An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States/Chapter VIII

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Chapter VIII
The Process of Ratification[edit]

On the 17th day of September, 1787, the Convention at Philadelphia finished its work and transmitted the new Constitution to Congress, with the suggestion that "it should afterwards be submitted to a convention of delegates chosen in each state by the people thereof, under the recommendation of Its legislature for their assent and ratification and that each convention assenting to and ratifying the same should give notice thereof to the United States in Congress assembled." The Philadelphia Convention further proposed that when nine states had ratified the new instrument, it should go into effect as between the states ratifying the same. Eleven days later, on September 28, the Congress, then sitting in New York, resolved to accept the advice of the Convention, and sent the Constitution to the state legislatures to be transmitted by them to conventions chosen by the voters of the respective commonwealths.

This whole process was a departure from the provisions of the then fundamental law of the land - the Articles of Confederation - which provided that all alterations and amendments should be made by Congress and receive the approval of the legislature of every state. If today the Congress of the United States should call a national convention to "revise" the Constitution, and such a convention should throwaway the existing instrument of government entirely and submit a new frame of government to a popular referendum, disregarding altogether the process of amendment now provided, we should have something analogous to the great political transformation of 1787-89. The revolutionary nature of the work of the Philadelphia Convention is correctly characterized by Professor John W. Burgess when he states that had such acts been performed Julius or Napoleon, they would have been pronounced coups d' état.[1]

This revolutionary plan of procedure was foreshadow in the Virginia proposals at the opening of the Convention and was, therefore, contemplated by some of the leaders from the beginning. When it was under consideration on June 5, Sherman, of Connecticut, opposed it on the ground that it was unnecessary and that regular provisions we already made in the Articles for amendments. Madison wanted to establish the Constitution on some foundation other than mere legislative approval. Gerry "observed that in the Eastern states the Confederation had been sanctioned by the people themselves. He seemed afraid, of referring the new system to them. The people in that quarter have, at this time, the wildest ideas of government in the world. They were for abolishing the senate in Massachusetts." King thought that "a convention being a single house, the adoption may be more easily carried through it than through the legislatures where there are several branches. The legislatures also being to lose power will be most likely to raise objections."[2]

On July 23 the resolution regarding ratification came before the Convention again for discussion,[3] when it was moved that the Constitution be referred to the state legislatures. One of the principal objections urged against this plan was the possibility of a later legislature's repealing the ratification by a preceding body of the same authority; but the chief problem was whether there was more likelihood of securing a confirmation by legislatures or by conventions. "Whose opposition will be most likely to be excited against the system?" asked Randolph. "That of the local demagogues who will be degraded by it from the importance they now hold. These will spare no efforts to impede that progress in the popular mind which will be necessary to the adoption of the plan. . . . It is of great importance, therefore, that the consideration of this subject should be transferred from the legislatures where this class of men have their full influence to a field in which their efforts can be less mischievous: It is, moreover, worthy of consideration that some of the states are averse to any change in their constitution, and will not take the requisite steps unless expressly called upon to refer the question to the people."

Mr. Gorham, of Massachusetts, was of the same opinion. He "was against referring the plan to the legislatures. 1. Men chosen by the people for the particular purpose will discuss the subject more candidly than members of the legislature who are to lose the power which is to be given up to the general government. 2. Some of the legislatures are composed of several branches. It will consequently be more difficult in these cases to get the plan through the legislatures than through a convention. 3. In the states many of the ablest men are excluded from the legislatures, but may be elected into a convention. Among these be ranked many of the clergy who are generally friends to good government. . .. 4. The legislatures will interrupted with a variety of little business; by artfully pressing which, designing men will find means to delay from year to year, if not to frustrate altogether, the national system. 5. If the last article of the Confederation is to be pursued the unanimous concurrence of the states will be necessary."

