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Understanding The Virginia Plan

Virginia Plan

The Constitutional Convention, also known as the Philadelphia Convention, was a conference that took place at Independence Hall in Philadelphia in 1787. As its name suggests, the Philadelphia Convention was a call to completely transform the previous legislative model set forth by the Articles of Confederation. Upon its creation in 1777, the authors of the Articles of Confederation were still reeling from the perceived injustices they had suffered under the monarchy of both King George II and King George III.

Considered by its critics to be a reactionary doctrine fueled by an overwhelming disdain towards any totalitarian ruling body, the Articles of Confederation removed all jurisdiction that the central government could possess over the individual 13 states of the Union. As a result, rather than operating as a republic under a single legislation, the 13 states operated as 13 individually-sovereign entities. Though the central government was afforded some power, each individual State-run legislature was permitted to establish any and all policies that would be carried out within State borders.

While the idea of an individually-sovereign State greatly appealed to the smaller states of the Union, the larger states quickly realized the innate flaws in the construct established by the Articles of Confederation. For example, the legislation of the central government could only pass new law with the approval of at least 9 out of the 13 states of the Union. In addition, an amendment to any existing law could only take place under the condition of a unanimous approval on the part of all 13 states. As a result, larger states like New York and Virginia became concerned about the possibility of the 9 smaller states, in response to their respective inferior population and size, forming an ad-hoc alliance in which they would consolidate their respective votes in order to control the fate of every legislative hearing that took place on a national level.

In addition, should one State disapprove of an amendment that garnered the approval of the remaining 12 states, the amendment would not be passed. This created a forum in which the minority would be allowed to rule over the majority. In reaction to this, Virginia representative Edmund Rudolph, a delegate from Virginia, proposed the Virginia Plan, also known as the Large State plan, at the Philadelphia Convention.

The Virginia Plan was based on a bicameral legislative model inspired by a form of republicanism. The Virginia Plan proposed that Congress be comprised of 2 legislative entities: the Lower and Upper Houses. The Lower House would be elected commensurate to each State’s population and the Upper House would be elected by the Lower House.

A majority of the smaller states who participated in Philadelphia Convention regarded the Virginia Plan as fundamentally biased towards the interests of the larger states. In addition, many smaller states viewed the Virginia Plan as a means to penalize them for their comparatively smaller populations than those of their larger counterparts.

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