Imagine a room filled with squabbling politicians, each with very strong views. They have been instructed by the voters back home to take a hard line, to refuse to compromise. So, at first, they dig in their heels. It does not go smoothly. For weeks they fight. Some threaten to walk out. Yet, in the end, they make a deal that many of their constituents manifestly instructed them not to make. Are you ready to turn them out of office?
According to a recent poll of the Society for Human Resource Management/National Journal, the answer is "yes." Indeed, nearly two-thirds of Republicans and 53 percent of independents admire political leaders who refuse to compromise (as do 47 percent of Democrats).
Unfortunately, left to those polled, our room of politicians would not have produced the U.S. Constitution. For unsanctioned, unwanted compromise is exactly what they did.
It's important to recall this as we warn our representatives against any thought of compromise. Without compromise, the political arteries harden and the chance for a heart attack in the body politic increases.
The Farmers knew this. They had seen thirteen separate states go their own ways, refusing to compromise with each other, erecting trade barriers to interstate commerce, coining their own currencies and even trying to fashion their own foreign policies. So, in Independence Hall in May 1787, they closed the doors and took a vow of secrecy for their debates (which probably could not have produced compromise had they needed to play to the galleries and have their words printed in broadsides every day). Most importantly, they made deals.
It's probably fair to say that none of them left satisfied with what they gave up, but the important thing is that they left satisfied enough with what they got. They knew that an all or nothing approach would result in nothing, and the long-term interests of the nation demanded something.
These 55 men were not American saints. They had their own prejudices and interests and also did their best to reflect the views of the States who chose them. At times they could be angry, petulant, self-centered and determined to resist appeals from others. In the end, however, they also knew that they were representatives of the people, not their lap-dogs. They were trying to fashion a republic, not a democracy. Had they all stuck to their guns, a majority would have prevailed on each crucial issue - dooming the Convention to either immediate failure (as those who lost stormed out) or eventual failure (as delegates opposed to the outcome campaigned against it in state-level ratification debates). These delegates had the power - and the solemn mandate - to produce a better government, not just one that echoed public opinion polls. For the sake of union, they compromised. There is a lesson here for the rest of us.