Sunday, January 28, 2007

What can we learn about compromise and win-win negotiation from Senator Henry Clay?

Senator Henry Clay, "the Great Compromiser," brought about the Missouri Compromise of 1820.

Listen to a January 26, 2007 NPR interview with Roert Remini the historian for the US House of Representatives and biographer of Sen. Henry Clay, known as "the Great Compromiser." Clay used win-win negotiation tactics to establish the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which bridged the gap between the North and South over slavery, delaying the civil war for decades.

Clay's achievement resulted from his ability to make each side — in this case, the South and North — feel that it had won something in the bargain. A successful compromise is not simply a brokered quid pro quo – If you’ll do this, then I’ll do something else. Enduring compromise requires the parties to ask "What is your position?"

"If I have the majority and I jam it down your throat, that isn’t going to solve the problem. You’ll only come back when you are the majority and jam it down our throat. The answer he said is that each side must feel that they have gotten something that it wanted, but in order to do that you must give up something that the other side wants, so that there are no winners and no losers.

There were any number of Southerners who, when the Civil War ended, they said if Henry Clay had been alive in 1860 or 61, there would not have been a Civil War. "

When Remini wrote the biography of Henry Clay, he wanted to use the title, "Henry Clay, the Great Compromiser." Arthur Schlesinger advised against using the word compromiser, because of the implication today that compromisers have no principles. "You are ready to do whatever is necessary for pragmatic reasons. Compromise in the 19th Century meant something quite different. That you are willing to listen to the other side and try to work out your differences. " Compromising doesn’t mean that you no longer stand for anything. In order to achieve results, we have got to get together. The only way you can do that is through compromise.

Robert Remini, the historian for the US House of Representatives and author of the book, "Henry Clay, Statesman for the Union."


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