Those who were resistant to the proposed Constitution fell into three general groups. One faction was opposed to the Philadelphia Constitution under any circumstances. Another sub-set of the ‘opposition’ forces was in favor of making ratification conditional upon incorporation of various agreed upon amendments into the proposed Constitution. A third group did not want to make the idea of amendments a condition for ratification. Such people preferred to treat the amendments as merely recommendations which they were ‘confident’ would be adopted by the newly-formed Congress at its earliest possible opportunity.
Monday, July 07, 2014
The Ratification Game -- How Power Politics Undermined The Sovereignty of 'We The People' In American History
The first national census in America took place in 1790. At the time, the population of the United States – excluding Indians and counting Negros as three-fifths of a person in accordance with Constitutional requirements -- was calculated to be about 3.9 million people.
Extrapolating backward to 1787, one comes up with a rough, ball-park figure for a U.S. population of about 3.6 million people around the time of ratification. Approximately 500,000 of that total were Negros. So, the actual white population in America was somewhere around 3.1 million.
There were about 558,000 households in existence at that time. While a small percentage of households (roughly 3.7%) were single occupant households, families tended to be relatively large during 18th century America with nearly 77% of households having 4 or more children.
If one were to assume that roughly half of the 558,000 households consisted of a wife, then this would leave approximately 279,000 white males in America who might qualify for the ‘right’ to vote. If one further subtracted the number of white males who did not own property of sufficient value to qualify for the voting franchise (e.g., indentured servants, those who had property of some kind but which was not of sufficient value to meet the standard that would enable one to vote), one arrives at an approximate figure of 250,000 people who were part of the pool for eligible voters.
One could quibble with some of the foregoing figures – both in an upward as well as a downward direction -- but those figures are, I believe, broadly accurate. Whatever quantitative corrections one might like to make would not appreciably alter the general thrust of the current discussion.
The voting patterns in colonial America ranged from 20% to 40%, with places such as New York and Pennsylvania tending to exhibit higher voting trends than many other colonies/provinces/states. Somewhat arbitrarily, I will assume that the average voter turnout in America during the 18th century was about 25% -- a figure that might have been somewhat higher during the process of ratification … let us say: 30%
If one uses 30% for the lower end of the range of voter turnout and 40% as the upper end of the range of voter turnout during the different ratification votes, one could estimate that somewhere between 75,000 to 100,000 people might have participated in the election of representatives for the ratification conventions to be held in the 13 colonies/provinces. Moreover, if one further breaks these figures down to those who were in favor of, or opposed to, ratifying the Constitution, one is talking – possibly – about a group of some 38,000 to 50,000 individuals who could have voted for delegates to the 13 ratification conventions who, in turn, might have voted in favor of ratifying the Philadelphia Constitution.
The word “might” is underlined in the previous sentence because one can’t be sure of the precise character of the relationship between how representatives voted in any given ratification convention and the wishes of those who voted for such delegates. Some voters gave their elected delegates instructions to vote for or against ratification, but some voters instructed their delegates to listen to the arguments at the ratification convention and, then, make up their mind about how to vote.
Approximately 1,071 delegates voted for ratification across 13 ratification conventions. About 577 delegates voted against ratification across the same number of conventions.
The foregoing is somewhat misleading because there were three states (Delaware, Georgia, and New Jersey) in which no one voted against ratification -- which given the normal variability in most populations seems rather odd – while there were six states where the difference between the ‘for ratification’ and ‘against ratification’ vote averaged about 11 individuals, with several of these votes involving a difference of only 3 (New York) and 2 (Rhode Island) individuals.
The breakdown of voting in the ratification conventions was as follows: Delaware, 30 for ratification, 0 against; Pennsylvania, 46 for ratification, 23 against; New Jersey 38 for ratification, 0 against; Georgia, 26 for ratification, 0 against; Connecticut, 128 for ratification, 40 against; Massachusetts, 187 for ratification, 168 against; Maryland, 63 for ratification, 11 against; South Carolina, 149 for ratification, 73 against; New Hampshire, 57 for ratification, 47 against; Virginia, 89 for ratification, 79 against; New York, 30 for ratification, 27 against; North Carolina, 194 for ratification, 77 against; Rhode Island, 34 for ratification, 32 against. The foregoing votes were held on different dates beginning with Delaware on December 7, 1787 and running to Rhode Island on May 29, 1790.
Before the above noted vote in Rhode Island of 34 for ratification and 32 against it, Rhode Island had held a popular referendum in relation to the ratification issue on March 24, 1788, over a year earlier. The vote went 2708 against ratification, with only 237 in favor of ratification.
The Rhode Island referendum raises the question of what might have happened to the ratification vote if every colony/province/state had held popular referenda rather than go the route of ratification conventions. In addition, one wonders what the overall result might have been if all of the colonies/provinces/states had been required to vote on the same day – irrespective of whether these votes were based on popular referenda or ratification conventions.
There was a great deal of ‘scoreboard watching’ during the referendum process. This was especially the case when the game was approaching crunch time concerning the arbitrarily decided standard of requiring nine of 13 states to approve the Constitution in order for that document to become binding on all the states who had voted to ratify the Philadelphia Constitution.
While it is a natural human tendency to want to see which way other people are leaning before deciding what to do about a given issue, permitting such a tendency to play a role in the ratification process also muddies the waters. One might hope that the primary reason to vote for, or against, a proposed form of governance would be a function of the merits of such a proposal as an effective means of regulating social affairs, and, consequently, voting for, or against, ratifying the Constitution should not be about human dynamics but about the quality – or lack thereof – of a given constitutional proposal.
In addition, one wonders why the voting procedures within any given ratification convention were set as a simple majority, while the standard for the overall vote needed for ratification was two-thirds of the total number of states. Simple majorities are, of course, simpler to calculate, but they also set a lower bar to clear.
If two-thirds of the states had to be in agreement in order to demonstrate a clear standard that would show the collective ‘wisdom’ for adopting the constitution, then one might suppose that the same standard should have been used within each of the ratification conventions to show an equally clear standard of collective wisdom concerning the proposed constitution. After all, one was asking people to change a form of governance that had helped the thirteen states to survive a difficult war with one of the world’s great powers, so adopting different voting structures for, on the one hand, the various ratification conventions and, on the other hand, the overall ratification vote was rather inconsistent, and, therefore, somewhat suspect for its arbitrariness.
From one perspective (that of the total number of eligible voters), the fates of more than 3.5 million people were decided by between 75,000 and 100,000 people. From another perspective (that of actual voters), the fates of more than 3.5 million people were decided by between 38,000 and 50,000 individuals. From yet another perspective (that of delegates to the ratification conventions), the fates of more than 3.5 million people were decided by 494 individuals (the difference between the ‘for’ and ‘against’ vote of the ratification conventions). And, finally, from another perspective (that of the standard set for overall ratification), the fates of 3.5 million people were decided by less than 494 individuals (only nine states needed to ratify the Constitution in order for it to be carried forward as the law of the land).
The process in post-revolutionary America that led from the writing of a constitution to the ratifying of that constitution to the implantation of such a constitution is quite remarkable. Moreover, the foregoing series of historical events give expression to an exercise in democratic participation that was astonishing given how the issue of settling upon a form of governance tended to be handled elsewhere in the world.
Nonetheless, raising questions concerning the degree to which such events were truly democratic in, for example, a procedural sense is not at all inappropriate. Why should: 75,000 to a 100,000 individuals, or 38,000 to 50,000 individuals, or 494 individuals get to decide the form of governance under which, say, 3.5 million people live?
The foregoing questions are even more relevant when one considers that the writing of the Constitution at the Philadelphia Convention was not authorized by the existing legal system – namely the Articles of Confederation or its designated agents of implementation known as the Continental Congress. As such, the Constitution was an extralegal document which the participants of the Philadelphia Convention wanted ‘the people’ – or, at least, some of them – to vote on … not directly, but indirectly through delegates to various ratification conventions.
None of this was consistent with the existing legal framework that had been ratified by thirteen colonies/provinces/states some six years earlier. The Articles of Confederation stipulated that the agreement among the thirteen states was to be in effect perpetually unless modifications were approved by both the Continental Congress as well as all thirteen states.
The delegates to the Philadelphia Convention wanted to change the structure of the game of governance. Moreover, they wanted to do a further end-around with respect to the established, legally sanctioned, procedural process for accomplishing such things.
The members of the Philadelphia Convention – minus three individuals who disagreed with the other 36 delegates – wanted ‘the people’ to lend legitimacy to their illegitimate acts which gave expression to the construction of a constitution that supposedly entailed a ‘rule of law.’ One reason why it was misleading to try to claim that ‘the people’ would decide the future of America was because the people would not actually be able to vote directly on the issue of ratification.
While many of the larger centers of population were in favor of ratifying the Philadelphia Constitution, there was considerable sentiment against voting in favor of that document in many – but not all – rural areas. In 1787, 90% of the population of the United States was located in rural areas, and if those individuals were allowed to vote directly on the issue of ratification, the Philadelphia Constitution might well have been rejected outright as had occurred, in overwhelming numbers, in the one popular referendum on the Constitution that had taken place in Rhode Island early on in the ratification process.
By requiring ‘the people’ – which remember was but a small sub-set of the overall population – to vote for delegates who would attend the actual ratification conventions, a very important political advantage was gained by the forces – who came to refer to themselves as federalists -- that were in support of bringing to fruition the ideas of the Philadelphia renegade majority (i.e., the ‘Framers of the Constitution’). More specifically, in most instances (but not all) the ratification conventions were to be convened in large cities that tended to be pro-ratification, and, more importantly, compared to the number of eligible voters, the group of delegates would be relatively small – ranging from 26 delegates in Georgia (the smallest) to 355 delegates in Massachusetts (the largest) – and, therefore, political pressure of various kinds could be exerted on delegates … something that would be much more difficult to organize and effectively carry out if the ratification votes were in the form of colony/state-wide referenda rather than ratification conventions.
In addition, there was something of a blitzkrieg-like quality to the push for ratification in more than half of the 13 colonies/states. The Philadelphia Constitution was made available to at least some of the public beginning on September 17, 1778, following the end of the convention.
Publishing the Constitution and distributing those copies to the Continental Congress, the state legislators, and beyond took time. This was especially true in relation to the rural areas of America where nearly 90% of the population lived.
Furthermore, there were not nearly enough copies of the Constitution to go around. Newspapers did help out by printing the Constitution in its entirety.
However, newspapers did not enjoy a readership that numbered in the thousands. Instead, their readership often was limited to the hundreds – although, to be sure, there was more sharing than usual going on with many of their Constitution-related editions … which was much, if not most, of the time from late September, 1787 onward.
Dissemination of the Constitution took time. Having an opportunity to read it would take time. Being able to reflect on that document also would require some time.
