What Was The Virginia Plan?

The Virginia Plan, also referred to as the Plan for large States or the Randolph Plan, was a proposal for a weighted distribution for the population (distribution of legislative positions) in the national legislature. The plan was written by James Maddison at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 while they waited for the quorum to meet.

Virginia floor background

The plan was in the interests of Virginia, which was the most populous state of then and other relatively populous states because it wanted representation in federal legislatures to be weighted according to population and state wealth. It was drafted by the representative of Virginia to the Congress of the Confederation, James Madison, who later became the president of the United States 4th while waiting for the quorum of the Constitutional Convention. The Convention came at a time when the new United States was plagued by economic problems that led to radical political movements and fears that the Republic’s experiment was about to fall. The Convention had been called upon to modify the articles of the Confederation, but the Virginia Plan established the

Debate on The Virginia Plan

The plan was presented before the convention by the head of the Virginia delegation, Governor Edmund Randolph, on May 29, 1787. He framed as resolutions 15 which sought to define the powers and structure of the national government. It proposed a three-pronged national government composed of an executive, a legislator and a judiciary. It also proposed a bicameral legislature in which states would have votes proportionate to the population. This proposal was supported by large states. In June 15th, 1787, the Virginia Plan was opposed by the New Jersey Plan, also called the Paterson Plan or the Small State Plan. This proposal officially presented before the convention by William Paterson of New Jersey. The Paterson Plan proposed to keep the articles of the Confederation with amendments rather than with the Randolph Plan which required the drafting of a new constitution. More specifically, the New Jersey plan wanted to maintain unicameral legislation in which everyone had only one vote.

The smaller states supported the New Jersey proposal that led to a dead end as the great states would not move away from the Virginia plan. In response to the stall, Roger Sherman and Oliver Ellsworth presented the Great Compromise or the Connecticut Plan that borrowed both Paterson’s and Randolph’s plans. The Connecticut plan provided for a bicameral legislature with a weighted division into the lower house (House of Representatives) and an equal representation in the upper house (Senate). Tax matters and other monetary issues would be presented in the House of Representatives. The proposal was ratified in June 16th, 1787 and became the basis of the federal government and the United States Constitution. The convention continued by defining how the population would be defined for the representative distribution. The three-fifths of the slave population had to rely on population figures for representation purposes and also as property for tax purposes. Furthermore, the convention established 1808 as the last date for the importation of slaves and enumerated the powers of the judiciary and the executive.

Importance of the Virginian plan

The plan played a key role in defining the general agenda for the convention and called for a strong national government. The plan was the first document to provide suggestions for the separation of the powers of the judiciary, executive and legislative power. The plan succeeded in resolving the difference between the anti-federalist and the federalists, since it required a bicameral legislature. The plan was finally adopted by the convention and was incorporated into the Constitution.


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