A Nation Of Compromise: The Magna Carta And The Constitution

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The Founding Fathers are the seminal example of the importance of compromise in politics. Before the Constitutional Convention of 1787, the significance of political compromise appeared effervescent in the Ancient Greek’s attempts to create a functioning nation-state that fit the ideals of the State, Rome’s First Triumvirate, and the age of the Founding Fathers itself. In understanding the results that compromise could achieve from such historical examples, the founders firmly forever instilled the concept of compromise into the American political paradigm as evidenced by the later presidency of Abraham Lincoln as he built his presidency cabinet. Indeed, the Founding Fathers laid the foundation for the understanding that compromise in American politics was essential for the strength of the Union - an understanding that reverberates to this day. Thus, although the Founding Fathers were a group of revolutionaries possessing diverse personalities and conflicting ideologies, they all shared a common goal of creating a successful country and achieving American liberty: a goal that transcends time and space.

Aristotle takes a deep approach on how a government should be formed in his work Aristotle’s Politics. Aristotle goes from how a slave and master’s relationship should be formed and how that type of relationship benefits, to how a government is run with compromises. His first discussion is ruling and what is considered Just. Aristotle puts into play the idea that political rule is over the free and equal persons, meaning that there is no separation among the people they are viewed as the same. Therefore, the citizens share the responsibility of making decisions and holding offices. Indeed, Aristotle said as much when he wrote:

We must first adopt as a starting point that which is the natural point of departure for this inquiry. There are three possible systems of property: either all the citizens must own everything in common, or they must own nothing in common, or some things must be common property and others not. To have nothing in common is clearly impossible for the state is essentially a form of community, and to begin with there is bound to be a common locality: a single city occupies a single site, and the single city belongs to its citizens in common. (Aristotle 27)

As this demonstrates, Aristotle describes that diversity is needed in order to form the most ideal regimes. He states that the best polity is attained by a mixture of oligarchy and democracy. He then turns his attention towards partnership, which modern government is based on. Aristotle discusses that the best city needs the partnership of similar persons. In Aristotle’s Politics, there are different views from other ancient philosophers such as Socrates and Phaleas. Socrates says a city is made up of varying types of people. He believes that there is a need for equality, in which citizens are free and each has a share in the ruling. Therefore, his overweight idea is that a city requires a multitude of different people, which creates a basis for a need to compromise. Where on the other hand, Phaleas takes a somewhat similar approach. Phaleas believes that preventing conflict requires respectable and virtuous people, who do not wish for their own aggrandizement and pleasures. And so, from piecing together these three ancient philosophers it is clear that diversity within a city is absolutely necessary in order to obtain things like self-sufficiency, and diversity that provides for division and compromise. It requires for the group of men to be virtuous people whom the citizens have an abundance of respect for as well. When these things are paired together the bases of a good governing body are made.

As time passed on, the First Triumvirate arose. These men were the first political alliance to put the idea of compromise, which the philosophers had outlined, into play. One member of the alliance was Pompey, who was at heart a conservative, but was willing to work alongside the oligarchs of Rome, and was willing to take into account the notation of the government proposed by the senate. By setting aside his hubris and focusing strictly on the good of Rome, he made the alliance one of the most prestigious of its time. Cicero based his way of governing off the idea that all humans are divine and that they contain divinity so they have a reason. Cicero’s idea that justice is essential for the preservation of a society is what is exemplified in the ways, which he handles the conspiracy with others as they hold the trials for Catiline. Cicero also believed that there was nothing more important than the Republic adding in the trial transcript that:

Shame on the age and on its principles! The senate is aware of these things; the consul sees them; and yet this man lives. Lives! aye, he comes even into the senate. He takes part in the public deliberations; he is watching and marking down and checking off for slaughter every individual among us. And we, gallant men that we are, think that we are doing our duty to the Republic if we keep out of the way of his frenzied attacks.[Catiline 1.1]

