The Politics of the Virginia Plan
James Madison brought to Philadelphia not only a far-reaching plan to overhaul American government, but also a carefully prepared strategy for winning the Convention over to this plan. Madison was a “broad” nationalist: he sought a national government with broad authority, including complete power over taxes, commerce, and the military, and the power to veto any state law. In this government, the national legislature, the most important policy-making body, would be separated into two houses in which each state would have a number of representatives proportional to its population. Madison’s strategy included framing the problem in an advantageous way and building a coalition of six state delegations to support the plan. The Virginia Plan, overwhelmingly based on Madison’s preparation, made fifteen proposals for government reform that became the basis for the initial negotiations over the Constitution.
In the half dozen years before the Constitutional Convention, Madison had emerged as one of the nation’s brightest young political leaders, a friend and an ally of notables such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Alexander Hamilton. From the moment he arrived in Congress in 1780 as a young representative from Virginia, Madison had fought to increase the powers of the national government. He had played a leading role in the Annapolis Convention of 1786.1 After the Constitutional Convention, he went on to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives, as U.S. Secretary of State, and as president. He helped build the Democratic-Republican Party. During his political career, he ran for elective office more times than did Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, or Barack Obama.