In the Convention, Ellsworth preferred to trust the legislatures rather than popularly elected conventions. "I thought more was to be expected from the legislature than from the people. The prevailing wish of the people in the eastern states is to get rid of the public debt; and the idea of strengthening the national government carries with it that of strengthening the public debt." After the plan of ratification by conventions was carried in spite of Ellsworth's objections, he defended it in his appeal to the populace by saying: "It proves the honesty and patriotism of the gentlemen who composed the general Convention that they chose to submit their system to the people rather than to the legislatures, whose decisions are often influenced by men in the higher departments of government, who have provided well for themselves and dread any change least they should be injured by its operation. I would not wish to exclude from a state convention those gentlemen who compose the higher branches of the assemblies in the several states, but choose to see them stand on an even floor with their brethren, where the artifice of a small number cannot negative a vast majority of the people. This danger was foreseen by the federal convention and they have wisely avoided it by appealing directly to the people."[4]

A study of the opinions of the members of the Convention shows that four leading reasons led to the agreement on ratification by state conventions. It permitted the disregard of the principle of unanimous approval by the states. A firmer foundation would be laid for the Constitution if it had the sanction of special conventions rather than temporary legislatures. One of the first objects of the Constitution was to restrict the authority of state legislatures, and it could hardly be expected that they would voluntarily commit suicide. Another leading purpose of the Convention was to pay the public debt at par, and the members had learned from the repeated appeals to the state legislatures for funds to meet this national obligation that no relief was to be expected from this source. There was a better chance of getting the right kind of citizens elected to a convention than to a legislature. By separating the election of delegates to state conventions from the election of members to the state legislatures, the supporters of the Constitution were better able to concentrate their campaign of education. As for the provision of the Articles of Confederation requiring the approval of every state for any amendment in the Articles, the urgent necessities of the advocates of the new system could not permit such a mere technicality to stand in their way.

The question of their legal right to cast aside their instructions and draft a totally new instrument was more or less troublesome for those who entertained a strict regard for the observance of the outward signs of propriety. No doubt the instructions of the delegations from the several states limited them to the "revision” of the Articles of Confederation, and it is highly improbable that in the state of public temper then prevailing a Convention would have assembled at all if its revolutionary purposes had been understood. During the debates behind closed doors Mr. Paterson declared that the delegates were bound by their instructions, but Randolph replied that "he was not scrupulous on the point of power "; and Hamilton agreed with this view saying, "We owed it to our country to do on this emergency whatever we should deem essential to its happiness. The states sent us here to provide for the exigencies of the union. To rely on and propose any plan not adequate to these exigencies merely because it was not clearly within our powers would be to sacrifice the means to the end."[5]

Outside the halls of the Convention it also became necessary to defend this revolutionary departure from their instructions. Madison took up the cause in The Federalist[6] and made out an unanswerable case for his side, frankly pleading the justification of revolution if the legal arguments which he advanced were deemed insufficient.

At the outset he is unwilling to admit that the Convention had broken with its instructions and performed a revolutionary act. He, accordingly, puts forward a legal and moral justification first, based upon an analysis of the instructions of the delegates. They were bound, he shows, to make such revisions in the Articles as would render them adequate to the exigencies of the union; but an adequate government, he pleads, could not be made by revising the Articles, and the Convention was either compelled to sacrifice the greater for the less by strictly obeying its instructions or to do its whole duty by sacrificing the letter of the law. Then he clinches the argument: "Let them declare whether it was of most importance to the happiness of the people of America that the Articles of Confederation should be disregarded and an adequate government be provided and the Union preserved; or that an adequate government should be omitted and the Articles of Confederation preserved."

But Madison, after having paid his respects to Legality, hastens to add that in all great changes in government "forms ought to give way to substance." A rigid adherence to mere technicalities "would render nominal and nugatory the transcendent and precious right of the people' to abolish or alter their governments as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.'" That is, the right of revolution is, at bottom, the justification for all great political changes. If it is argued that this right of revolution should not be exercised by a small group of men, such as the Convention of fifty-odd delegates at Philadelphia, Madison replies that it is impossible for the whole people to move forward in concert, and "it is therefore essential that such changes be instituted by some informal and unauthorized propositions made by some patriotic and respectable citizen or number of citizens." This was the manner in which the recent revolt against England was carried out; and in the present case the people had the right to pass upon the work of the Philadelphia assembly.

