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The impact of constitutional compromises on us today

The Constitutional Convention of 1787 shaped today's U.S. with key compromises. The Great Compromise created a two-house legislature, balancing representation by population and equal state representation. The Electoral College system was established for presidential elections. Slavery issues led to the 3/5 Compromise and a 20-year ban on laws against slave importation. These historical decisions still spark debates today.

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  • leafers ultimate style avatar for user Hypernova Solaris
    In relation to the Electoral College, I had a quizzical question: I have seen some states, such as Maine in the 2016 election, that had their electoral votes "dispersed", with 1 vote for Trump and 3 for Clinton. I am curious: what exactly is this electoral vote split, and how does it work?
    (8 votes)
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    • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Kim Kutz Elliott
      From the author:Terrific question! States are in charge of elections, and so it's up to them to decide how to distribute electoral votes. All but two states — Maine and Nebraska — have opted for a "winner-take-all" system. In the winner-take-all system, the candidate who receives the most popular votes earns all of that state's electoral votes.

      Maine and Nebraska, however, have opted for what's called the "congressional district method." They allocate two of their electoral votes to the winner of the state popular vote, and then award the winner of each congressional district (Maine has 2, Nebraska has 3) an electoral vote. So, in theory, if Candidate A won the popular vote in Maine, but one congressional district had more votes for Candidate B, Maine would allocate 4 electoral votes to Candidate A and 1 vote to Candidate B.
      (11 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Nathnael
    should the delegates have tried to abolish slavery
    (3 votes)
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    • scuttlebug yellow style avatar for user Parker Blacklock
      While it certainly would have been the moral thing to do, the main concern at the time was ensuring stability of the Union between states, which is why we see things such as the 3/5ths Compromise, where Anti-Slavery States tried to limit the power of Slave States without splitting the Nation apart. It'd be easy to criticize the Anti-Slavery Delegates for this decision in today's world, but for a Nation that was less than a decade old and was trying to establish an almost completely unheard of form of government, stability was the main prioirity, with other issues being seen as things that could wait until everything was in order.
      (1 vote)
  • leaf red style avatar for user Naoya Okamoto
    For the winner-takes-all states like California or Texas, how is this policy enforced? The two electors can decide which candidate they would like to vote for, and strictly speaking, they don't have to vote for the candidate who won the state popular majority vote. Is there a penalty? Or is it just an honor system?
    (3 votes)
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    • orange juice squid orange style avatar for user Eli
      According to the Constitution, it is an honor system. In fact, the electors were supposed to vote according to their own consciences, taking into account the wishes of their state, but not being afraid to go against it if they thought it to be in the best interest of the country. That being said, many states have implemented laws that penalize so-called "faithless electors" so, if you are from one of those states, you must vote according to the state's popular vote.
      (6 votes)
  • blobby purple style avatar for user Kitten
    I didn't understand what are people nowadays talking about the Electoral Colledge in the video? And I don't understand what was the speaker talking about when he said "winner take all" and "70%" or "50.1%". Could someone please explain to me? Thank you.
    (2 votes)
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    • starky ultimate style avatar for user Gabe
      He was talking about the Electoral collage there. Where each state has a designated number of votes. Oftentimes states will give all of those votes to the party that gets the majority, so even if only 50.1% of the state agrees with that candidate they will get all of the votes from that state as if 100% of the state agreed.
      (4 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Ellen.clapp
    how would I state a clear argument as to how the compromise they have identified is unjust? such as the 3/5 compromise?
    (2 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Mary Garcia
    what did the compromise establish?
    (2 votes)
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  • male robot hal style avatar for user AGLUTENFREEFOOD.
    At the "t" changes in the word "Electoral"
    (1 vote)
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Video transcript