Approximately four months were needed by the participants of the Philadelphia Convention to discuss, debate, write, and revise the Constitution. Yet, within a fairly short time following the end of the Philadelphia Convention, many state legislatures were setting times for holding ratification conventions, and in over half of these cases, the dates for such conventions were within five months of the date of the proposed constitution being released.
Consequently, in over half the cases of the ratification conventions one notes that within a period of just five months – in three cases merely three months or less, and in two more instances just four months -- people, somehow, were supposed to obtain, read, reflect on, and appoint delegates who would, in many cases, have to travel for days during the depths of winter to reach the designated site for any given ratification meeting.
Delaware held its ratification convention on December 7, 1787. This was just 2 ½ months after the Philadelphia Convention completed its business.
Pennsylvania’s ratification convention took place on December 12, 1787, less than three months after the Philadelphia Convention. The ratification convention for New Jersey occurred on December 18, 1787 -- a day, or so, more than three months following the events in Philadelphia.
Georgia, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts held their ratification conventions between Jan 2, 1788 and mid-February, 1788. Moreover, when the New Hampshire ratification convention looked like it was headed toward rejection of the Constitution, pro-ratification forces in that state maneuvered to have the convention suspended in order to give their own forces time to regroup and come up with a new strategy.
One should keep in mind that prior to mid-September 1787 the idea of a new national constitution was not even on the radar of 99.99999% of Americans. As far as they knew – and to the extent that they thought about it at all -- the Articles of Confederation constituted the law of the land.
Prior to mid-September 1787, no one had been speaking about the constitutional document that would be forthcoming from Philadelphia and how it would affect the country – after all, the Philadelphia Convention was conducted in total secrecy. Furthermore, prior to mid-September 1787, newspapers were not printing stories or writing essays about the radically new constitution that was about to descend on America.
However, once the Philadelphia Convention concluded, Americans were, expected to make insightful decisions with respect to ideas that had not previously appeared on the stage of history. Unfortunately, people were being given precious little time to formulate their impressions concerning the document
Consequently, through a variety of tactics, proponents of ratification sought to herd, if not stampede, people into making a decision about the Constitution. Moreover, a great deal of effort and resources were dedicated toward pushing that decision in the direction of accepting the Constitution rather than really critically exploring that document.
The more time that people had to think about, discuss, and reflect on the Constitution, the more criticisms there were that began to surface concerning the existence of structural flaws and problems in the Philadelphia document. Those who had vested interests in the acceptance of the Constitution sought to make sure that people did not have much time to think about, or become concerned with, such matters, and, therefore, over half the states were given five months, or less, to navigate their way through an array of issues that still have not been settled two centuries later.
Pressuring people to make a decision is often a sign that the people engaged in the pressuring process have something to hide and/or have vested interests to protect. If those employing the tactics of pressure were fully confident in the strength and judiciousness of the Constitution, they would have encouraged people to take their time in making such an important decision – one with so many far reaching consequences – but this is not what happened in the ratification conventions of more than half the states.
People were being rushed to judgment in a variety of ways. In the process, they were being pressured to sacrifice their sovereignty on the altar of expediency, fear-mongering, ambition, and vested interests … activities that continue on till this day.
Another tactical advantage utilized by those who wished to ensure that the Constitution would be ratified revolved about the very critical issues of the structural character of the rules that would govern the ratification conventions, as well as the process through which the individuals who would preside over the proceedings of such assemblies would be selected. In virtually every instance – with the possible exception of Rhode Island -- those who were in favor of ratifying the Constitution gathered together early and decided among themselves upon the ‘rules of order’ that would govern how their convention would be conducted and, in addition, they appointed the various individuals and ratification committees that would regulate such conventions ... and these things were often set in place before many of the delegates from rural areas even had a chance to assemble.
Quite frequently, the rules of order that were devised before many of the delegates had arrived precluded the introduction of any amendments into the proceedings. In other words, a limited number of individuals – almost all of whom were in favor of ratifying the Philadelphia Constitution -- were inventing arbitrary and biased rules for the ratification games that were about to commence, and in the process, they were, in effect, insisting that the delegates could only vote on the Philadelphia Constitution as it was, and delegates would not be permitted to introduce amendments of any kind.
As occurs quite frequently in politics, the idea that ‘the people’ get to decide issues was seriously compromised and undermined by those who had their own agenda to push at the ratification conventions. Almost invariably, the organizers of the conventions skewed the rules of the ratification game to construct an unfair playing field for exploring and discussing the Philadelphia Constitution on the basis of merit rather than a colonial version of three-card Monte.
In the great majority of the ratification conventions held in the 13 colonies/states, there were many kinds of amendments that were suggested as a means of improving the quality of the proposed Constitution. Although people often think of the ten amendments in the Bill of Rights as being the sort of things that delegates to the various conventions were introducing, the fact of the matter is that those kinds of amendments were only a part of the set of changes that were often suggested at different conventions.
Numerous delegates had concerns about many provisions of the Constitution. They were concerned about: taxation; the limits of centralized authority; standing armies; the idea that treaties passed by the Senate would become the law of the land; the basis on which members of the House of Representatives were to be elected; the power of the Senate and the way it owed allegiance to the State legislatures rather than to the people; the lack of a specified role for the Judicial Branch of government; the difficulty of getting rid of problematic representatives; the vagueness surrounding the ‘necessary and proper’ clause of the Constitution; problems surrounding the meaning of Congress’ power to regulate commerce; the amendment process, and so on.
Many people – both among the general electorate as well as among the delegates -- were not just concerned about the rights of individuals. They also were deeply concerned about what they perceived to be structural flaws in the character of the Philadelphia Constitution.
While the proponents of ratification had developed a set of ‘talking points’ for purposes of quelling the concerns of people with respect to the Constitution (and many of these ‘talking points’ were developed by those who had been participants in the Philadelphia Convention), it is worth noting that almost all of these ‘talking points’ were of an entirely theoretical nature. More specifically, since no one in the world had ever tried what was being proposed by the Philadelphia Convention, there was virtually no empirical data to support the arguments of the advocates of ratification.
No one knew what a President would do under such a constitutional arrangement. No one knew what the Judicial branch would do if the Constitution were ratified. No one knew what Congress would do with the powers that were being proposed through the Philadelphia Constitution or how members of Congress would interpret those powers. No one knew whether, or not, the members of Congress would sincerely represent their constituents. No one knew if the federal government would seek to leverage the Constitution to oppress the people.
The advocates of ratification proffered theoretical responses for why the President, the House, the Senate, or the Judiciary would act in a republican manner. Yet, this was all speculation.
If one paid attention to how the participants of the Philadelphia Convention actually behaved – in terms of republican philosophy -- during those summer meetings rather than what they said later on during the ratification process, there were a number of indicators that should have given observant people pause for thought. If one paid attention to how the proponents of ratification often structured the ratification conventions in ways that were not necessarily conducive to an objective, rigorously critical exploration of the proposed Constitution, there were many indications that the ratification game was not unfolding on a level playing field. If one paid attention to the fact that almost the entire set of arguments of those in favor of ratification consisted of theoretical speculations that could not be backed up with hard data, the observant person might have been reluctant to go along with what amounted to little more than political promises that would not necessarily be honored if the Constitution were ratified.
The Philadelphia Convention and the ratification process were both politicized by people who had an agenda – namely, the federalists. These were people who wanted to acquire power to accomplish their respective aims under the cover of a ‘people’s’ government.
Some individuals might wish to argue that it is not possible to keep politics out of such matters. Others might wish to argue that the creation of a constitution and its ratification should have been left to those who approached the matter with no interest other than a wish to establish a modality of self-governance that would have enhanced the sovereignty of all people in an equitable manner.
The idea that politics is an inherent part of being human is generally the refrain of those who are cynically skeptical concerning the existence of a song within the soul of human beings that is not a function of manipulation, undue influence, oppression, exploitation, control, abuse, unwarranted advantage, and injustice. However, if the cynics are correct in their assessment of things, then, surely, the Philadelphia Constitution and its ratification are merely tawdry exercises in the politics of power and not the establishment of any sort of real sovereignty for the people.
Under such circumstances, the rule of law really gives expression to the tactical and strategic rules with which politicians busy themselves during the process of conjuring the black arts of manipulating situations to the perceived advantage of such practitioners while inducing ‘the people’ to believe that everything is being in done in accordance with the very highest of ethical and democratic standards. If the cynics are correct, there really is no such thing as democracy … only political manipulation and exploitation camouflaged in the language of democracy.
Delaware, Georgia and New Jersey respectively ratified the Constitution: 30 to 0, 26 to 0, and 38 to 0. By and large, these states were not interested in the sovereignty of their people, but, rather, sought to leverage the power of the proposed federal constitution to advance the commercial and economic interests of the power elites in those states.
Undoubtedly, commercial issues are important. However, they are not more important than the right of people to be free from the sorts of oppression and exploitation that often ensue from the pursuit of such power-enabled commercial and economic interests.
In Connecticut the vote went 128 in favor of ratification versus 40 against it. The nine newspapers in the state printed numerous articles and essays in support of ratifying the Constitution, but only half a dozen, or so, articles were published that were critical of the Constitution.
The Connecticut newspapers – like most (but not all) newspapers elsewhere in America at the time – believed in freedom of the press but not necessarily in freedom of information. In other words, they believed that anyone who had a printing press had the right to publish whatever he liked, but they didn’t necessarily believe that the purpose of the press was to provide readers with all the information they might need to make an informed, objective decision concerning, say, the issue of ratification.
In fact, in many respects the Connecticut newspapers were instruments of propaganda concerning the coming ratification vote. They tended to give the impression that there was no real opposition to, or criticism of, the proposed Constitution, and this was simply untrue.
The coverage of those newspapers in relation to the Constitution was often biased, incomplete, and factually inaccurate. Like many of the ratification conventions, the newspaper coverage was intent on tilting the playing field in favor of the ‘home’ side while simultaneously attempting to give the impression that its articles, editorials, and essays were ‘fair and balanced’.
Opponents and critics of ratifying the Constitution were sometimes slandered in the Connecticut newspapers. Such individuals were described as closet Loyalists whose real agenda was to reunite with Britain when, in point of fact, those opposed to ratification were merely trying to articulate what they felt were some of the problems inherent in the document which the newspapers were so intent on foisting upon the people.
Alternatively, critics of the Constitution were portrayed in the Connecticut newspapers as individuals who were trying to protect their own selfish interests. No mention was made, of course, about how many of those who were in favor of ratifying the Constitution stood to gain in one way or another if that document were accepted as the ‘law of the land.’
A certain number of people from New York tried to break the Connecticut embargo against the sort of information that questioned the Constitution in any way by sending an array of pamphlets, plus copies of the New York Journal, which carried essays and articles that were critical of the Constitution. Proponents of ratification in Connecticut managed to learn about the attempted disruption of the embargo and seized the material and destroyed it, while simultaneously expressing indignation that anyone could have the temerity to want to present another side of the ratification issue to the citizens of Connecticut.
