From VOA Learning English, welcome to THE MAKING OF A NATION – American history in Special English. I’m Steve Ember. This week in our series, we continue the story of the United States Constitution.
In May of 1787, a group of America's early leaders met in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. They planned to amend the Articles of Confederation. That document established a loose union of the 13 states. Instead, the leaders wrote a completely new constitution. It created America's system of government and recognized the rights of its citizens.
Last week, we told how the group reached agreement on the position and powers of a national executive. They decided the executive could veto laws. And they decided the person could be removed from office if found guilty of serious crimes.
We also told about the debate on a national judiciary. The delegates approved a federal system of courts and judges. These courts would hear cases involving national laws, the rights of American citizens, and wrongdoing by foreign citizens in the country. State courts would continue to hear cases involving state laws.
Next, the delegates began to discuss competing proposals for a national legislature. This would be the most hotly debated issue of the convention. It forced the question of equal representation. Would small states and large states have an equal voice in the central government?
The convention had already agreed that the national legislature would have two houses. It had not agreed, however, on the number of representatives each state would have in each house. The large states wanted representation based on population. But the small states believed they would lose power to the large states. They wanted representation to be the same for all states, no matter what the size.
One day, Gunning Bedford of Delaware, one of the smallest states, looked straight at the delegates from the largest states.
"Gentlemen!" he shouted. "I do not trust you. If you try to crush the small states, you will destroy the confederation. And if you do, the small states will find some foreign ally of more honor and good faith who will take them by the hand and give them justice."
The debate on legislative representation -- big states against small states -- lasted for weeks that summer in Philadelphia. The delegates could not agree. So they debated other parts of the proposal.
One involved the names of the two houses of the legislature. Most spoke of them simply as the First Branch and the Second Branch. We will speak of them by the names used today: the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Next came the question: Who could be elected to the House and Senate? Delegates did not take long to decide. Members of the House, they agreed, must be at least 25 years old. They must have been citizens of the United States for seven years. And, at the time of election, they must live in the state in which they are chosen.
The delegates agreed that members of the Senate must be at least 30 years old. They also must have been a citizen of the United States for nine years. And, at the time of election, they too must live in the state in which they are chosen.
But who would elect them? The question raised an interesting issue. It concerned democracy. In 1787, the word "democracy" meant something very different from what it means today. To many of the men meeting in Philadelphia, democracy meant mob rule. To give power to the people was an invitation to anarchy.
Still, George Mason of Virginia argued for popular elections. "The people will be represented," Mason said, "so they should choose their representatives."
James Wilson of Pennsylvania agreed. He stated firmly that the people must elect at least one branch of the national legislature. That, he said, was a basic condition for free government. The majority of the convention agreed with Mason. The delegates decided that members of the House of Representatives should be elected directly by the people.
Akhil Reed Amar is a professor at Yale Law School in Connecticut. He says the delegates’ decision to let people elect their representatives helped change the meaning of the word “democracy.”
“The success of the American constitutional project has proved to the rest of the world that democracy can work, government of, by and for the people can survive and flourish, and this has been a model for the rest of the world.”
However, most delegates agreed that the state legislatures would choose the representatives to the second legislative branch, the Senate. It remained that way for more than 100 years. In 1913, the states approved the Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution. This amendment legalized the direct election of Senators by the people.
How long would lawmakers serve? Roger Sherman of Connecticut thought representatives to the House should be elected every year. Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts agreed. He thought a longer term would lead to a dictatorship.
James Madison of Virginia protested. "It will take almost one year," he said, "just for lawmakers to travel to and from the seat of government!" Madison proposed a three-year term. But the delegates finally agreed on two years.
There were many ideas about the term for senators. A few delegates thought they should be elected for life. In the end, the convention agreed on a Senate term of six years.
Next came a debate about the pay for elected officials. How much should they get? Or should they be paid at all?
Some delegates thought the states should pay their representatives to the national legislature. Others said the national legislature should decide its own pay and take it from the national treasury.
