The Original Compromise: What the Constitution's Framers Were Really Thinking

By David Brian Robertson | Go to book overview

6
Narrow Nationalism
The Virginia Plan’s Opponents

The Virginia Plan posed a severe political threat to the smaller states excluded from James Madison’s coalition of large and Southern states. Many of the leading delegates from these states supported a much narrower form of nationalism than Madison. Each of these smaller states had an equal vote in the existing Confederation Congress. This equal vote gave them leverage against larger states enacting laws that would harm them. The Virginia Plan would create a more powerful national government in which they the smaller states would have less influence. Virginia’s proposed new government could run roughshod over the smaller states.

Soon after Randolph proposed the Virginia Plan, leading delegates from these vulnerable states, such as Connecticut’s Roger Sherman, began to articulate an alternative “narrow” nationalism and to mount a defense of the states’ authority. These narrow nationalists delayed Madison’s agenda, put its supporters on the defensive, and built a political coalition to protect the states’ influence. By the third week of the Convention, they had developed an alternative agenda—the New Jersey Plan—that aimed to protect most of the state governments’ existing prerogatives. The authors of the New Jersey Plan failed to substitute their agenda for Virginia’s. But their challenge shaped the Convention’s negotiations and compromises.


The Virginia Plan’s Threat

Virginia’s proposals posed a clear threat to the smaller and medium-sized states between Massachusetts and Virginia—that is, the states left out of Madison’s coalition of large and Southern states. If representation in the legislature were based on the size of a state’s population, smaller states easily could be outvoted

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