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Ratifying the Constitution

On Friday Sept. 28, 1787 the U.S. Congress convened, following receipt of Washington's cover letter, the Constitutional Convention's Resolution and the draft of the Constitution (other threads in this Forum):

Congress assembled

Present: Newhampshire Massachusetts Connecticut New York New Jersey Pensylvania. Delaware Virginia North Carolina South Carolina and Georgia and from Maryland Mr Ross

Congress having received the report of the Convention lately assembled in Philadelphia

Resolved Unanimously that the said Report with the resolutions and letter accompanying the same be transmitted to the several legislatures in Order to be submitted to a convention of Delegates chosen in each state by the people thereof in conformity to the resolves of the Convention made and provided in that case.
--- end Congress' Resolution ---

Circular Letter of the Secretary of Congress, dated September 28, 1787,
Transmitting Copy of the Constitution to the Several Governors.

In obedience to an unanimous resolution of the United States in Congress Assembled, a copy of which is annexed, I have the honor to transmit to Your Excellency, the Report of the Convention lately Assembled in Philadelphia, together with the resolutions and letter accompanying the same; And have to request that Your Excellency will be pleased to lay the same before the Legislature, in order that it may be submitted to a Convention of Delegates chosen in Your State by the people of the State in conformity to the resolves of the Convention, made & provided in that case.-
with the greatest respect
I have the honor &c-

And that began the ratification process.

There is already in this Forum a "Federalist Papers" thread, which is addressing James Madison's and John Jay's essays which first were published in New York to convince that State to ratify (2 of the 3 delegates had left the Constitutional Convention in disgust and did not sign the Constitution).  The Federalist Papers were then bound into a book and distributed throughout the States.

The completest collection of linked speeches, essays, pamphlets, news articles, delegate selections for States' conventions, votes etc. in chronological order through the ratification process:

"Every man in their ticket is Antifederal. Men capable of believing that George Bryan [Anti Federalist leader] is infallible, and that the President of the United State will black their faces, seize their plantations, press their wagons, and afterwards sell them for slaves at public vendue."

A sample of the rhetoric of the day - a response by a Federalist - as the Tea Par_____ oops, I mean the Anti-Federalists pursued their attempts to prevent the ratification of the Constitution.

The following relates the efforts in Pennsylvania, and is revealing of the dynamic politics and emotions of the era in the constant tension between individuals' rights and states' and federal government's rights:

Delaware Ratifies

Delaware was the first State to ratify the new Constitution - on December 7, 1787.
The State Assembly (established in 1701)  had passed a resolution calling for elections of 10 delegates each from the 3 counties to meet at a special Ratifying Convention in November. Suffrage was restricted to adult white Christian males who owned a minimum of fifty acres of land, or owned property worth £40 (the definition of "freeholders").
Population of Delaware was about 30,000 - the great majority descendents of the Dutch, Swedes and Finns who settled there in the 17th century, beginning in 1630.

No Anti Federalists - if any even existed in Delaware - ran in the elections to be delegates; all the 30 delegates were Federalists and met on December 4th; then 3 days later declared that they unanimously voted for the Constitution.  Nobody bothered to keep notes, diaries, or journals, as they had all initially declared that they were going to ratify before they were elected as delegates!

Although officially a British Colony prior to the Revolution, it had not been founded as one, nor was it populated by Brits at the time of the Revolutionary War. After a rough start - the Lenni Lenare (Delaware) Indians had slaughtered the first Dutch traders' settlement in 1631, after the Dutch had "bought" a strip of coast 2 miles deep and 31 miles long the year before, and set up their trading post - the Swedes, Dutch, Finns and Lenni Lenare farmed and traded (tobacco, furs, cranberries, fish, whale oil, grain, maple syrup, molasses, whiskey) relatively peaceably side by side for generations.

A couple of times the Dutch and Swedes fought for political control and tax authority for the trade back to Europe, until the future King Phillip II of England conquered the Colony in the mid-17th century, and it became a British Colony.  However it remained primarily Swedish, with the Swedish Church sending missionaries up until the Revolutionary War.

They - the majority being non-Brits - were eager to fight the Revolutionary War, with 4,000+ enlistees out of a total population of 30,000.

The prime reason they were Federalists was because they wanted a strong central authority over the trade and commerce regulations and taxes between the States and foreign countries, and between the States themselves - which trade the heart of their economy. Under the Articles of Confederation the 13 States had all had their own scemes of taxing trade and commerce.

