The delegates who met at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia for the framing of the constitution were in disagreement with each other on competing claims of local self-government, sectional interests, and national security. The union of the states was already flimsy, so their failure to agree on any of these competing claims meant that the states would most likely dissolve. For instance, small states were unwilling to accept a constitution through which large states would gain excessive power, whereas slave states were unwilling to accept a constitution that would ban slavery. Fortunately, the framers of the constitution managed to resolve these disagreements by balancing these competing claims through compromises.
A comprehensive debate took place among the framers of the constitution regarding how the national legislature would represent the states and the American citizens. There were two representation schemes that a majority of the delegates were in favor of, namely the Virginia Plan and the New Jersey Plan. The Virginia plan was in favor of representing the people and the states based on population. Since delegates from the larger states would receive quite a lot of power through the Virginia Plan, so they supported it. However, this would mean that the delegates from the small states would not have as much power, so they refused to accept this plan. The New Jersey Plan proposed that the legislature would represent all of the states equally. Since every state would get equal power through the New Jersey Plan, no matter how large or small, so delegates from the small state supported it.
The New Jersey Plan also proposed the notion that national law was superior to state law. This idea later became known as the “supremacy clause” and was included in Article Six of the U.S. Constitution. It states that the Constitution and the laws passed by the Congress are to be regarded as more important than local and state laws. As the delegates continue debating over representation it seemed that the whole convention was under threat of being shattered. Again, the delegates made compromises for the sake of the convention. Thus, a bicameral Congress was created, which comprises of two houses. The upper house was named the Senate, which would comprise of two delegates from every state, no matter how large or small. The lower house was named the House of Representatives, which would comprise of representatives according to the size of the population of each state, such that representatives from larger states would have more seats.
Another thing that the delegates debated about was slavery and its effects on the representatives in the lower house of the Congress. Back then, a majority of slaves were residing in the South and 30% of the population of the South comprised of slaves. Again there was a disagreement between the representatives of the Southern and Northern states over whether slaves would be counted as part of the population. This issue was resolved through the “Three-Fifths Compromise,” according to which the representation of the Southern states in the House of Representatives would be determined by counting slaves as three-fifths of a person. This succeeded in maintaining the unison of the states as a country. Downright banning slavery would probably have caused the Southern states to walk out of the convention, and the United States could consequently collapse as a result. However, as a result of this compromise, slavery became legitimate and the Southern states gain more power and representation in the Congress.
Finally, there was a debate among the delegates regarding the election of the president. For instance, some representatives were in favor of direction election, while others wanted to make sure that the office could only be held by the “best man.” Thus, a presidential voting system, the Electoral College was created so that a special body of electors in all the states could cast a certain number of votes for the election of a president depending on how many seats each state altogether has in the two houses of the Congress. The intention of the framers behind creating the Electoral College was to serve as a measure of preventing the unwise election of a president by the people. According to the U.S. Constitution, if none of the candidates receive a majority of electoral votes, then the president is to be chosen by the House of Representatives.
Before the constitution was framed, the people of America had considerable experience with local self-government, sectional interests, and national authority, and the political views of the framers of the Constitution were shaped according to this experience. The framing of the Constitution was not easy, there were competing claims, conflicts, and disagreements, and all of the above reveals how these were balanced.
Lutz, Donald S. The Origins of American Constitutionalism. Louisiana: Louisiana State University Press, 1988. Print.
Maier, Pauline. Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788. 1st ed. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010. Print.