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Drafting the Constitution Previous Next
Digital History ID 3237


For nearly four months during a hot, muggy Philadelphia summer, the delegates debated thorny issues:
  • Should the national government be allowed to veto state laws;
  • Should the states be eliminated altogether;
  • Should there be a single president or an executive committee.

Framing the debate was a plan introduced by Edmund Randolph, the governor of Virginia, but actually written by James Madison. The Virginia Plan proposed a national legislature divided into two houses, the House of Representatives and the Senate.

  • Individual voters, not state governments, would elect members of the House of Representatives.
  • Representation in both houses of Congress would be based on population.
  • Members of the House would select members of the Senate (from candidates suggested by state legislatures), judges, and a president, who would serve for seven years.
  • Congress would have the power to veto state laws.

Delegates from small states protested that the Virginia Plan would give larger states too much power in the national government. New Jersey proposed that all states have an equal number of representatives. Under the New Jersey Plan, Congress would consist of only one house, to be elected by the state legislatures, not the people. The New Jersey Plan received support from Delaware, New Jersey, and New York. The Maryland delegation split.

Several of Madison's proposals were defeated. The delegates eliminated a congressional veto over state legislation. They also abandoned his notion of apportioning representation in both houses of the legislature on the basis of population.

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