Virginia and New Jersey Legislative Plans

The Virginia Plan, which was referred to as Randolph Plan, was a proposal that the Virginia delegates suggested where the legislature was to be bicameral. Madison originally drafted the proposal with the aim of setting the agenda for a heated debated in the conference, as he proposed a population-weighted representation in the legislature, which meant that the bigger states would have many representatives. The Virginia governor, Edmund Randolph, was expected to present the fifteen resolutions upon the opening of the conference to revise the Articles of the Confederation.

The Virginia Plan suggested that the national government had to be empowered by giving it more powers and the best way to do it was suggesting the three arms of government that would work in consultation. At the time, the main dilemma was representation of states in the legislative assembly since supporters of the New Jersey Plan were against the idea of population-weighted representation, as this would deny them an opportunity to influence the flow of motions. Bigger states, including Virginia, were of the view that the only way of ensuring equality was by granting the bigger states the right to send representatives based on their populations and sizes. The Articles of Confederation projected that one member, irrespective of the size, would represent each state.

The two plans differed in structure and the best way of understanding their similarities and differences is by looking at their major principles. The Virginia Plan suggested a legislative branch that would consist of two chambers, what is referred to as bicameral legislature. The members of the legislative assembly would be elected after a specified period and those in the lower house would be recalled whenever it was felt that their conduct was unethical. Representation would be based on the quotas of contribution meaning that states with bigger populations, including Virginia, would be allowed to send more representatives as compared to smaller states, such as New Jersey. On the issue of the source of legislative power, the Virginia Plan proposed that people had to select their leaders through a secret ballot and elections had to be held after every four years. A leader would have the right to vie for the post in the legislative assembly only if he or she is a US citizen.

The idea of vesting the legislative powers on the people was derived from popular representation principle. On the other hand, the New Jersey Plan noted that legislative members had to be elected at the state level implying that only state legislatures would be involved in the selection process since this would ensure equal votes for each state, irrespective of the population and the geographical size. However, the compromise document adopted the ideas of both plans, with members of one house being elected directly by the citizens at the grassroots while members of the other house are simply selected by the state assemblies. The legislative structure of the two plans were different whereby the Virginia Plan presented a bicameral parliament while New Jersey Plan advocated for a unicameral legislature meaning that only one house would exist. The compromise plan settled on the bicameral legislature where one house consists of members elected to represent states, irrespective of their sizes while the other house caters for the interests of the bigger states, as representation is based on the population.

The Virginia Plan was unclear on the size of the executive, even though it suggested that the president was to be elected by the congress. If the head of state were found to have misused state power, he or she would be removed by the congress through voting and the vice president would serve the remaining term. The New Jersey Plan underscored the fact that vesting state powers on one person was dangerous since the likelihood of abuse was high. Based on this, the plan suggested a hybrid form of government where the president would have almost equal powers with the prime minister and they would consult each other extensively before making any public or foreign policy. Additionally, the plan noted that the executive would be removed by the majority vote where members of the unicameral parliament had single votes carrying equal weights. The compromise document adopted a single executive that would be removed through impeachment. In the Virginia Plan, the judiciary had a greater role to play, as it would veto legislation in the council and would demand for revision of laws.

Additionally, the legislature had life tenure meaning that the Supreme Court judges would serve until they retired at a specified age and no vetting was required. The New Jersey Plan never appreciated the role of judges and it stated clearly that they had no power over states. The compromise document adopted the Virginia Plan on the tenure of the judiciary, but suggested a judicial review periodically. The Virginia Plan allowed the legislature to override the state laws whenever they contravened the national laws, but the New Jersey Plan only allowed the federal government to compel obedience to the national laws. The compromise document adopted the Virginia Plan suggesting that the federal government had the powers to change the state laws. A major difference existed in the way the plans had to be ratified, with the Virginia Plan observing that people were to be given a chance through a referendum to vote for the document while New Jersey officials recommended ratification of the plan at state level. The compromise document undertook ratification at two levels, one being giving people the chance to vote, and the other was allowing states to debate separately.