Virginia’s Role in the U.S. Constitution

606 words | 3 page(s)

The path to creating the Constitution was actually paved by Virginia, as its political leaders, most notably James Madison, called for the Annapolis Convention in September of 1786. Its goal was to discuss rules of commerce and trade, but Madison had greater goals. The Articles of Confederation had some flaws and there were other men that agreed with his assessment this document either needed some significant alterations or it must be entirely replaced with a new document. Hoping to find support for his ideas from delegates from other states, Madison was disappointed when only five of the 13 bodies governed under the Articles of Confederation sent delegates to the Conference. Unable to take action, the attendees spoke amongst themselves and decided to reconvene in another year to revisit the issue.

Before Madison arrived at what became the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in February 1787, he called a meeting with Virginia’s other political minds and placed in writing what he thought the newly born United States must accomplish with their government. He thought a republic was in order and that the states had too much sovereign power under the Articles of Confederation. In this meeting with his fellow Virginians, the Virginia Plan was introduced as the model for the new form of government that would replace the Articles of Confederation.

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Bear in mind Virginia was the first state to institute a Constitution nearly 11 years prior to the Convention. Although Madison was not wholly responsible for creating that document, he did play a large role in its development. The Virginia Constitution was used as a framework for the writers of the Virginia Plan. There were many points that were taken from that and adopted for the new Constitutional Proposal.

Presented to the Convention on May 29, 1787, by Virginia’s governor Edmund Randolph, the Virginia Plan had several distinction features, some of which caused great debate on the floor of the Convention. Namely, the Virginia Plan proposed a bicameral legislature meaning there would two separate houses in Congress and that both house’s membership would be determined proportionately. The lower house would be voted upon by the general populace and the upper house would be selected by members of the lower house. The legislative branch wielded a considerable amount of power and there was an executive figure that would be appointed by the legislature. His purpose was ensure the goals of the legislature came to fruition. The judicial branch existed and its members would serve life-time terms. The executive and members of the national judiciary would have power to veto legislation, subject to override and the national legislature could veto any legislation produced by the states.

Although there was certainly an extensive amount of debate of many of the issues that needed to be worked through prior to implementing a new Constitution, one of the major ones was the small states contesting the Virginia Plan’s legislative branch being based on population. They felt they were at an extreme disadvantage because obviously they would have less representatives. Eventually a compromise on this issue and many others was reached. In reviewing the Constitution, it becomes apparent how many features of the Virginia Plan were adopted. Therefore, Virginia played a tremendous role in the creation of the U.S. Constitution and that is why Madison is often referred to as the Father of Constitution for his work on the Virginia Plan, the Federalist Papers and the Bill of Rights.

  • Madison, James. Notes from the Constitutional Convention. 1787. The Avalon Project. http://avalon.law.yale.edu/subject_menus/debcont.asp.
  • The Virginia Plan. The Avalon Project. http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/vatexta.asp

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