“A government held together by bands of reason only, requires much compromise of opinion, that things even salutary not be crammed down the throats of dissenting brethren, especially when they may be put into form to be willingly swallowed, and that a great deal of indulgence is necessary...”

- Thomas Jefferson, 1824

Timeline: Compromise in American Politics

A Closer Look

The Idea

“I see too many proofs of the imperfection of human reason to entertain wonder or intolerance at any difference of opinion on any subject; and acquiesce in that difference as easily as on a difference of feature or form: experience having taught me the reasonableness of mutual sacrifices of opinion among those who are to act together, for any common object, and the expediency of doing what good we can, when we cannot do all we would wish.”
- Thomas Jefferson, 1803

Thomas Jefferson recognized the need for compromise, both as a means to build consensus for a more perfect union and as a means to defer to the future resolving issues that could break the country apart. 


Making the Idea a Reality


“A Fire Bell in the Night”

Sometimes a compromise solves the problem at hand but it becomes something future generations must tackle. The Missouri Compromise divided the United States at parallel 36°30′ north, forbidding slavery to the north but allowing slavery to the south. Jefferson predicted the Missouri Compromise was like "a fire bell in the night" that would eventually lead to civil war.


The compromises necessary in self-government frequently benefit the nation but often come with costs borne by those prevented from fully exercising their rights. Click on the collage below to view a timeline of compromises in American political history.

Compromise in American Political History Timeline

Moving Forward

“…we cannot always do what is absolutely best. Those with whom we act, entertaining different views, have the power and the right of carrying them into practice. Truth advances and error recedes step by step only; and to do our fellow-men the most good in our power, we must lead where we can, follow where we cannot, and still go with them watching always the favorable moment for helping them to another step.” - Thomas Jefferson, 1814

A Civic Engagement Initiative sponsored by and in collaboration with The New York Community Trust – The Peter G. Peterson FundPeterson Foundation Logo