The Articles of Confederation

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How did the Constitution improve representation compared to the Articles of Confederation?

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Under the Articles of Confederation, each of the original states was represented by a single vote in a unicameral Congress. This was true regardless of population, so that the people who lived in larger states like Virginia, New York, North Carolina, and Massachusetts, like other, less-populous states, had a single vote to represent them in Congress (each state could choose a multi-person delegation, but the delegations only had one vote). The Constitution "fixed" this by creating a bicameral legislature in which representation in one house, the House of Representatives, was based on population--the more people who lived in a state, the more representatives it would send to Congress. In the other house, the Senate, each state had two senators. This solution was seen as a balance between the positions of the large and the small states, and it also demonstrates that the framers of the Constitution were careful to rein in the democratic impulses some politicians may have had.

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Under the plan of government created by the Articles of Confederation, each state had one vote in Congress. The large states believed this practice was unfair because each voting representative represented far more people in the large states than each voting representative represented in the small states. When the Founding Fathers met to discuss a new plan of government, the large states wanted this to change.

There was significant discussion about representation among the Founding Fathers. The Virginia Plan proposed that representation in the legislative branch should be based on the population of a state. This plan would give the large states more representatives than the small states. The New Jersey Plan wanted there to be equal representation in the legislative branch. Each state would have the same number of representatives.

Roger Sherman proposed a compromise. This compromise was known as the Great Compromise. There would be two houses of Congress. In the House of Representatives, representation would be based on the population of the state. The large states would have more representatives than the small states. In the Senate, there would be equal representation. Each state would have two senators.

Once this compromise was reached, the Founding Fathers could move forward in resolving other issues that needed to be discussed during the Constitutional Convention.

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