The Virginia Plan: Description & Facts

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  • 0:02 What is the Virginia Plan?
  • 1:17 Supporters of the Plan
  • 1:55 Structure of the Virginia Plan
  • 4:09 Voting & Results
  • 4:57 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.

The Virginia Plan helped shape the way the United States government works today. In this lesson, you'll learn about the structure of the Virginia Plan, its supporters, and the results of the 1787 Constitutional Convention.

What is the Virginia Plan?

The Constitutional Convention in 1787.
Constitutional Convention

The Virginia Plan was created by James Madison but presented to the Constitutional Convention by Edmund Randolph, the governor of Virginia, in 1787. This was a proposal for a new form of government and called for the number of votes each state received in Congress to be based on population rather than each state receiving one vote.

The purpose of the plan was to protect the large states' interests in the new government, which would be stronger federally than under the Articles of Confederation. The Articles of Confederation was the first form of government and had weak federal control; the states had all of the power. The Virginia Plan would change this by creating an entirely new form of government rather than amending the Articles of Confederation. The Virginia Plan was countered with the New Jersey Plan, which called for one vote per state regardless of population, since the smaller states were worried that they would not be equal if the representation of the legislative branch was based on population.

Supporters of the Plan

James Madison created the Virginia Plan.
James Madison

Supporters of the Virginia Plan included James Madison, George Washington, Edmund Randolph, and the states of Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. James Madison is known as the Father of the Constitution because he helped frame the Bill of Rights and much of the Constitution. Madison, along with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, wrote the Federalist Papers, which were persuasive documents asking for a strong federal government.

Structure of the Virginia Plan

The Virginia Plan had 15 resolutions and was based on some of the ideas of French political theorist Montesquieu. It proposed a separation of powers that would be divided among three branches: legislative, executive, and judicial. The plan also included provisions for allowing new states to enter the United States of America. Supporters of the Virginia Plan wanted to have separation of powers as well as checks and balances in order to eliminate the abuse of power and tyranny like they had experienced in Great Britain, as well as to create a strong national government.

As noted, under the Virginia Plan, the government would have three branches, and each would be able to check and balance the other branches. The legislative branch was more powerful, since it would pick the people who would compose the executive and judicial branches. The legislative branch would be bicameral (two houses), and both houses would be based on population. The House of Representatives would be elected for 3-year terms by the people, and the Senate would be elected for 7-year terms by state legislatures. The more populated the state, the more representatives it would have in Congress, which would make larger states more powerful. The legislative branch could monitor trade, declare laws unconstitutional, collect taxes, and oversee the armed forces to help enforce laws.

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