October 14, 2022
by Alexis Goodman
It has become all too common that the American people no longer know when or how to compromise. I see it time and time again where individuals yield themselves to the enticements of tolerance and acceptance at the cost of who they are as a person. Neither tolerance nor acceptance are terrible attributes, but when families, children, marriage, and religious freedoms are losing in every compromise involving the two, that is when they become dangerous.
We must learn how to compromise; how to progress without forsaking ourselves in the journey of doing so. Otherwise, we end up taking one step forward and three steps back.
A Compromise That Benefited Everyone
An everyday man, Samuel Bryan was merely a resident in Philadelphia when the Constitution was proposed to the American people on September 19, 1787. Sixteen days passed when suddenly there appeared in the Independent Gazetteer a letter from someone who called himself, “Centinel”. This pseudonym is now accepted by historians to be Samuel Bryan.
Under the name Centinel, Bryan would go on to publish eighteen essays criticizing the constitution and its authors. He was soon dubbed an Anti-federalist and cast off with others in that group; Brutus, Cato, Melancton Smith, Federal Farmer, etc.
All these pariahs found similar faults in the constitution, and they argued relentlessly with those termed “the Federalists” over their concerns.
Samuel Bryan would say in his first essay, “If ever free and unbiased discussion was proper or necessary, it is on such an occasion.” To them, they could only prophecy of tyranny due to the proposed constitution’s centralized government, powerful executive and judicial branches, lack of personal rights, and an extremely powerful federal government.
The Federalist Papers, written under the pseudonym Publius, was an attempt to convince the people of the legitimacy of the constitution. James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay were its authors, and they fought valiantly for what they perceived to be the ideal government.
Both groups, antitheses of each other, would go back and forth about something they each cared deeply about: the future of America. The constitution could not be ratified without the acceptance of at least nine of the then thirteen state legislatures. Therefore, it was imperative that an agreement be accomplished between the two, otherwise, the country could have been pulled in two different directions.
Hardly any headway was being made regarding either the constitutions ratification or its eradication, and so thus, a compromise was needed. Finally, on February 6, 1788, a breakthrough was reached. It was called the Massachusetts Compromise, as the state agreed to accept the constitution in exchange for some amendments to the constitution and a bill of rights. Four more of the states that voted to ratify followed suit and the constitution was enacted along with ten amendments-the Bill of Rights we are so familiar with today.
Is Compromise Good or Bad?
There are two types of people when it comes to compromising. Those who find it necessary for progress, and those who see it as being inherently evil. The reality is that both types of people are wrong.
To address the former type of person, he or she finds themselves giving away things that make them who they are. When entering a negotiation with another party, it is important that you enter knowing what your primary and secondary needs are.
Primary needs are your values. They are the core of who you are and who you are striving to become. It is these needs, that when violated, can turn a compromise from a beneficial interaction into a sour one. Such standards should be upheld and honored and never allowed to be thrust into the corner when running into a wall in negotiation.
Secondary needs are those that make up your ideal outcome, but the loss of them will not affect your primary needs. This is where it is fair game for compromise and acceptable for conceding.
Knowing and being able to distinguish between the two can direct you into a compromise that is good for both parties, and one where you can feel that you have not compromised the very values you had intended to defend.
The Federalists and Anti-Federalists understood their primary and secondary needs. For the Federalists, their primary need was a unified government, where all the states gave allegiance to a singular power. Their secondary need was one wherein a bill of rights was not needed, as they saw that it would only limit the people’s rights.
The Anti-Federalist’s primary needs were personal rights and state rights. The secondary need was ultimately the choice to scratch the constitution and start anew, or at the very least, abandon the three branches of government being proposed.
Both saw clearly where they could and could not bend in negotiation, and the result was what we see today. A strong, unified constitution, with an ever-important Bill of Rights. Neither relinquished who they were and what they stood for, and yet were able to find areas of lesser importance that they could let go of.
It’s important to remember, as Archie M. Brugger says, “To make the decision at the time of temptation is too late. We must decide ahead of time that we will not compromise our ideals.” Compromise is not inherently evil- nor is it an implicit virtue or good; it is simply a negotiating tool. Do not ever come out of a negotiation a person with fewer values than you went in with. To do so is not to compromise, but to capitulate.
Compromise With Your Own Understanding
All too often, we compromise on the single premise that someone we trust compromised there as well. This is a mistake, and to lean on someone else’s understanding of an issue is to make yourself a fool.
This is something that concerned Samuel Bryan and he wrote in one of his essays, “These characters flatter themselves that they have lulled all distrust and jealousy of their new plan, by gaining the concurrence of the two men in whom America has the highest confidence…” He worried that because the Federalists had managed to garner the support of George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, the beloved leaders of the American people, the people would vote unanimously in favor of the constitution without giving it a second thought.
Do not ever cheat yourself out of an opportunity to become an informed participant and out of an opportunity to come to know yourself better as an individual. Most importantly, never lose sight of whose lives or values you may be compromising, in the name of compromise.
Don’t Promise Away Yourself or Others
Bryan articulated it well enough, “All the blessings of liberty and the dearest privileges of freemen, are now at stake and dependent on your present conduct.” How you proceed in your interactions with those around you will dictate how your children will be forced to live their lives in the future. Will the next generation of advocates for the beauty of family, the sanctity of marriage, and the natural right to religious freedoms be expected to give up what little standing they have left? Merely because their forebearers did so?
Choose now not to compromise primary values, so that those down the road won’t have to work so hard to recover them.