I'm doing a research about the Great Compromise and how it originated from the Virginia and the New Jersey Plan. Has there been any analysis on which side got the better part of the compromise. (The larger states or the smaller states).

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    As per the FAQ we do not allow opinion questions on the site, however, as the Great Compromise has been well researched by this point there might be some assessments on this.
    – MichaelF
    Commented Oct 3, 2012 at 11:10

1 Answer 1


It probably will surprise few people to see me say that rather a lot of the US history taught to US students in grade school is false.

However, what may come as a surprise to some here is that the story about The Great Compromise being a battle between small states and large states may actually be one of those things.

However, this isn't hard at all to check on. Due to all the letters delegates sent home during deliberations, there's plenty of information on all the deliberations of the Constitutional Convention. Max Farrand was even nice enough to compile a lot of it into one document for us.

Here's how founding father James Madison described the debate, according to The Records:

the States were divided into different interests not by their difference of size, but by other circumstances; the most material of which resulted partly from climate, but principally from their having or not having slaves. These two causes concurred in forming the great division of interest in the U. States. It did not lie between the large and small States: it lay between the Northern and Southern

In fact Pennsylvania, voting with the "small states", was second only to Virginia in size.

"Why was it a slave/free issue?", you may ask. Well, Paul Finkelman makes the case that it was all about ensuring that the new legislative entity could never become so dominated by Northerners that slavery in the South would be endangered. One point he makes is that the 3/5ths compromise had already been decided on (ensuring more weight to a Southern man's vote than to a Northern one's). Southerners thought their states were liable to grow faster in population than the North (and even if they didn't, until at least 1809 they'd be able to import the difference in slaves, if they so chose).

Now you may be asking, "OK, so perhaps it wasn't about big vs. small, but still what was the effect on representation of small states vs. large ones?

That question is actually a bit tough to answer. In the Senate obviously its a big deal, as my own Oklahoma gets the same voice as California, even though we have a tenth of its population, and less people than Los Angeles.

When voting for President, you could argue that a Floridian's Presidential vote is worth only half of what a Montanan's is. However, that ignores the fact that Florida is a huge electoral prize evenly divided between the two parties, while Montana is only worth 3 votes, and is dominated by one party. Thus politicians give the big state of Florida way more attention both during and between elections than they give little Montana.

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