Teaching Students About the Difference Between the New Jersey Plan and the Virginia Plan

The United States Constitution is one of the most important documents in American history, outlining the principles and values upon which the country was founded. It is the foundation of the American government, and the framework by which the country is still governed today. When it was first written, however, the Constitution was a contested document, debated and amended by the Founding Fathers until they finally came to an agreement. One of the most significant debates during the Constitutional Convention was between the New Jersey Plan and the Virginia Plan, two proposals for designing the new government. As a teacher, it is important to teach students about the differences between the New Jersey Plan and the Virginia Plan, so they can understand how the Constitution came to be and how the government operates.

The New Jersey Plan was proposed by William Paterson, a delegate from New Jersey. Paterson’s plan called for a unicameral, or single-chambered, legislature. Each state would have equal representation, with one vote per state. This was in contrast to the Virginia Plan, which called for a bicameral, or two-chambered, legislature. The lower house, or House of Representatives, would be apportioned based on population, while the upper house, or Senate, would have equal representation from each state.

The New Jersey Plan also called for a weak executive branch, with a council of executives rather than a single president. This council would be appointed by the legislative body. The Virginia Plan, on the other hand, called for a strong executive branch, with a single president elected by the people.

In terms of the judiciary, both plans proposed a Supreme Court, but the New Jersey Plan did not include a lower court system. The Virginia Plan called for a national court system with multiple layers.

As a teacher, it is important to help students understand the historical context and motivations behind the New Jersey Plan and the Virginia Plan. The New Jersey Plan was largely proposed by smaller states with less population, who were concerned that a government based on population would lead to a concentration of power in the larger states. The Virginia Plan, on the other hand, was proposed by larger states with more population, who believed that a government based on population would be more democratic and representative.

Understanding how these debates played out and were resolved is key to understanding how the Constitution was ultimately written and ratified. Ultimately, compromises were made between the New Jersey Plan and the Virginia Plan, resulting in the creation of the bicameral legislature, with the House of Representatives apportioned by population and the Senate having equal representation from each state.

Teaching students about this historical debate is essential for understanding the principles upon which the American government was founded. It also helps to highlight the importance of compromise in achieving political goals and the value of diverse perspectives and opinions in making sound policy decisions. By helping students understand the differences between the New Jersey Plan and the Virginia Plan, teachers can encourage critical thinking, civic engagement, and a deeper appreciation for the foundations of American democracy.

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