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1787 - The Virginia Plan

As their state had taken the lead in calling the Federal Convention, the Virginia delegates felt a sense of responsibility. They accordingly prepared an outline of a new government, which was presented on May 29 in the form of a series of resolutions by Randolph, the governor of the state.1 These resolutions, commonly known as the Randolph Resolutions, but more properly designated as the Virginia Plan, became the basis of the work of the Convention and, expanded and developed, eventually grew into the Constitution as adopted.

In the later stages of the proceedings of the Convention the delegates were provided with printed copies of the more important documents, but in the earlier stages the delegates were forced to make their own copies. As the importance of the Virginia Plan was early recognized and was the subject of discussion for two weeks in a committee of the whole house, not a few of the delegates made copies of this plan, of which several are still in existence, — e.g., Madison's, Washington's, Brearley's, McHenry's et al. The original document is missing,2 and the various copies differ among themselves. There are inevitable slight variations in wording, spelling, and punctuation, but the most significant differences are found in the sixth and ninth resolutions.

The sixth resolution reads: "That the National Legislature ought to be empowered . . . to negative all laws passed by the several states, contravening in the opinion of the National Legislature the articles of Union", and at this point some of the texts add "or any treaty subsisting under the authority of the Union". The records show clearly that this additional clause was not in the original, as it was inserted on the motion of Franklin, May 31.3 Madison's copy gives the correct reading.

In Madison's copy the ninth resolution reads:

"9. Resd. that a National Judiciary be established to consist of one or more supreme tribunals, and of inferior tribunals to be chosen by the National Legislature, . . . that the jurisdiction of the inferior tribunals shall be to hear & determine in the first instance, and of the supreme tribunal to hear and determine in the dernier resort, all piracies & felonies on the high seas, captures from an enemy;" etc. The other texts vary in the reading of the second, third, and fourth clauses, either by omitting them altogether, or by modifying or omitting one or more of them. Mr. Jameson argues that the specification of supreme and inferior tribunals could not have been in the original document because it was voted, on June 4, "to add these words to the first clause of the ninth resolution, namely: 'To consist of one supreme tribunal, and of one or more inferior tribunals.' " In support of this he cites the authority of both the Journal and Madison's notes.4 By referring to the Records of that date, however, it will be seen that Madison's entry was copied from Journal and this evidence, therefore, rests upon the somewhat doubtful authority of the Journal alone. In the next place, it will be noticed that the wording of June 4 is slightly different from that of the original resolution (as reported by Madison), and so the phrase "to add" might well be used instead of "to accept" or "to agree to". And finally, the texts that in other respects prove to be the most accurate — Madison's, Washington's, McHenry's — all agree in the wording of this resolution.

The same reasoning applies to the latter part of the resolution respecting the jurisdiction of the inferior and superior tribunals, which Mr. Jameson argues is corrupted in the Madison copy.

In the editor's judgment, then, the Madison text of the Virginia Plan or Randolph Resolutions as given in the Records (May 29) is an accurate copy of the original.

[Footnotes as included or written by Farrand]

•1 See Records, May 29, note 8.
•2 See Records, May 29, note 3.
•3 See Records, May 31.
•4 Jameson, Studies in the History of the Federal Convention of 1787, pp. 105-106.

Source: Madison, James. "The Virginia Plan or Randolph Resolutions." The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787. Vol. 3. Ed. Max Farrand. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1911.