Examine some of the arguments used by the framers of the Constitution while debating the language of the document.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Some of the language that the delegates used when debating the Constitution helped to reflect some of the pressing issues of the day.

One instance of how language reflected concerns about specific issue regarded how to legislatively represent states.  The language surrounded "big" and "small" states.  Such size- based language revolved around population and how states with smaller populations felt threatened by states with larger populations.  States such as  Virginia supported the plan put forth by Edmund Randolph.  This "Virginia Plan" suggested that representation be determined by “Quotas of contribution, or to the number of free inhabitants." Thus, states with larger populations would carry a larger legislative voice. Opposing this were delegates like Robert Paterson who suggested that each state should carry the same number of legislative votes.  Language like "representation" and "population" dominated the debate surrounding the Constitution.  This was evident in Roger Sherman's "Great Compromise," a plan that combined both plans into what we now call the Legislative Branch.

Another example of specific language that was used in the arguments put forth at the Constitutional Convention can be seen in the debates that surrounded slavery.  Language such as "3/5 of a person" to reflect how people of color were viewed is quite significant.  African- Americans were deemed as less than human in the debates of the Constitutional Convention. Delegates from Southern States wanted slaves to count as people to boost up their population count for representational purposes.  Delegates from the North wanted to deny the presence of slaves because it would threaten their representational count.  In the end, both sides agreed to the Three- Fifths Compromise.  It included language that deemed slaves as "3/5 of a person." Negotiations that reduced a significant portion of the population to less than full humanity is reflective of how the nation viewed people of color.  

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