Posted by: newperspectives85 | January 6, 2012

Virginia Plan, New Jersey Plan, and the Connecticut Plan

American Government Summer 2011
Compare and contrast the Virginia Plan, the New Jersey Plan, and the Connecticut Plan—contrast their fundamental ideas and explain the influence each had on the design of the modern American legislature.

In 1787, delegates met to reflect on the failings of government and to scrap the Articles of Confederation to focus on starting over. Three plans would be developed: the Virginia Plan, which favored the large states, the New Jersey Plan for the small states, and the Great Compromise, which would benefit both the large and small states. Each plan would also influence the modern American legislature. To start off, one can look at Madison’s original idea, the Virginia Plan.
The Virginia Plan was James Madison’s idea for a more active government. It acted as a response to the ineffective Articles of Confederation. The Articles of Confederation gave a lot of power to the states rather than the national government. An example of this power can be seen in how the election process worked. According to Kernell, Jacobson, and Kousser (2008), “not only did the states select officials of the national government, but they also retain the authority to override that government’s decision” (p.55). Even if government chose officials, the state could easily influence the decision because the states had most of the power. The problem with the Articles of Confederation was that states had trouble in several areas, and Congress was dependent on the states. The states would not allow Congress to intervene, despite the problems the states were having. This was due to fear of a national government coming to rule over them, and they did not want to feel ruled after coming out of British rule. The states, however, had trouble with issues such as fiscal policy and foreign policy. They were not doing well without a strong national government. With all the problems the states had, Madison wanted a stronger government, hence the Virginia Plan.
The Virginia Plan favored large states with a large population and consisted of a two house system. According to Kernell, Jacobson, and Kousser (2008), “the Virginia Plan was a bicameral national legislature” (p.63) Kernell, Jacobson, and Kousser (2008) also stated that “representation in the Virginia Plan would be based on state population” (p.65). What this meant was that large states would be in charge. The lower chamber would have representatives from the large states, and they would be in charge of selecting officers for the upper chamber. Kernell, Jacobson, and Kousser (2008) states that “members of the lower chamber would be apportioned among the states by population and directly elected by the citizenry, and in turn, the lower chamber would elect the members of the upper chamber from lists of nominees supplied by the state legislature” (p.63). With the lower chamber being in charge of selecting officers of the upper chamber, national government had more power than the Articles of Confederation. In addition to the officers of the lower chamber, it would also create two more branches of government. Kernell, Jacobson, and Kousser (2008) states that “the lower chamber would also elect officers of the proposed executive and judicial branches” (p.63). The executive and judicial branches known today would originate from the Virginia Plan. In addition to the election of officers, the Virginia Plan also gave the states power to enforce or make laws. Kernell, Jacobson, and Kousser (2008) state that “to solve the nation’s collective action problems, the Virginia Plan also gave the national government enforcement authority as it could make whatever laws they deemed necessary” (p.64). The national government had power over small states, but the small states did not like this one bit because they felt they were not involved in the political process, and thought the national government was in charge of everything. They were afraid that they would not have a say in government or tyranny. With these concerns, they rallied around the New Jersey Plan.
The New Jersey Plan differed from the Virginia Plan in several ways. First, it would favor the states’ desire for equal representation as they had with the Articles of Confederation. According to Kernell, Jacobson, and Kousser (2008), “delegates representing the less populous states were understandably upset, since they could easily calculate that they and their citizens would have far less representation and the one state veto rule” (p.64). Those who rallied around the New Jersey Plan were concerned over smaller states not having as much power, and wanted equal representation. There were others in addition to the delegates who wanted things the way they were before the Constitution: a voice in government. Kernell, Jacobson, and Kousser (2008) state that “another bloc wanted stronger safeguards of state sovereignty, and continued state participation in the selection of national officeholders was as important an issue as how legislative seats were to be apportioned” (p.64). They wanted to play a role in who was selected for office as during the Article of Confederation days. They wanted to be in charge too. They did not want to live under fear of misuse of power by a powerful government or that everything the small states wanted done would be rejected. This plan would satisfy the rights of the small states. Kernell, Jacobson, and Kousser (2008) states that “the New Jersey Plan did satisfy the requirements of its states’ rights supporters by perpetuating the composition and selection of Congress as it functioned under the Articles of Confederation and continuing to give each state one vote” (p.64). Under the New Jersey Plan, the states would have power to decide who can be chosen for office. With the equal representation, power would remain with the smaller states so that everyone would have a say rather than leaving major decisions to the large states. Kernell, Jacobson, and Kousser (2008) state that “the New Jersey Plan allowed a simple majority vote to enact national policy rather than the supermajority required in the Articles” (p.64). However, there were a few things that the New Jersey Plan did not have which was important to those for the Virginia Plan. For instance, the plan was not well thought out. It was an immediate emotional response to the Virginia Plan, and left out a couple of things. Kernell, Jacobson, and Kousser (2008) state that “this late, hastily drafted response to the Virginia Plan was not as thoroughly thought through as Madison’s proposal as it failed to propose the organization of the executive and judiciary” (p.64). In addition, it did not satisfy those who were for national government. Kernell, Jacobson, and Kousser (2008) argue that “its retention of a seriously malapportioned Congress representing the states rather than the citizenry, did not close to satisfying the demands of the nationalists” (p.64). This meant that the New Jersey Plan would continue the problems from the Articles of Confederation, in which the states ruled, and would not do a good job. That is why the nationalists were not satisfied because they wanted a stronger government, who would do a better job than the states done before. As a result, there was so much debate between the large and small states that a committee had to step in to determine who should be in Congress.
The plan that the committee came up with would not only help both the small and large states, but would also influence the modern American legislature. This was the Great Compromise or the Connecticut Plan. This was a win-win situation for both the Virginia and New Jersey Plans. According to Kernell, Jacobson, and Kousser (2008), “the upper chamber, or Senate, would retain many of the features of Congress under the Articles of Confederation: each state legislature would send two senators to serve six year terms” (p.65). The upper chamber would consist of those from the smaller states, which favored the New Jersey Plan. It is now called the Senate. Each state legislature voted and sent two senators to serve six year terms. The small states would be involved in the political process as they were before. The large states, which were for the Virginia Plan, would keep their enforcement authority as well. The lower chamber is now called the House of Representatives. Kernell, Jacobson, and Kousser (2008) state that “Madison’s population-based, elective legislature became the House of Representatives, and the committee reserved to the House the authority to originate revenue legislation” (p.65). This meant that the lower chamber still made decisions instead of the states. There was also another thing to the Great Compromise: how did Congress voted. According to Kernell, Jacobson, and Kousser (2008), “the unanimous agreement rule that hobbled the confederation Congress was gone, replaced by a rule wholly ignoring states as voting entities and instead empowered a majority of each chamber’s membership to pass legislation” (p.65). States could not vote, but each chamber had a majority vote like in the Articles of Confederation.
The Constitutional convention of 1787 was about moving forward as a nation. Madison wanted an active government and proposed that large states send people to run government, however, the smaller states also wanted a hand in how the nation evolves. In the midst of division regarding who should rule, the Great Compromise brought both small states, who sent senators to the upper chamber, and large states, in the House of Representatives together to run government.

Kernell, Samuel, Gary C. Jacobson, and Thad Kousser. (2008). The Logic of American Politics. Fourth Edition. Washington, D.C: CQ Press.

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