Coalition, not compromise, framed the Constitution


The fundamental importance of the 1787 Constitutional Convention continues to affect contemporary politics. The Constitution defines the structure and limits of the American system of government, and it organizes contemporary debates about policy and legal issues—debates that explicitly invoke the intentions and actions of those delegates to the Convention. Virtually all scholarship emphasizes the importance of compromise between key actors or factions at the Convention. In truth, the deep structure of voting at the Convention remains somewhat murky because the traditional stories are incomplete. There were three key factions at the Convention, not two. The alliance of the core reformers with the slave interests helped change representation and make a stronger national government. When it came time to create a strong executive, a group of small state delegates provided the crucial votes. Traditional accounts gloss over the complicated coalition politics that produced these important compromises, while this book shows the specific voting alignments. It is true that the delegates came with common purposes, but they were divided by both interests and ideas into three crosscutting factions. There was no persistent dominant coalition of reformers or nationalists; rather, there was a series of minority factions allying with one another on the major issues to fashion the compromise. Founding Factions helps us understand the nature of shifting majorities and how they created the American government.

Jeremy C. Pope is Associate Professor of Political Science and Co-Director of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University.

Shawn Treier is Senior Lecturer at the School of Politics and International Relations at Australian National University.

“There have been so many books about the Constitutional Convention and the Framers involved that it is hard to imagine there could be anything new. Founding Factions shows us that there is. Jeremy Pope and Shawn Treier have done a remarkable job, using the best of voting analysis combined with a deep knowledge and understanding of all the writings by historians and political scientists on the framing of the Constitution, to provide a better and more profound understanding of how and why its key provisions came about. Bravo!”
—Norman Ornstein, Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute

- Norman Ornstein, Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute

Founding Factions transcends disciplinary boundaries and illustrates the strength of empirical approaches. It is clearly written and based on the most comprehensive empirical analysis to date of the voting record of the state delegations at the Convention and numerous individual votes. Pope and Treier’s shrewd and exacting analysis corrects several existing myths about the dynamics and alliances at the Convention and establishes the foundation for a sophisticated approach to ascertaining the drafters’ understanding of the original meaning of the Constitution.”
—Alan Gibson, California State University, Chico

- Alan Gibson, California State University, Chico

“In this insightful book, Jeremy Pope and Shawn Treier avoid the usual reliance on the debates at the Federal Convention of 1787. Deploying their ingenuity as creative political scientists, they instead explain how different clusters of states aligned and realigned to reach the critical decisions that gave the Constitution its lasting shape.”
—Jack N. Rakove, William Robertson Coe Professor of History and American Studies and Professor of Political Science, Emeritus, Stanford University

- Jack N. Rakove, William Robertson Coe Professor of History and American Studies and Professor of Pol

“Through a combination of spatial voting theory and astute prose, Pope and Treier explain the latent issues of the Constitutional Convention, the coalitions that formed over those issues, and the timing of Madison's successes and failures. Founding Factions is an easy read for the non-specialist that contains many great insights for the specialist. The authors combine clear descriptions and data analytics for a rich and complex read that will change one's understanding of this seemingly well-known event.”
—Keith L. Dougherty, University of Georgia

- Keith L. Dougherty, University of Georgia