The opponents of the Constitution were able to see the significance of that clause of the Constitution which cast aside the legal system under which they were living and provided that the new instrument should go into effect when ratified by nine states - as between those states. "Cornelius," in Massachusetts, exhibited great anxiety on this point, and in his letters of December 11 and 18, 1787, he asked concerning this departure: "Will not the adoption of this constitution in the manner here prescribed be justly considered as a perfidious violation of that fundamental and solemn compact by which the United States hold an existence and claim to be a people? If a nation may easily discharge itself from obligations to abide by its most solemn and fundamental compacts, may it not with still greater ease do the same in matters of less importance? And if nations may set the example, may not particular states, citizens, and subjects follow? What then will become of public and private faith? Where is the ground of allegiance that is due to government? Are not the bonds of civil society dissolved? Or is allegiance founded only in power? Has moral obligation no place in civil government? In mutual compacts can one party be bound while the other is free? Or, can one party disannul such compact, without the consent of the other? If so, Constitutions and national compacts are, I conceive, of no avail; and oaths of allegiance must be preposterous things."[7]

On all hands the "unconstitutional" procedure of the Convention was attacked by the Anti-Federalists. "A system of consolidation," says another writer, "has been formed with the most profound secrecy and without the least authority: And has been suddenly and without any previous notice transmitted by the federal convention for ratification - Congress not disposed to give any opinion on the plan, have transmitted it to the legislatures - The legislatures have followed the example and sent it to the people. The people of this state, unassisted by Congress or their legislature, have not had time to investigate the subject, have referred to the newspapers for information, have been divided by contending writers, and under such circumstances have elected members for the state convention -and these members are to consider whether they will accept the plan of the federal convention, with all its imperfections, and bind the people by a system of government, of the nature and principles of which they have not at present a clearer idea than they have of the Copernican system."[8]

Whatever was thought of the merits of the controversy over the proposed plan of ratification, it was accepted by the state legislatures which were invited by Congress to transmit the Constitution to special conventions. It remains to inquire, therefore, what methods were employed in calling these conventions and setting the seal of approval on the new and revolutionary proposals of the Philadelphia assembly.

The resolution calling the convention in New Hampshire to pass upon the federal Constitution was adopted by the legislature on December 14, 1787. The time for holding the elections was left to the selectmen of the several towns, who were instructed to warn the duly qualified voters of the event. The date for the meeting of the convention was fixed on the second Wednesday of February, 1788.[9] Four hundred copies of the Constitution were ordered to be printed for distribution.

The elections seem to have been held about mid-January, for the New Hampshire Spy, for January 25, 1788, contains a long list of delegates already chosen, and adds that "several of the towns not mentioned in the above list were to have had their meetings this week."

A majority of the members of the state convention so chosen, writes a student, who has inquired into the personnel of that body, "were undoubtedly opposed to the Constitution. ...The talent of the convention was decidedly on the side of the Federalists and a majority of the ablest members were in favor of ratification. ...For a time the friends of the Constitution had hopes of securing its ratification without a recess of the convention. Although the greater number of the members from the upper part of the state came down rather opposed to its adoption, yet on the final question it was hoped that a majority would be found to favor it. But these hopes proved delusive. While some of the members who came to the convention instructed to vote against the Constitution had been led by the discussions to a change of opinion and now favored it, they still felt bound by their instructions, and frankly said that if a final vote was to be taken before they had an opportunity to consult their constituents their vote would be adverse to ratification."[10] Under these circumstances the Federalists adjourned the convention and set to work to convert the enemy. When the convention reassembled a few months later, they were able to carry the day by the uncomfortably small margin of 57 to 47.[11]

In Massachusetts the Federalists lost no time in moving for a convention. As early as October 20, 1787, they carried a favorable resolution in the senate of the state, and secured the concurrence of the house four days later. This resolve provided that the delegates should be chosen by those inhabitants "qualified by law to vote in the election of representatives," and the elections should take place "as soon as may be" in the several towns and districts. The date for the meeting of the delegates was fixed as the second Wednesday in January next. On January 9, 1788, the Convention met at Boston; and a real battle of wits ensued.

