The Cost of Compromise

Annie69 By Annie69, 26th Jul 2014 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>History

What is a compromise and is it always the best answer? How expensive can it be to put off tough decisions?

Original column appeared in the Boonville (Missouri) Daily News on October 23, 2013.

Define compromise

"We the People" are a nation of compromise. According to the 1975 edition of The World Book Dictionary, a compromise is "a settlement of a dispute by a partial yielding on both sides." Unfortunately, compromises have also been used to delay making tough decisions.

Fixing the Articles of Confederation

Thirteen sovereign colonies had joined together to fight for their independence from Great Britain and won. Now their survival depended on staying together as one nation. During the war, the Articles of Confederation had served as the law of the land, but winning the war had been the prime directive. It was only after the war that the American people realized the Articles weren't strong enough to make them one nation. The Articles needed fixing.

In 1787, representatives from all thirteen states were invited to meet in the Pennsylvania State House to do just that. Rhode island was the only state which declined. For those who showed up, it didn't take long to figure out their government wasn't fixable. A new one was needed to bring the thirteen states together to form a greater whole.

The Constitution

Many compromises were made during the long hot summer of 1787, and several of them revolved around the single issue of slavery. Some said slavery should be abolished. Others threatened to walk out if slavery wasn't legalized. Clearly a compromise was needed.

Other issues regarding slavery involved voting and the number of representatives sent to Congress. Southern states wanted slaves counted so they could send more representatives to Congress and have more votes in national elections. Northern states didn't want to be outnumbered in Congress and didn't think it was fair for slave owners to vote and have additional votes for all their slaves.

The Three-Fifths Compromise of 1787

Article I, Section 2, paragraph 3 of the Constitution contains the Three-Fifths Compromise. Slaves would be counted as three-fifths of a white or free black for the purpose of determining the number of representatives sent to Congress. They would not have a vote.

The question to abolish or legalize slavery was never actually answered in the Constitution, because the Three-Fifths Compromise delayed that decision until a future date.

The Missouri Compromise of 1820

One future date involved Missouri's admission to the Union. At that time, Congress was equally divided between free and slave states with eleven each. Missouri wanted to be admitted as a slave state and the north wouldn't have it. About the same time, Maine was asking to be admitted as a free state. The answer to statehood was obvious, but a compromise was made to avoid future problems.

The Missouri Compromise of 1820 said Missouri would be admitted as a slave state and Maine admitted as free. But the compromise also set boundaries for future admissions. No territory north of Missouri's southern border could be admitted as a slave state. Congress had now assumed the power to regulate slavery.

The Compromise of 1850

The Compromise of 1850 was a series of bills that were presented to and approved by Congress. They included:
a. Texas would be given 10 million dollars to give up disputed land
b. Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah would be organized as territories, but the people would decide if they wanted slaves or not when they were admitted to the Union
c. Washington, DC, would abolish slave trade but not slavery
d. California would be admitted to the Union as a free state

The final bill was a bit trickier. Unlike the Missouri Compromise, there was no slave state to be admitted to maintain the balance of power in Congress when California joined the Union. Instead, the South was given the Fugitive Slave Act.

This Act required all citizens to help capture and return fugitive slaves to their owners. While many slaves headed for Canada to start over yet again, abolitionists became more resolved to end slavery and the Underground Railroad became more active.

The Fugitive Slave Act did little to settle the question of slavery, it merely postponed the decision.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854

In 1854, Kansas and Nebraska were organized as territories. The Kansas-Nebraska Act allowed for the territories to decide by popular sovereignty whether or not they would allow slavery when they applied for statehood.

The Missouri Compromise was no more.

The Dred Scott decision of 1857

In 1857, the Dred Scott decision was handed down by the Supreme Court. Scott was a slave from Missouri who had attempted to sue for his freedom. After several years, the case went before the US Supreme Court. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney wrote the majority decision thinking the High Court's decision would settle the matter of slavery once and for all. He couldn't have been further from the truth. The Court determined that Scott was not a citizen and was, therefore, unable to bring suit in a federal court. Taney went on to say that blacks were not, nor could they ever be, citizens.

That decision just added fuel to the fire and took the nation one step closer to war.

Tomorrow comes

For seventy years the government compromised, passed legislative acts, and even had a ruling from the US Supreme Court. Each did nothing more than "put off until tomorrow" the issue of slavery. In 1861, the first shots of the War Between the States were fired. The cost of all those compromises included the lives of 625,000 people.

It's hard to say if the war could have been avoided, but it's plain to see that compromises made just to buy time are not the answer.

Today, there are several "hot topics" before the American people. Does history repeat itself or have they learned from their mistakes?


Constitutional Compromises, Slavery, The Compromise Of 1850, The Dred Scott Decision, The Fugitive Slave Act, The Kansas-Nebraska Act, The Missouri Compromise, The Three-Fifths Compromise, The War Between The States

Meet the author

author avatar Annie69
History column appears weekly in local newspaper. Also news, human interest, and pictures. My fiction and poems have appeared in literary anthologies and I've written 3 novels

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author avatar Chip Greene
26th Jul 2014 (#)

A great history lesson! Those who don't remember history are doomed to repeat it!

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author avatar JayeByrd
26th Jul 2014 (#)

Good job, Annie, but you know those ding-dongs haven't leaned a thing from experience--they kicked all of it down the road just so they could stay in office.

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author avatar Lady Aiyanna
26th Jul 2014 (#)

Cost of Compromise is the loss of Life and loss of life highlights the deficiencies of why the compromise happened in the first place.

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