In this work, the main differences between these two proposals are going to be presented and compared, to determine which plan provided more powers to the federal government.
The Virginia plan proposed a government system divided in three branches: Executive, Legislative and Judiciary. The national legislature, which would have the power of originating acts, was to be divided in two. The members of the first house would be elected by popular vote in every State and would serve for three years. Members of the second house, who had to be 30 years old at least, would be elected by individual State legislatures and would serve for seven years, term that was considered sufficient to ensure their independency. It is important to note that it was proposed that the rights of suffrage, the number of votes per State, would be proportional to quotas of contribution or the number of free inhabitants of every State, giving more participation to larger States in the legislature compared to smaller ones. The Congress proposed by the Virginia Plan, would be powerful enough to legislate in aspects where individual States were not competent and to veto laws passed by State legislatures.
The New Jersey plan didn´t object the idea of the three government branches. The main difference is that their representatives only wanted to revise the Articles of the Confederation, so it was assumed that the legislative branch structure would remain untouched. Every State was entitled to a delegation in the Congress, and one vote regardless of size or population. The members could serve only for 6 years and were appointed by the State legislature. As established in the Articles of the Confederation, the Congress retained the exclusivity to conduct foreign political or commercial relations, and only the Congress could declare war. Nonetheless, The New Jersey plan proposed the addition of new powers, such as the authority to collect tariffs from States, to regulate interstate and international commerce, to use force against member States if they refused to observe the law, and to elect members of the executive branch.
According to the Virginia Plan, the Congress would also appoint the executive power, consisting of one member who would serve for 7 years. The Executive would have the duty of executing national laws and the appointing of certain offices. It would also have the power to veto any legislative act. In case of impeachment, conviction of malpractices or neglect of duty, the executive might be removed from office.
On the other hand, defenders of the New Jersey plan stated that the Congress would elect multiple people to serve as the Federal Executive. It is not clear how many people would constitute the executive branch, but it does say that they would be removable by a majority of the executives of the States. They had the authority to execute federal acts, appoint all federal officers including the judges of the Supreme Tribunal, and direct all military operations. They could not, however, take command of any troops.
Madison and his coalition proposed that judges of the Supreme Tribunal be appointed by the second legislative branch, and all inferior tribunals be appointed by the legislature as a whole. The national judiciary would have the power to intervene in all cases regarding national revenue collection, impeachment of national officers, and any other that involved national peace and harmony.
The opposing coalition suggested that the executive appoint the Supreme Tribunal. The judiciary would have the authority to hear and determine on impeachments of federal officers, cases of enemies captured, cases of piracy or felonies on the high seas, and cases where foreigners might have been interested. It also would have competence in the construction of treaties, the regulation of trade and the collection of federal revenue. In cases that involved touching the rights of ambassadors, there would be the possibility to appeal to the federal judiciary as a last resort.
The Federal Power
What James Madison had in mind when he drafted his plan for a federal government structure, was to make sure that it had a lot more power than with the Articles of the Confederation. The Virginia Plan clearly took away a lot of the States sovereignty and gave the Congress the power to legislate and enforce laws. It could also strike down State laws that were contrary to the constitution or the national well-being. The New Jersey Plan would only give the federal government the power to collect tariffs or regulate interstate trade, but with the appointing of several executives, it appeared as if they proposed an executive for every State, undermining the idea of a national executive power. On the other hand, the requirement that every State should keep a well-equipped army, was something that would undermine the intention to have one powerful and uncontested federal government.
The Virginia Plan was definitely the blueprint for a more powerful unitary federation, with checks and balances for all branches of the government to keep any of the three powers from becoming dominant.
«Madison Debates: June 13.» 13 de June de 1787. The Avalon Project. 09 de October de 2013.
"Madison Debates: June 15." 15 June 1787. The Avalon Project. 09 October 2013.