As in New Hampshire, the delegates, when they came together fresh from their constituents, appeared to be opposed to adopting the new instrument of government. A careful scholar, who has studied the period intensively, takes this view: "Had a vote been taken on the adoption of the Constitution as soon as the convention assembled, there can be no question but that it would have been overwhelmingly against the proposed plan."[12]

Even after powerful influences had been brought to bear, the margin for the Federalists was uncomfortably close - 187 to 168. Harding remarks: "The majority in favor of ratification, it will be seen was only nineteen. The nine delegates whose names were returned to the convention, but who were not present when the vote was taken, might almost have turned the scale in the other direction. Bearing in mind that it was mainly the Anti-federalist towns that were unrepresented, it may be safely asserted that out of the forty-six delinquent corporations there were enough which were Anti-federalist to have procured the rejection of the constitution. This calculation, however, is based on the assumption that a corresponding increase did not take place in the Federalist representation. Had all the towns entitled to send representatives done so, and had all the delegates been present to cast their votes, it is -probable that the final result would not have been changed, though the Federalist majority would have been cut down to scarcely more than a bare half-dozen."[13]

After turning over the debates in the Massachusetts convention, one can scarcely escape the conclusion that the victory in eloquence, logic, and pure argumentation lay on the side of the Federalists; and it would not be worth while to consider at all the charges that improper influence was brought to bear on the delegates, were it not for the fact that they were made at the time and have lasted in the literature on the ratification in Massachusetts. We have "the sober assertion of a reputable historical writer within the last thirty years "to the effect" that enough members of the Massachusetts convention were bought with money from New York to secure the ratification of the new system by Massachusetts."[14] Harding, after making an examination of the charges, dismissed them as "baseless"; and quite properly, for whoever would convict men of such high standing in the community as King, Gorham, and Strong of being associated with such a reprehensible transaction should produce more than mere unsubstantiated evidence.

The legislature of Connecticut, determined not to be behindhand in setting the approval of the state on the new instrument, called a convention on October 11, 1787.[15] A month was given to the electors to deliberate over the choice of delegates who were to decide the momentous issue. The election was held on November 12; the convention assembled on January 3, 1788; and after a few days' discussion gave its assent on January 9, 1788, by a vote of 128 to 40.[16]

In New York the voters were given more time than in Connecticut to consider the new Constitution before they were called upon to settle the question of ratification at the polls by choosing delegates to the state convention. It was not until February 1, 1788, that the legislature of that commonwealth issued the call for the special election to be held on the last Tuesday of the following April.[17]

The contest in New York was hot from the start. Governor Clinton, in his message to the legislature in January, 1788, did not mention the Constitution - an omission which gave the Federalists some hope as they had feared an executive attack. The resolution calling the state convention passed the lower house by a narrow margin; and in the senate a motion to postpone the matter was almost carried, receiving nine out of nineteen votes.[18]

When, at length, the convention assembled, at least two- thirds of the sixty-four members were found to be against ratification. Such is the view of, Bancroft, and the contemporary press bears out his conclusion.[19] Nevertheless, by much eloquence and no little manœuvring, the Federalist champions were able to obtain a majority of 30 to 27. The assent of the requisite number of opponents was secured only after an agreement that a circular should be issued recommending the call of another national convention at once to revise the Constitution as adopted.

