The Madison Debates, held at the Constitutional Convention in June of 1787, highlighted the Virginia and New Jersey plans. These plans, which provided propositions for the future of the United States government, shared both similarities and differences. The Virginia plan contained propositions put forth by Randolph, while the New Jersey plan included resolutions put forth by Patterson.
According to Randolph’s propositions as part of the Virginia plan, it was suggested that a national government consisting of legislative, executive, and judiciary branches be established. Randolph went on to propose that the national legislature consist of two branches. The first branch of the national legislature was to be elected by the people and would serve for a term of three years. They would be compensated for their service and paid out of the national treasury. The second branch of the national legislature would be elected by the individual state legislatures. The members of the second branch were to be at least 30 years old and were expected to serve for a term of at least seven years. They would also be paid for their service out of the national treasury.
In the New Jersey plan, Patterson stated that the articles of confederation should be revised and expanded, rendering the federal constitution adequate regarding the preservation of the union. According to Patterson, the United States congress should be responsible for electing a single federal executive branch consisting of a specified number of people who would serve the office for a specified number of years. Similar to the New Jersey plan, they would be compensated with a set stipend allotted from the national treasury. In addition to executing federal acts, these members would be responsible for appointing federal officers and directing military operations.
Randolph also called for the institution of a national executive, to be chosen by the national legislature. This person would serve for a term of seven years, and would capable of executing national laws. This person would be paid a fixed stipend out of the national treasury.
In terms of congressional power, both the Virginia and New Jersey plans state that the congress should be granted power through the articles of confederation. According to the Randolph’s propositions, the congress should be able to legislate in cases where individual states are found to be incompetent or in cases where national harmony is threatened by individual state legislation. It should also be granted the power to negate any state laws passed that violate the opinions of the national legislature. It further defines the right of suffrage as separate from the articles of confederation, instead being based on an equitable ratio of representation among the population.
In addition to the powers granted through the articles of confederation, the proposals included within the New Jersey plan include expansive powers for the congress. These powers include passing, amending, and enforcing revenue raising acts such as levying duties on goods and merchandise. It also allows the congress to make rules regarding trade and commerce for both domestic and international purposes. Unlike the Virginia plan, states would be equally represented, giving the same power to each despite its size.
As part of the New Jersey plan, Patterson proposed that a federal judiciary be appointed by the executive. This judiciary would consist of a supreme tribunal of judges. Those serving on the tribunal would receive, in accordance with good behavior, a fixed compensation for their services. The tribunal judges would be responsible for conducting hearings regarding enemy captures, piracy on the high seas, development of treaties, regulation of trade, or collection of federal revenue. Patterson also stated that no member of the judiciary would be allowed to hold any other office, either during the time of service or for a set amount of time following the service.
The specifics of the judicial branch proposed by Randolph in the Virginia plan were similar to the judicial specifics set forth in the New Jersey plan. The Virginia plan also called for the establishment of a national judiciary consisting of one supreme tribunal. This tribunal would be established by the 2nd branch of the national legislature. They would be similarly compensated, in accordance with good behavior. Their duties would also be similar, hearing cases involving the collection of national revenue, impeachments of national officers, and questions regarding national peace. The Virginia plan also gave the national legislature the power to appoint inferior tribunals as needed.
Both the Virginia and New Jersey plans included a provision for the inclusion of new states into the union, though the Virginia plan was more specific in terms of the process.
In my opinion, the Virginia plan set forth by Randolph provided the most power to the federal government. This was due to the fact that the people of the United States would be governed by two forces, at both the state and federal level. It also provided expanded powers for the government including creating and enforcing laws, as well as levying and collecting revenue.