Carter: Lessons in Compromise and Negotiation

Henry Clay crafted the Great Compromise of 1850 and the lessons from the document can be applied by today's leaders.


How many of you are familiar with the name of Henry Clay?  He was a Whig Party Senator from Kentucky and is possibly best remembered as the one who crafted the Great Compromise of 1850.  In that agreement a number of states agreed to positions over which they had been battling for quite some time.  My review of this agreement indicates that it had all of the hallmarks of a good compromise.

  • Everyone got a little something they wanted
  • Everyone gave up a little something they wanted
  • The compromise was greeted with relief, although each side disliked specific provisions.

My friends, to this very day Henry Clay is remembered as the "Great Compromiser."  I think that it might be possible that the current destructive state of affairs in our nation's capitol has led to him rolling over in his grave.  His legacy has been left in the dirt by our current group of egregious government goofs.

These were the sorts of thoughts which came into my mind's eye the other night as I was sitting in front of my large-screen television.  My feelings of anger and frustration towards the folks who are currently running our government (into the ground) in Washington were making my blood start to boil.  However, after I went out to my front porch to enjoy a 'stress-relief' cigar my mind began to think about ways in which we could begin moving in a positive direction.

Rather than wondering why these boobs cannot sit down at a table and work out a deal, I decided to do some research on just exactly what a compromise is and how it might be possible to reach one.  I wanted to create knowledge rather than simply throw rocks.  My friends, I believe that a great part of the problem lies with the inability of many in our government who feel that it is beneath their dignity to enter a small room with the other side and work to come to a middle ground.  I am afraid that there are to many of the 'my way or the highway' kinds of moron running amuck in our nation's capitol. 

Let me state right up front that compromise is not surrender.  There are those who will tell you that it is, but they are wrong.  It is something far better and far more useful.  A compromise is actually a deal between different parties (people) in which each side gives up part of their demands.  In arguments, compromise is a concept of finding agreement through communications.  It also involves the mutual acceptance of terms.  Often they involve both parties moving away from an original goal or desire.

Sadly what you and I are witnessing in our nation's government is not compromise or negotiation but rather it is a form of extremism, bordering on extortion, which is the exact opposite of compromise.  Part of the problem is that many people are unwilling to work on issues of balance and tolerance.  Sadly there are those who really do see compromise as an act of surrender. Some people think that by working out a deal with the other side that they are somehow giving up on their objectives, principles, and position in the process of negotiating an agreement.   

Let me suggest that the best agreements are made by people who use their personal principles and their moral compasses as their navigational tools during the negotiating process.  I have been in a great many situations where I had to deal with people who held views which were diametrically opposed to mine.  However, all of us were able to keep our eyes on what we were really doing.  We each gave a little and we got a little.  Those who seek to totally prevail and in turn totally embarrass and destroy the other side will never do as well as those who know how to give a little to get a little.  See also Washington, DC for an example of how well their attempt at extortion worked. 

There are also those who see compromise as an agreement that no party is happy with. I guess this is because the people involved frequently feel they either gave away too much or that they received too little.  This is the type of thinking which all but eliminates the ability for people to come together in any meaningful way.  Think about it.  Has there ever been a time in your life when you have gotten everything you wanted?  If you are like me the answer has to be no.

This content continues onto the next page...