Some Connecticut newspapers – for example, the Connecticut Courant -- indicated that it was not the responsibility of the people to understand or debate the pros and cons of the Constitution. Rather, their task was merely to elect delegates who would have the responsibility of examining the constitutional issue.
Supposedly, the Philadelphia Constitution was all about advancing the cause of democracy, liberty, rights, self-governance, and sovereignty. Yet, the Connecticut newspapers were intent on preventing people from having access to any information that might allow them to make prudent decisions concerning such matters.
The tactical maneuver that surfaced in the Philadelphia constitutional convention -- which claimed that the ratification process would be the means through which the American people would legitimize the authority of the Constitution – was, as the Connecticut newspapers seemed intent on demonstrating, something of an illusion. During the run up to the ratification convention, people were being led to believe that they were the ones who would be deciding matters, but, in point of fact, this wasn’t the case except, at best, in a very, very indirect way with most individuals having little, or no, capacity to actually participate in, or appreciably affect, the ratification debates.
Some areas of Connecticut ignored both the newspapers as well as the ‘leaders’ of the community -- who both were urging the people to leave the important stuff to the experts -- by trying to make sure that delegates to the ratification convention understood how the people of the area they were representing wished their delegates to cast votes. Such instances tended, however, to be exceptions to the rule since most town meetings merely appointed/elected delegates and permitted the latter to vote their conscience in the matter after listening to the ratification debate.
The convention was held in Hartford, and like most large cities, Hartford was replete with individuals who were in favor of ratification. Consequently, one is not surprised to learn that some descriptive accounts of the ratification convention indicated that whenever someone spoke about this or that defect in the Constitution, there was considerable talking, shuffling of feet, and coughing in the hall where the convention was taking place … something which did not seem to occur when advocates of ratification were speaking.
Knowing exactly what went on in the Connecticut ratification convention is difficult to know since the individual – Enoch Perkins -- who was taking notes on behalf of several newspapers was not a disinterested party, but, rather, he was very much a partisan of the pro-ratification side of things. Knowing what went on in the minds and hearts of the delegates to the convention is even more difficult.
How much any of them been affected by the relentless bombardment of newspaper propaganda leading up to the convention is difficult to assess. How deferential the delegates might have been to the large number of lawyers, judges, state representatives, clergy, and doctors who were present at the convention and who were in favor of ratification is also hard to determine … although many people in post-revolutionary America, especially in a conservative state like Connecticut, tended to defer to the ‘leaders’ of the state in many matters irrespective of their own feelings concerning such issues.
One thing does seem clear, however. The vote of 128 delegates for ratification, with 40 voting against ratification, was not necessarily the ringing endorsement of democracy that it might seem to be.
When propaganda, suppression of information, the undue influence of so-called “leaders”, along with a considerable amount of negative framing in relation to those who opposed the idea of ratification are the primary ingredients in such a process, one can’t help question the integrity and meaning of the recorded vote. Were the issues of: freedom, democracy, rights, sovereignty, equity, and the like well-served by the ratification process? There are many pieces of data (some of which have been noted here) that would seem to indicate otherwise.
The illusion of democracy was given expression in the Connecticut ratification convention as well as in the newspaper coverage and ‘discussions’ that led up to that vote on January 8, 1788. Unfortunately, for the most part, the reality of democracy, in any essential sense, appears to have been largely absent during that whole sequence of historical events in Connecticut.
The ideologues of ratification seem eerily similar to the ideologues that have populated various fascist, communist, and theological causes. They seem all too willing to sacrifice principle for the sake of winning the game and arranged for events to work out the way they like irrespective of the collateral damage that might be caused by such gamesmanship.
In New Hampshire a different set of tactics were used to maneuver the Constitution through the ratification process. From early in 1776 until 1784, the state had gone through its own series of constitutional crises after its original state constitution had, more or less, been imposed on the people of New Hampshire by an arbitrary group of people known as a ‘revolutionary congress’ – an event that over a number of years set in motion a series of protests which led to several drafts of a new constitution that were rejected by the voters before agreement was reached on a second state constitution. Consequently, the voters of New Hampshire were fairly experienced with respect to the idea of constitutions and the sorts of problems they often entailed.
While merchants in Portsmouth, New Hampshire – as was the case for many maritime cities along the eastern seaboard of America – saw the potential for increased commerce if the Philadelphia Constitution were ratified, many of the towns in New Hampshire were not oriented around the commerce of merchants – indeed, there was often a hostility toward, and distrust of, the merchant class among the inhabitants of inland communities -- and, therefore, there were a lot of questions in those communities concerning the value and wisdom of adopting the Philadelphia Constitution.
Most of the newspapers in the state – there were five of them -- were published in and around Portsmouth. As was the case with newspaper coverage in Connecticut during the days leading up to its ratification convention, the New Hampshire publications contained almost nothing that was critical of the Philadelphia Constitution, so, once again, there was a suppression of certain kinds of information concerning that document, and, as well, there was a concomitant failure to rigorously explore the pros and cons of the proposed constitution in sort of collective way prior to the ratification convention.
Some of the New Hampshire supporters of the proposed constitution tried to establish a date in early December of 1787 for conducting a ratification vote. For a number of reasons, this attempt failed and they had to settle for a time in mid-February of 1788
The site of the ratification convention was set for Exeter which was on the eastern side of New Hampshire and a somewhat difficult place to reach in winter time if one were traveling from inland areas of the state. Moreover, many of those who were desirous of ratifying the Philadelphia Constitution lived in and around Exeter, just as had been the case in relation to the convention that was held in Hartford, Connecticut which also was a hotbed of support for ratification.
Whether through design or happenstance, the New Hampshire legislature was kept in session just prior to the state ratification convention with a discussion of issues that were of particular interest and importance to inland residents who also happened to be a substantial source of opposition to accepting the proposed constitution. Legislative delegates to the ratification convention who were not interested in that discussion -- but who also happened to be advocates of ratifying the Philadelphia Constitution -- had an opportunity to slip away from state business and arrive at the ratification convention a little early.
Those early birds used that opportunity to elect pro-ratification delegates to all of the important committees for the convention. In addition they established a set of procedural rules which, among other things, stipulated that any motion for adjournment would have priority over all other motions, and, thereby, provided the supporters of ratification with a fail-safe device that could be employed if it seemed that the convention might be headed toward a rejection of the proposed constitution.
Another procedural rule that was adopted prior to the arrival of most of the convention delegates was one which indicated that no vote on ratification could take place unless the precise number of delegates who were present at the start of the convention was also present at the time of the ratification vote. This rule served as a back-up to the aforementioned procedure concerning priority of motions because it allowed supporters of ratification to delay a vote merely by absenting themselves on such a occasion if it looked like the Constitution would be rejected.
One can say all one likes about the nature of politics and how ‘boys’ will be ‘boys’, but there was nothing honorable -- or republican (the supposed essence of the Philadelphia Constitution) -- in the manner in which most of the proponents of ratification went about rigging things in relation to the ratification convention in New Hampshire. From: newspaper coverage, to: attempting to rush the ratification decision, to: setting the time and place for the convention in a way that would be disadvantageous to those who might be critical of, and resistant to, the proposed constitution, to: structuring the rules of procedure in a way that would skew the playing field, many of those in New Hampshire who wanted the Philadelphia Constitution to be ratified conducted themselves in a disgraceful and deceitful manner.
There is nothing democratic or republican in what they did. They were entirely anti-democratic and anti-republican -- in their behavior, but they were trying to create the illusion that the ratification convention was being carried out as an utterly fair and open contest of ideas.
When push came to shove, pro-ratification forces in New Hampshire invoked the rule for adjourning the convention. The vote was recorded as being 56 to 51 in favor of adjournment, but, apparently that majority result was only reached when 11 delegates who had been instructed by their constituents to reject ratification were, somehow, persuaded to vote for adjournment rather than vote in accordance with the wishes of the people they supposedly were representing.
The foregoing sorts of gamesmanship continued when the convention was called back into session in June of 1788. For instance, the credentials committee – which was controlled by individuals who were pro-ratification -- admitted one person as a delegate who had never been elected by anyone but, nonetheless, claimed to represent the people who had not elected him.
Moreover, when, in the intervening period of four months, certain towns would not release their delegates from their duty to vote in accordance with the wishes of their constituents to reject the Constitution, the proponents of ratification suggested that such individuals merely stay away from the convention and not vote. Given that 113 delegates (minus one, as noted in the previous paragraph) had been elected to the ratification convention, and given that 90 delegates were present on the opening day of the reconvened convention, and given that the missing 23 delegates were all on the rejection side of the ratification ledger, and given that the final ratification vote was 57 to 47, there were, at least, nine delegates who did not cast a vote at the convention but who likely had a fiduciary responsibility to vote against ratification and may have had been acting in accordance with the aforementioned counsel of the proponents of ratification to stay away from the convention and, thereby, betray their constituents.
When one adds the foregoing nine missing delegates to the pseudo-delegate that was permitted by the credentials committee to vote on the issue of ratification even though not entitled to do so, one arrives at a vote of 56 for ratification and 56 against ratification … a dead heat. While further votes might have gone one way or the other, this is actually irrelevant to the point at issue here.
The New Hampshire ratification convention was not an exercise in integrity, honor, forthrightness, and fairness. From beginning to end, that convention was tainted by subterfuge, Machiavellian manipulations, duplicity, and a lack of character – supposedly the lynchpin of the philosophy of republicanism -- on the part of many of its organizers and participants.
“We the People” did not speak in New Hampshire. The politics of ambition, vested interests, and unethical behavior served to misrepresent, if not distort, that voice.
There is one further political tactic to consider with respect to the ratification convention in New Hampshire. The proponents of ratification in that state adopted a strategy that had been effectively used in Massachusetts to defuse the concerns of those who opposed ratifying the Philadelphia Constitution without the presence of amendments.
More specifically, those who were in favor of ratification believed that the presence of amendments only would serve to bog-down the process of adopting the proposed constitution. They wanted delegates to vote for, or against, the Constitution as it had been written because they felt that entertaining possible amendments to that document would throw the whole ratification process into chaos and confusion since one might end up with thirteen states proposing thirteen different sets of amendments, and, then, one would be faced with the problem of how to incorporate those amendments into the document in a way that would not jeopardize ratification.
The fact of the matter is that many of the objections to the Constitution tended to be very similar from one state to the next. Although the wording might have been slightly different from place to place, there was considerable overlap and agreement amongst the amendments that were proposed to resolve perceived flaws in the Philadelphia Convention.
