Table of Contents
- What Was the New Jersey Plan?
- What Was the Virginia Plan?
- Virginia Plan vs. New Jersey Plan
- The Great Compromise of 1787
- Lesson Summary
When the Constitutional Convention met in 1787, it was intended to amend the Articles of Confederation. The delegates, however, quickly decided that the fledgling country needed an entirely new system of government, one that would give the power to the states and avoid the possibility of an American tyrant similar to the one they had just escaped. One of the major debates of the Convention was whether states should have an equal number of votes in Congress, or have different numbers of votes based on population size.
So what was the New Jersey Plan? A brief New Jersey Plan summary is that the United States would have a unicameral (one-house) Congress, with each state having a single vote. It was developed in opposition to the Virginia Plan, which would have created a bicameral (two-house) Congress where both houses distributed votes to states based on their population. The Virginia Plan centered the power of the government on the larger states, while the New Jersey plan allowed the smaller states to have equal footing with their larger counterparts.
William Paterson was an Irish-born jurist who served as one of the New Jersey delegates to the Constitutional Convention. Since he was representing a very small state, he was concerned that the Virginia Plan would allow the larger states to have all the power in the new government. He wrote a plan that attempted to correct this issue.
Who presented the New Jersey Plan? On June 15th, 1787, Paterson and a group of delegates from the small states presented the New Jersey Plan to the Convention as an alternative to the Virginia Plan.
The New Jersey Plan was much more conservative than the Virginia Plan. It had nine resolutions, including:
What was the purpose of the New Jersey Plan? Paterson's plan was intended to give the smaller states an equal amount of power as the larger states.
The supporters of the New Jersey Plan included delegates from several of the smallest states in the Union. They feared that if the Virginia Plan were adopted, their states would have little to no power over what legislation would be passed in the new country.
What states supported the New Jersey Plan? The specific states that supported the plan were New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Connecticut (initially), and one delegate from Maryland, Luther Martin.
James Madison wrote the Virginia Plan before the Constitutional Convention began, and it served as the basis for most of the arguments of the Convention. Madison and his supporters felt that a unicameral legislature with one vote per state was fair, but not equitable, because the population would not be equally represented. The Virginia Plan called for a bicameral legislature where representatives would be distributed among the states based on population in both houses of Congress.
Madison, along with Virginia's governor, Edmund Randolph, submitted the Virginia Plan to the Constitutional Convention on May 29th, 1787. They wanted a plan for government that would account for the varying populations of each state, and give more power to the states with more people. They argued that this was the only way to ensure equal representation for all citizens.
The Virginia Plan was supported by the larger states that feared their populations would not be equally represented under a plan where each state received an equal number of votes in Congress. Supporting delegates argued that since their populations provided more of the financial resource and defensive capabilities of the nation, they should therefore be entitled to more representation in the legislature.
The conflict between supporters of the two plans was centered around equal representation and proportional representation. The smaller states feared being rendered irrelevant by the larger states, and the larger states feared having laws created to the detriment of their much larger populations if the smaller states had equal voting power. The debate of the Virginia Plan vs New Jersey Plan included the following features.
|New Jersey Plan||Virginia Plan|
|Unicameral (one-house) Congress||Bicameral (two-house) Congress|
|Equal representation||Proportional representation|
|Executive elected by Congress||Executive elected by the people|
|Amend the Articles of Confederation||Replace the Articles of Confederation|
When brought to a vote, the Virginia Plan passed, albeit with opposition from the smaller states, while the New Jersey Plan was rejected. Even after its rejection, however, the debate about representation continued.
By the middle of July in 1787, the conflict around representation had escalated until the entire process of the creation of a government was endangered. It was then that members of the Connecticut delegation proposed a compromise: the two houses of the Virginia Plan would be instituted, but one would have equal representation and the other proportional representation. The Articles of Confederation would be replaced, as proposed by the Virginia Plan, but elements of the New Jersey Plan would be implemented to protect the representation of the smaller states. This plan came to be known as the Great Compromise or the Connecticut Plan.
The delegates from Connecticut had initially been part of the group who presented and supported the New Jersey Plan in opposition to the Virginia Plan. However, as the Convention became deadlocked over the representation issue, Roger Sherman and Oliver Ellsworth, two of the Connecticut delegates, worked together to come up with a compromise that would end the deadlock and allow the Convention to move forward. Their suggestion of a bicameral legislature including both equal and proportional representation was well received. Even William Paterson, who proposed the New Jersey Plan, supported the compromise, and his support brought the support of the other small states as well.
The Great Compromise included provisions from both the Virginia Plan and the New Jersey Plan. It agreed to the Virginia Plan's proposal to completely replace the Articles of Confederation with a strong centralized government, and allowed for proportional representation in the lower house of Congress, where all financial bills originate. However, the Great Compromise also included equal representation in the upper house of Congress, the Senate, where each state would have two senators regardless of population. This satisfied the smaller states' concerns that they would not have a voice in the new government. Thus, the New Jersey Plan significance is that its provisions led to the construction of the United States' current system of government.
During the Constitutional Convention, delegates debated about how states should be represented in the United States' new Congress.
The issue was eventually resolved by the introduction of the Great Compromise, which used the Virginia Plan as the basis of the new Constitution, but also added key provisions from the New Jersey Plan. The compromise:
Several key figures were involved in the process of writing and presenting each of these plans.
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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.
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.
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