The Virginia Plan was the predecessor of the Great Compromise of 1787, and involved the proposal to create the bicameral legislature currently in place in the US. It was created by James Madison and involved the idea of allowing representation to all states based on their total population numbers.


It was also the document that first proposed the establishment of three separate government branches, those being the legislative, executive, and judicial departments. While the Virginia plan had its flaws, some of its ideas served to create the US Constitution.

During the War of Independence, the US was operating largely under provisional laws and military customs, with the individual independence of states being briefly superseded by the threat of the British. After the abdication of the British rule and the victory of the rebellion, came the question of how to govern various semi-independent entities that were to form the new country. The existing Articles of Confederation established individual states as sovereign nations, which was not going to solve inter-state conflicts, particularly in times of war. There was a serious risk of the US becoming a conglomerate of small nations each vying for power.

At the same time, states were hesitant to all submit under a unicameral legislative body, like it was done in the majority of European countries. It would have ensured the subjugation of smaller and less populous states to larger ones, creating economic and political inequality. At the same time, the larger states were unwilling to have the same power as others, as they rightly saw themselves as the economic and political strongholds of the nation. To them, it seemed unreasonable that a much more populous state should have the same vote as the one with a frontier region. The Virginia plan was one of the first attempt to remedy the conundrum. It was created to counterbalance the New Jersey Plan, which suggested a unicameral system. Its main feature, besides introducing a bi-cameral system, was to split the legislative, judicial, and executive branches, creating checks and balances against power misuse. It was notoriously more appealing to the bigger states than the small ones, as it made the senate numbers population-based, whereas the New Jersey Plan was going to give each state an equal number of representatives in the unicameral legislative bodies, with no acknowledgement of larger population numbers.

The point of contention for the bill was the so-called “Federal Negative”, which allowed the Congress to override state laws. It was seen as an encroachment on individual state rights. Even though later editions of the plan significantly curtailed the capacity to execute a federal negative, even James Madison acknowledged that its mere presence may create precedents and be abused in the future. As a result, the plan was ultimately declined, and the Great Compromise was achieved by implementing Sherman’s plan, which was an amalgamation of both the Virginia and New Jersey plans, taking pieces of each and creating a system that laid the foundation for the US Constitution. The idea of bi-cameral system was successfully implemented, with each state being allowed 2 representatives in the Senate, whereas the representatives in the House of Commons were chosen based on the population numbers.