Furthermore, there was little empirical evidence to demonstrate that such difficulties could not be overcome in a reasonable period of time or could not be resolved in an amicable, constructive fashion. In fact, a number of state legislatures – including New Hampshire – already had been able to work their way through the issue of amendments on their way to constructing state constitutions.
However, ambition, fear, anxiety, and vested interests tend to make some people look at such issues through a glass darkly. As a result, these sorts of individuals often are inclined to exhibit little patience with respect to such problems.
Consequently, the latter kind of individuals instituted a variation on the Wimpey strategy from the Popeye cartoon strip. In other words, they, in effect, said that they would gladly give people amendments next Tuesday – metaphorically speaking -- in exchange for a hamburger – or ratified constitution – today.
Unfortunately, Wimpey could not always be trusted to fulfill his promises. When next Tuesday arrived, he often was, once again, in ‘need’ of another hamburger and, as a result, he was inclined to wish for people to not only be patient a little while longer with the situation but, as well, he would like his benefactors to contribute another hamburger in the meantime as a gesture of good faith negotiating.
When the proponents of ratification indicated -- for the sake of their own convenience … although they didn’t frame it in this manner – that the idea of amendments should be left for another day, those who were opposed to the Constitution as it was written were somewhat unhappy – not unreasonably, I believe -- about such a suggestion. Therefore, those who were in favor of ratification parried the displeasure of the opposition with a promise to sincerely consider amendment possibilities at the earliest, possible time of convenience … a very slippery and elusive sort of promise.
Based on the reading I have done, I am often struck with how, on virtually every occasion during the process of ratification, it was always the proponents for accepting the Constitution who insisted on concessions from those who were less enamored with that document. In fact, I have found many of the advocates for ratification to be: rigid, dogmatic, narrow, arrogant, self-serving, manipulative, demanding, ungenerous, and controlling in their approach to the ratification process.
On the other hand, quite frequently – but not always – many of those who were opposed to the Constitution-as-written weren’t necessarily interested in rejecting the document but often tried to find ways that might make the Constitution a better document … one that would address the concerns of the very people on whom the Constitution might be foisted. Yet, when this hand of co-operative exploration was extended toward the proponents of ratification, it always was dismissed while pro-Constitution advocates grumbled various negative epithets concerning the motivation and character of those who would dare to question or delay the Philadelphia ‘miracle’.
Some might wish to argue that the reason for the display of impatience among the proponents of ratification with respect to their resistant compatriots was because the former individuals understood -- allegedly in a way that those who were concerned about the Constitution-as-written did not -- that the document in question was as close to perfection as one could get and, as a result, it should not be tampered with in any way. However, almost all, if not all, of the signatories to the Constitution understood – and often said or wrote words to this effect -- that the document was flawed in many ways but it was, perhaps, the best that could be achieved under the circumstances.
Unfortunately, the proponents of ratification were -- for self-serving reasons -- far too impatient to engage the ratification process as if it were meant to be a real debate concerning the future of America. They had an agenda, and, therefore, they really weren’t interested in having an open, full, fair, honest, critical, constructive dialogue with the rest of America on the matter of the Constitution … and their actions throughout the ratification process proved this over and over again.
There is a teaching among American Indians which indicates that when one is trying to solve a given problem one should not just think in terms of oneself or one’s family, but, rather, one should think about seven generations hence and how one’s current decision might affect them. Unfortunately, the Framers of the Constitution and the proponents of ratification tended to think only about themselves and cared little about what might happen seven generations later, and, consequently, the people of today -- some seven generations removed from the creators of the Constitution and those who sought to ratify that document (assuming a generation to be about thirty years) – are suffering as a result of the impatient short-sightedness of those ‘architects of democracy’.
Much of the history of: Colonial America, the Articles of Confederation, the Continental Congress, the Philadelphia Convention, as well as the process of ratification seem to reek of the oppressive odor associated with the politics of control rather than giving expression to the joyous sounds associated with the birth of sovereignty for the generality of people. Unfortunately, politics has rarely, if ever, been about the struggle toward any real sense of self-governance by the people, but, rather, politics is the story of how the few seek to prevent the many from having control over their own lives while rationalizing how such a lack of sovereignty is really necessary for the general good.
For the most part, the ratification process was politics as usual. It was not something that was truly liberating except for those who wanted to be enabled to leverage the structure of the Constitution to acquire the power they considered necessary for them to be able to pursue their individual agendas.
Consider, for example, what went on in the time leading up to and during the Massachusetts ratification convention. As early as October 25, 1778 – a little over one month after the Philadelphia Convention ceased its work – the Massachusetts state legislature were urging various cities, towns, and districts in Massachusetts and Maine (which was part of Massachusetts at the time) to set about selecting representatives who would be empowered to vote on whether, or not, to ratify the proposed Constitution.
However, when a representative from Maine – William Widgery – advanced the idea to the Massachusetts legislature that maybe the ratification vote should be conducted separately in each city, town or district in order to avoid the costs and logistical problems that likely would surround trying to assemble a group of delegates at some central location for a period of time, this idea was met with a counterproposal from Nathaniel Gorham a strong proponent of ratification (and, as well, one of the signatories to the Philadelphia Constitution) – namely, the state legislature should pay ratification delegates to attend the proposed convention.
Aside from the question of whether or not it made sense for the state to undertake such a financial obligation in a time when money was not all that easy to come by, the Gorham counterproposal was not necessarily the act of democratic inclusiveness that it might seem. More specifically, advocates for ratification had been the ones who had pushed for an early vote on accepting, or rejecting, the Philadelphia Constitution, and, the sentiment among such individuals seemed to be that if cities, towns, and districts held their own separation votes on ratification, there would be little, or no, opportunity to try to induce people to vote for ratification … in other words, politics would not be able to work its ‘magic’.
As was true in most of the other twelve states, many individuals in the larger cities tended to be in favor of ratifying the Constitution. However, an overwhelming portion of the American population didn’t live in the larger cities, and many of these inhabitants of rural areas tended to be more resistant to, and cautious about, the idea of accepting the Philadelphia Constitution.
If people in different cities, towns, and districts were permitted to hold their own separate ratification votes (there were nearly 300 towns and cities in Massachusetts and Maine – 246 in the former, and 52 in the latter), then quite conceivably, they would choose to reject the proposed constitution. A process in which people were entirely free to make up their own minds about the issue of ratification might serve democracy very well, but it wouldn’t necessarily serve the interests of those who wanted ratification to succeed.
Consequently, the state legislature voted to pay the expenses of delegates to the ratification convention. The delegates would assemble in Boston in early January.
The state legislature stipulated that only those towns that had at least 150 men who were over the age of sixteen and who paid taxes would be permitted to elect one, or more, delegates to the ratification convention. Additional delegates for a given locality were possible in accordance with a representational formula (based not on population but on the number of tax-payers) that had been devised by the state legislature.
The foregoing arrangement meant that there were some towns and villages that would not be able to participate in the ratification vote because they didn’t satisfy the conditions necessary for sending delegates. If the alleged purpose of paying the expenses of those who would attend the convention was to ensure that every town in the Commonwealth would be able to participate in the ratification process, it seems rather incongruous to exclude towns and villages that had fewer than 150 male tax-payers over the age of 16.
Rules may have their place, but when those rules skew the way a game is played and, in the process, arbitrarily disadvantage this or that perspective, then those rules are oppressive and undemocratic. Since most of the smaller towns and villages that did not satisfy the rule for sending at least one representative to the convention were also likely to be among those who were wary of the proposed Constitution and what it might mean for their future, it becomes hard to dismiss the fact that the proponents of ratification were unfairly advantaged when such towns and villages were prevented from sending representatives to the convention.
The aforementioned proposal of Maine’s William Widgery to have each city, town, village, or district conduct their own separate votes with respect to the issue of ratification was far more inclusive and democratic than was the proposal of Nathaniel Gorham to pay delegates to come to Boston. However, it is often the way of power to suggest spending money in order to make something less democratic than it might otherwise be.
The Massachusetts convention ratified the Philadelphia Constitution by a vote of 187 for and 168 against. One wonders what the vote might have been if the excluded towns and villages had had an opportunity to participate in the process.
Moreover, one also wonders what might have happened with respect to the ratification vote if the five delegates that the island of Nantucket was entitled to send had attended the Boston convention rather than boycotting it. The island had a large number of Quakers who were against the idea of a government permitting standing armies or military forces to conduct its affairs – something which was a possibility under the Philadelphia Constitution-as-written – and, therefore, the people of Nantucket were not prepared to participate in a process that might lead to such a result.
Here, again, if the proposal of Maine’s William Widgery had been adopted by the Massachusetts state legislature, the people of Nantucket could have just voted not to adopt the Constitution, and they would have been done with the matter. On the other hand, the people of Nantucket might also have decided to absent themselves from even such a more inclusive form of voting.
The Nantucket issue, along with the matter of the towns/villages that were considered too small to have representation, raises another problem. Why should people be obligated to accept the Philadelphia Convention if they were not permitted to have representation concerning the vote (as was the case in various small towns, villages, and districts), or, if for moral reasons, they were opposed to any form of government that might violate their moral precepts (as was the case in relation to the people of Nantucket)?
It was the Philadelphia Convention that had introduced the idea that the ratification vote should be cast by the people rather than the state legislatures – although the latter bodies would be responsible for initiating the ratification process by establishing the rules for electing delegates to the various state conventions. However, such an idea ran contrary to the provisions of the supposedly ‘perpetual’ Articles of Confederation (perpetuity apparently had a different shelf-life back then) which required that all changes to the Articles must, first, be approved by the Continental Congress and, then, unanimously adopted by the states.
The Continental Congress abdicated its responsibilities under the Articles of Confederation and merely passed on the proposal of the Philadelphia Convention to the state legislatures. Furthermore, while all of the states busied themselves with setting up the machinery necessary for electing delegates to the ratification convention, nevertheless, the state legislatures also failed to act in accordance with the provisions of the Articles of Confederation because it was the state legislatures – not ratification conventions -- that were supposed to unanimously agree on changes to the Articles only after the Continental Congress had approved of such changes.
Neither the Continental Congress nor the state legislatures were voting on whether, or not, to adopt proposed changes to the Articles of Confederation. Instead, they were voting on relinquishing that authority to the people – or, at least, some of the people.
Yet, there were no provisions for pursuing such a course of action within the Articles of Confederation. So, America was confronted with a situation in which, on the one hand, the Philadelphia Convention had done something that they had not been authorized to do (i.e., construct a new constitution), and, on the other hand, the Continental Congress and the state legislatures were doing something that they were not authorized to do under the Articles of Confederation (i.e., relinquish control of the process for authorizing changes to the people).
Where was the rule of law in all of this? Apparently, the rule of law would be given expression through the ratification vote of the people.
