This is the fifth post in our series leading up to the 225th anniversary of the Constitution.
By presenting the first proposals, the Virginia delegation was able to set the stage for the Constitutional Convention’s agenda. Many aspects of the Virginia Plan favored the larger states. Using population, for example, as the basis for representation in the legislature would give Virginia far more votes than Delaware.
The small states did not care for that idea at all.
On June 19, William Paterson of New Jersey responded with 9 alternative proposals known as the New Jersey Plan. His proposals called for a less sweeping revision than Randolph’s Virginia Plan. By retaining many features under the Articles of Confederation, such as a unicameral legislature in which each state received a single, equal vote, the New Jersey Plan leveled the playing field for small states.
The New Jersey Plan also aimed to fix weaknesses in the existing government. For example, the plan called for federal authority to regulate both interstate and international commerce. It was precisely that lack of authority had inspired the Annapolis Convention of 1786 to recommend holding a Constitutional Convention in the first place.
The New Jersey Plan and the Virginia Plan represented alternate views of what American government was and what American government should be. At first, those views appeared to be irreconcilable. Only a summer of debate would prove they were not.