July 16: The “Connecticut Compromise” Saves the U.S. Constitution


On this day in 1787, the vision of a new federal government for the fledgling United States of America was saved from the scrap heap of history as the delegates to the Constitutional Convention narrowly voted to adopt a key provision known as the Connecticut Compromise (or, alternately, the Great Compromise).

For weeks, delegates had been locked in an intractable debate over how to ensure that all thirteen states — which varied greatly in size and population — would be represented fairly in a unified federal government.  The two proposals under debate were the Virginia Plan (favored by larger states) which argued that a state’s representation ought to be proportional to its population, and the New Jersey plan (favored by smaller states) that claimed all thirteen states should have equal representation, regardless of population.

As the contentious debate raged on, some delegates wondered if their inability to agree on this critical issue meant the end of the Constitutional Convention — until Connecticut delegates Roger Sherman and Oliver Ellsworth introduced an ingenious compromise that satisfied both sides of the debate.  The Connecticut Compromise proposed that the state be represented in a bicameral legislature consisting of two parts: a House where states would have representation proportional to their population size, and a Senate where each state would be represented equally.

The Connecticut Compromise was adopted by a narrow margin of only one vote by the Convention delegates on July 16, 1787.  Thanks to Connecticut’s two quick-thinking delegates, the gridlock that threatened the very survival of America’s “Great Experiment” was broken.

Further Reading

John Morrison, “The US Constitutional Convention: America Forms a Bicameral Legislature,” connecticuthistory.org

Senate Stories: A Great Compromise,” United States Senate website (senate.gov)