This section is from the book "Popular Law Library Vol1 Introduction To The Study Of Law Legal History", by Albert H. Putney. Also see: Popular Law-Dictionary.
The period from May 25th to May 29th was taken up with the organization of the convention; and it is the introduction of the Virginia plan, on the latter date, that marks the commencement of the real work of the convention. From May 29th to June 14th the convention was engaged in the consideration of the Virginia plan, in the committee of the whole. As the committee was about to report on the last named date, certain members from some of the smaller states asked for delay in order to be able to present a plan of their own, based on principles different from those forming the basis of the Virginia plan. This delay being granted, the New Jersey plan was presented on June 15th. The two plans were then debated together until June 19th, when the committee of the whole voted to report to the convention the draft of resolutions as prepared before the introduction of the New Jersey-plan. For a little over a month, the convention debated upon this report. Upon July 26th, the report as it then stood, after numerous amendments, was referred to a committee of detail, who, on August 6th, reported to the convention the first draft of the Constitution. After six weeks more of amending and moulding the Constitution into shape, the convention completed its labors, and, on September 17, 1787, submitted its report to Congress and the states.
3 See Madison's Journal of the Federal Convention, under date of May 29, or Appendix H.
4 See Madison's Journal of the Federal Convention, under date of June 15, or Appendix I.
The Virginia plan, which, as modified by the three great compromises, served, in the main, as a basis of the Constitution, was drawn up by the members from the larger states, especially those from Virginia, and was introduced into the Convention by Mr. Randolph of that State. It was the plan of the larger states and of the friends of a strong central government. The six states which, in the main, supported its essential provisions were Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.
The system of government for the United States, as laid down in the fifteen resolutions which composed the Virginia plan, was a radical departure from that contained in the Articles of Confederation and, to many, a striking innovation. The Virginia plan provided for a national instead of a confederated government. To use the expressive German terms, terms for which there are no good equivalents in the English language, it was to be a Statenbund instead of a Bunde-stadt. This characteristic of the plan was emphasized by the committee of the whole, who, in place of the first resolutions in the original plan, "Resolved, that the Articles of Confederation ought to be so corrected and enlarged as to accomplish the objects proposed by their institution; namely, 'common defense, security of liberty, and general welfare,"' substituted the more uncompromising declaration, "Resolved, that it is the opinion of this committee, that a national government ought to be established, consisting of a supreme legislative, executive, and judiciary."
The Virginia plan provided for a double legislative body, with proportional representation in each branch. The members of the lower House were to be elected by the people, and those of the upper House by the lower House, out of a proper number of persons nominated by the individual legislatures. This national legislature was to have the powers vested in Congress, by the confederation, and in addition, the power to legislate in all cases where the separate states were incompetent, or in which the harmony of the United States was in danger of being interrupted by the exercise of individual legislation. It was also allowed to negative all laws passed, by the several states contravening, in its opinion, the articles of union, or any treaty subsisting under the authority of the Union, and to call forth the force of the Union against any member of the Union failing to fulfill its duty under the articles thereof.
There was to be a national executive, to be chosen by the national legislature, but the resolution was silent on the question as to whether such executive should consist of a single person or a commission. To the executive and a "convenient number of the national judiciary" was given a qualified veto power. The national judiciary was to consist of one or more supreme tribunals, and of inferior tribunals, the judges of which were to be chosen by the national legislature and to hold office during good behavior. The jurisdiction of these courts was to extend to cases of piracies and felonies on the high seas; captures from an enemy; cases in which foreigners or citizens of other states, applying to such jurisdiction, might be interested; cases respecting the collection of the national revenue; impeachments of any national office; and questions involving the national peace and harmony.
Provision was made in the resolutions, for the admission of new states; for the guaranteeing to each State, by the United States, of a republican form of government; for the continuance of Congress until a given day after the reform of the articles of the Union should have been adopted, and for the completion of their obligations; for amending the articles of the Union without the consent of Congress; for binding the legislative, executive, and judiciary powers in the several states by oath, to support the articles of Union; and for the submitting of the report of the convention to special conventions in the several states.
The New Jersey plan was the plan of the smaller states, and of the extreme advocates of states' rights.5
5 "This plan has been concerted among the Deputation, or members thereof, from Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and perhaps Mr. Martin, from Maryland, who made with them a common course though on different principles. Connecticut and New York were against a departure from the principle of the Confederation, wishing rather to add a few more powers to Congress than to substitute a National Government. The States of New Jersey and Delaware were opposed to a National Government, because its patrons considered a proportional representation of the States as the basis of it. The eagerness displayed by the members opposed to a national government, from the different motives, began now to produce serious anxiety for the result of the convention. Mr. Dick-ison said to Mr. Madison, ' You see the consequences of pushing things too far. Some of the members from the small states wish for two branches in the General Legislature, and are friends to a National Government; but we would sooner submit to a foreign power, than submit to be deprived in both branches of the legislature, of an equality of suffrage, and thereby be thrown under the domination of the larger States.'" Foot-note to Madison's Journal of the Federal Convention.
It appears to have been drawn up mainly by the delegates from New Jersey and Delaware, and was introduced on June 15th, by Mr. Patterson of New Jersey. The New Jersey plan proposed merely to amend the Articles of Confederation, retaining the confederation system and the equal representation of the states in Congress. Its greatest advance on the Articles of Confederation consisted in giving to Congress the power to raise a revenue, "By levying a duty or duties on all goods or merchandise of foreign growth or manufacture, imported into any part of the United States; by stamps on paper, vellum or parchment; and by a postage on all letters passing through the general post-office." The first resolution read: "Resolved, that the Articles of Confederation ought to be so revised, corrected and enlarged as to render the Federate Constitution adequate to the exigencies of government, and the preservation of the Union." The plan provided for an executive council, and a Federal judiciary to consist of one supreme tribunal, which was to have original jurisdiction over all impeachments of Federal officers; and appellate jurisdiction over the State courts in all cases touching the right of ambassadors; in all cases of captures from an enemy; in all cases of piracies and felonies and on the high seas; in all cases in which foreigners might be interested; in the construction of any treaty or treaties; and in all cases relative to the regulation of trade or the collection of the Federal revenue.
The sixth resolution contained the greatest surrender to the principles of a strong, central government. It was, however, a resolution containing within itself the seeds of a dissolution of the Union and of civil war. The resolution, in full, was as follows:
"Resolved, that all acts of the United States in Congress made by virtue and in pursuance of the powers hereby, and by the Articles of Confederation, vested in them, and all treaties made and ratified under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the respective states, so far as those acts or treaties shall relate to the said states or their citizens; and that the judiciary of the several states shall be bound thereby in their decisions, anything in the respective laws of the individual states to the contrary notwithstanding; and that if any State, or any body of men in any State, shall oppose or prevent the carrying into execution such acts or treaties, the Federal executive shall be authorized to call forth the power of the Confederate States, or so much thereof as may be necessary, to enforce and compel an obedience to such acts, or an observance of such treaties." The resolution appears as a confession on the part of the States' Rights Party, that the only alternative to the granting to the central government of the power to act directly on the individual citizens, was to grant them the power to make war on the states; a power which if exercised could hardly have failed to have torn the Union to pieces. With this alternative before them, the action of the convention cannot seem surprising.
The test vote between the Virginia and New Jersey plans, as a whole, came on June 19th upon the motion that the committee of the whole report the resolutions to the House, as they stood before the introduction of the New Jersey plan. The vote on this motion stood seven states to three in favor of the Virginia plan.6
6 Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia against New York, New Jersey and Delaware; with the vote of Maryland equally divided.