In pursuance of this agreement, the legislature at its next session, on February 5, 1789, called upon Congress to summon another convention to revise the new instrument of government at once. The address of the legislature stated that the Constitution had been ratified "in the fullest confidence of obtaining a revision of the said Constitution by a general convention, and in confidence that certain powers in and by the said Constitution granted would not be exercised until a convention should have been called and convened for proposing amendments to the said Constitution." The legislature went on to say that it complied with the unanimous sense of the state convention, "who all united in opinion that such a revision was necessary to recommend the said Constitution to the approbation and support of a numerous body of their constituents, and a majority of the members of which conceived several articles of the Constitution so exceptionable, that nothing but such confidence and an invincible reluctance to separate from our sister states could have prevailed upon a sufficient number to assent to it without stipulating for previous amendments."[20]

The commonwealth of New Jersey made haste to ratify the new Constitution as soon as possible after its transmission by Congress. On November 1, 1787, the legislature issued the call for the convention, ordering the inhabitants who were "entitled to vote for representatives in General Assembly," to elect delegates on the fourth Tuesday in the following November, i.e., November 27. The date for the meeting of the convention was fixed as the second Tuesday in December, the 11th, and on the 18th day of that month, the members, "Having maturely deliberated on and considered the aforesaid proposed Constitution," unanimously agreed to its adoption.[21]

The legislature of Delaware, influenced by "the sense and desire of great numbers of the people of the state, signified in petitions to their general assembly," adopted a resolution on November 10, 1787, calling for the election of delegates within a few days - that is on November 26 - for the state convention to pass upon the Constitution. The convention met at Dover on December 3; and after four days' deliberation on the matter adopted the Constitution by unanimous vote on December 6, 1787.[22]

"In Pennsylvania the proceedings connected with the ratification were precipitous and narrowly escaped being irregular. Before it was known that Congress would even transmit the Constitution to the states for their consideration, George Clymer,[23] who had been a member of the national Convention and was then serving in the Pennsylvania legislature, "rose in his place and moved that a state convention of deputies be called, that they meet at Philadelphia, and that they be chosen in the same manner and on the same day as the members of the next general assembly."[24] In vain did the opponents urge that this was irregular, that it was not known whether Congress would act favorably, and that deliberation rather than haste should characterize such a weighty procedure. The legislature, nevertheless, resolved to call the convention, and adjourned until the afternoon, leaving the date of the convention and manner of selecting delegates to be settled later. The opposition thereupon decided to secure delay by staying, away and preventing the transaction of business for want of a quorum.

Meanwhile the news reached Philadelphia that Congress had sent the Constitution to the states for their consideration. The Federalists in the legislature, now having secured the sanction of regularity, determined not to brook further delay, so they sent officers after some of the recalcitrants, who thought "filibustering" justifiable in view of the importance of securing more deliberation before acting. These officers, ably assisted by a Federalist mob "broke into their lodgings, seized them, dragged them through the streets to the State house, and thrust them into the assembly room, with clothes torn and faces white with rage. The quorum was now complete."[25] The legislature (September 29) fixed the election of delegates to the state convention at a date five weeks distant, November 6, 1787. Thus the people of the state were given a little over a month to deliberate on this momentous issue before selecting their agents to voice their will. Some Federalists, like Tench Coxe, expressed regret at the necessity of adopting these high-handed methods; but the stress was so great that it did not admit of delay.

After the convention assembled, the Federalists continued their irregular practices, although from the vote on the Constitution in the convention this latter manipulation seems to have been a work of supererogation. Everything was done that could be done to keep the public out of the affair. "Thomas Lloyd applied to the convention for the place of assistant clerk. Lloyd was a shorthand writer of considerable note, and when the convention refused his request, determined to report the debates and print them on his own account. His advertisement promised that the debates should be accurately taken in shorthand and published in one volume octavo at the rate of one dollar the hundred pages. These fine promises, however, were never fulfilled. Only one thin volume ever came out, and that contains merely the speeches of Wilson and a few of those of Thomas M'Kean. The reason is not far to seek. He was bought up by the Federalists, and in order to satisfy the public was suffered to publish one volume containing nothing but speeches made by the two federal leaders."[26] The Federalists appear to have suppressed other attempts at issuing the debates, and they "withdrew their subscriptions from every publication that warmly supported the Anti-federal cause."[27] The Constitution was ratified by a vote of 46 to 23.

