The Original Compromise: What the Constitution's Framers Were Really Thinking

By David Brian Robertson | Go to book overview

17
The End Game

The delegates wanted to make it likely that the nation would ratify their Constitution and put it into effect, while making it difficult to change their Constitution after it did go into effect. For James Madison and his allies, asking the state legislatures to ratify the Constitution was a prescription for failure. If the state legislatures had the power to ratify the Constitution, it was likely that some of them would reject it. The delegates agreed to Virginia’s proposal to require special state ratifying conventions. The delegates ultimately provided for four different ways to amend the Constitution. All required extraordinary majorities to succeed, and all required state approval. In contrast, the delegates made it relatively easy to add new states to the Union.

George Mason, Elbridge Gerry, and Edmund Randolph were so unhappy with the final Constitution that they refused to sign it. Many of the delegates who did sign the Constitution also expressed disappointment with it, and none expressed the view that the Constitution was the best solution to the problems they had set out to solve. Yet most of the delegates signed the Constitution because they believed all the realistic alternatives to it were far worse


The Ratification Process

The delegates were keenly aware that it would take much effort to convince a majority of Americans to accept their Constitution.1 George Mason, Elbridge Gerry, and Edmund Randolph previewed many of the principled objections that would be raised after the Constitution’s provisions became public. They knew that the diverse, parochial problems of thirteen states would guarantee that some provisions of the Constitution would be controversial in each state. Moreover, state governments everywhere were likely to fight against losing power to a stronger national government. Ratification would bog down in one or both houses of several of the state legislatures.

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