During The Constitutional Convention Delegates Disagreed Over

The Constitutional Convention of 1787 was a pivotal moment in American history. It was during this convention that the founding fathers of the United States came together to create the framework for the government that would shape the nation for centuries to come. However, it was not all smooth sailing. Delegates at the Constitutional Convention disagreed over a variety of key issues as they worked to draft the U.S. Constitution. This article will explore some of the most significant points of contention during this historic event and their lasting impact on the foundation of the United States.

The Structure of Government: Federalism vs. States’ Rights

One of the primary points of contention during the Constitutional Convention was the structure of the new government. At the heart of this debate was the question of federalism versus states’ rights. Some delegates, such as James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, believed in a strong central government with significant powers. They argued that a unified, centralized government was necessary to maintain order and stability within the new nation.

On the other side of the debate were delegates who favored states’ rights and were hesitant to grant too much power to the federal government. This faction, led by figures such as Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry, feared that a powerful central government could infringe upon the sovereignty of individual states and the liberties of the people.

This fundamental disagreement over the distribution of power between the federal government and the states was resolved through the creation of a system of federalism, in which power is shared between the national government and the states. The U.S. Constitution outlines the division of powers between the two levels of government, striking a delicate balance between a strong central authority and the autonomy of individual states.

Representation: The Great Compromise

Another area of disagreement among the delegates at the Constitutional Convention was the issue of representation in the new government. Larger states, such as Virginia and Pennsylvania, argued that representation in the legislature should be based on population size, giving them greater influence due to their larger populations.

Conversely, smaller states, such as New Jersey and Delaware, feared being overshadowed by their larger counterparts and advocated for equal representation for all states, regardless of size. This contentious issue threatened to derail the entire convention as delegates struggled to find a compromise that would satisfy both sides.

The resolution came in the form of the Great Compromise, which established a bicameral legislature consisting of the House of Representatives and the Senate. In the House of Representatives, representation is based on population size, giving larger states more influence. In the Senate, each state is granted equal representation, ensuring that smaller states have a say in the legislative process. This compromise successfully addressed the concerns of both large and small states and laid the foundation for the structure of the U.S. Congress.

Slavery: A Divisive Issue

Perhaps the most contentious and morally fraught issue debated during the Constitutional Convention was the question of slavery. The institution of slavery had long been a point of contention between the northern and southern states, and it loomed large over the convention as delegates grappled with its implications for the new nation.

Southern states, reliant on the labor of enslaved people, sought to protect the institution of slavery and ensure that their economic interests were safeguarded in the new government. Meanwhile, northern states, where slavery was less prevalent, were increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of enshrining slavery in the founding documents of the nation.

The compromise reached on the issue of slavery was a deeply problematic one. The Constitution included the Three-Fifths Compromise, in which enslaved individuals were counted as three-fifths of a person for the purposes of determining representation in the House of Representatives. This compromise granted disproportionate political power to the southern states, effectively perpetuating the institution of slavery and widening the divide between the northern and southern states.

The unresolved tensions surrounding slavery would ultimately culminate in the Civil War, a conflict that would shake the United States to its core and have lasting repercussions for the nation’s political landscape.

Federal vs. State Authority: The Role of the Judiciary

Another point of contention during the Constitutional Convention was the role and authority of the judiciary within the new government. Delegates debated the extent to which the federal judiciary should hold power and the degree to which it should be independent of political pressures.

Some delegates, such as Alexander Hamilton, advocated for a strong federal judiciary that would have the authority to interpret and enforce the Constitution, ensuring the supremacy of federal law. Others, however, were wary of granting too much power to the federal judiciary and sought to preserve the authority of the states in matters of law and governance.

The compromise that emerged from these debates resulted in the establishment of an independent federal judiciary with the power of judicial review, allowing the Supreme Court to interpret the Constitution and settle disputes between the federal government and the states. The Constitution’s clear delineation of the judiciary’s role and authority has had a profound impact on the balance of power within the U.S. government and has shaped the course of American jurisprudence.


The Constitutional Convention of 1787 was a crucible of debate and negotiation, where delegates grappled with complex and contentious issues that would shape the future of the United States. The disagreements that arose during the convention were far from easily resolved, and many of the compromises reached were imperfect and fraught with consequences.

However, the enduring legacy of the Constitutional Convention lies in the creation of a framework that has stood the test of time and provided the United States with a durable and adaptable system of government. The debates and disagreements that took place during the convention were instrumental in shaping the U.S. Constitution, and their impact continues to reverberate through American politics and society to this day.

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