From the outset the Constitutional Convention faced the issue of whether to work within the guidelines set by Congress’ resolution of 21 February 1787 that called the Convention for “the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation.” Upon entering the debate, the Convention decided to consider far more than amendments to the Articles. Almost immediately, the Virginia delegation presented a drastically altered form of government. The Convention also considered three other plans.
The Virginia delegates arrived in Philadelphia before the other delegates. They met regularly with one another and drafted resolutions setting forth the broad principles upon which a new constitution should be based. The fifteen resolutions presented to the Convention on 29 May by Virginia Governor Edmund Randolph served as a blueprint for the four months of debate that followed.
On 29 May the journals of the Convention record that Charles Pinckney “laid before the House . . . the draft of a federal government to be agreed upon between the free and independent states of America.” The plan was not discussed by the Convention but was turned over to the Committee of Detail on 24 July. The document written by Pinckney has never been found, but a document in James Wilson’s handwriting has been identified as a synopsis of Pinckney’s plan. After the Convention adjourned, Pinckney printed his plan as a pamphlet indicating that the Constitution reflected many of his suggestions.
The New Jersey Plan proposed exactly what the Confederation Congress had authorized: amendments to the Articles of Confederation that kept the basic structure of the Articles while strengthening the powers of Congress. Delegates from small states and those who insisted that the central government retain many federal features of the Articles of Confederation supported the plan.
In a speech on 18 June, Alexander Hamilton proposed a very powerful national government. Hamilton, who said his proposal was not a plan, essentially believed that both the Virginia Plan and the New Jersey Plan were inadequate, particularly the latter.
On 19 June the Convention rejected the New Jersey Plan and the Hamilton Plan and continued to debate the Virginia Plan for the remainder of the Convention.