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The New Jersey Plan: Explanation & Supporters

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  • 0:02 The New Jersey Plan
  • 1:36 Key Points
  • 2:10 Structure of Government
  • 2:53 Voting & Result
  • 3:27 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor
Kelley Munson

Kelley has taught high school social studies as well as Advanced Placement and has a master's degree in international relations.

Expert Contributor
Jeffrey Perry

Jeffrey Perry earned his Ph.D. in History from Purdue University and has taught History courses at private and state institutions of higher education since 2012.

The New Jersey Plan was one option as to how the United States would be governed. The plan called for each state to have one vote in Congress instead of the number of votes being based on population. This was to protect the equality of the states, regardless of population size.

What is the New Jersey Plan?

The New Jersey Plan was one option as to how the United States would be governed. The Plan called for each state to have one vote in Congress instead of the number of votes being based on population. This was to protect the equality of the states regardless of population size.

The New Jersey Plan was introduced to the Constitutional Convention by William Paterson, a New Jersey delegate, on June 15, 1787. The Constitutional Convention was convened to amend the Articles of Confederation, but it became apparent that a new government would need to be created. The Articles of Confederation was the first form of government, but was considered ineffective because Americans did not want to have another tyrant like Great Britain. The states wanted the power. One of the major debates that emerged during the Convention is how many votes each state would have in Congress.

The New Jersey Plan was meant to be the alternative to the Virginia Plan in regards to how the federal government would be structured. Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware and a delegate from Maryland (named Luther Martin) created the New Jersey Plan. The New Jersey Plan was meant to protect the interests of the smaller states from being trampled by the larger states. The plan called for one vote per state in Congress rather than having votes based on representation, since that would benefit the larger states. The Virginia Plan called for two houses based on representation and that would have nullified the power of the smaller states.

Key Points of the New Jersey Plan

One criticism of the Virginia Plan was that it called for the creation of a new government instead of just amending the Articles of Confederation. The New Jersey Plan would amend some of the ideas of the Articles of Confederation. The New Jersey Plan had 11 resolutions, and some of the key ideas included:

  • Restoring the unicameral structure from the Articles of Confederation
  • Each state was equal regardless of the size of its population
  • Power to tax and regulate interstate commerce
  • Gave Congress the power to tax

Structure of Government

Under the New Jersey Plan, the composition of the government would be three branches: legislative, executive and judicial. The legislative power (Congress) would come from the states that would each have one vote regardless of population and would be unicameral (one Congress). The Virginia Plan called for bicameral (two Congresses). Congress would have the power to create an executive council that would be limited to a single 4-year term. The executive branch would be more than one person and could be removed by a majority. The judiciary would have no power over the states and would be appointed by the executive branch and would serve for life.

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Additional Activities

Writing & Discussion Prompts

Writing Prompt:

Imagine you are a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in 1787, and you support the New Jersey Plan. Write a letter to your friend and fellow-delegate, James Madison, who proposed the Virginia Plan. In two paragraphs, outline why you believe the New Jersey Plan to be a better form of government than Madison's proposal. Remember to consider the goal of the Convention in the first place (to amend the Articles of Confederation), as well as issues of state power and equality in the new form of government.

Discussion Prompt:

The New Jersey Plan advocated a unicameral (or one house) legislature with all states having an equal number of votes. The Virginia Plan proposed a bicameral (or two house) legislature in which states' votes depended on their population. Divide your class in two and debate the pros and cons of each plan. As the debate concludes, work with your opponents on a compromise that may satisfy both parties. Alternately, pick one side and argue your position.

Additional Questions to Consider:

  1. Why did supporters of the New Jersey Plan oppose the Virginia Plan? (hint: think big vs. small states)
  2. Why did Paterson's proposal for the government become known as the "New Jersey Plan?" (hint: Where was Paterson from?)
  3. Why do you think that Virginians desired representation in the new government to be based on population? (hint: Virginia had the largest population in the Union)
  4. Why did delegates form the Constitutional Convention? What was their primary goal as they met in May 1787? (hint: What was wrong with the Articles of Confederation?)

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