Against these precipitous actions on the part of the Federalists in carrying the ratification of the Constitution, a minority of the state convention, twenty-one members, protested in an address to the people after the day had been lost. The protestants told how the federal Convention had been called by Congress, and then recited the facts as they viewed them: "So hastily and eagerly did the states comply [with the call of Congress for the Convention] that their legislatures, without the slightest authority, without ever stopping to consult the people, appointed delegates, and the conclave met at Philadelphia. To it came a few men of character, some more noted for cunning than patriotism, and some who had always been enemies to the independence of America. The doors were shut, secrecy was enjoined, and what then took place no man could tell. But it was well known that the sittings were far from harmonious. Some left the dark conclave before the instrument was framed. Some had the firmness to withhold their hands when it was framed. But it came forth in spite of them, and was not many hours old when the meaner tools of despotism were carrying petitions about for the people to sign praying the legislature to call a convention to consider it. The convention was called by a legislature made up in part of members who had been dragged to their seats and kept there against their wills, and so early a day was set for the election of delegates that many a voter did not know of it until it was passed. Others kept away from the polls because they were ignorant of the new plan; some because they disliked it, and some because they did not think the convention legally called. Of the seventy thousand freemen entitled to vote but thirteen thousand voted."[28] For a long time the war of the dissenters against the Constitution went on in Pennsylvania, breaking out in occasional riots, and finally in the Whiskey Rebellion in Washington's administration; but they were at length beaten, outgeneralled, and outclassed in all the arts of political management.

In November, 1787, the Maryland legislature, after hearing Luther Martin's masterly indictment of the Constitution and McHenry's effective reply, "unanimously ordered a convention of the people of the state; it copied the example set by Virginia of leaving the door open for amendments; and by a majority of one the day for the choice and the day for the meeting of its convention were postponed till the next April."[29] Several months were thus given for deliberation, in marked contrast to the speedy despatch of the business in Delaware, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. The elections were duly held on the first Monday in April, 1788; and the convention assembled on Apri1 21. The opponents of the Constitution, Chase, Mercer, and Martin, hurled themselves against it with all their might; but, it is related, "the friends to the federal government 'remained inflexibly silent.'"[30] After a week's sessions, "the malcontents having tired themselves out," the convention ratified the Constitution by a vote of "sixty-three against eleven on the afternoon of Saturday, April 26. The instrument was formally sealed on the 28th.

The legislature of Virginia, by a resolution passed on October 25, 1787, and a law enacted on December 12th, called a convention to be elected in March, 1788, and to assemble on June 2, 1788.[31] In no state were the forces for and against the Constitution more ably marshalled and led. In no state was there higher order of debate in the convention than took place in Virginia, the birthplace of the constitution. It was a magnificent battle of talents that was waged during those June days, from the 2nd until the 25th. Then "the roll was called; and from the cities of Richmond and Williamsburg, from the counties near the ocean, from the northern neck, and from the counties between the Blue Ridge and the Alleghanies, eighty-nine delegates voted for the Constitution. From the other central and southern border counties of Kentucky, seventy-nine cried No." The margin of victory was small, but it was safe.

