Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States
by Howard Chandler Christy (1940), in the U.S. Capitol
Grade Level: 4-8
Creator: New Jersey Center for Civic Education, Rutgers The State University, Piscataway, NJ
Students will be able to
Explain the background of the delegates from New Jersey to the Federal Convention in 1787
Demonstrate the impact of the New Jersey and Virginia Plans at the Federal Convention
Explain the value of compromise.
New Jersey Social Studies Standards 6.1.A.4.1 Explain how rules and laws created by community, state and national governments protect the rights of people, help to resolve conflicts, and promote the common good.
6.1.4.A.3 Determine how “fairness,” “equality,” and the “common good” have influenced change at the local and national level of the US government.
6.1.4.A.11 Explain how the fundamental rights of the individual and the common good of the country depend upon all citizens exercising their civic responsibilities at the community, state, national and global levels.
6.1.4.A.12 Explain the process of creating change at the local, state, or national level.
6.1.4.D.5 Relate key historical documents to present day government and citizenship.
Common Core ELA and Math Standards RI.4.2 Determine the main idea of a text and explain how it supported by key details…
RI.4.3 Explain events…ideas or concepts in a historical…text, including what happened and why
RI.4.4 Determine the meaning of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases in a text
RI.4.5 Describe the overall structure of events, ideas, concepts or information in a text
RI.4.7 Interpret information presented visually, orally,…
RI.4.9 Integrate information from two texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgably.
W.4.1 Write opinion pieces on topics…supporting a point of view with reasons and information
W.4.2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.
W.4.7 Conduct short research projects that build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic.
SL.4.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (in groups)
Math 4OA.A3 Solve multistep word problems
Math 4MD.A2 Solve word problems involving masses of objects
Watch the 90 second video about the New Jersey Plan and the Federal Convention at http://www.youstube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=n7h5tOqzoyI
The Articles of Confederation had created a relatively weak and decentralized government, without a single executive or a judiciary. All national power rested with the Congress, which consisted of a single house. Each state could send three to five delegates to the Congress, but no matter how many delegates the state had, each state had only one vote in Congress. This meant that tiny Rhode Island had as much political power as mammoth Virginia. Congress had no power to collect taxes. During the war the national government teetered on the verge of bankruptcy and the army often went unpaid. After the Revolution, Congress was unable to pay off its bonds while the states ignored the agreements that Congress had made with foreign nations, including key provisions of the peace treaty with England. There was no national currency and trade and tariff policies were basically in the hands of the states.
After a series of failed attempts to amend the Articles of Confederation, including the Annapolis Convention, the Congress authorized the states to send delegates to meet in Philadelphia in May, 1787. Eventually a total of 55 delegates from 12 states came to the Convention, but no more than eleven delegations were present at any one time: New Hampshire did not arrive until mid-July, and New York left in early July. Rhode Island never sent a delegation. Most delegates were politically experienced, and many were wealthy. More than half had legal training. At least 26 delegates owned slaves. In order for a delegation to vote, it had to have at least two members on the floor. To avoid public speculation and lobbying, the delegates met in secret and were sworn to secrecy. The convention chose George Washington as its president.
Nationalists, such as George Washington, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay, wanted a stronger government empowered to regulate commerce, enforce treaty obligations, collect taxes and maintain a strong defense. Four days after the opening of the Convention, Edmund Randolph, Governor of Virginia, presented the “Virginia Plan” (drafted by James Madison) for creating a new government with three branches (executive, legislative and judicial) and representation in the two houses of the legislative branch based on the population of each states. By mid-June, the Convention was in its third full week of proceedings, and it was becoming increasingly clear that the dispute over representation in the legislature was going to be difficult to solve.
On June 15th, William Paterson, who headed the New Jersey delegation to the Convention, laid out the “New Jersey” Plan before the Convention, which sought to balance power between the larger and smaller states. Born in Ireland in 1745, William Paterson had moved to America as a toddler. His family settled in Princeton, New Jersey, where his father found success as a merchant. Growing up in an affluent family, Paterson was educated in private schools. He earned a bachelor's and master’s degree from the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) and studied law with Richard Stockton. During the American Revolutionary War, Paterson was one of New Jersey's leading patriots. He was a member of the provincial congress from 1775 to 1776, and was part of the New Jersey Constitutional Convention of 1776. From 1776 to 1783, he served as New Jersey's attorney general.
