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

By David Brian Robertson | Go to book overview

4
Controlling Republican Politics
The Main Challenge

The delegates’ dedication to republican principles, and their determination to build a strong national government, forced them to confront an agonizing dilemma. How could they build a national government responsive to “the people” and still guarantee that the government would pursue policies that would be good for the nation? For example, citizens could demand that government provide them with short-term relief for their debts, but short-term government debt relief could harm the nation’s long-term prosperity. Politics was inevitable in republican government, and political skills are essential for making republican government work. Republican governments created politicians because they created elective offices, and elective offices inspired candidates to seek those offices. Republican politics required majority rule, and republican legislators used their negotiating skills to craft majorities. But the delegates’ experience with the state legislatures proved that interests and factions could unite into a destructive majority, and abuse republican power to pursue policies that harmed liberty, property, prosperity, and stability. Dishonorable politicians regularly manipulated public opinion and abused their public trust. The kinds of politicians who caused so much turmoil in the states would also serve in the new national government, where their misconduct could cause far more damage. As Gouverneur Morris warned, the new national legislature could “ruin the Country” if it wanted, no matter how the delegates designed it.1 This central problem of building a republican government that was safe and stable influenced all the choices that the Convention made.


The Central Role of Political Majorities
in Republican Government

Politics are inseparable from republican government. Majorities rule in a republic. Assembling a majority in a legislature required a full toolbox of political skills: careful framing of issues, controlling the discussion agenda and the rules, using

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