Chapter IV: The Battle For Ratification

const_flagAs I explained in my last segment, the Philadelphia Convention was, more often than not, nothing more than a heated argument over the size, scope, and structure of the proposed federal government.

Although the delegates were not unanimous in their approval, they did manage to come up with the Constitution as it exists today. Yet it was still merely a piece of parchment with words written upon it. For the Constitution to go into effect it had to be ratified by nine out of thirteen states, as per the requirements contained in Article 7.

This was not going to be an easy task, for as we already know that during the Convention there were some that were not happy at all with the new government that this document outlined.

It was taken for granted that as Rhode Island had refused to send delegates to the Convention, they were not likely to ratify. So that meant that to go into effect the framers would need to convince nine out of the remaining twelve states that this new government was better than what currently existed.

There were also rumors that North Carolina might not ratify unless a Bill of Rights of some kind was added. Now the framers needed nine out of eleven states.

On top of that, South Carolina and Georgia had been very concerned about the new governments stance on the issue of slavery.

As formidable as these challenges seemed, Madison, and the other framers faced even more problems. Governor Randolph and George Mason from Virginia, and Elbridge Gerry from Massachusetts, had refused to sign the Constitution, although they had attended the entire Convention. The names Randolph, Mason and Gerry were commonly known, as they were signers of the Declaration of Independence, authors of the Virginia Plan, and the Virginia Bill of Rights. Their opposition was something that would need to be overcome as well if this new Constitution was to ever be ratified.

Let us also remember that the delegates to the convention were specifically tasked to amend the Articles of Confederation, not create a completely new government. The framers were uncertain as to how the existing Congress would react when it was discovered that they had overstepped their authority.

There was only one way to find out. So, William Jackson, who was the recorder for the Convention, hopped on his horse, with ten delegates, including James Madison, in tow, and headed for New York with a copy of the Constitution.
Their desire was to convince Congress to give their endorsement of the Constitution prior to sending it out for the states to consider.

However, awaiting them were several opponents, led by Richard Henry Lee, who had introduced the Declaration of Independence to the Second Continental Congress. Lee want demanded to examine the document, Article by Article, clause by clause.

Madison declared that the document is to be accepted in its entirety, or declined in its entirety, but under no circumstances is it to be amended.

Eventually a compromise, the first of many, is agreed upon. There will be no amendments made to the document, but Congress will not endorse it. Instead it will be left up to the states to decide. And so, the stage was set with both sides steeled for a fight.

Madison, and what came to be known as the Federalists, hoped for an early series of victories in the ratifying conventions. Their belief was that the initial momentum would carry them on to eventual ratification. They knew it wouldn’t be easy, but they felt the early wins would help carry the remaining states.


As hoped, from December 1787 through January 1787, the Federalists got their early wins, with Delaware, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania agreeing to ratify in quick succession.

Only Pennsylvania produced any serious dissent, as evidenced by the Pennsylvania Minority Report, a snippet of which stated, “The proposed plan had not many hours issued forth from the womb of suspicious secrecy, until such as were prepared for the purpose, were carrying about petitions for people to sign, signifying their approbation of the system, and requesting the legislature to call a convention. While every measure was taken to intimidate the people against opposing it, the public papers teemed with the most violent threats against those who should dare to think for themselves, and tar and feathers were liberally promised to all those who would not immediately join in supporting the proposed government be it what it would.”

Even among the states the did ratify early on, there was still distrust of this proposed new system of government. However, it seemed that Madison and the Federalists were on a roll.

Although they had won early on, they weren’t arrogant about it. All throughout the early victories the opponents to this Constitution, known as anti-Federalists, had waged a fierce grassroots campaign. Essays had been published by Brutus, Cato, and the Federal Farmer, all effectively creating distrust among the general public.

The Federalists, however, had not been idle. James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay had worked together, publishing a series of essays under the pseudonym Publius, extolling the virtues of the Constitution. However, due to the effectiveness of the anti-Federalists, these Federalist Papers went from a mere twenty, to an astonishing eighty five essays.

With the easy victories behind them, the next state the Federalists had to convince was Massachusetts. In regards to the Massachusetts ratification convention, delegate John Fox called the entire process undemocratic, going on to say, “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.”

Another delegate, Jackson Turner Main accused the Federalists of employing unethical means. You will recall that Elbridge Gerry had declined to sign the document at the Philadelphia Convention. When he was asked to attend the convention so as to be available to answer questions regarding specifics of the document, he agreed.

However, he never made it to the convention. In fact, after January 19th, he was not to be seen over the course of the entire convention. Without his steadfast voice in opposition, other less influential people took his place in voicing their opposition to ratification.

Even so, the convention drug on, until a compromise was found. It was agreed upon, Massachusetts would ratify so long as the first Congress would propose amendments to the Constitution. So, with a vote of 187-168, the Federalists get their sixth victory.

Next up, New Hampshire. In today’s political world, New Hampshire carries a lot of importance. It is said that whoever wins New Hampshire, wins the nation. Maybe that is why the Federalists were shocked to find, that of the 108 delegates, less than fifty percent planned on voting in favor of the Constitution.

Things weren’t looking good in New Hampshire, so instead of being handed their first defeat, James Madison suggested that the delegates adjourn and go back to their constituents, to see how they felt after several states had so quickly ratified the Constitution. By a vote of 56-51, it was agreed upon, giving Madison and the Federalists four months to regroup and rouse support.

