David Brian Robertson, The Original Compromise: What the Constitution’s Framers Were Really Thinking. Oxford University Press 2013 (344 pages); $29.95, hardcover edition.
David Brian Robertson’s The Original Compromise: What the Constitution’s Framers Were Really Thinking is a valuable title for anybody interested in Constitutional Law, specifically the history of the United States Constitution. Mr. Robertson examines the documents and proceedings from the Constitutional Convention and examines how the framers struggled with the creation of the United States government while maintaining state rights. While the documents Mr. Robertson uses are available in other formats, he takes the time to assemble the information by subject, allowing the reader to fully follow the pertinent topic from initial proposal to its final form, rather than by chronological order.
While the United States Constitution is the supreme law of the land, this title examines how the Constitution was actually created. The author examines the disagreements, the arguments and the eventual compromises that led to the creation of this document. Delegates from the thirteen (13) states each had the interests of their states in mind, as well as the interests of a unified government, and many times these interests did not mesh with the interests of the other delegates. Delegates from the South wanted to ensure the continuance of slavery for their states, while states in the North had no interest in slavery and had more interest in ensuring their manufacturing and trade was protected. Small states worried about larger states dominating Congress, while large states wanted to ensure proportional representation. Some delegates wanted stronger federal control, while some delegates wanted to ensure that the state governments were not unnecessarily infringed upon. In order to meet all these needs, the delegates participated in negotiation and compromise. In some instances, the only solution was to let one of the government branches deal with the issue once they were in place.
The book spends a large section dealing with the creation of the federal government, analyzing the arguments on what the House of Representatives and Senate should be, who they should represent and how they should be elected. The ideas discussed as far as Presidential elections, terms, succession (which led to the creation of the position of Vice President) and powers created equally heated discussion. And while the creation of the Court did not create as much controversy as the other two branches, there was still much discussion and disagreement as to how the federal court system should operate. Reading these sections of the book gives great insight into what our government could have looked like if just one or two states had been swayed in voting differently, and the evolution of what our government looks like today.
In the end, the delegates created the United States Constitution, “not the product of a careful plan, but rather the cumulative by-product of a sequence of political negotiations and compromises.” (page 232). In fact, for many the document was apparently the lesser of all evils. While some delegates pushed for a second Constitutional Convention, others refused feeling that nothing better could be created than what was already agreed upon; they believed a second Constitutional Convention would only lead to more disagreements, more questionable compromises and be no better than what was already created. Feeling that the document they created was imperfect, the delegates ensured for the ability to amend the Constitution to solve any issues that may have been neglected.
Overall, this The Original Compromise gives a very insightful look at the creation of the United States Constitution. Reading through the title provides the reader with many opportunities to ask “What if?” and consider how different our country could have been without the compromises these delegates made. While questions persist today about this document, it is startling to see what type of questions existed at the time of its drafting and the questions even the framers had during its creation.
Paul D. Venard is reference librarian at University of Dayton's Zimmerman Law Library in Dayton, Ohio.