The second reason that Delawarians were Federalists is that the newly written federal Constitution mirrored their own State Constitution (from 1776), except in two places:

[The Christian oath]
"I [name] do profess faith in God the Father, and in Jesus Christ His only Son, and in the Holy Ghost, one God, blessed for evermore; and I do acknowledge the holy scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by divine inspiration."

[And slavery]
"No person hereafter imported into this State from Africa ought to be held in slavery under any presence whatever; and no negro, Indian, or mulatto slave ought to be brought into this State, for sale, from any part of the world."

Read the Delaware Constitution:

Pennsylvania Ratifies

The Pennsylvania unicameral legislature of 69 delegates was in session in September 1787 when the Convention sent the new Constitution to President Lee of the federal Congress.  

The legislature was split 46 Federalist and 23 Anti Federalist, and immediately elected delegates to a special Ratifying Convention.  Unsurprisingly the delegates in December ratified the Constitution with a 43 to 11 vote.

The split reflected the percentages of those working/living in the agrarian culture of farmers, and the craftsmen necessary for equipment, horses, mules etc., who wanted local home rule because of the vagaries of nature, and thus who were Anti Federalists; and the seemingly insurmountable and intractable differences between them and the traders, whalers, inport/export businessmen (and the supporting classes) of the cities - the cosmopolitan Federalists.

The split also reflected the radical difference between the Pennsylvania Constitution proclaimed in 1776 and the other States' Constitutions enacted following the Revolutionary War - the radical difference being the expansion of suffrage to almost all male inhabitants.  See below.*

BUT even though the PA delegates ratified the Constitution, the initial speeches and documents produced during indoor and outdoor debates and speeches of the Ratifying Convention (Nov. 21 - Dec. 12) were printed and publicized throughout the other States - the ideas therein becoming the basis for debate in the other States' Ratifying Congresses.  They are all linked at previously posted URLS.

- Mason's Objections
- Wilson's State House Speech
- Pennsylvania Minority Report
- Bryan's Centennial Essays

The battle lines drawn from the above - which became the central issues in the remaining 11 States.
The importance of these "papers" pro and con being published and distributed is because arguments/debates during the Constitutional Convention - which we've been linking in this Forum - were NOT PUBLISHED then, as the proceedings were SECRET.

One major question was whether or not a Bill of Rights were necessary.  

The Federalist argument was "no" - (1) because everything which was not specifically addressed in the Constitution as affecting rights was automatically reserved for the people, and (2) the Preamble to the Constitution referred and included by default all the Bill of Rights attached to each of the State Constitutions.

The Anti-Federalists weren't satisfied - and fearful of power concentrated in the federal President and Congress wanted specifics spelled out.

*Sidebar re suffrage in the States in 1787 as the Ratification process continued.

The British Parliament in the 15th century had mandated the ground rules for the voting suffrage of British subjects; a free native-born or naturalized male adult subject of England possessing land or other property worth at least 40 shillings.

Initially some of the British Colonies in America expanded the suffrage to non-owners of property because the settlers were all farmers, traders, trappers, or indentured servants living on rented corporate, chartered or Indian lands.  But by the end of the 17th century the basics of British law were back in place.

In William Penn's Pennsylvania the requirement was ownership of 100 acres of land OR someone who paid taxes ("scot and lot" a/k/a "shot and lot"); the latter to allow merchants and city dwellers the vote, as PA had a poll tax on unmarried workers (later extended to married workers). Citizenship was irrelevant.

In 1700, the Pennsylvania Assembly (a majority of pacifist Quakers, hence no PA militia) changed the requirements back to British law  - male, 21 years old, PA resident 2 years, a natural-born or naturalized English subject, own 50 acres or have savings of £50 (or equivalent in other coin/money). The change eliminated much of Penn's electorate, as foreigners, laborers, renters and recent immigrants to the Colony could no longer vote - in the 1700s 100,000+ "Germans"¹ immigrated to the Colonies, most of them to Pennsylvania.

When the Revolutionary War began, 8,000+ non-Quakers formed an unofficial militia called the Associators, who lobbied the Pennsylvania Assembly with a Committee of Privates.  

Many of the Associators were not British citizens, with "Germans"¹ predominating.  Soon the old medieval principle of "shot and lot" became popular again - Shouldn't those who fight for independence and also support the community with taxes have a vote?

The Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776 reads: "that all free men having a sufficient evident common interest with and attachment to the community, have a right to elect officers, or to be elected into office," and proclaimed the vote to all men age 21 or over who had been a resident and taxpayer in PA for one year. (Exceptions: adult sons of property owners were allowed the vote even if they themselves weren't freeholders, and voters for "justices of the peace" (judges) had to own property.)

