The New Jersey Plan was a methodology created by New Jersey delegate William Paterson, which outlined a system for the election of State representatives in a nationally-consolidated legislature. Paterson presented the New Jersey Plan to his fellow delegates at the Constitutional Convention with hopes of solidifying a process that would ensure the unbiased selection of State representatives to a centralized legislative body.
Due to the methodology established in the Articles of Confederation, the 13 states of the Union were operating as individually-sovereign entities within a republic. Yet, the power allowed to the central government as outlined in the Articles of Confederation was relinquished of its jurisdiction over any and all matters that took place within individual respective State borders. This included the regulation of both a statewide legislative policy, as well as a statewide commercial policy. However, the collective realization on the part of the larger states of the Union, in which they agreed that the legislative system established in the Articles of Confederation put them at a severe disadvantage, was met with a contrasting realization on the part of the smaller states of the Union.
Smaller states felt that the size of the respective State should not be a deciding factor in either legislation or funding.
Although the states with larger populations were faced with larger responsibilities, the Articles of Confederation established that regardless of size, every State was to be considered a sovereign legislative entity. For example, the cost of Virginia’s maintenance of its general statewide welfare, which included rural and commercial construction, land grants, as well as the upkeep of a State militia, was exorbitantly higher than that of Rhode Island. The variance in cost was due to the fact that Virginia, a larger State, had both an exponentially larger land area, as well as a larger population than did a smaller State such as Rhode Island. Not only did Virginia have a higher volume of land to maintain, but they also had a higher population of citizens to oversee and protect.
Yet, despite the cost of Virginia’s statewide maintenance greatly exceeding that of Rhode Island’s, the Articles of Confederation established that since Virginia operated as sovereignty, it was not entitled to any compensation from the central government.
Smaller states such as New Jersey, who were responsible for the presentation of the New Jersey Plan at the Constitutional Convention were adamant about being treated fairly despite their contextually smaller size. William Paterson explained that the same reasons why larger states felt that they should not be penalized for their larger size, and therefore entitled to compensation for their larger expenses, smaller states were entitled to the same treatment in the form of representative compensation in a Congressional legislative body.
The New Jersey Plan, which William Paterson proposed to the Constitutional Convention, illustrated a unicameral legislation consisting of a single Congressional legislative body in which each State would have an equal number of representatives.
William Paterson had hoped that his New Jersey Plan would address the concerns of both large and small states alike: large states would no longer need be concerned about the formation of potential alliances and smaller states would not be penalized on account of their inferior populations.