That idea, James Madison argued, was shameful. He thought the amount should be set by the Constitution. Again, Madison lost the argument. The Constitution states only that lawmakers will be paid for their services and that the money will come from the national treasury.
Finally, the time came for the convention to face the issue of representation in the House and Senate. The large states still wanted representation based on population. And the small states still wanted equal representation. The delegates had voted on the issue several times since the convention began. But both sides stood firm. Yet they knew they could not continue to vote forever, day after day.
So the delegates did what large groups often do when they cannot reach agreement. They voted to create a committee. This "Grand Committee" would try to develop a compromise. The rest of the delegates would enjoy themselves during the July Fourth holiday marking American independence.
July Fourth -- Independence Day. It marked the eleventh anniversary of America's Declaration of Independence from British rule. The celebration was especially important in Philadelphia. It was the city where the Declaration of Independence was signed. Now it was the city where a new nation was being created.
Convention president George Washington led a group of delegates to a ceremony at a Philadelphia church. They heard a speech written especially for them.
"Your country looks to you with both worry and hope," the speaker said. "Your country depends on your decisions. Your country believes that men such as you -- who led us in our war for independence -- will know how to plan a government that will be good for all Americans. Surely we have the ability to design a government that will protect the liberties we have won."
After the speech, Benjamin Franklin urged the convention to ask for God's help. He said each meeting should begin with a prayer.
Hugh Williamson of North Carolina quickly ended any discussion of Franklin's idea. The convention, he said, had no money to pay a minister to lead the delegates in prayer.
On July fifth, the Grand Committee presented a two-part compromise. It provided something for large states and something for small states. It called for representation based on population in the House and for equal representation in the Senate. The committee said both parts of the compromise must be accepted or both rejected.
Delegates debated the compromise for many days. They knew if they did not reach agreement, the convention would fail. Those were dark days in Philadelphia.
Later, Luther Martin of Maryland noted that the newspapers reported on how much the delegates agreed. But that was not the truth. "We were on the edge of breaking up," Martin said. "We were held together only by the strength of a hair."
Delegates Robert Yates and John Lansing of New York had left the convention in protest. But George Mason of Virginia declared he would bury his bones in Philadelphia before he would leave without an agreement.
Even General George Washington was depressed. He wrote to Alexander Hamilton, who had returned to New York temporarily.
"I am sorry you went away," Washington said. "Our discussions are now, if possible, worse than ever. There is little agreement on which a good government can be formed. I have lost almost all hope of seeing a successful end to the convention. And so I regret that I agreed to take part."
On July 16th, the convention voted on the issue for the last time. It accepted what is called “the Great Compromise.”
But even this agreement raised another problem. If representation was based on population, who would you count? Would you count just free people? Or would you count Negro slaves, too? How the delegates answered that question of who would be counted will be our story next week.
I'm Steve Ember, inviting you to join us again next week here at VOA Learning English for THE MAKING OF A NATION -- American history in VOA Special English.
This was program #19
One of the main factors to consider when choosing a college is the size of its enrollment. This is one of the first things college search websites ask you to specify because it’s an easy way to eliminate a bunch of schools. But what if you aren't sure whether you’re interested in big or small colleges or what the benefits and drawbacks are for each? In this article, I’ll provide a rundown of the characteristics of large and small colleges and the ways they differ from one another.
What Is a Big College?
Schools with more than 15,000 students are usually considered "big" colleges. These schools offer diverse social experiences and a wide variety of learning opportunities. They are places where you'll constantly encounter new and exciting things to do and meet all different types of people.
Examples of big colleges include:
New York University
Florida State University
George Mason University
Pros of Attending a Big College
- There are lots of opportunities for socializing and meeting new people.
- Big colleges usually have a wider selection of academic programs.
- There are extensive collections of research materials and state-of-the-art research facilities.
- There's more variety in housing choices.
- There will be more extracurricular clubs and activities.
- Big colleges have well-funded athletic programs.
- They often attract famous or otherwise distinguished faculty.