In Pennsylvania - in distinction from the rest of the Union - many voters were propertyless and bachelors.

¹"Germans" in the 18th century was the term applied to any citizen of the Holy Roman Empire (parts or all of Austria, Prussia, 19th century Germany, Switzerland, Slovakia, Romania, etc.)

New Jersey Ratifies

On October 29, 1787, the New Jersey legislature authorized the Ratifying Committee, and each of the 13 county governments sent 3 delegates - all of whom had promised to vote for the new Constitution. After meeting for nine days at Francis Witt's Tavern they unanimously ratified the Constitution on December 20.

It wasn't that there weren't any Anti Federalists (known as "Old Patriots" then) in New Jersey - after all the "New Jersey Plan" had been proposed at the Constitutional Convention.  But all the compromises which stemmed from the debates of the New Jersey Plan and the Virginia Plan had been favorable to small states* (like Delaware which had already ratified, and like New Jersey), especially the one equal vote in the federal Senate, and the retention of power in the States' Legislatures, which elected the federal Senators.

But the main reason for the rapid ratification was the economic advantage of a central federal control over direct and indirect taxes and debtor laws - as opposed to the individual States' under the Articles of Confederation.

Each State had its own custom houses and collected duties on imported goods from other States; as well as collecting tariffs on imported goods from foreign countries.  

New Jersey's produce - its main economic base - was heavily taxed as it went to New York City to be sold - thus distributing NJ's wealth to NY.  NJ also had a tremendous post-Revolutionary War Debt, as did the federal Congress.

When Congress in 1781 asked the States to contribute 5% of tariffs to the federal government in order to pay off the federal debt, NY refused, while NJ agreed - thus transferring even more wealth out of NJ, with more accruing to NY.  

Individuals were also indebted, and most of the States had passed laws relaxing the Debtor Laws - extending repayment times and allowing bankrupcies - which angered those domestic and foreign bankers who held the debts.

The strongest argument for the new Constitution was economic in re New Jersey, as their debt would be subsumed to the new federal government, and thereafter there would be an even playing field for the distribution of wealth as the central government regulated trade, commerce, money, bankruptcy, et al.  

Those provisions in the Constitution were there because 38 of the delegates were lawyers/judges, 38 had businesses in land speculation and money lending, and 40 held public certificates of government debt.

*N.B.  Remember that the debates, minutes and Journal of the Constitutional Convention were SECRET, and not published in the media of the day.  All the Notes I've been linking about the debates weren't published until the 19th century.

What the public, and the voters who elected the delegates to the Ratifying Conventions, and the delegates themselves knew of, were the printed Articles of Confederation, the official Resolutions/Letters of Congress, the new Constitution, and the official Letters carrying it to the States.  

They also knew the articles and speeches published AFTER the Constitution was published - lobbying for and against ratification - most written under pseudonyms (many of the writers were attendees at the Constitutional Convention).

New Jersey, although a British Crown Colony and named after Jersey, was not populated only by settlers from Great Britain or their descendents. Many of the settlers were from the monarchies of Europe, before the modern nation-states were established.

We can infer original nationality from the 1765 list of active church congregations in New Jersey:

Presbyterian 55
Quaker 39
Church of England 21
Dutch Reformed 21
Baptist 19
Dutch Lutheran 4
Seventh Day Baptist 2
German Reformed 2
and a few scattered others.

This diversity - and the influence of Quaker "freethinkers" - resulted in the unique step toward more democratic suffrage taken in the New Jersey Constitution of 1776 - going beyond Pennsylvania's (last post):

---- excerpt ----

That all inhabitants of this Colony, of full age, who are worth fifty pounds proclamation money, clear estate in the same, and have resided within the county in which they claim a vote for twelve months immediately preceding the election, shall be entitled to vote for Representatives in Council and Assembly; and also for all other public officers, that shall be elected by the people of the county at large.

The uniqueness of NOT specifying "white" and "male" in the Constituton allowed women to vote in New Jersey - until 1807 when the interpretation was changed and women's suffrage was revoked.

Georgia Ratifies

In Georgia the ratifying delegates gathered on December 25, 1787, began business on December 28, ended their deliberations on December 31, and signed on January 2, 1788.

