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New Jersey Plan

On June 14, 1787, William Paterson, delegate from New Jersey, rose in the Convention on behalf of a coalition of delegates who desired to offer a “purely federal” plan as an alternative to the “supreme” “national government” proposed by the “Virginia Plan.” Representing, in addition to the majority of his state delegation, those of Connecticut, Delaware, and New York (and thus not simply composed of the “small states”) as well as one delegate from Maryland, Paterson’s plan—offered the following day in the form of nine resolutions—is commonly referred to as the “New Jersey Plan.”

Paterson’s proposal was more faithful to the instructions of Congress establishing the Convention for “the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation.” Whereas the Virginia Plan proposed the effective replacement of the Articles with a new form of “national” government, the New Jersey Plan sought to merely amend the Articles, retaining its “federal” principle. Under the existing Articles, each state had entered into a treaty, or a “firm league of friendship,” with each other—retaining its “sovereignty, freedom and independence, and every Power, Jurisdiction and Right, which is not by this confederation expressly delegated” (Article II).

There was a general consensus that the powers of the Congress under the Articles were insufficient to provide for the “exigencies of government, and the preservation of the Union.” Accordingly the New Jersey Plan proposed to simply amend, rather than replace, the Articles—granting additional powers to Congress, particularly for the raising of revenue and the regulation of trade. It also sought to strengthen its ability to enforce its enactments with the addition of an executive, elected by Congress, and a judicial branch, and declaring that the acts and treaties of Congress were to be “the supreme law of the respective States.” Significantly, the existing representation in Congress—based upon an equality of states rather than proportionality—was to be retained.

By the time Paterson and his allies had organized and offered their plan, however, Virginia’s proposal had already formed the organizing thread around which the Convention’s deliberations had taken shape. For the next three days the Convention considered both plans, during which time Alexander Hamilton, rising in objection to both, offered a plan of his own—strengthening the central, national government further than even the Virginia Plan had proposed. The Convention never formally considered Hamilton’s alternative and on June 19 voted—with Paterson’s coalition in the minority—to proceed with the deliberations based upon the Virginia Plan. The advocates of the more radical plan had prevailed in establishing a new, national foundation for the American government.

Although the Convention effectively rejected the New Jersey Plan with this vote, the proposal was forwarded on to the committees that drafted the final language of the Constitution. However, its proponents were not without some significant success in shaping the final product. Through what is commonly referred to as the Great Compromise, the proponents of the New Jersey Plan prevailed in establishing equality of representation for the states in one of the two branches of Congress (the Senate).

SEE ALSO: Connecticut CompromiseConstitutional Convention of 1787Virginia Plan


Max Farrand, ed., Records of the Federal Convention, 4 vols. (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1937); and James H. Hutson, ed., Supplement to the Records of the Federal Convention (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1987).