The Constitution was formed on a series of plans and compromises which pleased the individual states. Each state had unique goals to achieve at the Constitutional Convention.

Signing of the Constitution, which was a series of compromises.


Virginia Plan:

The first general plan for the Constitution was proposed by Edmund Randolph and written by James Madison of Virginia. The plan, also known as the large-state plan, was based upon the European nation-state model, which derives its power from the people, not the states. Being one of the largest states in terms of both size and population, Virginia was hoping for a government system which would give it the most power. Key parts included:
  • Strong central government with three branches: the legislative, judicial, and executive.
  • Bicameral* government with one house elected by the people, while the other appointed by the state governments.
  • A legislature with the power to select the executive and the judiciary.
  • Legislature would be weighted by the population of each state.

New Jersey Plan:

Smaller states at the convention such as New Jersey and Connecticut believed that the large states would overpower the small states in the national government, so they proposed the New Jersey Plan, also known as the small-state plan. This plan, proposed by William Patterson, would be a revision to the current articles and would give both large and small states alike equal representation in the national government. Key parts included:
  • Unicameral* legislature with one vote per state and representatives appointed by the state legislatures.
  • Congressional power to raise revenue from duties on imports.
  • Supreme Court with members appointed for life by the executive officers.
  • Congress elects federal executive consisting of multiple people.


In order for a final constitution to be proposed, a series of compromises were needed to please all of the states in attendance. Two major issues were representation and slavery. Another less-prominent issue was the executive branch.

Connecticut Compromise:

The Connecticut Compromise, also known as the Great Compromise, was offered by Roger Sherman and Oliver Ellsworth of the Connecticut delegation to solve the disagreement between the Virginia and New Jersey plans. A committee with one delegate from each state was created to forge the compromise. It would take key aspects of both plans to create a plan to please both the small states and the large states. The key compromises were in the legislative branch, the most hotly debated portion of the plans. Key components were:
  • A Bicameral legislature
    • One house (House of Representatives) would be based directly on population and would be elected directly by the people. There would initially be fifty-six representatives.
    • The other house (Senate) would give each state have equal representation, with the representatives chosen by the State legislatures.
  • All bills for raising and spending money would have to originate in the House of Representatives.
  • Divided power between national and state governments, with the national power being supreme.
    Compromise between the Virginia and New Jersey Plan. What are the Major Distinctions?

Chart 1:Comparison of the Virginia Plan, New Jersey Plan, and the Connecticut Compromise

Virginia Plan
New Jersey Plan
Connecticut Compromise
Legislative Body
Bicameral: proportional to population
Unicameral: equal representation
bicameral: one house proportional to population, one house equal representation
Legislative elections/appointment
One house elected by people, one house appointed by state legislatures
Appointed by state government.
One house elected by people, one house appointed by state legislatures
Legislative Powers
Choose Judiciary and Executives
Raise revenue from duties and imports
All bills for raising and spending money would originate in the House of Representatives
Strong Central Government
Central government, supreme
Divided power between national and state governments, national power supreme
How was the Connecticut Compromise a merging of the two plans? Which plan more resembles the Articles of the Confederation?

Three-Fifths Compromise:

The convention was torn over whether or not to include slaves in the population count for the house of representatives. The south wanted slaves to count so that they would be able to hold more seats in congress, allowing them to block any future attacks on the profitable slave trade. The north argued that slaves should not count because they were considered property and didn't have the right to vote. In the end the convention decided that slaves would count as three-fifths of a person. This would give the South 47% of the house of representatives, enough to hold off an attack on slavery, but not enough to spread slavery northward.
How did this compromise please both the North and South?

Unfinished Portions:

The executive branch still needed to be finalized, so the delegates set up the Committee on Unfinished Portions to settle the issues of term length and election. While it was quickly decided that there would be one executive called the president, the delegates still feared the mobocracy* shown in Shay's Rebellion. The final compromises were:
  • Four year terms, with the ability to be reelected.
  • The President would be chosen by the Electoral College instead of the people.


*Bicameral: Two house legislature
*Unicameral: One house legislature
*Mobocracy: Rule or domination by the masses

Conclusion and Review Questions

The initial plans proposed and the resulting compromises were key in how the United States Government is still functioning to this day. Had the Convention decided to give more power to the national government or state governments, the constitution may not have survived.

Review Questions: Multiple Choice

1. Which of the following did the Virginia Plan not support?
a. Representation based upon population
b. Bicameral Legislature
c. Legislature would choose Executive and Judiciary
d. Weak National Government

2. How was the national government protected from Mobocracy?
a. Direct election of representatives
b. National Power supersedes state power
c. Election of President by the Electoral College
d. Three-Fifths Compromise

3. What were the issues addressed by the compromises? 1. Slavery 2. Representation 3. Personal Liberties 4. Amount of Executives
a. 1, 2, and 3
b. 1, 2, and 4
c. 2 and 4
d. 1, 2, 3, and 4

4. What states did the New Jersey Plan support?
a. New England States
b. Slave States
c. Small States
d. Middle States

5. What is a component of the Connecticut Compromise?
a. House of Representatives elected by the state legislatures
b. Senate elected by state legislatures
c. Slaves count as three-fifths of a person
d. Multiple executives elected by the Legislative branch

Review Questions: Open-ended

1. Which states would have supported the Virginia Plan? The New Jersey Plan? Why?
2. Why was the counting of slaves for representation a subject of debate?
3. What compromises were made under the Connecticut Compromise that pleased the large states? The small states?

See Also: - Read this copy of the Constitution and see if you can find each aspect of the Connecticut Compromise. Can you find the Three-Fiths Compromise? - An article highlighting the 2012 presidential election race. One compromise which was made was the inclusion of the Electoral College in order to protect society from the masses. Do you think the Electoral College should still be used in today's society? - Read about Roger Sherman and his part in the Connecticut Compromise. How do you think Sherman's political history helped him devise the compromise?

Works Cited:

Christy, Howard C. Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States. 1787. Wikipedia. Web. 20 Sept. 2012. <>.

DeLorenzo, Joshua. "Constitutional Convention." RegentsPrep U.S. History. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Sept. 2012. <>.

"Home." Our Documents -. United States Government, n.d. Web. 20 Sept. 2012. <>.

"The "Three-Fifths" Compromise." The Black Box. African American Registry, n.d. Web. 20 Sept. 2012. <>.

"Virginia & New Jersey Plans." ThinkQuest. Oracle Foundation, n.d. Web. 20 Sept. 2012.

Made by: Jonathan Hauser, Tyler Wright (editor), and Alex Bausch