Lesson Plan

Lesson 2: The Question of Representation at the 1787 Convention

Signing of Constitution, by Howard C. Christy
Photo caption

Howard Chandler Christy's painting of the signing of the United States Constitution.

When the delegates to the Philadelphia Convention convened in May of 1787 to recommend amendments to the Articles of Confederation, one of the first issues they addressed was the plan for representation in Congress. This question was especially contentious, and kept the delegates embroiled in debate and disagreement for over six weeks. One group of delegates believed that they were not authorized to change the "federal" representational scheme under the Articles of Confederation, according to which the states were equally represented in a unicameral Congress by delegates appointed by the state legislatures. Another group of delegates believed that the current scheme of representation under the Articles of Confederation was flawed and had to be replaced with a better one—a "national" one. The question was finally resolved by the Connecticut Compromise, which resulted in a system of representation that would be "partly national, partly federal," involving a combination of the two kinds of representation.

This lesson will focus on the various plans for representation debated during the Constitutional Convention of 1787. By examining the views of delegates as recorded in James Madison's Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787, students will understand the arguments of those who supported either the Virginia Plan or New Jersey Plan. Students will also see why the Connecticut Compromise was crucial for the Convention to fulfill its task of remedying the political flaws of the Articles of Confederation.

Guiding Questions

Why was the question of representation such an important issue to the delegates at the Constitutional Convention of 1787?

In whose interest were the compromises made?

To what extent are the decisions made in 1787 still relevant today?

Learning Objectives

Identify key delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and analyze their views concerning representation.

Evaluate the schemes of representation in the Virginia Plan, the New Jersey Plan, and the Hamilton Plan.

Assess how the question of representation affected whether the changes proposed by the Convention would lead to a "national" or a "federal" system.

Evaluate the results of the Connecticut Compromise with regard to representation.

Examine contemporary issues regarding state and federal representation to determine the degree of change that has occurred over time.