Introduction to Congress 6

The following is an extract from Lesson 2 of An Introduction to the U.S. Congress. You can get the whole thing here:

Exactly how to make the change to representative democracy was a much-debated topic during the Constitutional Convention. There were three main issues, each drawn from the tensions we listed in Lesson 1:

  • Should Congress derive its power from the people or from the state governments?
  • Should large states be balanced against small states?
  • Should enslaved people be counted towards a state’s population?

People or state governments: Some delegates to the Constitutional Convention favored a Congress that would derive its power only from the state governments. They preferred that the United States should remain a confederation of sovereign states. This point of view was common among the delegates from the smaller states. (See also the next topic below.)

By contrast, James Madison and James Wilson argued that direct elections were necessary to connect the national government to the people. This notion is famously illustrated by the opening line of the Constitution, “We the people of the United States.” They believed representatives elected by the people from voting districts would be the best way to do that.

Next week, we review the tension between the large and small states.

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