The Constitutional Convention in 1787 was beset with two seemingly intractable challenges: 1. How to solve the large state/small state congressional representation disagreement. 2. How to solve the emerging north/south split on slavery. Differences nearly derailed the convention, as had happened the previous year in Annapolis.

The congressional representation issue was solved with the Massachusetts Compromise, allotting U.S. House representation by population and U.S. Senate representation with two votes per state (much to the chagrin of Virginia’s James Madison, namesake of our fair city).

The slavery issue was “solved” -- temporarily -- with a constitutionally mandated end date for slave trade importation set for 1808, and the counting of slaves as 3/5 of a person. Obviously, this continued legality of slavery was a hideous stain on the new nation, but the lengths to which the parties sought a compromise, however odious to most, further set the precedent of compromise for the American political experiment.

The disputed U.S. presidential election of 1876 -- not resolved until almost inauguration eve -- yielded the Compromise of 1877, in which the Democratic Party acquiesced in the Electoral College battle to the Republicans’ Rutherford B. Hayes, handing the Ohio governor a 185-184 victory. In return, the Republicans agreed to withdraw federal troops from the South, effectively ending Reconstruction.

More recently, compromises where none had seemed possible yielded Republican Ronald Reagan raising taxes on multiple occasions and Democrat Bill Clinton signing legislation to end traditional welfare.

Compromise is frustrating to the majority and often -- perhaps usually -- leaves all parties disgruntled to a significant degree. But it is, nonetheless, the Great American Political Tradition.

Currently, Wisconsin Senate Republicans control 19 of 33 seats, good for a 57.6 percent majority. The 14 Senate Democrats, having escaped to Illinois, are exercising the equivalent of a filibuster, denying the Republicans the 60 percent attendance necessary for a quorum.

To Republicans, the Illinois rendezvous is reprehensible. To Democrats, the budget repair bill’s collective bargaining provisions (and others on Medicaid, power plant no-bid sales, etc.) are equally reprehensible. For Wisconsin, the standoff is beyond reprehensible.

But are the opposing positions more intractable than the challenges of the Constitutional Convention? Slavery or freedom? The bitter 1876 presidential election result? Taxes and welfare?

Or does the current political leadership of Wisconsin fall woefully short in both the legislative chambers and the governor’s chair? Either they don’t know much about (compromise) history or, well, maybe they’re too busy appearing on national TV, taking calls from campaign contributors or reading their favorite bloggers to verify the validity of their own opinions.

David Franker is a Madison resident.

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