- [Instructor] When you first learn about the Constitutional Convention in 1787 and the debates and the compromises, it's easy to assume that, okay, that's interesting from a historical point of view, but how does it affect me today? Well the simple answer is, it affects you incredibly, those compromises that were made over 200 years ago. So the most obvious question is, well what were those compromises? Well, to even start to appreciate the compromises, let's start with this picture, or this chart, of the census in 1790, so it gives a pretty good snapshot of what the United States looked like after the Constitution was ratified. So, as you can see, the population as a whole was much smaller than it is today, it was roughly, a little under four million people, today the United States is over 300 million people, and then you also see a pretty big population difference between the states. You have big states, like Virginia, which, at the time, had 750,000 people, and then you had small states like Delaware, that had 60,000 people, or you have Rhode Island, that has a little under 70,000 people. And so you can imagine, the Virginians, or the people from Massachusetts might have said, hey we want representation in the legislative, in Congress, to be based on population. It should be, you know, we have a lot of people, we should get more of a say, while someone from, say, Delaware, might say, wait, hold on a second, under the Articles of Confederation we were a sovereign state, we don't wanna just become, you know, do whatever the Virginians or the people from Massachusetts wanna do, we wanna have a more equal say, and of course, the big state folks would have said, whoa, no, then your population, people in your population, in your state, are going to be overrepresented. And so this was a serious debate, and it resulted in what is called the Great Compromise. The Great Compromise, which is probably the most cited compromise coming out of the US Constitution. And it's the notion of, okay, well let's have it both ways. In the legislative, let's create two houses, let's do one house that is based on population, so the House of Representatives, where Virginia will get more representation than a Delaware, but let's make another house called the Senate, where every state has equal representation, where you have two senators per state. And to appreciate that this is, even today, a controversial thing, here is an article from the New York Times, from 2013. This is an article that's talking about perceived inequalities of per person federal funding, and it says, and the article is literally named, 'Big State, Small State,' "Vermont's 625,000 residents "have two United States senators, "and so do New York's 19 million. "that means that a Vermonter has 30 times the voting power "in the Senate of a New Yorker just over the state line, "the biggest inequality between two adjacent states. "The nation's largest gap, between Wyoming and California, "is more than double that." So they're making the argument that, at least in the Senate, a person in Vermont has 30 times the representation as a person in New York, and if you compare Wyoming and California, it's a factor of 60. And they say, "The difference reflects the growing disparity "in their citizens' voting power, and it is not an anomaly. "The Constitution has always given residents "of states with small populations a lift." So this is coming straight out of the Great Compromise, "but the size and importance of the gap "has grown markedly in recent decades, "in ways the framers probably never anticipated." So you can imagine, this is the New York Times, so they probably might favor a little bit more representation for New Yorkers, but it's an interesting thing to think about. The Constitution was written over 200 years ago. Could they have predicted how much the United States would grow, or get a movement to the cities, even in that census of 1790, we saw a factor of a little more than 10 between a Virginia and, say, a Rhode Island, but now we're talking about a factor of 60 between California and Wyoming. There's no right answer, here, but it is something very interesting to think about and as you can see, it's something that people are even talking about today. Now, the other significant compromise that is also talked a lot about, these days, is the notion of the electoral college. So, people who are more in the anti-Federalist camp, they were more in favor of a participatory democracy, a direct democracy, where you have one person one vote, and whoever gets the majority of the vote in the country, well, maybe they should be president. But Federalists, especially folks like James Madison, they were a little suspicious of just the crowd voting whoever they wanted. They wanted it to go through a filter with the idea that maybe that filter could temper the passions of the crowd, so to speak, and so they devised this system where it isn't one person one vote, but every state has a certain number of electors. So you vote for electors, and then the states send them and then they can place their vote for President. It turns out that most states have decided to have a winner take all policy, so that maybe they could matter more for the Presidential election. But what that's resulted in, is if you take a big state, like Texas, and just draw a quick drawing of Texas, or a big state like California, right over here, in a winner take all, as soon as you cross 50%, you get 50.1% in either one of these states, and in other big states, it's true in most states, well then you'll get all of the electors for that state. So even if you get 70% of the vote in Texas, or 70% of the vote of California, it's equivalent to getting 50.1%. The reason why this has resulted in some significant debate, in the recent past, you had two major elections where the electoral college majority was different than the popular majority. You had Bush vs. Gore in 2000 and you have Trump vs. Clinton in 2016. Now, two of the other major compromises that came out of the Constitutional Convention are less debated today, and that's a good thing, because they were resolved, finally, in 1865 by the 13th amendment, that came out of the Civil War. And these were around slavery. You have the 3/5 Compromise, and this is, actually, still more of a notion around representation. Even in the House, how do you determine the population that's gonna dictate how many representatives you get? What about slaves? If you look back to this chart right over here, notice some of the southern states had a significant fraction of their population that were slaves. And so you can imagine that their delegates were saying, hey, we wanna count them in the population. They didn't want them to vote, but they said, hey, when we decide how many representatives we get, we wanna count these 293,000 people in Virginia when we decide how many representatives they get. And you can imagine, other states, either just because they didn't wanna dilute their own representation, or maybe even some of them might have felt morally against something like slavery, said, wait, no, you shouldn't get a benefit because you're doing this thing called slavery, and so they were against it. And so the compromise, and once again, James Madison was significantly involved here, was the 3/5 Compromise, that for determining representation, a slave would count as 3/5 of a person, which is offensive to our sensibilities, but that's the compromise they came up with, but it didn't become, it wasn't an issue anymore once slavery was abolished by the 13th amendment. The last major compromise that people will talk about, and this one also revolves around slavery, is the importation, importation of slaves. During the Revolution, because Great Britain had such a significant role in the slave trade, the colonies, or the states, the nascent states, were pretty unified around not participating, at least with Great Britain, but once the Revolution was over, this became an issue again. Some states did not want more importation of slaves, some did, and so the compromise that was reached is that at least for 20 years, the Congress would not pass a law that is prohibiting the importation of slaves. And it turns out, almost exactly 20 years later, once that expired from the Constitution, under Thomas Jefferson, they did ban the importation of slaves officially, although it still continued to some degree, at a much smaller level. I'll leave you there, but the big appreciation here is that those debates that we talk about, the Great Compromise, the electoral college, these debates around representation, that we saw over 200 years ago, these are things that people still feel passionate about, and they still debate today.