hancock, Sam Adams, and other major figures in the movement. The original document did not include such a bill because of a variety of reasons from the fears of such a list allowing further overreach of governmental power to the perception that the rights would be guaranteed through the democratic process. The Federalist Party could be seen as either naïve or too reliant on the system that was yet unproven to fully understand the concerns of the opposing party (Cogan, 2015). However, such a bill was eventually created with input from states that promised to ratify the constitution if they are able to contribute to the amendments. The Bill of Rights resulted in some of the most important and discussed elements of American life. While some of the amendments were directly informed by the Revolutionary War and are not representative of today’s realities, others allowed for the creation of the modern justice system (Faber, 2015).


The drafting, signing, and ratification of the Constitution are some of the most important moments in United States history. They defined the rules by which modern society operates. However, some elements of the document are irrelevant today due to the complete illegality of slavery.


Brinkley, D. (2015). American heritage history of the United States. New York, NY: New Word City.

Cogan, N. H. (2015). The complete Bill of Rights: The drafts, debates, sources, and origins. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Faber, M. J. (2015). The federal union paradigm of 1788: Three anti-federalists who changed their minds. American Political Thought, 4(4), 527–556.

Finkelman, P. (2014). Slavery and the founders: Race and liberty in the age of Jefferson. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.