It would be several years before construction started on the actual Capitol of the United States (seen here). In late June 1787, the delegates attending the Constitutional Convention were still weighing their options on the framework of a document and government.
Three conceptual frameworks for the new government had been presented. In addition to Randolph’s Virginia Plan and Paterson’s New Jersey Plan, Alexander Hamilton proposed a third possibility which called for a strong executive branch that reminded many delegates an awful lot of the English monarchy.
Each plan had its advocates. The Virginia Plan was generally favored by larger states. The New Jersey Plan was generally favored by smaller states. The Hamilton plan was generally favored by Alexander Hamilton.
The concepts of the two major plans were not rooted in size but in divergent values and priorities deeply influenced by size. Larger states had more people and more natural resources at their disposal, and they believed they deserved a proportional voice in the new government. Smaller states asserted the nation had formed as a union of equal states and that each state deserved an equal voice in the new government.
Nowhere was the conflict between proportional representation and equal representation more evident than in the Convention’s debates about how to organize the legislative branch. Debate about the legislature began on June 20, and the Convention took less than two days to agree it should consist of two houses. The question of how to determine representation in each house was hotly contested for weeks.
On June 29, Oliver Ellsworth from Connecticut proposed representation in the First House be proportional to population and representation in the Second House be equally distributed to each state.
After another week and a half of debates, the Convention finally adopted Ellsworth’s compromise as the foundation of the modern U.S. Congress.
Image: Photograph of the Capitol Building Under Construction in Washington, DC.
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