During the constitutional convention of 1787 multiple plans were proposed from different delegations. In Virginia and New Jersey, proposals described different needs of the people and opposing structures of government that they wanted the constitution to represent, only the Connecticut Compromise managed to unite them.
The Virginia Plan
The Virginia Plan was created by the Virginia delegation which included George Mason, the author of Virginia bill of rights; George Wythe, a professor of law and a judge of the highest court in the state; John Blair, also a professor of law who read lectures at the Middle Temple in London; Edmund Randolph, governor of the state; as well as James McClurg, a doctor who substituted for Patrick Henry (Collier and Collier 55). The main points of the Virginia Plan could be inspired by James Madison, a renowned political scientist and a politician (Collier and Collier 54). Edmund Randolph was chosen to present the plan to the Convention (Bilder ch. 4).
This plan called for the legislature of two houses based on proportional representation. One house would be elected by the people, which would later elect the upper house. This would give a lot of power to the legislature while making the “executive” only carry out the will of the policy. The legislature would have the power to appoint government officials and set foreign policy. A judiciary would be employed to settle disputes between the states. Additionally, the national government would have the ability to veto acts of states legislatures (Collier and Collier 55). The government under the Virginia Plan would take away much of the power the states had, and it would be much less dynamic than it is today. The role of the executive would be very weak with little authority (Collier and Collier 56). Virginia plan also did not mention taxation (Gray and Kamensky 398).
The New Jersey Plan
In response to the Virginia Plan’s reduction of state power, an opposing plan was proposed called the New Jersey Plan or the Small State Plan. This plan was presented by William Paterson, a statesman from New Jersey. The New Jersey plan called for the national legislature to possess “the powers vested in the U. States in Congress, by the present existing Articles of Confederation.” Additionally, the national government would be given the power to levy import duties, a stamp tax, the right to regulate commerce with foreign powers and between the members of the union (Gray and Kamensky 395). Under this plan, Congress would still be appointed by the states, with each state having a single vote in the national council. Congress would also elect a federal executive, which would consist of multiple people who could not be re-elected until recalled by Congress. Federal Judiciary would be represented by a Supreme Tribunal, appointed by the federal executive. Its role would be to settle federal impeachment cases and those dealing national matters (Gray and Kamensky 396).
The Connecticut Compromise
After both the Virginia Plan and the New Jersey plan were rejected by the Convention the progress has stalled (Tushnet et al. 27). A committee consisting of one delegate from each state created an initial report that would become the basis for the Connecticut Compromise also known as the Great Compromise. This compromise proposed a combination of both the Virginia Plan and the New Jersey Plan. Every state was given equal representation in one house of Congress and proportional representation in the other. Roger Sherman is considered one of the main proponents of this idea (Tushnet et al. 28). Benjamin Franklin later revised the proposal to add the requirement that revenue bills should originate in the house to appease the larger states (Tushnet et al. 30). This compromise was a crucial moment in the Constitutional Convention because neither of the plans would satisfy all of the states on the issue of house representation (Tushnet et al. 29).
Multiple plans were presented at the Constitutional Convention of 1787. The Virginia Plan and the New Jersey plan represented opposing structures of government and focused on different needs of the people, with only the Connecticut Compromise being able to unite them.
Bilder, Mary Sarah. Madison’s Hand: Revising the Constitutional Convention. Kindle ed., Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 2015.
Collier, James Lincoln and Christopher Collier. Decision in Philadelphia: The Constitutional Convention of 1787. Bath, UK, Audiogo, 2012.
Gray, Edward G and Jane Kamensky. The Oxford Handbook of The American Revolution. Oxford, UK, Oxford University Press, 2013.
Tushnet, Mark et al. The Oxford Handbook Of The U.S. Constitution. Oxford, UK, Oxford University Press, 2015.