Crafting a "Partly National, Partly Federal" Government
Major Themes at the Constitutional Convention
Should the legislative branch represent the states or the people?
The Virginia Plan, introduced on May 29, was “wholly national.” Of particular importance is the absence of any structural representation for the states. According to Resolutions 3, 4, and 5, the general government would have a bicameral legislative structure with neither branch elected by the states and with neither representing the states.
On June 11, the delegates overwhelmingly agreed that the upper house should be based on population and elected by the people. By a narrow 6-5 vote, the delegates rejected a proposal by Roger Sherman that supported popular representation in the upper house and equal representation for the states in the lower branch (the Senate). In reaction to this vote, William Paterson on June 15 submitted the New Jersey Plan, one that scrapped all the popular representation provisions of the Virginia Plan.
On 19 June, the New Jersey Plan was defeated 7-3-1. For the remainder of June, however, the delegates returned repeatedly to the compromise proposal of June 11. And on June 29, Ellsworth reintroduced the motion of June 11: proportional representation for the states in the upper house with equal representation in the lower house.
How were the delegates able to find an acceptable compromise on representation?
For the first time, the case for the representation of the states was elevated from one of convenience to one of principle. Ellsworth declared, “We were partly national; partly federal. He trusted that on this middle ground a compromise would take place.” On June 30, the youngest delegate, Jonathan Dayton of New Jersey—until then a pretty staunch nationalist—spoke for the first time: “We were partly federal, partly national in our Union,” he declared. “And he did not see why the Govt. might (not) in some respects operate on the States, in others on the people.”
On July 2, the Ellsworth proposal was defeated on a tie vote: 5-5-1. Nevertheless, a Committee of 11—one delegate from each state—was created to seek a compromise on the representation question. The composition of the committee reveals that Madison’s attempt to exclude the states from the structure of the general government had been halted in its tracks. Gerry was chosen over King from Massachusetts, Yates over Hamilton from New York, Franklin over Wilson from Pennsylvania, Davie over Williamson from North Carolina, Rutledge over Pinckney from South Carolina, and Mason over Madison from Virginia.
What role did the Gerry Committee play?
From July 5 to July 7, the Gerry Committee debated equal representation for the states in the Senate and popular representation in the House. We need to put theoretical niceties to one side, Gerry said, and think about “accommodation.” “We were… in a peculiar situation. We were neither the same Nation nor different Nations. If no compromise should take place what will be the consequence[?]”Mason concurred: “There must be some accommodation.” Paterson, also on the committee, urged adoption of the report for “there was no other ground of accommodation.”
The key to the compromise was winning over such former wholly national supporters as Gerry and Mason. An often-overlooked component of the Compromise was the agreement that money bills would originate in the House and could not be amended in the Senate. This feature was vital in winning over Mason and Gerry, as well as Randolph who introduced the wholly national Virginia Plan. These three delegates were willing to buy into the partly national (popular representation in the House), partly federal (equal representation for the states in the Senate) arrangement if the principle of no taxation without popular representation was adhered to.
On July 16, the delegates agreed (5-4-1) to the Gerry Committee Report, also known as the Connecticut Compromise. The losing delegates, Madison, Wilson, G. Morris, Pinckney, and King, decided not to challenge the outcome.