The Federalists also had to contend with the upcoming convention in Maryland. Maryland was home to Luther Martin, William Paca, Samuel Clark, and John Mercer, a delegate to the Philadelphia Convention who had left the proceedings without affixing his signature to the Constitution. Paca and Clark, were also very concerned about the lack of a Bill of Rights.

James McHenry, one of the delegates to the Philadelphia Convention who did sign the Constitution expressed concern that Martin and Mercer would put up a convincing fight against ratification.

Nevertheless, on April 28, Maryland voted in favor of ratification, although there remained questions about the low voter turnout, less than a quarter of the electorate had voted. Also, Paca had cut some sort of a deal, and Luther Martin was conveniently out with a sore throat.

Whatever may have been the truth, Maryland voted in favor. The Federalists had another victory under their belts. Now had to focus their attention on South Carolina.

The South Carolina ratifying convention convened on May 19, 1788, and on May 12 they took a vote, with 76 in favor and 75 opposing, another narrow victory, but a victory nonetheless. However, over the course of the debates, Thomas Pinckney did go on record, stating the need for a Bill of Rights.

Professor of History at the University of Maine, Jerome J. Nadelhaft has suggested that the Federalists acted inappropriately, in that they wined and dined the delegates, in a sense coercing them much as lobbyists now persuade our Congress to vote for legislation that favors their employers. Nadelhaft suggests the whole process was undemocratic, as “The delegates opposed to the Constitution, however, probably represented a majority of the state population, and Antifederalism was stronger in the state at large than the ratification vote indicated.”

Regardless, the vote stood and the Federalists needed only one more state to vote in favor and the Constitution would become law. In contrast, the Anti-Federalists needed all three remaining states to vote against the Constitution if they were to stop it from going into effect. It was crunch time…

Madison and his Federalists already knew what they faced in New Hampshire with the delegates split evenly at 52 in favor and 52 opposed. However, Virginia was also split evenly with 84 votes on either side, and New York was almost a lost cause, with only 19 in favor and 46 against. Those were the exit polls, and that is what Madison had to overcome to achieve victory.

As had previously been established, New Hampshire reconvened their convention in June. The Federalists had been actively campaigning in the hopes of swaying enough delegates to change their vote.

A number of factors came in to play during the reconvened New Hampshire convention. First, due to some very effective political maneuvering by John Sullivan and John Langdon, the Federalists were able to gain some ground over the anti-Federalists. Secondly, and this is probably the most important factor, the delegates had seen that the Federalists were willing to accept the idea of a Bill of Rights being added to the Constitution after Congress went in to session. So, with a vote of 57-47, New Hampshire ratified the Constitution.common_sense_cover_web

The ratifying convention for Virginia was next on the table for Madison. In fact it was in session, the delegates unaware that New Hampshire had already ratified the Constitution.

Being that Virginia was James Madison’s home state you would think that it would have been easy for him to garner enough support for ‘his’ new government.

However, Madison had some formidable opposition. George Mason, author of the Virginia Bill of Rights was in attendance, as was Patrick Henry, William Grayson, and future President James Monroe. Madison was in for one hell of a fight on his home turf.

Over the course of the debates there was great concern among the delegates about the militia clause, and the necessary and proper clause, which many felt gave Congress far too much implied power.

Eventually it was the ratify now, amend later proposition that changed enough minds and with a vote of 89-79 Virginia voted for ratification.

In retrospect, delegate John Marshall, who would later become Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, said the following about the calibre of the delegates, “…if I were called upon to say who of all men I have known had the greatest power to convince, I should perhaps say Mr. Madison; while Mr. Henry had without doubt the greatest power to persuade.”

As already stated, New York was another story. Opposition for the Constitution was so strong that the New York House and State Senate narrowly achieved the necessary votes to even convene a ratifying convention.

However, once the news arrived that both New Hampshire and Virginia had ratified, New York appeared to decide to cut it’s losses and salvage some face. Melancton Smith, the leader of the New York anti-Federalist movement, agreed to ratify as long as the Federalists held true to their promise to propose amendments in the first session of Congress.

Still, this did not sit well with some, and five of the delegates packed their bags and went home. Their departure did nothing of any consequence, as New York voted for ratification by a three votes, with 30 in favor, and 27 opposed.

Although Madison and the Federalists had gotten enough states to vote in favor of ratification, it was not a unanimous decision. North Carolina and Rhode Island had not voted to ratify, and would not do so until the First Congress sent out the first amendments, which would later become the Bill of Rights.

Since the idea of a proposed set of amendments was a deciding factor in how many delegates voted, Chapter 5 will go over the process of how the Bill of Rights came about.

Live your life in such a way that when your feet hit the floor in the morning, Satan shudders and says “OH SHIT!!…. HE’S AWAKE!!”

Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?

~ The Author ~
ross_authrNeal Ross can be reached for comments at Visit Neal’s Blog at

The Ross Archive on The Federal Observer

One thought on “Chapter IV: The Battle For Ratification

  1. Fizz

    Thanks for another enlightening articla not much in it new to me but I was priveledged to be born before the Govt decided what the schools would or would NOT. teach.

    Keep informing them who have not as yet realized what the real problems facing us are…

    GOD save America……. BAA BAA BAA…………


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