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The British Plan


The Constitutional Convention was tasked with proposing amendments to the Articles of Confederation which would make it a more workable plan for national government. The Convention began with the text of the Virginia Plan and Charles Pinckney's notes. New Jersey and the smaller states of the union, determined not to be overwhelmed by the larger states, offered their own proposal, the New Jersey Plan. Alexander Hamilton, frustrated that his vote was often overruled by those of his two fellow New York delegates, had his own plan, offered to the Convention on June 18, 1787. The Plan was far afield from anything previously discussed, proposing a system similar to that of Britain, and hence called the British Plan.

Hamilton went on to become one of the staunchest defenders of the Constitution during the ratification process. His support of a President-for-life was a definite departure from the eventual plan, and it has been theorized that he offered his plan as a worst-case scenario to the Convention.

The following text was taken from the Avalon Project's reproduction of Madison's notes from the Convention. The text is largely unaltered as presented here, but spelling has been corrected and abbreviations have been expanded.

1. The Supreme Legislative power of the United States of America to be vested in two different bodies of men; the one to be called the Assembly, the other the Senate who together shall form the Legislature of the United States with power to pass all laws whatsoever subject to the Negative hereafter mentioned. [1]

2. The Assembly to consist of persons elected by the people to serve for three years. [2]

3. The Senate to consist of persons elected to serve during good behavior; their election to be made by electors chosen for that purpose by the people: in order to this the States to be divided into election districts. On the death, removal or resignation of any Senator his place to be filled out of the district from which he came. [3]

4. The supreme Executive authority of the United States to be vested in a Governor to be elected to serve during good behavior - the election to be made by Electors chosen by the people in the Election Districts aforesaid. The authorities and functions of the Executive to be as follows: to have a negative on all laws about to be passed, and the execution of all laws passed, to have the direction of war when authorized or begun; to have with the advice and approbation of the Senate the power of making all treaties; to have the sole appointment of the heads or chief officers of the departments of Finance, War and Foreign Affairs; to have the nomination of all other officers (Ambassadors to foreign Nations included) subject to the approbation or rejection of the Senate; to have the power of pardoning all offenses except Treason; which he shall not pardon without the approbation of the Senate. [4]

5. On the death, resignation or removal of the Governor his authorities to be exercised by the President of the Senate till a Successor be appointed. [5]

6. The Senate to have the sole power of declaring war, the power of advising and approving all Treaties, the power of approving or rejecting all appointments of officers except the heads or chiefs of the departments of Finance, War, and foreign affairs. [6]

7. The supreme Judicial authority to be vested in Judges to hold their offices during good behavior with adequate and permanent salaries. This Court to have original jurisdiction in all causes of capture, and an appellative jurisdiction in all causes in which the revenues of the general Government or the Citizens of foreign Nations are concerned. [7]

8. The Legislature of the United States to have power to institute Courts in each State for the determination of all matters of general concern. [8]

9. The Governor, Senators, and all officers of the United States to be liable to impeachment for mal- and corrupt conduct; and upon conviction to be removed from office, and disqualified for holding any place of trust or profit. All impeachments to be tried by a Court to consist of the Chief or Judge of the superior Court of Law of each State, provided such Judge shall hold his place during good behavior, and have a permanent salary. [9]

10. All laws of the particular States contrary to the Constitution or laws of the United States to be utterly void; and the better to prevent such laws being passed, the Governor or president of each State shall be appointed by the General Government and shall have a negative upon the laws about to be passed in the State of which he is Governor or President. [10]

11. No State to have any forces land or Naval; and the Militia of all the States to be under the sole and exclusive direction of the United States, the officers of which to be appointed and commissioned by them. [11]


1. Like the final draft, as found at Article 1, Section 1, Hamilton's plan included a bicameral legislature. Hamilton envisioned that each house would have an active "negative" on each other, while the system in the final draft is more passive.

2. Similar to the final draft's Article 1, Section 2, Hamilton's Assembly was elected by the people, though for three year terms.

3. Hamilton's Senate was elected for life from districts rather than from the states. The method of indirect election is similar to the Electoral College defined in Article 2, Section 1 of the final draft.

4. Again predicting the Electoral College, Hamilton's executive, the Governor, was elected for life, by the Senatorial electoral districts. He had a veto, as found at Article 1, Section 7. He also would have been commander-in-chief of the military, would have negotiated treaties, appointed his own cabinet officers, and had the pardon power, powers vested in the President by Article 2, Section 2.

5. Instead of a fixed line of succession, as found at Article 2, Section 1, Hamilton's Governor would be replaced by a temporary Governor appointed by the Senate until a new Governor was elected.

6. Except for the power to declare war, which was granted to the Congress as a whole in Article 1, Section 8, Hamilton's Senate had some of the same powers as that of the final draft.

7. Hamilton's unnamed judicial branch had a dearth of original jurisdiction, but shared the life term of the final draft's justices as found at Article 3, Section 1.

8. Hamilton's draft gave his legislature the power to constitute lower courts within the states, just as the final draft does in Article 3, Section 1.

9. Hamilton's plan includes a lengthy section about impeachment, and includes most of the details found in the final draft at Article 1, Section 2 and Section 3 and Article 2, Section 4.

10. Hamilton's plan took the supremacy concept a few steps further than the Supremacy Clause, at Article 6, by allowing the national government to veto any state law and by mandating the veto power and appointment method of state governors.

11. Hamilton's plan again went beyond the final draft by not only mandating that the states not keep armies or navies, as at Article 1, Section 10, but also gave the national government power over the state militias.

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