With an election looming and key budgetary votes on the horizon, the left and the right are dug deeply in their respective trenches and the middle of the aisle may as well be the no man’s land of Verdun. Liberals and conservatives refuse to cooperate on any meaningful resolution to the crisis facing the United States, but this inter-philosophy deadlock has not always been the case in American history.
Legislative compromise is woven deep in the fabric of American government, with the earliest seeds planted long before our current constitution was ratified in 1787. Often mistaken in the history of the American War for Independence, not all colonies were aggravated by the crown equally. The northern states, New England in particular, sounded the drums for independence much louder than the southern states, namely the Carolinas and Georgia. This geographic divide was one of the many reasons why the Continental Congress named George Washington as the supreme commander of the American military. As a Virginian, he was easier to swallow for Southerners who felt that the war was purely in New England’s interest.
The cornerstone of American politics, the Constitution, is rich with compromises, made to ensure the unity and longevity of the new American republic. One can scarcely read a sentence of the document without coming across a compromise within its text. The most influential, as its name suggests, is the “Great Compromise” between the large states, such as New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania, and the small states, namely Rhode Island, Delaware and Connecticut. The compromise created the current bicameral system, in which a House of Representatives is based on the population of each state while a Senate has equal representation for all states.
The drafters of the Constitution were even able to negotiate an agreement on one of the most dangerous topics in the early days of the nation: slavery. While often considered a pock-mark on the Constitution, the Three-Fifths Compromise shows just how dedicated all parties were to the country. Northern and Southern delegates were able to come to an agreement on a topic as contentious as slavery in order to preserve the nation.
A handful of other compromises would later be made about slavery, each more impressive than the last. Henry Clay, a Representative and Senator from Kentucky, was the primary architect of these deals, earning him nickname “The Great Pacificator” for his ability to cool tempers and negotiate compromises. Clay, however, would likely fume at the inability for Republicans and Democrats to reach agreements on any meaningful issue in today’s world.
The ability to reach agreement across ideological differences is a vital aspect of governance in the post-monarchy world. When the decisions rest in more than one figure, as it most obviously does in a democracy, there will always be disagreement. The government must be flexible with the ability to quickly react to problems that threaten the security of the nation. However, as the past four years have demonstrated, liberals and conservatives have failed to reach common ground.
They ignore the rich American history of compromise at their own risk, for every week that passes without progress towards a solution the ground they stand on gets smaller and smaller, and politicians may not like where they end up.