New Jersey Plan Supporters & Significance | What was the New Jersey Plan?

Kai Baldwin, Kelley Munson, Jeffrey Perry
  • Author
    Kai Baldwin

    Kai has a master's degree in media studies from The New School, and a bachelor's degree in religion and philosophy from Lebanon Valley College. They have taught college religion courses for over two years.

  • 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.

Learn about the New Jersey Plan, including the supporters and purpose of the New Jersey Plan. Additionally, compare the Virginia Plan versus the New Jersey Plan. Updated: 04/09/2021

Table of Contents


What Was the New Jersey Plan?

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.

Who Proposed the New Jersey Plan?

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.

Paterson wanted to ensure equal power for the smaller states of the Union.
William Paterson wrote and proposed the New Jersey Plan.

What Provisions Were in the New Jersey Plan?

The New Jersey Plan was much more conservative than the Virginia Plan. It had nine resolutions, including:

  1. Revise the Articles by preserving a unicameral structure and give each state one vote
  2. Give Congress the power to tax and regulate commerce, both internationally and between states
  3. Allow Congress the power to tax the states based on their populations
  4. Give Congress the power to elect and remove executive officials
  5. Create a national judiciary
  6. State that any legislation passed by Congress would be the law of the land
  7. Allow for the addition of new states in the future
  8. Create a standard for citizenship
  9. Treat all citizens, regardless of state, equally under the law

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.

Who Were the Supporters of the New Jersey Plan?

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.

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What Was the Virginia Plan?

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.

Who Proposed the Virginia Plan?

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.

Who Were the Supporters of the Virginia Plan?

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.

Virginia Plan vs. New Jersey Plan

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.

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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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