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Virginia Plan

  • The Virginia Plan, May 29, 1787
  • The Virginia Plan, May 29, 1787
George Washington made this copy of the Virginia Plan during the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in May 1787.
Related documents:
  • Articles of Confederation
    Articles of Confederation, March 1, 1781
  • Madison's Notes from the Federal Convention
    James Madison's Notes on the Debates in the Federal Convention, May 25, 1787
  • Washington Letter to Jefferson
    George Washington Letter to Thomas Jefferson Concerning the Constitutional Convention, May 30, 1787
  • United States Constitution
    United States Constitution, September 17, 1787
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The Virginia Plan, May 29, 1787

The Virginia Plan was a set of fifteen proposals that the governor of Virginia Edmund Randolph presented to the delegates of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, on May 29, 1787. These resolutions, drafted by James Madison, essentially outlined a new form of government. The Virginia delegates proposed a strong national government that could make and enforce laws and collect taxes. The plan would establish a federal system of government under which the people would be governed by both the state and national governments. Another feature of this proposal was a bicameral legislature, in which representation would be proportional to a state's population. Larger states favored this element of the plan.

The delegates from the smaller states devised their own set of propositions, which William Paterson of New Jersey presented to the convention on June 15, 1787. The New Jersey Plan was intended to amend the Articles of Confederation and to prevent the larger states from dominating the national government. Under the New Jersey Plan, the legislative branch would be made up of a unicameral legislature, in which each state would be afforded equal representation. Elements of the New Jersey Plan were incorporated into the proposal that emerged from the Virginia Plan.

The Virginia Plan provided the framework, and after much debate, expansion, development, and compromise by the framers, became the Constitution of the United States.

Neither the Virginia nor the New Jersey Plans were immediately printed for the delegates. Since the proposals were the subject of debate, many of the delegates made handwritten copies. These are the copies of each proposal as written by George Washington.

For Educators

Questions

1. Why are these resolves known as the Virginia Plan?
2. Why did George Washington write this plan down?

Further Discussion

1. What parts of the Virginia Plan ultimately made it into the United States Constitution? What parts of the plan did not make it?

Links

Library of Congress Bibliographic Information-Virginia Plan

Suggested Reading

Farrand, Max, ed. The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1911.

Rutland, Robert A., et al., eds. The Papers of James Madison, Vol. 10: 27 May 1787–3 March 1788. Edited by Robert A. Rutland et al., 3–19. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977.

The Papers of George Washington, Digital Edition. Edited by Theodore J. Crackel. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, Rotunda, 2007 (subscription required).

Copy of the original plan for a New Government
as given inthe Convention by the
State of Virginia

1. Resolved, that the Articles of the Confederation ought to be so corrected and enlarged, as to accomplish the objects proposed by their institution; namely "common defence, security of liberty & general welfare"
2. Resolved therefore, that the rights of suffrage in the National legislature ought to be proportioned to the quotas of contribution, or to the number of free inhabitants, as the one or the other rule may seem best in different cases.
3. Resolved that the national legislature ought to consist of two branches
4. Resolved that the members of the first branch of the National legislature ought
    
To be elected by the people of the several States every [blank] for the term of [blank]
To be of the age of [blank] years at least
To receive liberal stipends, by with they may be compensated for the devotion of their time to public service.
To be ineligible to any office established by a particular state, or under the authority of the United States, (except those peculiarly belonging to the functions of the first branch) during the term of Service and for the space of [blank] years after its expiration.
To be incapable of reelection for the space of [blank] years after the expiration of their term of service,—and
To be subject to recall.
5. Resolved that the members of the second branch of the National legislature ought to be elected by those of the first;
Out of a proper number of persons nominated by the individual legislatures
To be of the age of [blank] years at least.
To hold their offices for a term sufficient to insure their independency
To receive liberal stipends, by which they may be compensated for the devotion of their time to public service.—and
To be ineligible to any office established by a particular State or under the authority of the United States (except those peculiarly belonging to the functions of the second branch) during the term of Service, and for the space of [blank] after the expiration thereof.
6. Resolved that each branch ought to possess the right of originating acts—That
The National legislature ought to be empowered
To enjoy the legislative powers invested in Congress by the Confederation; & moreover
To legislate in all cases, to which the separate States are incompetent, or in which the harmony of the United States may be interrupted by the exercise of individual legislation
To negative all laws, passed by the several States, contravening in the opinion of the National legislature the articles of Union—and
To call forth the force of the Union against any member of the Union, failing to fulfil its duty under the articles thereof.
7. Resolved that a National executive be instituted; To be chosen by the National legislature for the term of [blank] years,
To receive punctually, at Stated times a fixed compensation for the Services rendered, in which no increase or diminution shall be made so as to affect the Magistracy existing at the time of increase or diminution— and
To be ineligible a second time: and that besides a general authority to execute the National laws, it ought to enjoy the executive rights vested in Congress by the Confederation.
8. Resolved that the Executive and a convenient number of the National Judiciary ought to compose a Council of revision; with authority to examine every act of the National legislature, before it shall operate, and every act of a particular legislature, before a Negative thereon shall be final. And that the dissent of the said Council shall amount to a rejection, unless the Act of the National legislature be again passed, or that of a particular legislature be again negatived by [blank] of the members of each branch
9. Resolved that a National Judiciary be established;
To consist of one or more supreme tribunals; and of inferior tribunals.
To be chosen by the National legislature;
To hold their offices during good behaviour; &
To receive punctually at Stated times a fixed compensation for their services, in which no increase or diminution shall be made, so as to affect the persons actually in office at the time of such increase or diminution.
That the jurisdiction of the inferior tribunals shall be to hear and determine in the first instance, and of the supreme tribunal to hear and determine in the dernier resort,
All piracies and felonies on the high Seas.
Captures from an enemy.
Cases in which foreigners, or Citizens of other States, applying to such jurisdictions may be interested—or
  which respect the Collection of the National revenue
Impeachments of any National Officer—and
Questions, which involve the National peace or harmony.
10. Resolved that provision ought to be made, for the admission of States, lawfully arising within the limits of the United States whether from a Voluntary junction of government & territory or otherwise with the consent of a number of voices in the National legislature less than the whole.
11. Resolved that a Republican government, and the territory of each State (except in the instance of a voluntary junction of Government & territory) ought to be guarranteed by the United States to each other.
12. Resolved, that provision ought to be made for the continuance of a Congress and their authorities & privileges untill a given day, after the reform of the Articles of Union shall be adopted, and for the completion of all their engagements.
13. Resolved, that provision ought to be made, for the amendment of the Articles of Union, whensoever it shall seem necessary, and that the assent of the National legislature ought not to be required thereto
14. Resolved, that the Legislative, Executive, and Judiciary powers, within the several States ought to be bound by oath, to support the articles of Union.
15. Resolved, that the amendments, which shall be offered to the Confederation by the Convention ought at a proper time, or times after the approbation of Congress to be submitted to an Assembly or Assemblies of Representatives, recommended by the several Legislatures to be expressly chosen by the people to consider & decide thereon.—