What Issue Did the Great Compromise Resolve?

The Great Compromise resolved the issue of representation in the United States legislature. Large states wanted greater representation because of their larger population, and smaller states wanted all states represented equally.

On July 16, 1787, the Great Compromise, also commonly known as the Connecticut Compromise in a nod to Oliver Ellsworth and Roger Sherman, the Connecticut congressional delegates who created the compromise, solved debate that threatened to destroy the whole plan for the Senate and House of Representatives. Back when the U.S.’s fledgling government congressional delegates thought that Congress would be made up of a specified number of representatives from every state in a single room. However, the question that nagged these early politicians was this: how many representatives should each state be granted?

The Center of the Debate Larger states agreed with the Virginia Plan, which dictated that each state should base their number of representatives on population. Essentially, larger states argued that since they contributed more resources to the nation, they should get greater representations in the houses. Smaller states favored the New Jersey Plan, which called for each state to have the exact same number of representatives. These smaller states thought that the Virginia Plan was unfair and demanded that both houses have completely equal representation for all states. This disagreement was so heated that it threatened to destroy the U.S. Constitution before it was created.

The Argument Heats Up The argument got so heated that Delaware’s delegate, Gunning Bedford Jr. threatened that the smaller states might have to align themselves with a foreign ally “who will take them by the hand and do them justice.” Massachusetts delegate Elbridge Gerry countered that the States were never independent, therefore the small states couldn’t claim sovereignty. Eventually, Roger Sherman, the delegate from Connecticut proposed that Congress should be made up of two chambers: the Senate and the House of Representatives. Sherman further suggested that every state should send the same number of Senatorial representatives and a single House representative for every 30,000 people in the state’s population.

Compromise Wins the Day This agreement became known as the Great Compromise, and it is what allowed the creation of the Constitution to move forward despite a disagreement that threatened to make representatives from large states and small states leave the table. It appeased both small and large states. This new structure and the powers of the Congress, along with the Great Compromise, were all explained in James Madison and Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist Papers. To fairly determine the number of each state’s representatives going to the House, the government underwent a process known as apportionment, which was the first census. As of 1790, there were four million people living in the U.S., and the total number of members going to the House of Representatives was set at 106, a number that would later change to the current number of 435 in 1911.

Keeping Things Fair The government uses redistricting, a process of changing or establishing each state’s geographic boundaries to make sure every state gets fair and equal representation in the House of Representatives. This prevents urban areas with high population density from becoming more powerful than rural areas in the political arena.