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Clarifications: Each clarification provides an explanation of an indicator/objective to help teachers better understand the skills and/or concepts.

Standard 1.0 Political Science

Topic A. The Foundations and Function of Government

Indicator 2. Analyze the impact of historic documents and practices that became the foundations of the American political system during the early national period

Objective e. Describe the major debates and compromises that occurred during the Constitutional Convention and interpret their effects on the ratification process


Although they agreed on the basic principles that would undergird their work, it is important to remember that the Framers of the Constitution came to the Philadelphia convention from a wide variety of regional perspectives. These differing perspectives led to several debates and disagreements that would require compromise in order for the new Constitution to be completed and later ratified.

One of the most important debates at the convention was about how states would be represented in Congress. Delegates from small states feared that those with larger populations would control the national government and therefore undermine their sovereignty as local political entities. To avoid this problem, small states such as New Jersey proposed that each state have the same number of representatives in Congress. Framers from larger states thought that equal representation was unfair on the grounds that states with more people ought to have more political power. Larger states such as Virginia proposed that each state’s representation be based upon its population. To resolve this dispute, a committee proposed that a bicameral Congress be created, consisting of a House of Representatives based on proportional representation and a Senate based upon equal representation of states. Under this plan, the House would have the power to originate all bills dealing with spending and taxation. This “Great Compromise” ultimately passed by a single vote and preserved the Framers’ work on the new Constitution.

Because their regions had different economic interests, a second set of disputes arose between delegates from northern and southern states. The economy of the South was almost completely agricultural, and large farms in this region relied on slave labor to produce staple crops such as cotton, tobacco, and indigo. Southern plantation owners shipped most of the crops they produced to Great Britain and Europe, and purchased most of the manufactured goods they needed from Great Britain. The economy of the North was more diverse and therefore less dependent upon slave labor. As the nation’s center for shipbuilding and manufacturing, the North had to compete for business with Great Britain’s shipping and manufacturing industries.

Based on these economic realities, Framers from the South and the North disagreed about the need for tariffs to protect domestic manufacturers. Northern manufacturing interests favored the tariff as a means to make goods from Europe less attractive to consumers. But Southerners strongly opposed the tariff on the grounds that it would threaten their region’s exchange of raw materials for finished goods with Great Britain and other European countries.

The two regions also disagreed about slavery. Most Framers from the North were opposed to slavery. In addition, they opposed the counting of slaves for purposes of representation in Congress because such a practice would increase the South’s power in Congress. But many Southern delegates were financially dependent on slavery and felt their individual states had the right to determine the issue for themselves. They also felt that slaves should be counted in determining how many representatives each state would send to Congress.

The Framers were able to compromise on the issues of tariffs and slavery. In exchange for giving Congress the power to place tariffs on imports (Article I, Section 8: “Congress shall have the power … to lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts, and Excises” and “to regulate Commerce with foreign nations”), the slave trade would be retained until at least 1808, and three-fifths of the population of “all other persons” (i.e. slaves) would be counted for representation purposes. In addition, the Framers inserted a fugitive slave clause into Article IV, Section 2.

Additional disputes emerged at the Constitutional Convention over whether the powers of the legislative branch should be described in general or specific terms (with the Framers ultimately agreeing to use both types of language), and over the selection of the President of the United States (issue resolved with the creation of the Electoral College).

Resources for Objective 1.A.2.e:
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