Unfortunately, as the foregoing brief overview of the ratification process in Massachusetts indicates, not all of the people got to vote – for example, the people in towns and villages that were considered too small to have representatives, or the people like those on Nantucket who were opposed, in principle, to certain dimensions of government, such as standing armies. Why should these sorts of groups of people be obligated in any way by a ratification vote that was not consistent with the existing Articles of Confederation – the supposed source of legal authority?
The ratification process as proposed by the Philadelphia Convention was an extra-legal set of procedures, and the activities of the Philadelphia Convention that occurred prior to the issuing of such a proposal were, themselves, extra-legal because they had not been authorized. Everything was being done in an ad hoc, arbitrary fashion.
On what basis does one group of ‘We the People’ have a justifiable expectation that another group of ‘We the People’ should feel obligated to observe an extra-legal, arbitrary process if the ratification vote went in one direction rather than another? On what basis can the alleged moral imperative of a majority vote be justified?
To be sure, a given society can adopt a convention that says that they will abide by the idea of majority rules. However, this is all such an agreement is – a convention.
The only thing that ‘justifies’ such an arrangement – albeit, in a very problematic way -- involves the notion of ‘pragmatic considerations’. As such, much rests on how one defines (or tries to justify) the criteria for pragmatic arrangements, and very frequently, one person’s pragmatic solution becomes another person’s problem.
What was practical for the Massachusetts state legislature was not very practical for the people who were arbitrarily excluded from being able to participate in the ratification vote. What was practical for the Massachusetts state legislature was not very practical for the people of Nantucket who wanted nothing to do with, among other things, standing armies.
The Philadelphia Convention had set in motion a process that was entirely arbitrary and extra-legal. They were insisting that the collective result of that process should be incumbent on everyone whether, or not, people voted (or how they voted) and whether, or not, any of the people had moral or practical reservations concerning that process, and most of the members of the Philadelphia Convention were insisting that the ratification vote must only be about accepting or rejecting the Constitution-as-written … no changes would be permitted.
Some people might see the actions of the signatories to the Philadelphia Convention as inspired leadership. Others might consider the actions of those same signatories as being very self-serving and oppressive.
The Philadelphia Constitution was not setting people free in an exercise of self-governance. That document was intent on binding people to a set of rules and procedures that were not of their own making and with respect to which they had few degrees of freedom.
The Philadelphia Constitution gave expression to the ‘way of power’. It was a set of rules for enabling some people to have power over others.
Such power was not derived from the people but would be usurped from them for the purpose of achieving ends that were not necessarily in the interests of those same people. The people would not be free to reclaim such power without running the risk of having their actions labeled as ‘treasonous’ -- and this problem would begin to manifest itself for the first time during the administration of John Adams in relation to the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 … a maneuver that would rear its head again and again across subsequent American history.
The standard against which treason was to be measured under the proposed Constitution would be in terms of whatever might adversely affect a national governmental apparatus that had been set in motion through entirely arbitrary, extra-legal, and unjustifiable processes of constitution-making and ratification. The real standard of treason should have been measured in terms of the extent to which the people would be deprived of their sovereignty as individuals … something the proposed Constitution had the potential to do to a considerable degree.
There was also something of a double standard going on during the period leading up to the ratification convention in Massachusetts. Those who were in favor of ratification undertook a concerted effort to ensure that towns and cities did not instruct nor bind their delegates to vote in a particular way during the forthcoming convention.
The foregoing effort might seem to be an attempt to ensure that the ratification debate would be a fair one … that is, one in which people would be prepared to sincerely listen to the merits of various arguments for, or against, the Constitution. However, the reality of the maneuver was that it enabled people like Nathaniel Gorham and Rufus King – both signatories to the Philadelphia Constitution as well as staunch proponents of ratifying the Constitution -- to continue to shape the landscape of the debate while excluding people like Elbridge Gerry who had been one of the three individuals at the Philadelphia Convention who did not endorse the Philadelphia Constitution (but Gerry was among the signatories to the Declaration of Independence of 1776) ... since Gerry was perceived by the proponents of ratification in Cambridge as being too partisan.
In almost every state ratification assembly – including Massachusetts -- the individuals who had supported the unauthorized activities of the Philadelphia Convention were permitted to play prominent roles in advancing the cause of ratification. Elbridge Gerry who had not supported the constitutional document generated by the Philadelphia Convention would – for the most part -- have to watch the ratification proceedings from the sidelines.
The phrase “for the most part” is used in the previous sentence because once the ratification debate began in Massachusetts, some of those who were resistant to the Philadelphia Convention as written sought to have Gerry invited to the convention so that questions concerning his criticisms of the Constitution could be asked of him, and, then, he would have an opportunity to respond. After a long, rancorous debate on the matter, some of those who were proponents of ratification decided it might be better to let Gerry answer questions than to risk whatever possible problematic consequences might ensue if Gerry were prevented from attending the Boston convention.
Consequently, Gerry was invited to the convention, and he appeared at the proceedings on January 15, 1788. However, his very limited participation was rather anticlimactic.
More specifically, after three days of attending the ratification convention, only one question was directed toward Gerry. For reasons best known to Gerry – perhaps anxiety over having to speak about such an important issue in public with many eloquent proponents of ratification in attendance – he indicated that he would respond to the question in writing, and his response was read to the assembly on the following day.
During a subsequent discussion concerning equal representation in the proposed Senate, Gerry apparently believed that the nature of his role in the Philadelphia Convention was being distorted, and, as a result of this, he wanted to offer a written response in connection with the perceived problem. Francis Dana -- who had been selected as a delegate for the Philadelphia Convention (yet did not attend) and who also had been elected as a ratification convention delegate from the very same town of Cambridge that had rejected Gerry’s participation in the Boston assembly -- objected that no one had asked Gerry anything about the Senate issue and, therefore, such a written response would be inappropriate.
Several delegates from Maine recommended that given the importance of the issues before the convention, perhaps either the procedural rules should be relaxed somewhat or Gerry should be admitted as a non-voting delegate. Dana opposed both suggestions.
The convention adjourned for the weekend without resolving the issue. During the several day hiatus, Dana and Gerry became engaged in verbal hostilities, and, as a result, Gerry never returned to the ratification convention.
Gerry did write a letter that he sent to the convention which attempted to clarify his position about a variety of matters. However, Dana also objected to the presence of such a letter and wanted it to be dismissed from consideration.
Rather inconsistently, Dana -- who was so vocal and adamant in his insistence that the rules of procedure be observed when it came to the person of Elbridge Gerry -- was much more willing to relax those same rules when it came to other people. Later in the Boston assembly he proposed that despite what the convention rules indicated, people should be free to reference other parts of the Constitution if they felt that those facets of the document were relevant to an ongoing discussion concerning an entirely different facet of the Constitution.
It is ironic that Francis Dana, who, for whatever reason – apparently due to ill-health – did not attend the Philadelphia Convention would be in such adamant opposition to Gerry being given an opportunity to offer his perspective concerning the nature of his own participation in the Philadelphia Convention. After all, the delegates were all gathered together in Boston for the purpose of discussing the document which had emerged from the Philadelphia meetings that Gerry had attended but which Dana had not, and, yet, Dana didn’t want delegates to hear what Gerry had to say on the matter.
If nothing else, at least when it came to Gerry, Dana was not acting in accordance with the principles of republicanism that, allegedly, were the moving force behind the new political philosophy that was to govern Americans in a supposedly fair, open, disinterested, and ethical manner. One can’t help but wonder about the source of the animus which Dana exhibited toward Gerry.
Irrespective of what the answer to such wonderings might be, here, again, is an instance – a rather ugly one – in which a proponent of ratification had few, if any qualms, about using whatever tactics and maneuvers were necessary to suppress the voice of someone who was critical of the Constitution. Moreover, one might keep in mind that Gerry was not opposed to the Constitution per se but just believed that it needed to be amended.
Dana’s actions did not give expression to an exercise designed to ensure that all sides would be given an equal opportunity to make their concerns known. Rather, his actions were an exercise that was attempting to help manage a convention so that it would arrive at the desired, predetermined result.
Another indication that the Massachusetts ratification convention was being managed was associated with Rufus King. As the proponents of ratification engaged in a process of doing delegate head counts in order to be able to assess what the chances of ratification might be, they noted that there were two very strong centers of resistance to the Constitution-as-written.
One source of resistance was situated among three counties (Worcester, Berkshire and Hampshire) in western Massachusetts that had been at, or near, the epicenter of Shay’s Rebellion which took place in 1786-1787. The people in those areas already felt that the state legislature had been giving too much power to certain merchant and professional groups in eastern Massachusetts, and, so, many of the delegates from western Massachusetts tended to view the proposed federal constitution as being more of the same.
The other concentrated locus of resistance to the proposed Constitution came from Maine. This resistance was due to a variety of issues, but one prominent source of concern among some Mainers was the manner in which the Philadelphia Constitution might make it more difficult for Maine to be able to become a state in its own right since Article IV, Section 3 of that document specified how no new state could be formed out of an existing state without permission of the state being affected as well as without approval by Congress.
In any event, when one added up the delegates from western Massachusetts and Maine who might be in opposition to the Constitution-as-written, the prospects for the Constitution being ratified in Massachusetts were dimmed. Consequently, Rufus King – a strong advocate of ratification who had been born in southern Maine and lived there for twelve years -- was assigned the task of persuading Mainers to vote for ratification.
Wanting people to remain open to all sides of an argument is one thing. Seeking to persuade them to favor one of those sides is quite another matter.
Supposedly, the purpose of the ratification convention in Boston was so that a fair hearing would be given to various points of view concerning the proposed Constitution. Delegates – at least those who had not been bound to a certain way of voting by their constituents -- would attend the convention, listen to the debate during the convention sessions, and, then, they would form their own judgment on the matter.
This is not what happened. In between sessions of the ratification convention, supporters of the Constitution – like Rufus King – would ‘work’ on the delegates and seek to induce the latter individuals to understand things as pro-ratification forces did.
Those who were resistant to the Constitution did not engage in these same sorts of attempts to manage the ratification convention. No one from the opposition side sought to organize efforts to approach, say, the rich merchants or professional people from the Boston area and induce them to change their minds about the viability of the Constitution-as-written.
By and large, those who were resistant to the proposed Constitution did not see the Boston ratification convention as an opportunity to engage in politics. They seemed to be under the strange impression that the convention should not be about politics but, instead, it should be about the merits and liabilities inherent in a process of imposing a given set of procedural rules on America that, in the future, would govern what could and could not be done -- and by whom.
Those who were resistant to the Constitution-as-written did not appear to understand that they were the object of a military-like political campaign that was intent on shaping the rules of engagement for the convention in a manner that was designed to favor the interests of such a campaign. Those who were resistant to the Constitution-as-written thought they were participating in a debate when, in fact, it was a war complete with tactics, strategies, objectives, and generals.