Unlike in the other States where hardly a day went by without a Federalist or Anti Federalist speech, essay or article being published and distributed in newspapers and pamphlets, in Georgia only two were published in 1787;
- Wilsons State House Speech and
- Centinel I

The rapid and uncontested ratification of the Constitution was because the  professional politician delegates to the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention - 2 of whom who simultaneously were serving in the federal Congress (Abraham Baldwin and William Few) - had successfully got all they wanted in the new Constitution AND in Congress. The other two delegates were William Houston, who left the Convention in July, and William Lee Pierce, who left in August to take care of his import/export business as the world's rice market collapsed (he went bankrupt).
I mention Pierce because he took extensive notes during the debates in the Convention; they were published in 1828 and are one of the best sources of the goings on in the chambers, including bio sketches of each delegate.

Congress in August 1787 had resolved the border dispute between Georgia and South Carolina, with Georgia "winning" the good farming land that both States had claimed.  And the "small state/large state" Senate representation in the new Constitution also was to Georgia's benefit.

Also the "Indian problem" and the foreign border with New Spain (Florida) were too large a problem for Georgia alone - they needed a federal Army and United States tax base for finances to fight/defend against the dual threat.

Georgians were descendents of the first settlers from England and Europe - the 2,500 immigrants split between releasees from British debtor prisons and "oppressed German Protestants," Moravians and other minority Protestant sects persecuted by the Catholic monarchs in Europe.
Later hundreds of Scottish Highlanders were brought over as a militia, and they and their families remained.
Yet later there also had been secondary immigrations from other Colonies/States.

This polyglot heritage explains the 1777 Georgia Constitution in regard to suffrage:
--- excerpt ---
Article VI. The representatives shall be chosen out of the residents in each county, who shall have resided at least twelve months in this State, and three months in the county where they shall be elected; ...and they shall be of the Protestant religion, and of the age of twenty-one years, and shall be possessed in their own right of two hundred and fifty acres of land, or some property to the amount of two hundred and fifty pounds.

Connecticut Ratifies

On January 9, 1788 the delegates at the Ratification Convention in Connecticut voted 128 - 40 in favor of the new Constitution.

Here again we see the influence of the professional politicians - Sherman, Ellsworth and Johnson - who had been delegates in Philadelphia writing the Constitution. They were the ones who proposed the "Connecticut Compromise" which melded the populism of the House with the federalism of the Executive (Presidency) and the republicanism of the Senate - simultaneously retaining the equality of representation of the States, regardless of size. And they managed to convince the Committee of Eleven to pass the compromise 5 to 4, with 2 divided (2 States whose delegates did not have an unanimous opinion).  Of course none of this compromise was public knowledge at the time.  

These three were also the leaders at the Connecticut ratifying convention, where they undoubtedly used the same arguments with which the ultimately had convinced the Constitutional Convention delegates.

A classic engraving entitled "The Looking Glass for 1787" satirized the contentious debate in Connecticut. See which includes most of the major political differences of the day.

"The debate over ratification... took the form not of a Socratic dialogue or an academic symposium but of a cacophonous argument in which appeals to principle and common sense and close analyses of specific clauses accompanied wild predictions of the good and evil effects that ratification would bring." ~ Jack Rakove

And reminiscence of today, the losers in the political arena regularly blamed "the media" for misrepresenting the facts, or providing only one bias in op-eds - as the late, great constitutional historian, Jackson Turner Main, noted "...the prejudice of the newspapers which greatly injured the Antifederalists."

Connecticut also recognized the need for a senior "authority" to resolve difficulties between the States; as in 1787 its boundary conflict with Pennsylvaia was the only legal case to be adjudicated by the high court under the Articles of Confederation.

This is the first State covered in this ratification thread which truly fits the WASP stereotype - White Anglo Saxon Protestants - which many believe epitomized all the original 13 Colonies.

The settlers to Massachusetts (a part of which was carved out later and became Connecticut) were Christian Puritans and Congregationalists from England - breakaway sects from the Anglican Church, which itself was a breakaway sect from the Roman Catholic Church following Luther's cracking the stranglehold of the RCs in the politics of the monarchies.  And their descendents still lived there in the 19th century.

And uniquely, although Conn. declared Independence from England in 1776 like the other 12 States did, it did not write a new State Constitution with a Bill of inalienable and civil rights like the other dozen did.

It simply kept its old government dating back to the Fundamental Orders of 1638/39 as amended by the Charter of 1662.

From the Connecticut Assembly in 1776:
"Be it enacted...That the ancient form of civil government contained in the Charter from Charles the II, King of England, and adopted by the people of this state, shall be and remain the civil constitution of this state, under the sole authority of the people hereof, independent of any king or prince whatever."

Suffrage remained the classic British rule, i.e. free white adult male taxpaying landowning freeholders only.

The Massachusetts Compromise

The 370 delegates (elected 10/25/87) to the Massachusetts Ratifying Convention met in Boston from 1/9/88 to 2/5/88. 255 of them voted in the final vote of 187-168 for ratifification.