North Carolina was recalcitrant. The call for the convention was issued by the legislature on December 6, 1787;[32] the election was held on the last Friday and Saturday of March, 1788; and the convention assembled on July 21, 1788. In this body II the Anti-federalists obtained a large majority. They permitted the whole subject to be de- bated until the 2d of August; still it had been manifested from the first that they would not allow of an unconditional ratification." On that day the convention deferred the ratification of the Constitution by a vote of 184 to 84[33]; and adjourned sine die. The new federal government was inaugurated without North Carolina; but the economic pressure which it brought to bear on that state, combined with the influence of eminent Federalists (including Washington), and the introduction of constitutional amendments in Congress, brought her into the union on November 21, 1789.[34]

South Carolina was one of the most deliberative of all the states, for it was not until January 18, 1788, that the legislature by unanimous resolution called a convention which was elected in April, and organized in Charleston, on May 13 of that year. The discussion there was evidently of a high order. Those who participated in it took first rank in the commonwealth, and the defenders of the new system put forth efforts worthy of the distinguished forensic leaders of the Charleston bar. The opponents exhausted the armory of their arguments, and seeing the tide running against them, they sought an adjournment of five months for further deliberation; but a motion to this effect was lost by a vote of 89 to 135. Finally at five o'clock on the tenth day of the sessions, May 23, the Constitution was carried by a large majority - 149 to 73.[35]

The legislature of Georgia, on October 26, 1787, called for a state convention to be chosen "in the same manner as representatives are elected," at the next General Election, held on the first Tuesday in December, i.e., December 4, 1787.

The convention was duly chosen, and met at Augusta on December 25 ; and after "having taken into serious consideration the said constitution" for four or five days, solemnly ratified the instrument on January 2, 1788.[36]

Rhode Island was the last of the thirteen states to accept the Constitution. She had refused to send delegates to the federal Convention; and the triumphant paper money party there would have none of the efficiency promised by the new system. It was not until May 29, 1790, that Rhode Island ratified the Constitution, and this action was brought about by the immediate prospect of coercion on the part of the government of the United States,[37] combined with the threat of the city of Providence to join with the other towns which were Federalist in opinion, in a movement to secede from the state and seek the protection of the federal government.[38] Without these material considerations pressing upon them, the agrarians of that commonwealth would have delayed ratification indefinitely; but they could not contend against a great nation and a domestic insurrection.

A survey of the facts here presented yields several important generalizations:

Two states, Rhode Island and North Carolina refused to ratify the Constitution until after the establishment of the new government which set in train powerful economic forces against them in their isolation.

In three states, New Hampshire, New York, and Massachusetts, the popular vote as measured by the election of delegates to the conventions was adverse to the Constitution; and ratification was secured by the conversion of opponents and often the repudiation of their tacit (and in some cases express) instructions.

In Virginia the popular vote was doubtful.

In the four states which ratified the constitution with facility, Connecticut, New Jersey, Georgia, and Delaware, only four or five weeks were allowed to elapse before the legislatures acted, and four or five weeks more before the elections to the conventions were called; and about an equal period between the elections and the meeting of the conventions. This facility of action may have been due to the general sentiment in favor of the Constitution; or the rapidity of action may account for the slight development of the opposition.

In two commonwealths, Maryland and South Carolina, deliberation and delays in the election and the assembling of the conventions resulted in an undoubted majority in favor, of the new instrument; but for the latter state the popular vote has never been figured out.[39]

In one of the states, Pennsylvania, the proceedings connected with the ratification of the Constitution were conducted with unseemly haste.