The actions of the advocates of ratification were not the disinterested behaviors that were called for by the philosophy of republicanism that, supposedly, would transform American governance in a transcendent way. The proponents of ratification were not seeking a fair, open, impartial, and rigorous exploration of the constitutional issue, but, rather, before the convention even began, they already had made up their minds as to what kind of outcome needed to arise from the Boston assembly even as they insisted that everyone else should remain open about the issue of ratification.
One might wish to argue that the proponents of the Constitution were merely more politically astute than their opposition. This may, or may not, be true, but it is irrelevant.
Most of those who were in opposition to the Constitution conducted themselves in a largely ethical fashion. In other words, they went to the ratification convention as – for the most part -- uncommitted delegates who were prepared to sincerely listen to what other delegates had to say about the Philadelphia Constitution and, then, make a good-faith effort to render an objective, judicious judgment on the matter.
The foregoing cannot be said for many of the proponents of ratification who went to the convention as committed delegates who were not prepared to sincerely listen to what other delegates had to say. In the process, they betrayed their own philosophy of republicanism -- the one which was enshrined in Article IV, Section 4 of the very Constitution they were seeking to politically manage toward victory – a philosophy that, among other qualities of character, emphasized the importance of exhibiting disinterestedness while forming, or implementing, judgments involving governance.
A further manifestation of the managed convention syndrome in Massachusetts involved the rules of procedure that were to govern the proceedings. More specifically, the proponents of ratification had pushed for, and succeeded in, structuring the convention so that while discussion of the proposed Constitution would be encouraged, voting on issues would be discouraged until the very end of the series of meetings that made up the convention.
Arranging things in the foregoing fashion accomplished two goals. Firstly, it placed procedural roadblocks in the way of anyone who might attempt to call for votes on possible amendments to the Constitution that might be proposed during the course of discussion – something that the proponents of accepting the Constitution-as-written wanted to avoid. Secondly, those who were in favor of ratification wanted to hold a vote only when they were fairly certain that they had the votes to carry the convention … that is, after they had sufficient time to work on this or that individual or this or that group of delegates and thereby have the opportunity to change enough minds to be able to succeed in their quest for ratification.
One might wish to argue that such procedural maneuvers would be of equal value to everyone in the convention. However, this just was not the case.
Such rules disadvantaged those who might be in favor of ratifying the Constitution but who had reservations about that document in the form which it had been issued through the Philadelphia Convention. A level playing field – that is, one which was not being managed by the proponents of ratification -- would have entitled delegates to introduce and vote on amendments as they arose, but such a form of equitability had been ruled out of order by the manner in which the convention had been procedurally structured.
In addition, the foregoing arrangement – namely, the one that required any vote concerning ratification to be held toward the end of the convention -- was not about ensuring that all perspectives would have an opportunity to give expression to everything that was considered to be of importance and relevance and which would enable delegates to be able to make informed and insightful judgments about the issue of ratification. As noted earlier, the aforementioned procedural rule was in place to ensure that pro-ratification forces would have every opportunity to garner the necessary number of votes to win the convention … including votes that might require special attention beyond the public space of the convention sessions (i.e., using various techniques and pressures to influence how people thought about the issue of ratification).
Furthermore, the proponents of ratification had expended a considerable amount of effort to ensure that their side would be stocked with: many military people of rank, as well as lawyers, clergymen, merchants, doctors, and current (or past) government figures who would serve as eloquent advocates for ratification. Thus, this dimension of rhetorical skill was also part of the strategy for managing the convention since those who were pro-ratification felt that people from rural areas would not only be less skilled in such matters but, as well, might be more likely to be vulnerable to whatever linguistic flourishes that might be wielded to sway people on the basis of rhetorical theatrics rather than actual substantive arguments concerning issues of merit … thus, yet again, providing a managed-advantage to those who were seeking ratification.
Following the conclusion of the Massachusetts ratification convention, Theophilus Parsons – a pro-ratification partisan – used to brag to people in his law office about all the tactical and political tricks that he and his comrades-in-arms used to pull on those who were resistant to the idea of ratifying the Constitution. These stratagems were employed both while the convention was in session as well as outside the confines of those meetings.
John Quincy Adams, who had been present on occasion when such matters were discussed, publically indicated that many of the things about which he heard were rather mean-spirited. Whatever the degree of mean-spiritedness that might have been present in such actions, there was surely a considerable amount of hypocrisy, duplicity, manipulation, and disingenuous disinterestedness that was present as the pro-ratification forces sought to rig the vote in their favor.
The foregoing is not a legacy about which anyone should be proud – except, perhaps, those who are addicted to the process of politically maneuvering other people to attain ends which are not necessarily in the interests of the people who are being manipulated. The foregoing sort of legacy is not a stirring endorsement of democracy, but, rather, it is a testament to all that is wrong with the form of governance that was set loose through those tactics.
Under such circumstances, the means do not justify the ends. Instead, the means becomes those ends, and, as a result, ‘democracy’ is reduced to nothing more than political rhetoric, maneuvering, and mean-spirited tricks.
There is one last consideration to add on to the foregoing points concerning the manner in which many aspects of the Massachusetts ratification convention did not help usher in a bright new day for the realm of self-governance but, instead, was merely politics as usual. This consideration concerns Governor John Hancock who had been appointed to preside over the convention but who, due to illness, was absent for most of those proceedings.
One of the reasons why Hancock was selected as president of the ratification convention was because he was seen as someone who would be acceptable to people from western Massachusetts. Following Shay’s Rebellion, Hancock had pardoned many participants in that insurgency … something his predecessor, James Bowdoin, had not been willing to do.
Moreover, as governor, Hancock had instituted a variety of measures to reduce the cost of government, an issue that had played a role in helping to bring about Shay’s Rebellion. For this and a number of other reasons, Governor Hancock was a popular figure in Massachusetts.
The fact that various Conservatives felt he was far too moderate in many of his policies (including the pardoning of rebels) did not seem to carry over to how merchant-laden Boston felt about him. He was selected as one of twelve delegates to represent the city in the forthcoming ratification convention.
The problem facing those who were trying to push for ratification is that Hancock’s position vis-à-vis the proposed Constitution was not known. According to some, on a number of occasions, Hancock had indicated he was unhappy with certain aspects of the document.
Illness supposedly prevented Hancock from attending almost all of the convention sessions. Some people, however, felt that Hancock was staying away from the meetings because he was trying to gauge which way the political wind was blowing before publically committing himself to a position concerning the proposed Constitution.
As the convention moved toward its final stages, those who were in favor of the Constitution -- and, therefore, individuals who were seeking to manage the convention accordingly -- felt that gaining Hancock’s support might help to tip the scales in the ratification vote. Several friends of Hancock were dispatched to speak with him and try to induce him to rise from his sick-bed and attend the convention in order to speak out on matters that believed could help strengthen and preserve the nation.
Attempts were made to appeal to his considerable vanity with comments about how important he was in the matter at hand. In addition, several backroom deals, apparently, were negotiated.
With respect to the latter ‘understandings’, Hancock wanted to be assured that those who previously had been supporters of James Bowdoin -- the previous governor of Massachusetts -- would switch their allegiance to Hancock during the latter individual’s next run for governor. Such assurances were, allegedly, forthcoming.
A further scenario of enticement aimed at inducing Hancock to attend the convention was outlined to the governor. In essence the proposal was as follows: If Virginia did not ratify the Constitution – and there was considerable speculation that it might not – then, Washington, who was from Virginia, would automatically be ruled out for consideration as president, and under such circumstances, Hancock would be in line to become the first President of the United States.
The two foregoing proposals seemed to be the tonic Hancock needed to enable him to rise from the near dead and actively participate in the final stages of the ratification process. When he did arrive at the convention, he spoke out in favor of ratification with one important proviso – namely, he recommended that the convention should issue a statement that would urge the first members of the new Congress to adopt a number of amendments which he went on to describe.
Hancock’s suggestion seemed to have the desired effect. A number of people who had been unhappy with the Constitution-as-written felt that such a statement might well induce future representatives to focus on the cause – that is, the issue of amendments – that had been a source of concern for many delegates.
Whether Hancock’s proposal was the key that actually unlocked a vote in favor of ratification is hard to determine with any degree of confidence. However, irrespective of the practical merits of such a suggestion, the idea emerged not as an example of democracy at its best but as the product of a backroom deal concerning the exercise of power in relation to a subsequent gubernatorial race and the possible position of the first American President.
At best, principles of democracy were, more or less, an afterthought in relation to issues of power in Massachusetts. At worst, Hancock’s participation in the ratification convention was an exercise in power politics in which the rhetoric of democracy was used to camouflage the underlying political horse-trading.
Among those who were proponents of ratification in Pennsylvania – many of whom lived in Philadelphia or the areas around that city – there was considerable ambition to become the first state to adopt the new, made-in Philadelphia Constitution. They lost the race to Delaware which beat the Quaker state by five days.
One reason that Delaware finished ahead of Pennsylvania with respect to the ratification was because, on the surface, there apparently was more opposition to the proposed Constitution in Pennsylvania than there was in Delaware. After all, the Delaware vote had been 30 for ratification and none against, while there were 23 delegates opposed to ratification in Pennsylvania – half the total (46) that voted in favor of ratification.
The fact that Delaware was a much smaller state than Pennsylvania might also have assisted the speed with which the former state ratified the proposed Constitution. However, when one considers that the Delaware vote for ratification took place on December 7, 1787, just 2½ months after the conclusion of the Philadelphia Convention, one can’t help but wonder how much of what went on Delaware was merely an exercise in power politics in which the 90% of the population that lived outside of the big cities and towns were not given much of an opportunity to read, reflect on, and critically discuss the Philadelphia Constitution.
Politically, Delaware was deeply divided between factions of Whigs and Tories. While these two groups both represented segments of the power elites, they did not necessarily care about the generality of people.
Whatever the political differences between the two groups might be, they were united on several issues. This shared or overlapping perspective tended to drive the quickness and unanimity of the ratification vote in Delaware.
More specifically, only 11 years had passed since the time in 1776 – less than a month prior to the day when the Declaration of Independence was signed -- when Delaware had separated itself from Pennsylvania and become a colony in its own right. Many people in Delaware were tired of having to pay a duty on those goods that were imported through the port of Philadelphia and, in one way or another, subsequently transported to Delaware.
The Philadelphia Constitution would make such duty payments to Pennsylvania a thing of the past. If the proposed Constitution was ratified, the federal government would collect custom charges directly from importers and those revenues would be used for the benefit of everyone.
Furthermore, there were a number of ways in which the proposed Constitution would reduce the cost of government for the people of property in Delaware, and this meant that taxes would be lowered. Moreover, despite being a relatively small state – both geographically and in terms of population – the Philadelphia Convention would grant Delaware two senators which would put the state on the same footing as all the other states -- most of which were much larger than Delaware was -- with respect to the powerful body of the Senate.
