The two-chamber structure of the United States Government has been the system of choice for centuries. However, there was a time where state delegates debated the idea of an alternative form of representation. The nation faced a choice between the Virginia Plan and New Jersey Plan.
What was the New Jersey Plan and how does it influence politics today?
The New Jersey Plan was a proposal put forward at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 to amend the structure of the government. It came about as a counter to the Virginia Plan, which concerned smaller states due to its bias. Although the New Jersey Plan proved to be unsuccessful in full, the Connecticut Compromise allowed for elements to become implemented.
To better understand the intentions and origins of the New Jersey Plan and why it was unsuccessful, we need to know more about the Constitutional Convention and the original Virginia Plan.
The Constitutional Convention Of 1787.
The Constitutional Convention was a crucial moment in the history of the United States. The event, which lasted from May to September of 1787, saw delegates from across the nation meet to discuss political issues.
Fifty-five men came together in Philadelphia over the summer.
Interestingly, Rhode Island didn’t send anyone to represent it.
The main focus of the convention was to figure out the best way of creating a functional government. Ideally, this meant one that could serve the interests of all Americans equally. Much of the debate centered on the way that Congress represented citizens and the powers of the president.
Other notable topics brought up during the event was the role of the Electoral College in electing the president, a bill of rights, and the slave trade.
Problems developed as delegates from smaller states saw the risks of larger states having too much control. This started straight away with the proposal of the Virginia Plan.
Arguments Over The Articles Of Confederation.
A lot of the debate at the convention hinged on the efficiency of the Articles of Confederation. The document was the first constitution and was created out of necessity following independence. It lacked support from the start and wasn’t ratified until 1781. The problematic document didn’t cover key factors on governance, such as tax, that were necessary for an independent nation.
As things stood, there was a single house of Congress. This is something that those in favor of the New Jersey Plan wanted to uphold. They preferred the idea of one house with one representative but wanted to see some amendments to the Articles of Confederation. The aim here was to better reflect the current needs of the nation. The Virginia Plan wanted a more complete overhaul with a switch to the bicameral system with the two houses.
The Virginia Plan.
The delegates of Virginia came to the convention in 1787 with a game plan. They knew precisely how they wanted the constitution changed and came with a strong proposal. This meant transforming the structure of the United States Government and seeing an end to the Articles of Confederation as they knew them.
Edmund Randolph and the influential James Madison led the proposal, and it didn’t take long for them to put forward their case. The convention began on May 25th, with the plan presented on the 29th.
The idea was to create a new form of government with a bicameral approach. This would see the United States government split between two houses with different representatives. Furthermore, the way states were represented would also change. Instead of one representative per state, there would now be a proportionate number depending on the state population.
The Small State Plan Aimed To Protect The Representation Of Smaller States.
The Small State Plan was proposed as the alternative idea to full proportionate representation across both houses. The main aim was to protect the interests of smaller states that may otherwise have had their voices drowned out by much larger ones. This came from the fear that growing states like Virginia and southern states with large slave populations would continue to increase their representation and overwhelm other states. They wanted a fairer system
The plan was that the government would have one legislative house, instead of the two in the Virginia Plan, and each state would have one representative. It was a much more simplistic approach where every state would have an equal say regardless of population. In other words, Virginia would be no more important in government than New Jersey.
Why Is It Called The New Jersey Plan?
New Jersey was one of a series of smaller states whose representatives backed this plan. Together, the group consisted of New Jersey, Connecticut, New York, Delaware, and Maryland. That may not sound like a lot today when there are 50 states, but it was just under half of the delegation attending the convention. You have to imagine that if Rhode Island had sent someone too, they would have added their name to the list.
The name of the New Jersey Plan came from New Jersey delegate William Paterson. He was the one that took control of presenting the final plan to the rest of the convention. There were two weeks of debate after the Virginia Plan announcement, after which Paterson presented the case for the smaller states.
Why Was The Virginia Plan So Damaging For Those Smaller States?
It is easier to see why these five states were so concerned by the Virginia Plan when you look at population data from the era. The 1790 census shows that Virginia had a population of 747,610, which was the highest in the country, with Pennsylvania next at 434,373, and North Carolina third with 393,751.
What makes this data even more interesting for Virginia is 292,627 of those counted were slaves. Slave-owning states with large populations of owned slaves could see their population rise significantly over non-slave-owning states. By comparison, Delaware, which backed the New Jersey plan, had a population of 59,094 with 8887 slaves.