Cons of Attending a Big College
- You could end up in huge lecture classes that contain hundreds of students, resulting in less individual attention from professors.
- There's more administrative red tape; if you wanted to switch majors, for example, you might have to get more signatures and approvals than if you went to a small college.
- If you don’t speak up for your needs and interests, you could get lost in the crowd. You have to be willing to go after opportunities at a big college because no one will seek you out and give them to you.
- It’s more common for students to get TOO immersed in the myriad social opportunities and neglect academics.
Should You Choose a Big College?
A big college may or may not be right for you depending on your personality and what you’re looking to accomplish in the next four years. If you’re someone who constantly seeks out new experiences and loves meeting new people, you may thrive at a big college. You’ll have the opportunity to meet people from many different cultural backgrounds and attend a huge variety of social events.
Since there are so many people, if you’re willing to explore, you're likely to find others who have the same interests as you. You’ll almost certainly find extracurricular and academic opportunities that align with your passions. If you’re interested in sports, large colleges are also more likely to have well-funded athletic programs and facilities.
If you want to gain experience as a research assistant or get your start in academia, a big college might also fit well with your goals. With top-notch research facilities and distinguished faculty, large universities have all the resources you need to find these types of opportunities. If you attend a large research university, you're more likely to be presented with opportunities to collaborate on projects with professors who are leaders in their fields. This could lead to being listed as a coauthor on groudbreaking research papers or presenting research at high-profile conferences.
Large universities must provide cutting edge research facilities so that their high-profile faculty can continue to make new discoveries and publish work. Undergraduates can often access these facilities and reap the benefits in their own research endeavors. In many cases, this leads to an advantage in admission to graduate school programs that value students who have already demonstrated a knack for research.
If you’re an independent person who is comfortable advocating for yourself, a big college environment will probably play to your strengths. There's less individual attention and direct guidance, but if you’re willing to seek out the resources for yourself, you may have many more opportunities at your disposal than you would find at a small college.
Florida State University: It looks pretty, but I can only imagine what kinds of many-legged horrors are hidden in the vegetation.
What Is a Small College?
Generally, a small college is defined as a school with less than 5,000 students. These schools are characterized by a close-knit student community and a greater focus on undergraduate teaching by professors. You’ll always run into people you know and will have access to more individual academic attention.
Examples of small colleges include:
Pros of Attending a Small College
- You can get to know most people and will run into familiar faces everywhere you go.
- At small colleges, the camaraderie amongst students is often very strong.
- You’re likely to get more individual attention from professors and have smaller class sizes.
- Professors, not Teaching Assistants, teach most classes - in general, there is more of a focus on undergraduate education.
- There are usually opportunities to create individually designed majors rather than being stuck with the programs that are officially offered by the school.
- Small colleges often have stronger advising systems for students.
- You may have more opportunities to gain leadership experience because there will be less competition than at big schools.
Cons of Attending a Small College
- There are often fewer research facilities and resources.
- You'll find less variety in social life and less emphasis on large sporting events.
- There are usually fewer major choices (although as I mentioned, you can often design your own major which is pretty cool).
- Small colleges can be very isolating, especially in rural locations.
- There will be less variety in housing choices.
Should YOU Choose a Small College?
If you like being part of a strong community and feeling comfortable and familiar with your surroundings, a small college may work for you. Going to a small college can make meeting new people a bit easier. If you become friends with just a few of your classmates, you’ll see them around frequently, and it’s more likely that you’ll find connections with others in the community. Going to a small college makes it easier to relate directly to other students since there is a less dramatic range of experiences on campus.
Did you enjoy small class discussions in high school?Did you have a close relationship with your teachers? These are both things that are more likely to be a part of the small college experience. You’ll have more interaction with your professors and get the opportunity to learn directly from them rather than being taught by TAs. Professors will get to know you on an individual basis and give thoughtful feedback on your work. You may also have more chances to collaborate with professors on research since you won't be competing with a large pools of graduate students.