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This exemplifies this as he gives his oration at the trials as said before that the Republic’s interest always came first. This group was faced with a conflict that would require such compromises to understand how to handle it. This dispute was known as the Catiline Conspiracy. In the first conspiracy, Cicero addresses all these questions of everyone and asks them to Catiline. The men worked together although each had a varying view on the situation to strengthen the position of the leaders. This was capable of happening because Cicero believed that the basis of politics should be based on philosophy which is explained as said before by Aristotle. Following this alliance came the formation of the Second Great Triumvirate that was comprised of Mark Antony, Lepidus, and Octavian. Before this alliance, the three had spent years campaigning against each other all throughout Italy in various battles. Just before they had formed the triumvirate they had decided to come together to make plans to form the alliance. However, after Caesar’s death, the men had decided to unite together to focus on re-stabilize the Roman Republic after the catastrophe. Even though the men had interests in what would come out of this compromise for them, and their egos clashed continually, it did not stop these strong political figures from ruling not only among each other but in fact right beside each other. This trio would make a very unique alliance, they had a strong discord which had existed between them, but that was not going to stop them from uniting together to avenge the death of Caesar. Seeing this kind of compromise set everlasting precedence that would be seen in all the years following. From these two alliances it becomes clear that although the egos of people are very diverse and many are set in their ways, they show how it is a necessity to force those opposing views together and forget about the personal preferences so that those who saw them as the best political figures could create compromises that would be the most suitable to solve political issues.

When compromise is a key factor of making a sound government there are two prime examples that demonstrate that: The Magna Carta and the Constitution. The Magna Carta was made as a peace treaty to settle the different views of King John and Pope Innocent III. From their disputes, the Magna Carta was made, which allowed the absolute monarch to be removed and the power to be given to the people in the form of democracy. The signing of this document meant the beginning of ending the monarchy and getting a more ideal government, which the ancient philosophers had suggested before as they debated what an ideal government would look like during the Ancient Roman era. The Magna Carta is the first example in history where compromise of the people’s demands is seen, and how such varying views are able to be tied together to create a compromise, that would please the people and also benefit the city-state. Take, for example, the fact that King John agreed to make up for his previous mistakes. According to King John, “if anyone has been disseised or deprived by us, without the legal judgment of his peers,” he pleaded for a reason to understand why engaged in the policies he did, “we will immediately restore the same.’’[King John, Section 52]. The king agrees to make amends for the various types of past abuses of power. Some of these include returning lands, castles, liberties, and also the rights he had taken away without any kind of 'lawful judgment.' This reinforced the idea that even the king must abide by the law. Another statement made in the Magna Carta is that the king promised to be held accountable for all the things, which he had promised, showing that he was willing to set aside his hubris for the sake of ruling better. “Wherefore we - firmly charge - that all men in Our kingdom shall have - the aforesaid liberties - in all things and places forever,” King John said to his Peers. (King John, Section 63) At the end of the Magna Carta, the king restates to the people his commitments to all the rights granted to all the men in the preceding sections. He makes sure to specifically state that the agreement is for 'all things and places forever.' The barons would not allow the king to be able to go back to his old ways. They wanted the preceding generations to have these same rights and liberties as promised. From these things, it would later be seen and implemented by the Founding Fathers when creating the Constitution. The Constitution is made heavily based off of the ideas proposed in the Magna Carta and the concepts of Aristotle, which were proposed beforehand. The founding fathers took a similar approach as they all met with different ideas to form the best constitution. The Constitution was created essentially through compromise. In order to form the constitution, there were months and months of debates that had to occur. Delegates arrived at a number of compromises to settle very divisive issues including slavery. Some of the most well-divided compromises include the Three-Fifths Compromise, the Great Compromise, the Commerce Compromise, and the Slave Trade Compromise. The Great Compromise was the joining of two plans: the Virginia Plan and the New Jersey Plan. By combining them it set up an ideal congress that would remain even into the modern-day. The congress would be made of two components: the Senate and the House of Representatives. Next is the Three-Fifths Compromise, which was based on the argument of how the slave population should be accounted for. They came up with the idea that every five slaves would represent three white males. The Commerce Compromise was a restriction that only allowed for tariff taxes to be placed on foreign exports. It also stated that interstate commerce would be regulated by the federal government. Lastly, the Slave Trade Compromise was an agreement to hold off banning the slave trade in the United States until 1808. These extreme kinds of compromise set a standard of how later debates would be handled such as those of the debates and compromises are seen later in the Federalist papers.

