The impact of constitutional compromises on us today | US government and civics | Khan Academy
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The impact of constitutional compromises on us today | US government and civics | Khan Academy


– [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.

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