This data shows how easily larger states could have overshadowed the smaller ones under the proposals in the Virginia Plan. New Jersey, which led the opposing plan, would not have been the worst off. They had a population of 184,139 in 1790. Rhode Island, which wasn’t represented at the convention, had only a population of 68,895.
Other Clauses Mentioned In The New Jersey Plan.
It is worth noting that the New Jersey Plan was about more than just upholding the structure of government and protecting the rights of smaller states. The notion of the equal vote was the driving force, but there were nine resolutions in total.
There were more clauses relating to the Articles. The first was that although the structure of government should remain, the Articles should be revised. This was to ensure they were “adequate to the exigencies of Government and the preservation of the Union.” There was also the desire that all acts of Congress would be seen as the supreme law of the land and upheld by state judges.
The subject of law and order was common, including the idea to create a Federal Judiciary to oversee important matters like impeachments of Federal officers. There was also the notion that all citizens of each state would have the same rights in state courts. This, and the uniform rule of naturalization, enhanced the idea of equality across the states.
Finally, there were some forward-thinking ideas about the development of the nation. There was the plan that Congress would be allowed to elect officials to appoint military officers. Also, there was a clause that provisions should be in place for admitting new states to the union.
The New Jersey Plan And Taxation.
The issue of taxation was a big talking point during the convention because it was something the original articles failed to address. So, naturally, the delegates came up with various proposals to improve taxation in the country. One of the most important of these was simply that Congress should have the authority to collect taxes in various ways.
The New Jersey plan proposed to improve the powers on Congress by letting them collect taxes through stamp tax, import taxes, and postage. Furthermore, those that did not pay their share would face prosecution in state courts.
Another interesting part of the proposal relates to the 3/5th compromise. This compromise determined the way that slaves were counted as part of a population. States that counted slaves in full could have been awarded more money than others deemed worthy. Instead of counting slaves in full or not at all, the compromise was 3/5th. The proposal was that this would apply to requests by Congress for money totaling more than that raised by federal taxes.
The New Jersey Plan Was Rejected In Part.
While there were many important points about the Articles of the Confederation and the rights of smaller states, the New Jersey Plan was rejected. The convention voted to see which plan would pass, and Paterson lost by a vote of 7-3.
However, this lack of a unanimous vote and the strong will of those smaller states meant that the matter wasn’t over. Those that fought for the bill weren’t going to bow out silently when the voice of their state was under threat. Thankfully for those on the side of the New Jersey Plan, there was room for a compromise.
The Connecticut Compromise.
Ultimately, it was the Virginia Plan that ended up becoming the basis for the structure of the US Government. This approach of a bicameral legislature was seen as the best approach and continues today with both the House of Representatives and the Senate. However, there was room for a compromise where elements of the New Jersey Plan influenced procedure.
There are different rules in place in both houses. The House of Representatives has power determined by population, as was the notion in the Virginia Plan. But, the Senate has equal votes per state. This means that California with its 39.37 million residents has the same number of senators as Wyoming with its 0.58 million residents.
Over in the House of Representatives, there is a far greater shift in the proportion of elected officials. Wyoming has one, as do many states with low populations, and 36 states in total are in single figures. But, Florida and New York have 27, Texas has 36, and California has 53. There is a cap on the total number of representatives at 435. This restriction led to a change in numbers for some states following the ratification of Alaska and Hawaii.
Why Was The Connecticut Compromise So Important?
There will always be debate over which is the fairest system between equal votes per state and proportional representation. On the one hand, there are far more citizens with opinions and voices across the vast landscape of California than in Wyoming. So, it makes sense to have more officials representing them. But, the number can look massive compared to the single representative from other states.
Equal representation in the Senate is one way to ensure that the views of one state don’t take over during discourse on national issues. But, should there be the same number of senators for the densely populated diverse state of New York as Alaska? Some would say yes and others no.
That is why it is so important that the nation has this form of compromise in place. The benefits of both the New Jersey Plan and Virginia Plan are implemented where applicable without damaging state representation more generally.
The Importance Of The New Jersey Plan On The Government.
We can’t simply look at the New Jersey Plan as an option that failed when it helped shape the current system. If Paterson and the other small state delegates hadn’t spoken out and presented this alternative plan, the United States would have only had the Virginia Plan and proportional representation across the board. The resulting Connecticut Compromise brought enough of the New Jersey Plan into play to protect the influence of smaller states in Congress.