The breaking of the previous deadlock was due to a "gentleman's agreement" (called the "Massachusetts Compromise"¹) that there was an "expectation" that the First Congress which would meet under the new Constitution would submit Amendments and change the perceived defects in it.

Following this agreement - NOT a condition of ratification - 10 delegates changed their vote and agreed to ratify.

"If the people of the commonwealth had been allowed to vote directly, they would have determined against ratification; so would a majority of delegates if they had been asked to cast their votes in the early days of the convention." ~ John J. Fox.

Three of the four Massachusetts delegates to the Convention which wrote and agreed to the Constition in 1787 were also delegates to the Ratifying Convention, where they argued for ratification.

The fourth Constitutional Convention delegate, Elbridge Gerry (who refused to sign the Constitution on 17 September 1787) was not a delegate, BUT "a motion was made and passed, that the Hon. Elbridge Gerry be requested to take a seat in the Convention, to answer any questions of fact, from time to time, that the Convention may ask, respecting the passing of the Constitution." Gerry agreed, but for reasons unknown never made it to the Convention.

¹I recommend everyone read the discussions of the "amendments" which the Anti Federalists proposed during the Massachusetts Ratifying Convention - as they are the very first compilation in conjuction with the federal Constitution of what we know as The Bill of Rights.
Here: http://teachingamericanhistory.or...cation/massachusettstimeline.html

EVERY ONE of the 12 States' Constitutions adopted after the Declaration of Independence in 1776 had included a Bill of Rights - inalienable and civil - for their own states' inhabitants.  

But during the debates at the Constitutional Convention's Committee of Eleven the proposal to include a Bill of Rights in the federal Constitution was unanimously voted down.

The main objection to ratification from all the diverse groups which we collectively call the Anti Federalists was this lack of a Bill of Rights in the new Constitution, notwithstanding that their own State Constitutions stated them - their desire for adding the Bill of Rights was not only because of distrust of a strong federal government but also because there were major differences between States' constitutional statements.

Massachusetts, while not attaching their proposed amendments to the Constitution as a condition of ratification, did commence the process of compromise - "ratify now, amend later" (I also note Hamilton's Federalist Papers, 'sign now, work within the system to rectify errors), which compromise was accepted by the delegates in 3 more States, and allowed the ultimate ratification by the majority of 9 States.  

Without this compromise the Constitution would have been rejected, as the Union continued its rapid plunge into bankruptcy, disunion, and interstate battling.

The remainder...

The 108 New Hampshire delegates - elected in 1787 - came together on 2/13/1788 to debate the new Constitution.

But at a straw poll beginning the session, only 30 favored ratification, with less than 20 more indicating they might be convinced to - thus a majority favored rejection.

Then one of the writers of the Constitution in Philadelphia, delegate John Langdon, moved for a postponement - arguing that all the New Hampshire delegates had been selected, and had made their pledges to oppose ratification, long before all the pro and con arguments had been printed and argued in newspapers and pamphlets.  
Langdon asked for an adjournment to allow all the delgates to go home and find out what NOW their constituents wanted.

On 2/24/1788 they voted 56-51 to adjourn and do just what Langdon requested.

After the hiatus, and re-adjournment, N.H. voted 57-46 for ratification with the "Massachusetts Compromise" of "ratify now, amend later" being the principle motivation.

Then (no particular order) Maryland ratified 63-11, South Carolina 149-73, Virginia 89-79, North Carolina 194-77, Rhode Island 34-31, and New York 30-27 - all with "ratify now, amend later" as the swing vote principle - and the Constitution was ratified.

The details of the arguments and votes can all be found via the URL sources linked throughout this thread and/or the Forum "We the People."

The Constitution was ratified WITHOUT any amendments, e.g. without the Bill of Rights as a condition of ratification.  

But rather with an hope and expectation of the ratifying delegates that the gentlemens' agreement to insure that the 1st Congress elected under the new Constitution would - as promised - propose and submit Amendments to the States for ratification.

There was no doubt that the same individuals - the "gentlemen" - who had been delegates to the states' ratifying conventions and to the Constitutional Convention, and who were/had been members of the federal Congress and of their respective state Assemblies, would also be the Members of Congress elected in the House and appointed in the Senate of the 1st Congress.

It was by no means a perfect document, with many controversial issues postponed and deferred; but it solved the immediate individual and governmental fiscal problems which remained following the Revolutionary War, and brought a unified approach to the selling and devopment of the western now-federal lands. Forum Index -> We the People
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