In addition, even though Delaware would later fight on the side of the Union, it remained a slave state until well after the Civil War had ended. Pennsylvania, on the other hand, had been leaning toward making slavery illegal since the time of the emergence of its state constitution in 1776 … and this leaning was actually made official policy during the Revolutionary War.
The proposed Constitution contained terms that would remain favorable to slave holders for the next twenty years, or so. This appealed to the pro-slavery sentiment among many of the wealthy property holders in Delaware.
For all of the foregoing reasons, the factors that permitted normally opposed political forces to join together to ram through a rapid vote for ratification in Delaware were not present in Pennsylvania. Nonetheless, Pennsylvania had its own methods for dealing with its divided community.
For mostly economic reasons, much of Philadelphia was in favor of taking steps to endorse the Philadelphia Constitution. However, many of these same advocates of that document also wanted some sort of buffer against the rather radical state constitution that had been written in 1776 (among other things, that constitution limited the power of the state executive council, had no bicameral arrangement in its legislative set-up, and possessed a very strong Declaration of Rights). Therefore, such individuals saw the proposed federal Constitution as a means of possibly reigning in the kind of free-ranging democracy that had been enabled through the 1776 state constitution.
The story was much different in western Pennsylvania. In those regions of the state there was a considerable inclination on the part of many people toward being able to control their own lives – something that the state constitution of 1776 helped them accomplish. Consequently, they were resistant to the idea of being subject to the whims and dictates of some sort of centralized government ... irrespective of whether such centralization was state or federal in character.
Early on in the process that led to the Pennsylvania ratification vote, dirty politics reared its ugly head. In fact, very undemocratic behavior came into play before the ink on the newly proposed Constitution even had time to dry
More specifically, copies of the Constitution and an accompanying letter had not, yet, arrived at the Continental Congress or most of the various state legislatures – Pennsylvania being the exception -- before Philadelphia supporters of this creation were demanding that a ratification vote be taken to approve the new form of federalized government. Since the Continental Congress had not, yet, received the Philadelphia Convention documents, let alone decide on what to do concerning them, and since the Articles of Confederation clearly indicated that the Continental Congress must vote on such matters before forwarding the issue to the state legislatures, the proponents of ratification were getting way ahead of themselves.
Nevertheless, not to be deterred by mere legal considerations, certain members of the Pennsylvania state legislature – which had been in session when the Constitution had been released to the public – began to push for some sort of ratification vote or, alternatively, to set in motion the wheels for electing delegates to a ratification convention concerning the proposed Constitution. Yet, there was no existing ‘rule of law’ that entitled a state to take the sort of step being advanced by some of the members of the Pennsylvania state legislature with respect to the issue of ratification.
Moreover, the existing rule of law seemed to clearly indicate that the proposed Constitution had not even been authorized by the Continental Congress -- or its underlying authority: the Articles of Confederation. After all, the proposed Constitution did not constitute a set of amendments to the Articles but, instead, gave expression to a wholesale replacement of those Articles.
Ignoring the principles that stood as legal barriers to doing anything concerning the issue of ratification, members of the in-session Pennsylvania state legislature were introducing resolutions in favor of moving forth with the idea of a ratifying convention. These individuals were acting with such haste because they wanted to get the aforementioned sort of resolution passed before the current session of state legislature was set to end on September 29, 1787 … but they also were operating at such accelerated speeds because they didn’t want to give the people of Pennsylvania much time to think about the issue of ratification.
When some members of the state legislature – especially those from western Pennsylvania -- began to question the procedural validity of such resolutions, supporters of the proposed Constitution claimed that the Confederation was in dissolution and, consequently, the states were no longer obligated to observe the requirements of the Articles of Confederation. This was argument by declaration because there was no legal justification for claiming that the Confederation had, in any formal sense, entered into dissolution, thereby releasing the states from the agreement that they all had ratified six years earlier.
Notwithstanding the many strong legal, practical, and philosophical arguments that were directed toward the members of the Pennsylvania state legislature who were desirous of pushing for a vote to authorize the setting up of an election process for delegates to a ratification convention, the latter group managed to pass one of the resolutions concerning such a process. The rest of the resolutions related to that issue were to be voted on in the afternoon session.
When the time arrived for the legislatures to assemble, 19 individuals absented themselves from the session. This prevented any further resolutions from being voted on because the conditions necessary to establish quorum that had been established by the state constitution with respect to such votes were not satisfied.
The Sergeant-at-arms for the assembly was sent in search of the missing 19 legislators. Although he located the missing people, they would not accompany him back to the legislative session.
Those proceedings were adjourned to the following day, September 29, 1787. This was the day when the state legislative session had been scheduled to adjourn until sometime in early October.
When the missing legislators failed to materialize the following day, the Sergeant-at-arms was again dispatched to bring them back. This time the individual sent to corral the recalcitrant absentees had some new information through which to try to entice the missing individuals to return to the legislative session.
At some point early on September 29th, a rider had arrived with a document – of an unofficial nature – indicating that the Continental Congress had decided to notify the states that they could undertake making preparations for ratification conventions. However, since the Continental Congress really had no authority under the Articles of Confederation to take such a step without, first, approving what had been done by the Philadelphia Convention, there was some question about the relevance of the information that had been delivered by the rider.
In any event, even after the Sergeant-at-arms told the absent legislators about the information that supposedly had come from the Continental Congress (and one wonders why – and by whom -- an express rider had to be dispatched to Philadelphia just 12 days after the Philadelphia Convention had adjourned), the AWOL individuals still refused to return to the legislative session. As a result, force was used to capture and drag two of the absentee individuals (Jacob Miley and James M’Calmont) back to the impatiently waiting assembly.
When the two individuals complained that they were not present of their own free will, a debate ensued about the propriety of forcibly confining individuals to satisfy the conditions of quorum. During this discussion, M’Calmont tried to escape from the proceedings.
Once again, force was used to stop him from leaving. Shortly thereafter, the members of the legislative session came to the conclusion that they had the right to forcibly retain such individuals, and, as a result, the conditions for quorum were met so that the legislative assembly could continue on with its plans for setting up the procedures necessary that would enable delegates to be elected to a forthcoming ratification convention.
The election for delegates was to take place on the first Tuesday of November. This was just about seven weeks removed from the conclusion of the Philadelphia Convention … not much time for copies of the Constitution to be printed, distributed, read, and digested.
Before it adjourned, the state assembly authorized that copies of the Constitution should be distributed throughout Pennsylvania in a timely fashion. Unfortunately, those documents never found their way to the western part of the state. Given that there was considerable resistance to the proposed Constitution in that part of the state, it does not take much imagination to understand what likely transpired.
Dirty political tricks also took place on the date – November 6, 1787 – that had been fixed to elect delegates who would attend the ratification convention. For instance, there was a boardinghouse in Philadelphia where a number of people stayed ... people who were known to be resistant to the proposed Constitution.
At some point around midnight on Election Day a mob of about a dozen men attacked the boardinghouse. The mob threw stones at the house and did some other minor damage, and, in addition, they were heard to shout toward the inhabitants of the boardinghouse that the “damned rascals … ought to be all hanged”.
Although an investigation was conducted and a sizable reward (for that time) of $300 was offered for information leading to the apprehension of the culprits, the perpetrators were never identified. Furthermore, despite the investigation and posting of a reward, there was no coverage of the incident in any of the Philadelphia papers … something that was consistent with the tendency of such newspapers (who were the dominant outlets for news in Philadelphia and surrounding areas) to suppress any sort of story that might indicate the existence of people who were critical of, and opposed to, the proposed Constitution.
Even though Delaware held its ratification vote some five days before Pennsylvania held its vote on the matter, the starting date for the Pennsylvania ratification convention (November 20, 1778) was approximately ten days before the Delaware ratification proceedings were to begin its deliberations. Thus, as indicated previously, the time-line for Pennsylvania (as well as that for Delaware) -- which ran from the initial public release of the written constitution in September 1787 to the beginning of the ratification convention in late November 1787 -- was quite compressed … just a couple of months. The proponents of ratification used this to their advantage in a number of ways.
For example, many of the procedural votes that occurred during the Pennsylvania ratification convention were 44 to 22, with the majority of these votes coming from those who were in favor of ratifying the proposed Constitution. The problem with the foregoing vote differential is that during the ratification convention there was evidence that had been published in several state newspapers (the Freeman’s Journal and the Independent Gazetteer) which indicated how the number of people who had voted for the 22 delegates -- who were on the losing end of most of the procedural votes -- was significantly greater (by about a thousand) than the number of people who had elected the 44 delegates who were dictating how the convention was to be run.
In addition, there was considerable evidence to indicate that substantial numbers of people – especially in western Pennsylvania -- had not participated in the process of selecting delegates for the ratification convention. The estimates indicated that only about one-sixth of eligible voters had bothered to vote during the elections for ratification delegates.
This is not surprising given that such people had been provided with little, or no, access to the contents of the Constitution (remember the copies of that document which were supposed to be distributed to people in Pennsylvania, including the western part of the state, but never arrived). Furthermore, there was simply not enough time afforded to people – and this seemed to be intentional -- to delve into the issue that was being thrust upon them in such a quick manner. Why would they bother to participate in a vote to send delegates to a ratification convention about which they lacked most relevant and pertinent facts?
Those who were supporters of the proposed Constitution claimed that the reason why the voter turnout was so low in the elections for ratification convention delegates was because the support for the Philadelphia Constitution was so overwhelming most people thought there just was not much reason to bother with voting for such delegates since whoever was elected likely would be in favor of ratification. This sort of argument didn’t really explain how 22-24 delegates managed to get elected who were resistant to the idea of ratification, nor did such an argument account for how people could be in favor of a constitution that they had never seen given that the Philadelphia Convention had been held in strict secrecy and many of the people – especially in western Pennsylvania – had never received copies of that document that were supposed to be sent to them but were not.
In any case, the 44 delegates who were on the winning side of almost all votes that took place during the ratification convention might have constituted the majority within the context of those ratification sessions. However, those 44 individuals did not necessarily represent the majority of the people in Pennsylvania, even when one takes into consideration only those people with sufficient property to qualify for participating in the election of ratification delegates.
There was something amiss in conjunction with the purported intent of the members of the convention out of which the Philadelphia Constitution arose to by-pass both the Continental Congress and the state legislatures in order to tap into ‘We the People’ directly. Many of those people were being ignored and short-changed in one way or another.
A number of clues were present that seemed to suggest that many segments of ‘We the People’ in Pennsylvania were not being engaged or properly represented at the ratification convention. How could one claim – with a straight face -- that what was going on with the Pennsylvania ratification convention gave expression to something that could be referred to as ‘authentic democracy’ ... the kind of ‘democracy’ which, supposedly, the so-called ‘Framers of the Constitution’ had envisioned with their end-around strategy in relation to the Continental Congress and state legislatures -- if the ratification voting process permitted a minority to pose as if it were a majority of ‘We the People’?
