The Small States Rebel

Paterson-in-oval-from-nypl
William Paterson, delegate from New Jersey

The New York Public Library.  www.nypl.org

The Small States Rebel

"Mr. Patterson observed to the convention that it was the wish of several deputations, particularly that of N. Jersey, that further time might be allowed them to contemplate the plan reported from the Committee of the Whole, and to digest one purely federal, and contradistinguished from the reported plan. He said they hoped to have such a one ready by tomorrow to be laid before the Convention: and the Convention adjourned that leisure might be given for the purpose."

-James Madison in his Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention


The small states, suspicious from the beginning, were preparing to rebel against the Virginia Plan with New Jersey leading the way.

From May 29th, the Convention had been considering primarily the so-called "Virginia" or "Randolph" plan of 15 resolutions. This big state plan proposed a "national" government with a two house legislature, an executive and a judiciary. It would replace the Articles of Confederation's system of a single house, a states-equal "federal" system with no executive or judiciary.

Under the Virginia Plan, each state would be guaranteed a republican form of government and territorial integrity, but state officers would be bound by oath to support the Constitution. Ratification would be by special conventions in each state.

To members of the Convention a "federal" system was one where the central government had no independent power, all being derived from the states, as with the Articles of Confederation. An independent central government in the terms of the convention would be "national" with at least some authority over the states, perhaps even "supreme."

Since the Virginia Plan so closely paralleled the thoughts about government that James Madison(VA) had been sharing with friends in the months before the Convention, he almost certainly prepared it. Its acceptance as the vehicle for organizing the Convention's work was of incalculable significance in shaping the content of the Constitution.

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Friday, June 15, 1787
The New Jersey Plan


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Last updated: February 26, 2015

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