Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive

Article Index


There has long been a prevailing belief that an essential feature of the great compromise was the counting of only three-fifths of the slaves in enumerating the population. This impression is quite erroneous. It was one of the details of the compromise, but it had been a feature of the revenue amendment of 1783, and it was generally accepted as a happy solution of the difficulty that slaves possessed the attributes both of persons and of property. It had been included both in the amended Virginia Plan and in the New Jersey Plan; and when it was embodied in the compromise it was described as "the ratio recommended by Congress in their resolutions of April 18, 1783." A few months later, in explaining the matter to the Massachusetts convention, Rufus King said that, "This rule... was adopted because it was the language of all America." In reality the three-fifths rule was a mere incident in that part of the great compromise which declared that "representation should be proportioned according to direct taxation." As a further indication of the attitude of the Convention upon this point, an amendment to have the blacks counted equally with the whites was voted down by eight States against two.

With the adoption of the great compromise a marked difference was noticeable in the attitude of the delegates. Those from the large States were deeply disappointed at the result and they asked for an adjournment to give them time to consider what they should do. The next morning, before the Convention met, they held a meeting to determine upon their course of action. They were apparently afraid of taking the responsibility for breaking up the Convention, so they finally decided to let the proceedings go on and to see what might be the ultimate outcome. Rumors of these dissensions had reached the ears of the public, and it may have been to quiet any misgivings that the following inspired item appeared in several local papers: "So great is the unanimity, we hear, that prevails in the Convention, upon all great federal subjects, that it has been proposed to call the room in which they assemble Unanimity Hall."

On the other hand the effect of this great compromise upon the delegates from the small States was distinctly favorable. Having obtained equal representation in one branch of the legislature, they now proceeded with much greater willingness to consider the strengthening of the central government. Many details were yet to be arranged, and sharp differences of opinion existed in connection with the executive as well as with the judiciary. But these difficulties were slight in comparison with those which they had already surmounted in the matter of representation. By the end of July the fifteen resolutions of the original Virginia Plan had been increased to twenty-three, with many enlargements and amendments, and the Convention had gone as far as it could effectively in determining the general principles upon which the government should be formed. There were too many members to work efficiently when it came to the actual framing of a constitution with all the inevitable details that were necessary in setting up a machinery of government. Accordingly this task was turned over to a committee of five members who had already given evidence of their ability in this direction. Rutledge was made the chairman, and the others were Randolph, Gorham, Ellsworth, and Wilson. To give them time to perfect their work, on the 26th of July the Convention adjourned for ten days.