U. S. Government The Constitutional Convention met during the Summer of 1787. It consisted of delegates chosen by the several state governments. Its meetings were officially secret, in order that the members could s



Download 31.31 Kb.
Date conversion22.04.2016
Size31.31 Kb.
c:\users\blanchak\documents\expression webs\polsci10\pols100\pols100images\logo_header.gif
The Constitutional Convention

pols100/U.S. Government

 The Constitutional Convention met during the Summer of 1787.  It consisted of delegates chosen by the several state governments.  Its meetings were officially secret, in order that the members could speak freely, but news was constantly leaking out.   Like any such gathering, it was dominated by a few strong personalities.   George Washington was chosen as President of the Convention, because of the profound faith that Americans had in his character.  James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, James Wilson and few others dominated the discussions. con1.gif (47344 bytes)

Consensus and Conflict


The Constitutional Convention succeeded in large part because the Founding Fathers (as they are called, because they laid the foundation for our form of government) all agreed on a number of basic issues.  It took three months to conclude, because they had strong disagreements on other basic issues.  

They agreed about the following:



  1. that the new form of government should be democratic;

  2. that it should be a representative democracy, which is to say that the government should consist of representatives chosen directly or indirectly by the people;

  3. that it should contain protections for the liberty and property of its citizens, and

  4. that the Federal Government should be stronger than the states.

There were strong disagreements on a only a few issues, but the chief disagreement was over the Representation of States in Congress.  Were States to be represented equally, or would they be represented according to size?

The Virginia Plan


Most delegates arrived at the Convention with a clear idea of what was wrong with the Articles, but no clear idea how to fix it.  An exception was a delegate from Virginia, James Madison.  Madison had spent the winter before the convention doing his homework.  He studied the history of democracies, ancient and modern, and tried to understand why some many had failed.  When he arrived at the Convention, he had with him a detailed proposal for a new form of Government.  This proposal was known as the Virginia Plan or the Randolph Plan (because it was introduced by Governor Randolph).  With some significant changes, it became the basis for the Convention's final product.  This is why Madison is called the Father of the ConstitutionMore than any other person, he is responsible for the form of our government.  Oh, and by the way:  Madison was short.  I like that in a man. madison.gif (43837 bytes)

The Structure of the Virginia Plan


What is striking about the Virginia Plan is that it is different in almost every detail from the Articles of Confederation.

Bicameral Congress.  Under the Virginia Plan, Congress would consist of an upper and a lower house.  These two groups of representatives would meet separately, and both would have to agree before any bill became a law.

Proportional Representation of States in Both Houses.  In both houses, each state would be represented according to its population.  If one state had ten times as many people as another, it would get ten times as many representatives in both houses.  This means that the bigger states, and the more populous areas would dominate the Federal Government.

Direct Election of the Lower House.  The lower house would be directly elected by the people of each state.  This would give the people a greater interest and attachment to the Federal Government.

The Distribution of Powers


As in the structure, the Virginia Plan radically altered the distribution of powers between the States and the Federal Government. c:\users\blanchak\documents\expression webs\polsci08\pols100\images\washingtonchair.jpg

National Supremacy.  The Constitution and all constitutional acts of the Federal Government would be supreme over the states.  This means that sovereignty would shift from the states to the Federal Government.

A share of the Executive and Judicial Powers would now belong to the Federal Government.  While the State Governments would still enforce state laws, the Federal Government would enforce Federal Law.

An Executive Branch would be added to the Government (a President);
and 

A Judicial Branch (a system of Federal Courts).



The Tax Power.  The Federal Government would have the power to lay taxes and raise a revenue.  It would no longer be dependent on the States.

The Commerce Power.  The Federal government would have the sole power to tax commerce between the states and between the United States and other nations.  

The Virginia Plan was a radical proposal.  It would change nearly every significant feature of the form of government then in place.  Madison believed that such a radical revision was necessary in order to make the United States work, but it took some time for everyone to see that he was right.  Some delegates thought that Madison's proposal was too radical, and that the Convention had no legal right to make such a proposal.   The existing Federal Congress had only authorized them to propose changes in the Articles, not to recommend an entirely new constitution.  These critics then proposed their own plan, known as the New Jersey Plan.


The New Jersey Plan


The New Jersey Plan was proposed by William Patterson, a delegate from New Jersey.   It is also known as the Patterson Plan.  It was designed to remedy the defects of the Articles of Confederation, while maintaining the basic structure of that constitution.

Structure 


Just like the Articles, the New Jersey plan centered the federal government in a Unicameral Congress.  This Congress would be responsible for negotiations with foreign powers, for making war and peace, and for the settlement of the territories. 

Equal Representation of states.  In this Congress, each state would get one vote, regardless of its size or wealth.  

Indirection Election of Congress.    The delegates representing each state would not be chosen directly by the citizens of that state, but indirectly, by the state legislatures. 

