The Connecticut compromise helped make the summer of 1787 a successful one for constitution writing. As the 1787 Constitutional Convention moved into July, it was at a stall, trying to assess whether to create a legislature in which each state had the same number of votes, or whether larger states should have more votes and smaller states have fewer votes.
Virginia, the most heavily populated of the colonies, not surprisingly favored votes weighted by population. New Jerseyans, and other smaller colonies, preferred a one-state, one-vote approach.
Deadlocked, the congress appointed a committee to come up with a plan during a short recess. On July 3rd, Connecticut’s Roger Sherman put forward the “Connecticut compromise,” which survives to this day.
The idea, familiar to any schoolchild today, was that one arm of the legislature, the lower house, should have a makeup proportionate to each state’s size,. In the upper house, each state would have equal representation.
The idea won the support of Pennsylvania’s Benjamin Franklin, though he wanted all votes that dealt with spending money carried out on a proportional basis. The compromise was put to the entire convention on July 16, and approved by a single vote — without Franklin’s proposed wrinkle.
Sherman has the distinction of being the only person to sign all four great documents of the American Revolution: the Continental Association of 1774, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution of the United States.
His early life gave little indication that he would rise to the status of a nation’s founding father. Born in Newton, Mass., in 1721, he came from a family of farmers. He spent his early career as a shoemaker. He had little formal education, but he did possess a thirst for learning.
His father died in 1743, so he moved with his mother to New Milford, Conn. He and his brother William opened a cobbler shop and prospered. He published almanacs, studied law and rose to local and then state prominence.
Sherman would go on to represent Connecticut in both of the houses he helped create, the House of Representatives and the Senate, which he was a member of at the time of his death in 1793.
This story updated in 2023.