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THE RATIFICATION OF THE CONSTITUTION BY CONVENTIONS IN THE
HE Convention which formed the Constitution met in Philadelphia on the second Monday of May, 1787, but the organization was not effected till the 25th. George Washington was appointed President. All the States were repre
sented but Rhode Island. Connecticut did not send a delegation till a fortnight after the time appointed, and New Hampshire was not represented till the 23d of July.
The Constitution was adopted by the Convention on Saturday, September 15th, and signed by the members on Monday the
17th. In the Convention the vote was by States, and as two of the three delegates from New YorkMessrs. Lansing and Yates-had withdrawn when it was decided to form a new Constitution instead of revising the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution was adopted by the delegates from eleven States. It was thought desirable that the instrument should go forth to the public with the signatures of the individual delegates, as well as the official attestation of the Convention. The following was the form: "Done in Convention, by the unanimous consent of the States present, the seventeenth day of September, in the year of our Lord 1787, and of the Independence of the United States the twelfth. In witness whereof, we have hereunto subscribed our names." All the delegates present signed it except Messrs. Randolph and Mason from Virginia and Mr. Gerry from Massachusetts. New York was not officially present in the Con
vention, but the instrument bears the signature of Alexander Hamilton from that State, who took a most prominent part in its deliberations.
The following resolutions, adopted by the Convention, were transmitted to Congress, with a copy of the Constitution, accompanied by a letter from the President:
"In Convention, Monday, September 17th, 1787.
To be Sent to Conventions.
"Resolved, That the preceding Constitution be laid before the United States in Congress assembled, and that it is the opinion of this Convention that it should afterwards be submitted to a convention of delegates, chosen in each State by the people thereof, under the recommendation of its legislature, for their assent and ratification; and that each convention, assenting to and ratifying the same, should give notice thereof to the United States in Congress assembled.
"Resolved, That it is the opinion of this Convention that as soon as the conventions of nine States shall have ratified this Constitution, the United States in Congress assembled should fix a day on which electors should be appointed by the States which shall have ratified the same, and a day on which the electors should assemble to vote for the President, and the time and place for commencing proceedings under this Constitution. That after such publication the electors should be appointed and the Senators and Representatives elected; that the electors should meet on the day fixed for the election of the President, and should transmit their votes, certified, signed, sealed, and directed, as the Constitution requires, to the Secretary of the United States in Congress assembled; that the Senators and Representatives should convene at the time and place assigned; that the Senators should appoint a President of the Senate for the sole purpose of receiving, opening, and counting the votes for President; and that, after he shall be chosen, the Congress, together
with the President, should without delay proceed to execute this Constitution.
"By the unanimous order of the Convention,
"George Washington, President.
"William Jackson, Secretary."
Plan of the Convention.
The resolution of Congress, adopted February 21st, 1787, recommending that a Convention should be held for the purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation, contemplated that those alterations, after being agreed to by Congress, should be confirmed by the States. But the Convention, in the resolutions transmitted to Congress with a copy of the Constitution, proposed that this confirmation should not be by the States, i. e., by the legislatures of the States, but that the instrument should "be submitted to a convention of delegates chosen in each State by the people thereof."
The Articles of Confederation had been adopted by Congress and ratified by the legislatures of the several States. They had never been submitted to the people. Congress expected that the alterations would be submitted to the legislatures and not to the people. The Convention thought, however, that if the adoption of the new Constitution were to be referred to the State legislatures it would not rest on the direct authority of the people.
The Articles of Confederation could not be amended without the assent of all the States; but the Constitution was to go into effect when nine of the thirteen should have ratified
System would abolish the
The New it. The Convention, therefore, "had prepared a system of government that would not merely alter, Old. but would abolish and supersede the Confederation; and they had determined to obtain, what they regarded as a legitimate authority for this purpose, the consent of the people of the States, by whose will the State governments
existed." The Articles of Confederation were the work of The people had no par
Congress and the State governments.
ticipation in them. They were not in the name of the people. But the Constitution framed by the Convention of 1787 was in the name of the people; and, should it go into operation, would derive its Confederation. validity from the people themselves. Prior to the adoption of the present Constitution, the United States could hardly be said to have a Constitution. They had a government, and the relation of the States to the Nation was virtually the same as now; but their respective duties had not been definitely stated, and there was no little friction in the working of the governmental machinery. The members of the Convention had great hopes that the new Constitution would be found to remedy these evils, and in this they were not disappointed.
Congress having received the report of the Convention, adopted (September 28th,) the following resolution: "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."
Congress, it will be seen, merely transmits the Constitution to the State legislatures, without either approval or disapproval. This was what the Convention had requested, though a vote of approval would have facilitated its adoption in the conventions of the States. But some opposition was made in Congress to the Constitution, and to obtain unanimity it was necessary, says Mr. Madison, to couch the resolution in very moderate terms. It was first contended that Congress could not properly give any positive countenance to a measure which had for its object the subversion of the Constitution under which they acted. answered, an effort was made to amend the bill of rights, trial by jury in civil cases, etc.
1 Curtis, II, page 481.
This objection having becn
cessful, it would, without doubt, have defeated the Constitution, as two instruments would have been placed before the people for their ratification.
Rumors as to the Constitution.
The Convention had kept their proceedings secret, and there was consequently great anxiety to know the character of the new Constitution. Singular rumors were circulated, among which was one that a system of monarchical government had been framed, and the monarch designated in the person of one of the sons of George III. But, two days after the Convention adjourned, the new Constitution was published in the newspapers of Philadelphia, thus dispelling all doubt in regard to it.
Its Friends and its Opponents.
"It met every-where with warm friends and warm opponents." Mr. Curtis classifies its advocates thus: first, a large body who regarded it as the admirable system which it proved to be when put into operation; second, those who believed it to be the best attainable government that could be adopted by the people of the United States, overlooking defects which they acknowledged, or trusting to the power of amendment which it contained; and, third, the mercantile and manufacturing classes who regarded its commercial and revenue powers with great favor. "Its adversaries," he says, "were those who had always opposed any enlargement of the federal system; those whose consequence as politicians would be diminished by the establishment of a government able to attract into its service the highest classes of talent and character, and presenting a service distinct from that of the States; those who conscientiously believed its provisions and powers dangerous to the rights of the States and to public liberty; and, finally, those who were opposed to any government, whether State or national or federal, that would have vigor and energy enough to protect the rights of property, to prevent schemes of plunder in the form of paper money, and to bring about the discharge of public and private debts."
The legislatures of all the States, except Rhode Island, called conventions of the people to act upon the Constitution, though in some of them there was strong opposition. Thus in New York the resolutions for a convention were passed by majorities of only three in the Senate and two in the House; and this on