Additionally, curriculum at small colleges tends to be more flexible. If there's a unique academic path that you want to take that doesn't quite fit with the school's requirements, your advisors will help you make it happen. If you have more of an introverted personality and are hoping to find sustained support in college from your professors and advisors, a small college may be the right choice.
Oberlin College: I can't think of any stereotypes about Ohio...Ohio's boring! HA
The Compromise: Medium-Sized Colleges
What about schools that have between 5,000 and 15,000 students? These are the Goldilocks schools - not too small, not too big. If you feel that certain aspects of both large and small colleges appeal to you, you might want to look at these medium-sized schools. This is tricky, though. You could end up getting the best of both worlds or missing out on the things you liked about one or both of the other types of schools.
For medium-sized colleges, it’s particularly important to look at the specifics of what the school offers in the form of research facilities, class sizes, and extracurricular opportunities. A medium-sized college may have more big college characteristics or more small college characteristics depending on its location and the composition of its student body. If the school is in a city, the social life might be more like a big college since there will be a lot going on around campus and you'll interact with more people outside the student population. On the other hand, in a rural area, you might get more of a small college sense of community and familiarity.
Examples of medium-sized colleges include:
Carnegie Mellon University
In the next section, I’ll show you how to search for colleges by size so you can check out schools that are large, medium, and small and get a clearer picture of how they line up with your preferences.
How to Search for Colleges By Size
This information is all well and good, but how do you actually find schools that have the enrollment size you’re looking for? I would recommend using College Navigator for your initial search. You can specify the size range you want if you click on “more search options”:
Notice that you can you can narrow your search down to schools that are the right size and also specify any other basic qualities that matter to you. The top of the search box allows you to search for colleges by state or zip code and by program type.
Once you get a list of schools, you can add any that sound promising to your “favorites” and even compare statistics side by side to see how they line up with your preferences.
College Navigator will give you data about tuition, financial aid, enrollment, and admissions for the schools you choose. Once you have a good idea of which ones you like, you might consult another site to get more information about how students view the school and any other qualities you’re curious about.
I would recommend Cappex, a college matchmaking site, for conducting the more in-depth part of your search since it offers both hard data and student reviews on all aspects of campus life. When you create a profile, you can specify your preferences for school enrollment size to get appropriate matches. You can also search for the schools you found on College Navigator and learn more information about them through their Cappex profiles. With these search options, you can start compiling a list of schools that you like by narrowing down your choices by size first and then figuring out if they have other features that interest you.
Big and small colleges differ in the characteristics of the social scene, the resources available, and the structure of classes. Big colleges are great places for motivated students to have diverse experiences and access high-quality research materials. Small colleges are great options for students who want to learn directly from professors and gain strong ties to the community. When searching for schools, you should take these characteristics into account and decide which type of college is a better fit for you personality and goals.
Here's a quick questionairre that includes some of the major points from above so that you can get a sense of whether a big or small school is right for you. If the majority of your answers are "yes", you should look into big colleges first. If the majority of your answers are "no", small colleges might be better. If the majority of your answers are "sometimes", you might look into medium-sized colleges, or size may not be as important of a factor in your college decision as it is for other people.
|I love meeting new people.|
|I enjoy being exposed to unfamiliar situations and perspectives and having a wide variety of social experiences in general.|
|I am a very independent learner.|
|Class size is not important to me.|
|I don't feel the need to have a close relationship with my professors.|
|I like attending big sporting events.|
|I'm looking for a school with extensive research facilities.|
|I have a major in mind already.|
Keep in mind that not all big colleges and small colleges have the same characteristics - these are generalizations, not hard facts. Make sure you do your research to find out exactly what each school offers and how it will make your college experience worthwhile.
Looking for some great resources that will help you in your college search? Read my article on the best college search websites.
The Common Application makes it easy to apply to a bunch of schools without filling out a bunch of different forms. Find out which schools use it here.
Aiming high in your college search? Read this article on what it takes to get into Ivy League and other highly selective schools.
Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now: