After concurring the Articles of Confederation were not working as well as politicians had hoped, the Constitutional Convention of 1787 was an attempt for the states to present their thoughts and notions on how to proceed with a new form of governance. For the purpose of this essay, the Virginia and New Jersey plans will be examined to discuss their similarities as well as differences. Both plans were incorporated within the four months of meetings in Philadelphia and are an insightful window into the inner workings of the convention. The Virginia Plan was the main model for the Constitution and some additions from the New Jersey Plan were implemented.
The Virginia Plan called for a bicameral legislature, meaning it would be composed of two separate entities, while the New Jersey Plan suggested a unicameral legislature that would only consist of one political body. Both models, however, did call for three branches of government. In the Virginia Plan, the congressional members would be selected by the people for terms of three years in the first body and by the legislature for the second body with terms of seven years. The New Jersey Plan called for the members of the legislature to be elected by state representatives and the term was not clearly outlined. Additionally, it must be taken into consideration the Virginia Plan seemed to call for a new document, while the New Jersey Plan clearly states the need to revise the Articles of Confederation. Therefore, New Jersey was seeking sweeping changes to the original document and was much more in line with leaving the states quite powerful.
There were other differences between the two plans regarding congressional representation. New Jersey promoted a plan where each state would have one vote and population would not factor into the equation, which was exactly like the Articles of Confederation. Virginia proposed a system where congressional representation would be based upon the state’s population size. It would be awarded a certain number of votes depending on how many people resided within their boundaries. Naturally, the large states would support this, while smaller states would side with New Jersey.
The New Jersey Plan called for congress to be allowed to pass legislation for taxation and duties on goods as well as merchandise imported into the country, and for the use of the U.S. Postal service for revenue. It also enabled congress to promulgate all legislation relating to raising and collected such funds. Also, New Jersey wanted congress to pass laws for the regulation of trade with other countries and amongst the states, but state judges would decide the penalties, fines, etc., rather than the transgressors answering to congress and judicial review on appeal through the federal court system would be available. Congress would also be responsible for selecting the head of the executive branch of government.
In the Virginia Plan congress was authorized to select the head of the executive branch, to create and enforce legislation for taxation in addition to the collection of such taxes, and they would be able to negate laws made by states if they were found to be in direct conflict with the authority or regimen of the central government. Laws must be passed by two thirds of the legislature, after the legislature voted to negate an act or treaty and there was not exact amount established to pay the legislature members, but the language was put in place to assure they received a set stipend from the treasury. The Virginia Plan also called for the legislature to select the members of the judicial branch and they were given the power to also select other judicial tribunals. Overall, this plan promoted a very strong legislative branch that would be much more powerful than the current system under the Articles of Confederation. In a sense, maybe even a little too powerful, as it appears they would be responsible for nearly all matters of law, including selecting who the members of the other branches would be.
The executive and judicial branches are different according to each plan. As mentioned above both plans felt the head of the executive branch should be selected by congress, but Virginia’s appeared to be one person to head the branch for a seven year term, while New Jersey did not set an amount of people or an exact term. The New Jersey Plan also allowed the executive branch to control the military, but they were not allowed to lead troops, and they were in charge of selecting the judicial branch. This plan also called for a supreme tribunal of the judges in the judicial branch that had the power to hear cases of a national status and for impeaching government officials. They also had sway over all cases of international relations and were not allowed to hold any other in their term, which was not outlined. The Virginia Plan called for a single set of justices for the judicial branch that were allowed to rule over all cases in the land, taxation and for impeachments. They also did not designate a term but would be selected by the second legislative branch. The Virginia Plan also called for all three branches to take an oath to uphold the laws of the United States and provided veto power for the president on acts of the legislative branch.
The Virginia Plan definitely calls for more power to the central government than the New Jersey Plan. It supplies congress with much more specific powers than the New Jersey Plan and as mentioned earlier, this is very obvious due to New Jersey clearly stating the Articles of Confederation needed to be revised. They were not calling for a new system that would diminish the rights of the states, while Virginia certainly did. The language is their plan for the legislature to set the laws and enforce them when the states could not agree, in addition to providing the judicial branch with the power to oversee all cases, while New Jersey thought cases should be heard that were associated with that state by their own judges even it was a transgression of an international nature established by congress.