Thursday, April 17, 2014


Compromise is built into the heart of our American form of government. Going all the way back to the Declaration of Independence, we’ve had disagreements over what makes us a people. In fact, Thomas Jefferson originally castigated the king over the issue of the slave trade, but was forced to take out the language out of fear of the union dissolving. Yet despite such incidents of hard negotiating, America has emerged stronger.

The system of checks and balances necessitates a bargaining between the federal branches. Due to the partial independence of the legislative, executive, and judicial, it would be incredibly difficult for one group to control all three at the same time. Elections also play a factor; congressmen and senators’ terms rarely overlap as the lengths of terms themselves are different. Even if a populist movement gained traction for a number of years, you’d still have to wait for the Supreme Court justices to literally die out before having complete control over all facets of government.

Of course, the largest aspect of compromise that is embedded into our great society is the constitution itself. The founding fathers wisely enacted a document that not only stood the test of time from a literary and poetic level, but from the basis of rule of law as well. They also helped forge the “Great Compromise” over the competing Virginia and New Jersey plans, and amazingly balanced the issue of states’ rights and national governance.

The biggest test of America’s ability to compromise was one of colossal proportions: slavery. It would be fair to say that politics would be defined by this issue for generations. Even here, the federalists’ brilliance was absolute. North and South wrung their hands together and bit a nasty bullet on the issue of polling slaves as part of the population, also known as the three-fifths compromise. Abolitionists hated the deal because it counted slaves as in the general populace, while keeping them enslaved. Yet southerners hated it because they didn’t get the representation they wanted. However, it will be argued that if everyone’s angry, maybe you’re doing something right legally.

Looking for modern day examples of national compromise is an easy task. Just look at abortion, an explosive topic. Both sides, pro-life and pro-choice, are adamant in their beliefs and can be vitriolic in their dealings with each other. You might think that an issue involving aborting a fetus would be pretty black or white, but that isn’t the case practically. While the Supreme Court ruled abortion constitutional in the 70’s, it did not rule that limitations couldn’t be put in place. Case in point, conservative states have enforced very stringent regulations on the practice, like teenagers having to inform their parents before an abortion can be performed, and that the operation itself can only be done at a certain gestation period. The Hyde Amendment, as adopted by congress, also bans direct federal funding of abortion.

It could be asked if all this compromising makes our country resistant to change. This is true, but only to a degree. Madison in Federalist Ten successfully argued that mob rule, or a direct democracy, would result in chaos and perhaps even an untimely death. He saw the value of a republic, but one that had the consent of the people: thus a democratic republic. While it may take time for legislation to get approved in both chambers of congress, not get vetoed by the president, and be ultimately upheld by the courts, it is in the end worth it over French Revolution-like anarchy. You don’t want an unpopular minority, a label that changes over time, to be swallowed up by the passions of a majority.

The proof that compromise works is in the very survival of our peculiar American society. If all this didn’t work, we would have inevitably been some meager banana republic with no proud legacy to call our own. Look at Thomas Jefferson, look at Abraham Lincoln, look at Franklin D. Roosevelt, look at Ronald Reagan. Are all these men the result of a false ideal? It might sound like an appeal to emotion, but it gets to a legitimate point… Why has American exceptionalism been the envy of the world? Why has America stood as a bulwark against the two greatest evils of our time: Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia? Maybe, as much as we disagree, there’s something to this American dream of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

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