The 1787 Constitution Convention – The New Jersey Plan Raises Anxiety

June 15, 1787


New Jersey delegate William Patterson submitted another plan of government.

Influences on the Constitution

Debate was postponed until the next session:

Mr. PATTERSON laid before the Convention the plan which he said several of the Deputations wished to be substituted in place of that proposed by Mr. RANDOLPH. After some little discussion of the most proper mode of giving it a fair deliberation, it was agreed, that it should be referred to a Committee of the Whole; and that, in order to place the two plans in due comparison, the other should be recommitted. At the earnest request of Mr. LANSING and some other gentleman, it was also agreed that the Convention should not go into Committee of the Whole on the subject till to-morrow; by which delay the friends of the plan proposed by Mr. PATTERSON would be better prepared to explain and support it, and all would have an opportunity of taking copies.1

The plan was laid out in Madison’s notes. Madison’s commentary probably best sums up the offer of a new plan.

This plan had been concerted among the Deputations, or members thereof, from Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and perhaps Mr. Martin, from Maryland, who made with them a common cause, though on different principles. Connecticut and New York were against a departure from the principle of the Confederation, wishing rather to add a few new powers to Congress than to substitute a National Government. The States of New Jersey and Delaware were opposed to a National Government, because its patrons considered a proportional representation of the States as the basis of it. The eagerness displayed by the members opposed to a National Government, from these different motives, began now to produce serious anxiety for the result of the Convention. Mr. Dickinson said to Mr. Madison, “You see the consequence of pushing things too far. Some of the members from the small States wish for two branches in the General Legislature, and are friends to a good National Government; but we would sooner submit to foreign power, than submit to be deprived, in both branches of the legislature, of an equality of suffrage, and thereby be thrown under the domination of the larger States.”

Delegates from the smaller states were quite worried that they would be dominated by the larger states. This nervousness led them to champion the Confederation of states over a strong national government. However, the dispute between the states led to worries that the convention might end without an agreement. From Madison’s note:

The eagerness displayed by the members opposed to a National Government, from these different motives, began now to produce serious anxiety for the result of the Convention.


1787 Constitutional Convention Series

To read my series examining the proceedings of the Constitution Convention, click here.  In this series, I am writing about any obvious influences on the development of the Constitution which were mentioned by the delegates to the Convention. Specifically, I am testing David Barton’s claim that “every clause” of the Constitution is based on biblical principles. Thus far, I have found nothing supporting the claim. However, stay tuned, the series will run until mid-September.
Constitutional Convention Series (click the link)
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