The Ratification Process: State by State

The ratification process started when the Congress turned the Constitution over to the state legislatures for consideration through specially elected state conventions of the people. Three state conventions voted unanimously to approve the Constitution—Delaware, New Jersey, and Georgia. The Constitution seemed to have easy, broad, and popular support.

The process in Pennsylvania, was corrupt. The Pennsylvania State Assembly’s term was about to an end, and they were considering a special convention on the Constitution, even before Congress had forwarded it to the states. Antifederalists in the state assembly tried to block this by refusing to attend the last two days of the session; without them there would not be enough members present to make a binding legal decision. The Antifederalists were dragged through the streets of Philadelphia and deposited in the Pennsylvania State House with the doors locked behind them. The presence of these Antifederalists gave the required number of members to allow a special convention to be called in the state, which eventually voted 46 to 23 to accept the Constitution.

The first real test of the Constitution in an influential state with both sides prepared for the contest came in Massachusetts in January 1788. Here influential older Patriots like Governor John Hancock and Sam Adams led the Antifederalists. The rural western part of the state was an Antifederalist stronghold. A divided month-long debate ended with a close vote (187-168) in favor of the Constitution. Crucial to the victory was the strong support of artisans who favored the proposed new commercial powers that might raise tariffs (taxes) on cheap British imports threatening their livelihood. The Massachusetts vote was aided by John Hancock who shifted his initial opposition to the Constitution and led the move toward ratification. Antifederalists were satisfied that certain amendments protecting individual rights were going to be considered by the first new Congress that would meet.

By the spring conventions in the required nine states had ratified, and the Constitution could become law. But with powerful, populous, and highly divided Virginia and New York yet to vote, the legitimacy of the new national system had not yet been fully resolved.

Source: The Ratification Process: State by State
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