The Aims of the Framers

The framers met in Philadelphia to create a stronger national government that would better protect and enhance liberty by preventing tyranny. Shays’ Rebellion and the states’ inability to cooperate with one another had also demonstrated the weaknesses inherent in the Articles of Confederation, and many worried that Britain would take advantage of American weaknesses. At the same time, however, the framers did not want to abolish the state governments. At this time, most Americans felt more loyalty toward their state governments than to Congress, and strong local government made sense for the operation of a large nation such as the United States.

Issues and Compromises

The delegates to the convention disagreed with one another on three main issues: representation in Congress, slavery, and presidential elections. Failure to reach agreement on any of these issues would likely have led to dissolution of the already tenuous union of the states. Slave states, for example, were not willing to accept a constitution that banned slavery, whereas small states would not accept a document that gave excessive power to large states. Three compromises, summarized in the following table, resolved these disagreements.




Representation in the national legislatureGreat Compromise
SlaveryThree-Fifths Compromise
Presidential electionsElectoral College

Representation and the Great Compromise

Delegates debated extensively about how the people and the states would be represented in the national legislature. Most delegates favored one of two representation schemes:

  • The Virginia Plan: Favored representation based on population. Delegates from the large states supported this plan because it would give them a great deal of power. Representatives from small states, however, rejected the plan because they would have fewer seats than the larger states and consequently less power.
  • The New Jersey Plan: Proposed giving each state equal representation in the legislature. Delegates from smaller states supported the New Jersey Plan because they believed that all states should have equal power, regardless of population.

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