The Contentious Constitution: Part 1
In school, we were all taught the Constitution was ratified unanimously but this is not the case. Rhode Island opposed the Constitution out right and never sent a delegation to the Constitutional Convention. When the Constitutional Convention voted on September 15, 1787 to send the new Constitution to the states, all voted Aye as each state had but one vote.
However, among the delegates it was not unanimous. Rhode Island refused to send a delegation. Thirteen delegates walked out of the Convention and did not sign. The remaining three refused to sign: Edmund Randolph of Virginia, George Mason of Virginia, and Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts. George Mason demanded a Bill of Rights. Of the 55 delegates, only 39 signed the Constitution.
Rhode Island was the last to ratify the Constitution. In May of 1790, Rhode Island finally voted and it was ratified by a very narrow margin of 34-32. They were not the only state in which the Constitution ratification was contentious.
To truly understand the objections to the new Constitution, it is important to read the Anti-Federalist papers. They were a series articles published in Colonial papers opposing the Constitution. The Anti-Federalists were fearful of Central Government.e They fought for the Rights of States and the Individual.
Five states voted to ratify the new Constitution in the winter of 1787 – 1788. Delaware, New Jersey and Georgia voted unanimously while Pennsylvania passed 2 -1 and Connecticut passed 4 -1. The other states would not be so easy.
Massachusetts sat their convention in the beginning of 1788. The Ratification of the new Constitution failed on the first vote, 170 yay, 190 nay. At this point, events take a turn.
“One of the leading authorities on the Massachusetts Convention, John J. Fox, deems the entire experience to be undemocratic: “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.” He sees the Federalists as “cunning.” Similarly, Jackson Turner Main notes that “The Federalists employed unethical means”.”
After nearly a month of debate, the leaders of the two parties, Federalists and Anti-Federalists, met to discuss the stalemate. Two noted Anti-Federalists, John Hancock and John Adams, worked to come up with the “Massachusetts Compromise”, ratify now with an expectation that in the First Congress amendments would be proposed to alter the Constitution.
The delegates took another vote on February 6, 1788. This time it passed 187 – 168. A record of the actual vote has been lost to history.
In the Spring of 1788, two states to ratify the new Constitution, Maryland 64 – 12 and South Carolina 149–73.
Only one more state was needed to adopt the new Constitution but the next three states conventions to meet in July 1788 would be the most difficult: Virginia, New York and New Hampshire.
The American Founding Documents