  1. What they [the Convention] actually did, stripped of all fiction and verbiage, was to assume constituent powers, ordain a constitution of government and of liberty, and demand a plebiscite thereon over the heads of all existing legally organized powers. Had Julius or Napoleon committed these acts they would have been pronounced coups d' état." Political Science and Comparative Constitutional Law, Vol. I, p. 105.
  2. Farrand, Records, Vol. I, p. 123.
  3. Ibid., Vol. II, p. 89.
  4. Farrand. Records. Vol. III, p. 137.
  5. Farrand. Records, Vol. I, pp. 255 II. ; p.283.
  6. No. 40.
  7. Herding, The Federal Constitution in Massachusetts. pp. 118-119.
  8. The Massachusetts Centinel, January 2, 1788.
  9. Batchellor, State Papers of New Hampshire, Vol. XXI, pp. 151-165; Documentary History of the Constitution, II, p. 141.
  10. J.B. Walker, A History of the New Hampshire Convention, pp. 22 ff.
  11. Four members are not recorded, and ..there is a pretty well authenticated tradition that a certain prominent federalist of Concord gave a dinner party on the last day of the session at which several members reckoned as opposed to ratification were present and discussing the dinner when the final vote was taken." Ibid., p. 43, note.
  12. Harding, The Federal Constitution in Massachusetts, p. 67.
  13. Harding, op. cit., p. 99.
  14. Harding, op. cit., p. 101.
  15. Documentary History of the Constitution, Vol. II, pp. 86-87; Connecticut Courant, October 22, 1787.
  16. Bancroft, op. cit., Vol. II, p. 257.
  17. Debates and Proceedings of the New York State Convention (1905 ed.), p. 3.
  18. Bancroft, op. cit., Vol. 11, p. 340.
  19. Ibid., p. 340; and see below, p. 244.
  20. State Papers: Miscellaneous, Vol. 1, p. 7. For valuable side-lights on the opposition to the Constitution, see E. P. Smith's essay, 'The Movement towards a Second Constitutional Convention," in Jameson, Essays in the Constitutional History of the United States, pp. 46 ff.
  21. Documentary History of the Constitution, Vol. II, pp. 46 ff.
  22. Bancroft, History of the Constitution of the United States, Vol. II, p. 250; Documentary History of the Constitution, Vol. II, p. 25; Delaware State Council Minutes, 1776-1792, pp. 1081-82 (Delaware Historical Society Papers); Connecticut Courant, Dec. 24, 1787.
  23. See above, p. 82.
  24. McMaster and Stone, Pennsylvania and the Federal Constitution, p. 3.
  25. McMaster and Stone, op. cit., p. 4.
  26. Ibid., p. 14.
  27. Ibid., p. 15.
  28. McMaster and Stone, op. cit., p. 20. The following year [1788] when the ratification of the Constitution was celebrated in Philadelphia, James Wilson, in an oration on the great achievement said: ..A people free and enlightened, establishing and ratifying a system of government which they have previously Considered, examined, and approved! This is the spectacle which we are assembled to celebrate; and it is the most dignified one that has yet appeared on our globe. ... What is the object exhibited to our contemplation? A whole people exercising its first and greatest power - performing an act of sovereignty, original and unlimited! . ..Happy Country! May thy happiness be perpetual!” Works (1804 ed.), V01. III, pp. 299 ff.
  29. Bancroft, op. cit., V 01. II, p. 278; Votes and Proceedings of the Senate of Maryland, November Session, 1781, pp. 511.
  30. Ibid., p. 283.
  31. Bancroft, op. cit., Voi. II. p. 316. The resolution provided that the "election shall be held in the month of March next on the first day of the court to be held for each county, city, or corporation respectively." The qualifications of voters were 'the same as those now established by law." Blair, The Virginia Convention of 1788. Vol. I, p. 56-57. Only freeholders were eligible to seats in the Convention. Ibid.. p. 56. Hening, Statutes at Large, Vol. XII, p. 462.
  32. Laws of North Carolina (1821), Vol. I, p. 597; North Carolina Assembly Journals, 1785-98, p. 22.
  33. Bancroft, op. cit., Vol. II, p. 349.
  34. Hugh Williamson, writing to Madison on May 21, 1789, said: "Our people near the sea-coast are in great pain on the idea of being shut out from the Union. They say that unless they can continue in the coasting trade without the alien duty, they must starve with their families or remove from the state. Can no exception be made in favor of such apparent aliens for so long a period as the first of January next?" Madison Mss., Library of Congress.
  35. Bancroft, op. cit., Vol. II, p. 293.
  36. Documentary History of the Constitution. Vol. II. pp. 82 ff.
  37. F.G. Bates, Rhode Island and the Union. pp. 192 ff.
  38. Ibid., p. 197.
  39. See below, p. 248.