Ratifying the Constitution
The new Constitution was finished by September 8. It was sent to a committee to be polished and arranged in good order. Gouverneur Morris composed a brief preamble. The completed document was approved on September 17, 1787. Congress received the Constitution later that month and sent it on to the states for ratification. The Constitution now had to be approved by nine states.The Battle for Ratification
Acceptance of the new Constitution was not a foregone conclusion. Many people feared centralized power or disliked aspects of the new government. Others saw the Constitutional Convention as an unlawful conspiracy. Opponents of the Constitution became known as Anti-Federalists. Many distinguished leaders joined the Anti-Federalist ranks, including Richard Henry Lee, Patrick Henry, George Mason, Samuel Adams, and George Clinton.
Supporters of the Constitution called themselves Federalists. Having dominated the Constitutional Convention and Congress, they held the initiative in the debate over the Constitution. They still had to persuade many reluctant people to accept their governmental innovations. The Federalist was the most distinguished product of an extensive literature that grew up around the debate over ratification.
The Federalist was a collection of papers written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay to defend the Constitution in New York, where Governor George Clinton led a strong movement against ratification. Writing under the pen name of “Publius,” Hamilton, Madison, and Jay brilliantly expounded on the nature of the new government, creating a classic work of political theory.
In Essay No. 10, James Madison challenged the commonly held belief that republican government could only work in a small setting. He argued instead that the very size of the American republic ensured its success, writing, “Extend the sphere, and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens.”The Votes Come In
Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey quickly ratified the Constitution. Georgia followed early in 1788. Connecticut also ratified with a solid majority. In Massachusetts, the next state to vote, Governor John Hancock led strong Anti-Federalist opposition. Hancock was swayed from his position by the promise of a bill of rights and hints that he would receive federal office. Massachusetts narrowly approved the Constitution in February.
Contrarian Rhode Island rejected the Constitution in March. This had no effect on Maryland and South Carolina, which voted for ratification in April and May. New Hampshire ratified in June. With the votes of these states, the Constitution was officially adopted and could go into effect. Despite this, the upcoming conventions in Virginia and New York were critically important because of the size and importance of these states. In Virginia, the vote was close, in part because of the eloquence of Patrick Henry. In the end, the promise of a bill of rights swung the convention narrowly in favor of ratification. The vote was also close in New York. Here the decisive factor was the support for ratification from New York City, raising the possibility of secession if upstate delegates pushed the convention the other way.