| When the Federal Convention met in Philadelphia in 1787 to amend
the Articles of Confederation, most of the delegates agreed that the
legislature should have two houses with greatly expanded powers. There
was disagreement, however, over the type of representation. Heavily
populated states supported James Madisonšs efforts to base representation
on population alone. Delegates from smaller states supported William
Patersonšs "New Jersey Plan" that would have given states equal representation
in the Congress. Eventually, delegates reached a compromise that provided
for a two-house legislature: one with representation based on population
elected directly by the people; the other chosen by state legislatures
with equal representation for each state.
On May 29, 1787, Virginia delegate Edmund Randolph proposed what
became known as "The Virginia Plan." Written primarily by fellow
Virginian James Madison, the plan traced the broad outlines of what
would become the U.S. Constitution: a national government consisting
of three branches with checks and balances to prevent the abuse
of power. In its amended form, this page of Madison_s plan shows
his ideas for a legislature. It describes 2 houses: one with members
elected by the people for 3-year terms and the other composed of
older leaders elected by the state legislatures for 7-year terms.
Both would use population as a basis for dividing seats among the
The Constitutional Convention struggled for weeks over how representatives
to a national legislature should be chosen. The report of the Grand
Committee, shown here, represented an effort to find a compromise
between the positions of the large and small states. On July 16,
the convention adopted the "Great Compromise" based on this report.
It apportioned representation in the House of Representatives by
population. In the Senate, each state would be represented by two
senators chosen by the state legislatures.