To address the problems with the Articles of Confederation, delegates from five states met at the Annapolis Convention in Maryland in 1786. However, they could not agree on how these issues should be resolved. Finally, a new convention was proposed for the following year with the express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation.
In 1787, delegates from twelve of the thirteen states (minus Rhode Island) met at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. Most of the attendees were not die-hard revolutionaries (Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Samuel Adams, and Patrick Henry were all absent). Nevertheless, most did have experience writing their own state constitutions. Though all fifty-five delegates involved in the proceedings were wealthy property owners, most were aware that they were serving a republic that comprised all social classes. George Washington was unanimously chosen as the chairman of the convention.
It quickly became clear to the Philadelphia delegates that the Articles should be scrapped and replaced with an entirely new constitution to create a stronger national government. Though this about-face was a violation of Congress’s mandate to revise the Articles only, most delegates believed there was no other way to restore order in the Union.
The delegates began drafting a new Constitution to create a republican government. They decided on a government consisting of three branches: legislative (Congress), executive (the President), and judicial (headed by the Supreme Court). Delegates believed this separation of powers into three different branches would ensure that the United States would not become another monarchy.
The structure of the new legislative branch was the subject of a heated debate, as delegates from Virginia and New Jersey both submitted proposals. The Virginia Plan called for a bicameral (two-house) legislature in which the number of representatives each state had would depend on the state’s population. The larger, more populous states supported this proposal because it would give them more power. Hence, the Virginia plan came to be known as the “large state plan.”
The New Jersey Plan proposed a unicameral (one-house) legislature in which all states had the same number of representatives regardless of population. This “small state plan” was, not surprisingly, the favorite of smaller states, which stood to gain power from it.