When one looks that the US Constitution today, it is easy to think that the document was passed down by the gods and agreed upon by all people within the American political reality. The truth is that this is not the case. In truth, the Constitution was something that only came into being after a tremendous period of debate by the people credited with starting the country. When ratification could finally take place, leaders put forward their ideas in hopes of winning political support. They came from different parts of the political world, and their different ideologies and motivations are manifested in their different constitutional proposals. The New Jersey Plan and the Virginia Plan were the two primary plans that came into being. In these, there were some similarities and a wealth of differences, as well. Debate about these things led to compromise, and it was that compromise that eventually provided the basis for the document that governs modern America.
One of the main differences had to do with the structure of government. While both sides agreed that it was necessary to have a legislature, they differed on how to create that congress and would form it would take. Under the Virginia Plan, there was to be two different houses of congress. The New Jersey Plan, by contrast, only wanted one house of congress. The Virginia Plan got the nod, as the current congress has those two houses. The proponents of the New Jersey Plan did get a small win, though. Their idea was for there to be some power for the small states. With the final plan, the New Jersey proponents won the creation of the Senate, a powerful body that gave equal power to all states.
Congress may have been the source of most disagreement, but it was not the only source of disagreement. The Virginia Plan wanted there to be three powerful branches of government that could balance one another out. A part of this plan was giving the federal judiciary an opportunity to command its power over all states. The New Jersey Plan, on the other hand, wanted the states to have independent rights. It did not want the federal courts to be able to dictate how the states would govern. The final settlement allowed the Virginia Plan adherents to get their full three branches of government. Likewise, the federal courts do have judicial power over the states in some ways. Likewise, they have power over the individual people who live in those states. This power, however, has been limited in many ways. The New Jersey Plan advocates wanted to make sure that if the federal courts had such power, there would be limits and restrictions on that power.
Because the country was established in the wake of a great monarchy in Great Britain, it should come as no surprise that both of the competing parties had specific ideas on how to handle the executive branch. Both parties found agreement in their desire to almost completely limit the rule of the executive branch. Under the Virginia Plan, there was an idea that congress would elect the people to the executive branch. This plan did not want the people to get to elect their own president. The New Jersey Plan moderated this to an extent. They wanted no person in charge at all. There was going to be spread power, with the ability of the states to basically fire the executive. The two factions settled on a plan that did allow for a single executive, but also allowed for that person to be kicked out of office through the process of impeachment.
The different plans also wanted to do something about congressional influence. The Virginia Plan wanted to give the federal legislature the power to override the laws passed by the states. Under the New Jersey Plan, there was a different vision of congressional power. Under this plan, there was an idea that the federal congress could only force people or force individual states to comply with federal law rather than giving them the power to override law. There was an absence of the supremacy clause, which would eventually work its way into the Constitution. Those people who supported the supremacy clause would eventually win out on this one, as they were able to get more law-making power for the federal government.
Looking at things from a big picture perspective, the Virginia Plan gives more power and influence to the federal government. The New Jersey Plan is looking to protect the states from the power of the centralized government. It seeks state autonomy. These differences were quite deep, and they were even reflected in the realities of the ratification process. Under the Virginia Plan, there was to be a national vote on ratification, with the majority winning out. The New Jersey Plan looked to the states once again. It advocated for state-directed ratification, meaning that individual states had to vote that it was a good addition to the constitution. Likewise, when looking at the courts, it is clear that the desire for power was very difficult. The New Jersey adherents were scared of this kind of federal power, while the Virginia Plan advocates knew that strong courts are a necessary component of a strong democracy. These splits helped to dictate what the final document would look like, and each ahs had its influence on the final outcome.