The Great Compromise

Eventually, the delegates settled on what came to be called the Great Compromise: a new Congress with two houses—an upper Senate,in which each state would be represented by two senators, and a lower House of Representatives,in which the number of delegates would be apportioned based on state population. Senators would be appointed by state legislatures every six years; representatives in the House would be elected directly by the people every two years.

Also, in the three-fifths clause, delegates agreed that each slave would be counted as three-fifths of a person when determining the population (and thus the number of representatives in the House) of each state.

The President

The delegates had an easier time outlining presidential powers. Although some delegates had extreme opinions—Alexander Hamilton proposed a constitutional monarchy headed by an American king—most agreed that a new executive or president was needed to give the country the strong leadership that it had lacked under the Articles.

Article II of the Constitution thus outlined the powers of a new executive outside the control of Congress. The president would be elected via the Electoral College for a term of four years, would be commander-in-chief of the U.S. military, could appoint judges, and could veto legislation passed by Congress.

The Judiciary

The judiciary branch of the new government would be headed by a Supreme Court, which would beheaded by a chief justice. The structure of the rest of the federal court system, however, was not formalized until the Judiciary Act of 1789 (see p. 31).

Checks and Balances

Many delegates felt that separation of powers was not enough to prevent one branch of government from dominating, so they also created a system of checks and balances to balance power even further. Under this system, each branch of government had the ability to check the powers of the others.

Popular pages: The Constitution (1781–1815)