Both the Virginia and the New Jersey Plans advocated for a tripartite branch division of the federal government of the United States (US) – executive, legislative and judicial. However, the Virginia and the New Jersey Plans differed from one another in the foregoing aspect. The Virginia Plan, presenting a more powerful legislative branch, outlined a plan to appoint people in the executive and judicial branches through motions authorized by the legislature. The New Jersey Plan, on the other hand, suggested that the legislature arrange executive appointments and the executive branch select judicial appointments, particularly the Supreme Court justices.
The proposed legislative structures of both the Virginia and the New Jersey Plans featured further differences. The Virginia Plan recommended a bicameral congress for the legislature composed of the House of Representatives and the Senate, both of which having proportional representation. Popular elections install members of the House of Representatives for three-year terms, while state legislatures elect members of the Senate for seven-year terms. The New Jersey Plan proposed a unicameral congress representing all states equally, with representatives for each state elected by colonial assemblies for three to six-year terms and having one vote each.
Differences in Congressional Representation
Notions on congressional representation varied greatly under the Virginia and New Jersey Plans. The Virginia Plan proposed a bicameral congress, with both houses represented proportionally by each state according to population, thus favoring larger states. Popular elections, in the case of the House of Representatives, and state legislature elections, in the case of the Senate, provide the basis for determining members of each state. The New Jersey Plan called for a system of equal representation similar to the Continental Congress, having one vote each in congress – a system that favored smaller states. The basis of determining congressional members under the New Jersey Plan is the colonial assembly of each state, which elects its representatives for three to six-year terms.
Differences in Congressional Power
Different scopes of congressional power characterized both the Virginia and New Jersey Plans. The Virginia Plan expressly recommended the legislature to have regulatory powers over trading between states and the authority to strike down unconstitutional laws, both at the federal and state levels and mobilize the armed forces to ensure the proper enforcement of laws. The New Jersey Plan expressly condemned state laws as inferior to federal laws, with the federal government having greater control over trade levies and regulations. Both the Virginia and New Jersey Plans presented fractious prospects for the relationship between the federal government and state governments – an issue approached with great controversy at the time.
Differences in the Executive Branch
The Virginia Plan advocated for the establishment of an executive, represented by one person and elected by the legislature for a seven-year term. The executive representative, whom one could compare to the present-day President of the US, holds the power to execute federal laws, appoint key persons under the executive branch and is subject to removal from position via impeachment proceedings in cases where he is proven to have miscarried duties. The New Jersey Plan, on the other hand, proposed the formation of a federal executive formed by multiple people, albeit unspecified, for an unspecified number of years. Reelection is not possible for members of the federal executive and they are also subject for a congressional recall upon the request of state executives. The federal executive takes off from the Articles of Confederation in using its authorized power to force noncompliant states to follow federal laws.
Composition of the Judicial Branch
The Virginia Plan proposes the establishment of a federal judiciary represented by the supreme tribunal, whose members – the justices, are appointed by the Senate. Appointment of judges at inferior tribunals lies within the responsibility of the entire legislature. The federal judiciary holds the power to preside over cases involving issues on national revenue collection, impeachment of federal officials across all federal government branches and controversies involving national peace. The federal judiciary also helps in the maintenance of checks and balances across all federal government branches by vetoing particular legislative actions in conjunction with members of the executive branch, albeit still subject to interference via a counter-veto via an unspecified number of votes from the legislature. The New Jersey Plan, on the other hand, rendered the federal judiciary, represented by the supreme tribunal, as the last court of appeal for issues of national concern, including impeachment proceedings and treaties.
The Virginia and New Jersey Plans Vis-à-vis The New Federal Government
As the result of the Great Compromise, the Virginia Plan gained ground in terms of proportional representation in the House of Representatives, while the New Jersey Plan emanated via the implementation of equal representation in the Senate. As a result, larger states gained greater control in the House of Representatives, while smaller states enjoyed equality in exercising their control in the Senate. However, a closer look at the powers the House of Representatives grant – taxation and budgeting, in particular, reveals that the Virginia Plan – with the control of larger states, may have provided greater power to the new federal government. Yet, the influence of the New Jersey plan on equal representation in the Senate provides a buffer to the foregoing. The Senate, with its power to approve or reject bills coming from the House of Representatives, has served as an arena for smaller states to counter any bill influenced by larger states that would adversely affect them. Whereas the influence of the Virginia Plan has lingered over decisions supportive of the new federal government, the effect of the New Jersey Plan has stood as an effective limitation.