You will notice that these structural features these structural features are identical with the Articles of Confederation.  This was a honest attempt to fix the Articles of Confederation.  However, you notice that the distribution of powers is identical to the Virginia Plan.  There's compromise for you! 


The Distribution of Powers


As in the structure, the Virginia Plan radically altered the distribution of powers between the States and the Federal Government.

National Supremacy.  The Constitution and all constitutional acts of the Federal Government would be supreme over the states.  This means that sovereignty would shift from the states to the Federal Government.

A share of the Executive and Judicial Powers would now belong to the Federal Government.  While the State Governments would still enforce state laws, the Federal Government would enforce Federal Law. An Executive Branch would be added to the Government (a President); and

A Judicial Branch (a system of Federal Courts).

The Tax Power.  The Federal Government would have the power to lay taxes and raise a revenue.  It would no longer be dependent on the States.

The Commerce Power.  The Federal government would have the sole power to tax commerce between the states and between the United States and other nations.  

So: the Virginia Plan had a completely different structure than the Articles.  The New Jersey plan splits the difference: the same structure as the Articles, but the same distribution of powers as the Virginia Plan.  Those were the forms of government under consideration in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787.  As it turns out, none of them would work.  To get the Constitution that did work, it was necessary to modify Madison's Virginia Plan.


The Connecticut Compromise


The Constitutional Convention produced three distinct plans of government: three shared the same basic distribution of powers but differed significantly in their structures.   This is because the members of the convention all agreed on where they ought to go, but disagreed on how to get there.  I believe there there was, in fact, only one real problem at the Convention: that of state representation.

In the course of debate, the delegates came to realize that neither the Virginia Plan nor the New Jersey Plan could work.  To see why I will explore the effects of both schemes of state representation.  I will invent the states and their populations, in order to make the example very simple.


Representation under the Virginia Plan


State

Population

Upper House of Bicameral Congress

Lower House of Bicameral Congress

North Diasota

10,000

1

10

South Diasota

50,000

5

50

Marmorfornia

90,000

9

90

Explanation of Chart.  I have invented three states, named after some of my esteemed NSU colleagues, and I have made up populations for them.  Then I assign seats in two houses under the Virginia Plan.  You will note that the representation is strictly proportional in both houses.  South Diasota has five times as many people as North Diasota, and five times as many seats in both houses.

What's Wrong with the Virginia Plan?


Answer: it is too democratic.  It gives too much power to the majority, which in my imaginary scheme live in Marmorfornia.  This state would dominate the Federal Congress and produce whatever legislation pleased its citizens.  It could afford to ignore the interests of the other two states.

Imagine for example that the Virginia Plan were in effect today.  Who would control Congress?  Answer: California, Texas, Florida, and New York.  Would Congress ever give a rat's assets for the people of South Dakota?  Hardly.   Given a large nation, with a widely distributed population and diverse regional interests, the Virginia Plan was unacceptable.  What then about the New Jersey Plan?


Representation under the New Jersey Plan


State

Population

Congress

North Diasota

10,000

2

South Diasota

50,000

2

Marmorfornia

90,000

2

 

What's Wrong with the New Jersey Plan?


Answer: the New Jersey Plan is not democratic enough.  Under this plan, 60,000 people in two states control 6 seats in Congress.  If they vote together, they can outvote the two representatives controlled by the remaining 90,000, which is to say the majority.  When a minority can outvote a majority, that is minority rule.  Minority rule  is undemocratic.

Moreover, under the New Jersey Plan, this Federal Congress would have real power.  It could tax the majority more heavily than the minority, and regulate commerce to advantage of the smaller states.  Even if this were fair, it would never be tolerated by the large states which, sooner or later, would withdraw from the union.  No force would be available to keep them in. 


The Solution


If neither plan would work, what is the solution?  The delegation from Connecticut proposed a compromise, that is a deal where both sides would give up something.  The proponents of the Virginia Plan had to give up proportional representation in both houses, and the other side gave up the idea of a unicameral congress. This solution to the problem is referred to as the Connecticut CompromiseThe result was a Bicameral Congress with:

Equal Representation in the Upper House; and

Proportional Representation in the Lower House.

State Representation under the Connecticut Compromise


State

Population

Senate

House of Representatives

North Diasota

10,000

2

10

South Diasota

50,000

2

50

Marmorfornia

90,000

2

90

This solved the problem of state representation.  In the upper house, which would be called the Senate, all the states had equal representation.  Any bill that harmed the interest of the smaller states could be defeated whenever they agreed to vote together.  In the lower house, which would be called the House of Representatives, no measure that was opposed by most of the people in the Union.  Thus the system was both democratic and safe for the smaller states and regions of the country.  


The database is protected by copyright ©essaydocs.org 2016
send message

    Main page