As the Founding Fathers really had to test their compromising skills to run a country, two men did just that with their making of the Federalist Papers. Hamilton discussed in Federalist paper nine, what kind of government is most suitable. His conclusion on the Union is that there are no particular advantages of the Union before. Madison has a response to this in which he agrees and makes the claim that all liberties should be destroyed and that everyone needs to have the same interests. “A pure democracy,” James Madison proclaimed is “a society consisting of a small number of citizens.” To emphasize this, even more, Madison added that Americans “can admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction.’’(Madison Essay 10) Indeed, as Madison would say, we are one and the same, referring directly back to the government of Athens in the fifth century BCE, this was when all citizens took direct part in the government. In the United States, a select group of men was chosen to do this instead. Another example of compromise amongst these two is seen in the Federalist paper fifty-eight and Federalist paper fifty-nine. Madison states in the Federalist paper fifty-eight that the Federal and State constitutions both provide for a gradual increase in representatives as populations increase. He also mentions how the Federal constitution divides Congress into two houses, a House of Representatives and the Senate. Within his essay, Madison makes the statement that “This power over the purse may, in fact, be regarded as the most complete and effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the [people's] immediate representatives.” (Madison Essay 58) Madison emphasizes the formidable power that such provisions would allow the people elected directly as representatives since revenue and taxation play such a vital role in the functioning of government. Hamilton responds by understanding that the State and Union shared powers between them. With both men seeing their views of what the government should be they are able to create a strong base to start a government. The last example is seen in Federalist Papers sixty-two and sixty-three with the concept of equality in compromise. Madison says that there should be an equal representation, which is good to build a government of compromise. Madison then makes it clear in Federalist paper sixty-three that diversity, just as decided by the ancient philosophers, such as Aristotle, is a must to have a compatible government. It defines that the Senate provides wisdom and stability that creates a strong Senate that will have respect and confidence within the decisions they come up with.

Compromise does not come easy and especially when such large political figures are put into the situation of setting aside their strong views and coming together as one. The Great Triumvirate of America set a national prominence that would stand for decades. This trio would work together to solve a number of disputes that the country had faced, which was similar to the previous triumvirates that came before them. These men became known as the Great Triumvirate because like the ancient triumvirates, they also set aside the egos and learned to make compromises when it was needed so that they could run the country properly and most effectively. Clay had a very amiable personality, which was needed in order to keep relations civil. Calhoun had built up his reputation in the idea that he was an extremely intelligent individual, who was able to keep his private life separate so that he could focus only on the matters of the country. Webster was a prodigy that had argued hundreds of cases. His argumentative personality allowed for debates to occur between these three brilliant men to come up with the most suitable compromises. The men applied their considerable amounts of intellect and political skills, not only to their careers but also to the major political and constitutional dilemmas, starting with the War of 1812 and ending with the Compromise of 1850, which kept the nation from disunion. Clay starts with the belief of a small government, but after listening to the arguments of the other two men decides that supporting the federal power is not at all a bad idea if it helps preserve the union. Clay had claimed to have a strong dislike for slavery, but he engineered deals that bridged the gap between North and South and ended up helping to support the institution, also the Compromise of 1850, which kept slavery and allowed non-slaveholding states to hunt and return fugitive slaves. A slave owner himself, Clay, however, began to advocate for emancipation and colonization, which was opposed by the African Americans of the time. Calhoun transformed from a nationalist, who was all for the War of 1812, to a sectionalist and a leader of a pro-slavery movement. Overall, these men were able to put the intellectual minds together and set aside the beliefs to help run a country with success.

After tracing through history how the concept of compromise is necessary to run a country, the United States saw this first hand while Abraham Lincoln was president. Lincoln decided to fill his cabinet with varying men from former Whigs to former Democrats. Lincoln’s reason for such a strange approach is truly genius. Lincoln built his cabinet with enemies because those men were the strongest in the country and he needed the strongest men and their talents to run the country successfully. This concept feeds back into the idea that Phaleas expressed that compromise is found by virtuous people that do not wish for their own good. Lincoln also does this because he thought that a wide range of opinions, just as suggested by Aristotle, would allow for the conflicting viewpoints to stay together and that would lead to a significant amount of compromise. His belief was that by having these varying opinions that it would not only benefit him but also the country.

Compromise is the idea of settling varying viewpoints by creating agreements. This is key when trying to run a country. It is expressed from Aristotle through the ancient times to Lincoln that a country can not function without compromise. Indeed, this remains true to this day, especially with the modern-day government. For example, Obama’s Health Care Plan needed to be agreed upon by various people so that it could be put into play. It is also seen in the Trump Administration as those individuals working underneath or alongside Trump, who do not necessarily agree with such opinions and actions of him, must compromise in order to the governor a growing country to the best of their ability. Therefore, from the times of ancient philosophers such as Aristotle, Socrates, and more, to modern-day politics, there is one thing remains clear that all the former political figures had set a precedent for, and that is that a government cannot function well and properly unless there are virtuous men, who are willing to set aside their egos and agree upon compromise.

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A Nation Of Compromise: The Magna Carta And The Constitution. (2022, March 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 19, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/a-nation-of-compromise-the-magna-carta-and-the-constitution/
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