The Tough Issues

In spite of the common vision of the delegates to the Philadelphia Convention, no obvious route existed for how to revise the Articles of Confederation and build a stronger central government.

The delegates made an early decision about how to run the Convention, agreeing to try and construct a whole new national framework.

The stage was now set for James Madison, the most influential of the delegates at the Philadelphia Convention. His proposal, known as the Virginia Plan, called for a strong central government with three distinctive elements.

  • It clearly placed national supremacy above state sovereignty.
  • This strengthened central government would have a close relationship with the people, who could directly vote for some national leaders.
  • The central government would be made up of three distinct branches: a bicameral legislature, an executive, and a judiciary.

Madison's Virginia Plan was rejected at the Convention by delegates representing states with small populations.

These small states would have their national influence dramatically curbed in the proposed move from one-state one-vote (as under the Articles) to general voting for the lower legislative house where overall population would be decisive.

The small states countered with another proposal, known as the New Jersey plan, which would generally continue how Congress already operated under the Articles. This plan called for a unicameral legislature with the one vote per state.

After long debates, the Virginia Plan was accepted as a basis for further discussion. This agreement to continue to debate also amounted to a major turning point. The delegates had decided that they should craft a new constitutional structure to replace the Articles.

Source: The Tough Issues
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