Essays That Generate Support For Constitutional Ratification

In early January 1788, Connecticut approved the Constitution, 128 to 40.

After much debate, Massachusetts ratified in early February, 187 to 168, and proposed amendments.

Although historians will continue to write about ratification, it is unlikely that anyone will duplicate what Maier has done.

Although she tells us about every state, she concentrates on the struggles in the big and important states of Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Virginia, and New York.

On June 25, Virginia ratified, 89 to 79, and proposed amendments.

On July 26, New York ratified by the close vote of 30 to 27, and proposed amendments along with circular letters to the other states calling for a convention to consider the amendments.It took six days for the delegates from Bath, Maine (then part of Massachusetts) to make their way across rivers and through snow to Boston.The town of Richmond in the far west of Massachusetts held four meetings in December 1787 at four different times and places to discuss the Constitution, and on Christmas Eve finally voted that it was “not proper to adopt the Constitution as it now stands.” Interest in the Constitution in Richmond, Virginia was equally intense.Since Maier wishes to recover as closely as possible the way ratification happened, she frames her history as a chronological narrative of the process, which began in November 1787 and lasted until the summer of 1788.Although Pennsylvania began debating the Constitution at its ratifying convention on November 21, 1787, before any of the other states, its debates went on until December 15.She records what the people in each state felt about what they had learned from previous ratifications, but never does she reach ahead to the outcome.She wants us to experience events the way people at the time did, with all the sense of contingency, fear, expectation, and hope that they felt, not knowing the future, not knowing whether the Constitution would be ratified or not.Gilbert Livingston, a delegate to the New York convention, believed that he was involved in the “greatest transaction of his life.” The little town of Oakham, Massachusetts echoed the feelings of many Americans when it told its delegates to the ratifying convention that their mission was of “the greatest Importance that ever came before any Class of Men on this Earth.” , in 1997, she analyzed the state and local “declarations” of independence that preceded and made possible the familiar Declaration of Independence adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776.Her decades-long exploration of the local and popular foundations of politics in the Revolutionary era seems to have led her inevitably to this book on the people and the Constitution.In Pennsylvania, the supporters of the Constitution—the Federalists, as they called themselves—sensed that time was not on their side and attempted to rush the process of ratification, using ham-handed techniques to prevent critics of the Constitution from being heard.The initial publication of the debates in the state’s ratifying convention printed only the speeches of the Federalists, as if there were no opposition whatsoever.


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