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Historical Context


1787 Constitutional Convention 

The Founding Fathers were debating the legislative structure of the government at the Constitutional Convention in

1787.  Because the Founding Fathers adopted the Connecticut Compromise, which sanctioned two U.S. Senators per

State regardless of size or population, there now exists a power vacuum in the Senate. This misalignment of power

has produced a dysfunctional governing body that has to govern in a predominantly urban society.

Various Constitutional Legislative Proposal Plans Reviewed:   

Several plans were introduced, with the most important plan being that of James Madison (the Virginia Plan). The Convention's work was mostly a matter of modifying this plan. Charles Pinckney also introduced a plan, although this wasn't considered and its exact character has been lost to history. After the Convention was well under way, the New Jersey Plan was introduced though never seriously considered. It was mainly a protest to what some delegates thought was the excessively radical change from the Articles of Confederation. Alexander Hamilton also offered a plan after the Convention was well under way, though it included an executive serving for life and therefore the delegates felt it too closely resembled a monarchy. Historians are unsure how serious he was about this, and some have speculated that he may have done it to make Madison's plan look moderate by comparison.

The Connecticut Compromise wasn't a plan but one of several compromises offered by the Connecticut delegation. It was key to the ultimate ratification of the constitution, although was only included after being modified by Benjamin Franklin in order to make it more appealing to larger states.

The Virginia Plan:

Prior to the start of the Convention, the Virginian delegates met and, drawing largely from Madison's suggestions, came up with what came to be known as the Virginia Plan, also known as the Large State Plan. For this reason, James Madison is sometimes called the Father of the Constitution.

Presented by Virginia governor Edmund Randolph on May 29, 1787, the Virginia Plan proposed a very powerful bicameral legislature. Both houses of the legislature would be determined proportionately. The lower house would be elected by the people, and the upper house would be elected by the lower house.

The executive would exist solely to ensure that the will of the legislature was carried out and would therefore be selected by the legislature The Virginia Plan also created a judiciary, and gave both the executive and some of the judiciary the power to veto, subject to override.

The New Jersey Plan:

After the Virginia Plan was introduced, New Jersey delegate William Paterson asked for an adjournment to contemplate the Plan. Under the Articles of Confederation, each state had equal representation in Congress, exercising one vote each. The Virginia Plan threatened to limit the smaller states' power by making both houses of the legislature proportionate to population. On June 14 and 15, 1787, a small-state caucus met to create a response to the Virginia Plan. The result was the New Jersey Plan, otherwise known as the Small State Plan.

Paterson's New Jersey Plan was ultimately a rebuttal to the Virginia Plan, and was much closer to the initial call for the Convention: drafting amendments to the Articles of Confederation to fix the problems in it. Under the New Jersey Plan, the existing Continental Congress would remain, but it would be granted new powers, such as the power to levy taxes and force their collection. An executive branch was created, to be elected by Congress (the plan allowed for a multi-person executive). The executives would serve a single term and were subject to recall on the request of state governors. The plan also created a judiciary that would serve for life, to be appointed by the executives. Lastly, any laws set by Congress would take precedence over state laws. When Paterson reported the plan to the Convention on June 15, 1787, it was ultimately rejected, but it gave the smaller states a rallying point for their interests.

The Hamilton Plan:

Unsatisfied with the New Jersey Plan and the Virginia Plan, Alexander Hamilton proposed his own plan. It also was known as the British Plan, because of its resemblance to the British system of strong centralized government. In his plan, Hamilton advocated virtually doing away with state sovereignty and consolidating the states into a single nation. The plan featured a bicameral legislature, the lower house elected by the people for three years. The upper house would be elected by electors chosen by the people and would serve for life. The plan also gave the Governor, an executive elected by electors for a life-term of service, an absolute veto over bills. State governors would be appointed by the national legislature, and the national legislature had veto power over any state legislation.

Hamilton presented his plan to the Convention on June 18, 1787. The plan was perceived as a well-thought-out plan, but it was not considered, because it resembled the British system too closely. It also contemplated the loss of most state authority, which the states were unwilling to allow.

The Pinckney Plan

Immediately after Randolph finished laying out the Virginia Plan, Charles Pinckney of South Carolina presented his own plan to the Convention. As Pinckney did not write it down, the only evidence of the plan are Madison's notes, so the details are somewhat vague. It was a confederation, or treaty, among the thirteen states. There was to be a bicameral legislature made up of a Senate and a House of Delegates. The House would have one member for every one thousand inhabitants. The House would elect Senators who would serve by rotation for four years and represent one of four regions. Congress would meet in a joint session to elect a President, and would also appoint members of the cabinet. Congress, in joint session, would serve as the court of appeal of last resort in disputes between states. Pinckney did also provide for a supreme Federal Judicial Court. The Pinckney plan was not debated, but it may have been referred to by the Committee of Detail.

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