The New Jersey Plan proposed revisions to the Articles of Confederation, but not a completely new government. The plan made no change to the one-state, one-vote system and unicameral (one-house) legislature. The limited powers of the Congress, which would include the ability to raise revenue via taxes and to regulate trade with foreign nations, were listed. One resolution, that drew criticism, was that the Congress would have the power to choose the Executive. The plan still called for a three-branch government, with the Federal Judiciary “appointed by the Executive, for terms of good behavior.” Paterson called for supremacy of federal acts and treaties over state laws, but left the states with a high degree of sovereignty in most matters.
The New Jersey Plan was subject to the scrutiny of the delegates. James Wilson stressed the importance of seizing this favorable moment and creating a new government, and dismissed the idea that the delegates could only revise the Articles of Confederation because the “salvation of the Republic was at stake, it would be treason to our trust, not to propose what we found necessary.” James Madison gave a long speech outlining eight criticisms of the New Jersey Plan. Madison argued that the New Jersey Plan would leave the national government far too weak and unable to assert control over the states or protect the states from foreign intrusion. Although the New Jersey Plan was ultimately unsuccessful in convincing a majority of the state delegations, it set the stage for future negotiation, and helped lead to the Connecticut, or “Great Compromise” that granted equal representation in the Senate and representation proportional to population in the House of Representatives.
Paterson became one New Jersey’s first senators. In 1790, he became the state's governor—a post that he would hold until he was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1793. During his time with the court, he oversaw the trials of those involved in the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794. He remained on the U.S. Supreme Court until his death in 1806.
Activity: New jersey’s delegates to the Federal Convention
In addition to William Paterson, New Jersey sent three other delegates:
David Brearly (Brearley)
Research the background of other New Jersey delegates to the Federal Convention. The background to all of the delegates to the Federal Convention can be found at http://teachingamericanhistory.org/convention/delegates/.
What did the New Jersey delegates share in common? How were they different?
Benjamin Franklin was the oldest delegate to the Convention at age 81. The youngest delegate at the Convention was 26 years old and from New Jersey. Who was the youngest delegate to the Federal Convention? Jonathan Dayton Activity: You are at the Constitutional Convention Conduct a mock Federal Convention, assigning each student a role as a delegate for one of the 13 states. Have students debate and determine how many representatives each state should have, using the estimated population of the 13 states in 1787. If you were a delegate at the Federal Convention, which plan would you prefer?
Assign students as delegates from Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New Hampshire to the Federal Convention.
Review Handout 1: Estimated Population of the States, 1787.
Students round the populations of each state and use the graphic organizer (Handout 2) to list how many representatives each state would have if there was one representative for each 30,000 people. Compare these numbers with the idea of two representatives for each state and debate the merits of each proposal.
Have the students work in groups as the delegates from their respective states and determine how many representatives each state would have according to the Virginia Plan. Compare that number with how many representatives each state would have according to the New Jersey Plan (one per state).
Have the student groups decide which plan would be more beneficial for their state.
Number of representatives if one representative for each 30,000 people
Number of representatives if each state has one
Essay: Students write a short essay explaining what might have happened if:
the delegates at the 1787 federal Convention had agreed on a one-house Congress with an equal number of representatives from each state
the delegates had been unable to come to an agreement and why it is sometimes necessary to make compromises.
Research project: Students find or prepare a map of the United States that shows how many representatives each state has in the House of Representatives. Which state has the most representatives? Which states has the least? How many representatives does New Jersey have? Who are the representatives from New Jersey in the United States Senate? Who is your representative to the House of Representatives?
Source: Population Estimates used at the Philadelphia Convention, 1787 at http://www.dcte.udel.edu/hlp/resources/newnation/pdfs/PopEstim.pdf
Number of representatives if one representative for each 30,000 people