Those delegates who were resistant to the Constitution-as-written began to propose that the Pennsylvania ratification convention should be adjourned in order to give more people an opportunity to rigorously and critically examine the proposed Constitution. Moreover, a number of petitions were introduced into the convention indicating that many segments of ‘We the People’ wanted any final vote on ratification to be put off until sometime in the spring of 1788 in order to permit additional time to consider a document with, potentially, so many important ramifications for the people of America.
Such delegates also pointed out that the proposed Constitution was not in compliance with the provisions set forth in the Articles of Confederation. The Philadelphia Convention of the previous summer had only been authorized by the Continental Congress to make amendments to the Articles, and the proposed Constitution was something other than a set of amendments to said Articles.
The same point had been made when the Continental Congress met in late September 1787 to decide what to do about the Philadelphia Constitution. The members of that body eventually decided to abdicate their fiduciary responsibilities in relation to the Articles and, as a result, merely passed the buck to the state legislatures … something that, as has been noted previously, the Continental Congress was not actually entitled to do under the existing legal arrangement governing the Confederation.
In addition to the foregoing issues, those delegates to the ratification convention who were resistant to the idea of the Constitution-as-written, sought to introduce a number of possible amendments (or criticisms that suggested such amendments were necessary) with respect to structural features of the Constitution that those individuals felt were problematic. The faux-majority ruled that the only matter before the convention was whether, or not, to approve or reject the Constitution in its current form.
While there certainly was an array of practical problems which potentially surrounded the possible introduction of amendments into the discussion, the proponents of ratification really had no, non-arbitrary basis of justification on which to stand as to why ratification could only be about a strict up or down vote on the Constitution-as-written. The pro-ratification forces indicated that the Constitution-as-written provided a mechanism for being amended by the people, but those forces never provided a plausible reason for why the people should trust such an amendment process when the proponents of the Constitution were so resistant to the idea of amendments before ratification.
Nevertheless, the faux-majority carried the day on this issue as well. On December 12, 1787, five days after the Delaware convention voted to ratify the proposed Constitution, Pennsylvania voted 46 to 23 to also adopt the new Constitution.
Pennsylvania was the second state to do so. Pennsylvania also was, yet, another state whose ratification process did not seem to give expression to the wishes of ‘We the People’ but, instead, indicated how limited groups of politicians with vested interests were controlling the outcomes of such conventions.
New York was one of the last states to vote for ratification – only North Carolina, which had adjourned its ratification convention and didn’t reconvene until November 1789, and Rhode Island, which already had rejected the Constitution in a popular referendum before, finally, ratifying the Constitution in May 1790, were later than New York. However, the ratification vote in New York was among the closest of any of the state contests – namely, 30 for ratification and 27 against ratification … only the last-to-the-table vote in Rhode Island was closer (34 to 32 in favor).
The leading New York figure opposed to ratification was George Clinton who was governor of the state. He claimed that the Articles of Confederation were adequate for the needs of America.
Alexander Hamilton who had played a prominent role in the secret Philadelphia Convention meetings -- which produced the proposed Constitution for which ratification was being sought -- tried to argue that Clinton was engaging in an attempt to bias people against the proposed Constitution. In criticizing Clinton, Hamilton stipulated that America had entrusted its destiny to the body which had met in Philadelphia the previous summer, and Clinton was trying to sully what that body had accomplished.
The fact of the matter was that America had not entrusted its destiny to the meetings being held in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787. Most Americans didn’t even know about those meetings, and those individuals who possessed – to some degree -- some awareness of those sessions, had little, or no, idea what the participants in that assembly were up to (including most members of the Continental Congress) because that body of people in Philadelphia had been conducting its meetings in secret and were busying themselves with transgressing the boundaries which had been set on those meetings by the Continental Congress. Hamilton’s revisionist history was, of course, an opening salvo in the war of propaganda in New York that would be fought in relation to the issue of ratification. As with all wars, one of the first casualties was truth.
Clinton was a popular governor in New York and had been elected to four consecutive three-year terms, beginning in 1777. Although he was in favor of a federal government of some sort, once the Articles of Confederation had been ratified in 1781, New York was often in conflict with the Continental Congress.
The primary source of contention was – as one might anticipate – financial in nature. More specifically, New York had managed to extricate itself from the depressed economy of the early-mid 1780s through the duties it was charging on imports that entered America through its ports, and as much as a half of the state budget was raised in this manner.
The Continental Congress wanted to raise money in this way as well. However, on a number of occasions, New York had voted against co-operating with the national government’s attempt to accomplish this unless the Continental Congress was prepared to accept certain conditions … something which Congress was not prepared to do.
Even before the issue of ratification arose, Hamilton associated himself with political forces that had been opposed to Clinton’s governorship. For instance, Hamilton had married into the Schuyler family, one of the richest families in New York and owners of considerable land in New York State.
Philip Schuyler, Hamilton’s father-in-law, had been considered a shoo-in for governor in the 1777 election. He had the support of all the wealthy land barons and others who had constituted the power elite in New York even before the Declaration of Independence had been signed.
However, Schuyler was defeated 1,828 to 1,199 by Clinton. Subsequently, Clinton instituted some policies as governor that confiscated and re-distributed some of the lands possessed by the Loyalists who had sided with England during the War for Independence.
These sorts of policy were unpopular with Schuyler and other members of the land-owning power elite. They saw such anti-Loyalist laws as posing a possible threat to their own sense of entitlement to property.
Like James Madison, Hamilton disliked what he saw going on in many state governments … especially New York. However, Hamilton’s fears concerning state government were different from those of Madison.
Based on his experiences in the Virginia state legislature, Madison felt that state governments were too chaotic and excessively driven by localized, selfish, vested interests that needed to be regulated by some sort of federal leadership. Hamilton, on the other hand, wanted a federal government that, among other things, would protect the power elite from the sort of policies that existed in New York … policies that Hamilton considered to infringe on, among other things, property rights.
Although there was little opposition in New York State to the idea of holding a ratification convention, the way in which the framework for running the election for delegates to that convention was settled upon is revealing. For instance, during the legislative debate in the state Senate concerning the house proposal for setting up elections for delegates to the ratification convention, one member of the Senate suggested that the vote should be put off until sometime in the future because there were many people who had not had much of an opportunity to learn about the Constitution and such individuals might be vulnerable to manipulation with respect to their thinking about the issue of ratification.
The New York State Senate -- as was true of senates in other states where such government bodies existed – tended, for the most part, to represent the interests of the power elite. The New York State Senate decided to discount the foregoing argument against holding elections for delegates and voted to endorse the proposal of the House concerning those elections.
Of course, the New York State House might have introduced the same sort of objection. If it didn’t, it should have.
As a government body, the ‘House’ tends to be more egalitarian and representative in its outlook than the Senate is. Nonetheless, even in the House the interests that are represented still tend to be those belonging to people who are part of the power elite … albeit a less powerful and wealthy segment of that power elite.
The New York State legislature did something in conjunction with the proposed elections for delegates to the forthcoming ratification convention which many other states had not done. More specifically, the legislature didn’t make owning property of a certain value a criteria for being able to vote, and, instead, any free, white male who was, at least, 21 years of age was permitted to participate in the vote.
On the other hand, what the New York State legislature gave with one hand, it seemed to take away with the other. Unlike many other states, copies of the Constitution were not distributed to the various counties of that state.
Thus, while many people were eligible to vote in the New York ratification delegate elections that had not been permitted to vote in most other states, those same individuals might be fairly ignorant about just what it was that they were voting on. It would be difficult to select ‘worthy’ candidates if, due to a lack of understanding concerning the proposed Constitution, one could not sort out the issues on which such ‘worthiness’ supposedly rested.
Once the date for electing ratification delegates was set in New York State, the newspapers began to publish material on the matter. However, of the twelve papers which were published in the state, only one – the New York Journal, operated by Thomas Greenleaf – printed essays that were critical of the Constitution.
Seven of the state newspapers were published in New York City … a location that contained many people who were in favor of ratification. Those who were resistant to, or cautious concerning, the proposed Constitution lived mostly in rural areas, but even in those regions the papers were all pro-ratification and, as a result, people had access to very little information that was not filtered through supporters of ratification.
Occasionally, criticisms of the Constitution did appear in a few of those newspapers. However, this tended to occur only as fodder for subsequent criticisms of the perspective of those who were opposed to the proposed Constitution.
One of the other sources of information concerning the forthcoming elections for delegates to the ratification convention came in the form of pamphlets that were printed and distributed to people in different regions of the state via groups that were proponents for, or resistant to, the proposed Constitution. One prominent champion of those who were opposed to the idea of ratification was a woman, Mercy Otis Warren, who wrote under a pseudonym to hide the fact that she was a woman participating in what was, by and large, almost entirely, a man’s game.
Warren was from Milton, Massachusetts. However, an essay she had written earlier during the Massachusetts state ratification process was re-published as a pamphlet and found its way into many rural homes.
Although the essays that are now collectively referred to as The Federalist Papers -- written mostly by Alexander Hamilton (51 of the 85 essays), but with significant contributions from James Madison (29 essays) and, to a lesser degree, John Jay (just five essays) – are much esteemed by various individuals among later generations of Americans, the aforementioned essays, which originally appeared in a number of New York newspapers, had limited impact during the time leading up to the election of delegates for the ratification convention, and most of the impact that those essays did have was in New York City which was already strongly in favor of ratification and, thus, the essays were sort of like preaching to the choir.
People were hardly getting the opportunity to read the Constitution. The 85 essays that later came to be known as The Federalist Papers were much, much longer.
On the other hand, a 19-page pamphlet containing pro-ratification arguments by John Jay did enjoy fairly wide circulation. Nevertheless, one is uncertain whether, or not -- even though the pamphlet was relatively short – it actually convinced anyone to change their mind concerning the proposed Constitution.
Some of the newspaper articles and pamphlets contained information that was less enlightening than they were exercises that sought to influence people through the tactics of fear. For instance, questions were sometimes raised in the newspapers about what would happen if New York rejected the proposed Constitution, but the other states ratified it.
A variety of scenarios were imagined in which under such circumstances New York might be invaded by its neighbors. Yet, New York had not been invaded by those neighbors prior to the Articles of Confederation, nor had New York State been invaded by those neighbors even when New York voted against policies advocated by the Continental Congress that might have benefitted those other states.
So, arguments claiming that other states which ratified the Constitution would suddenly invade New York if the latter state rejected that document didn’t make a whole lot of sense. The absence of logic, however, didn’t stop the proponents of ratification from trying to use every tactic they could to induce people to vote in favor of the proposed Constitution.
John Jay had included other tactics of fear in his aforementioned pamphlet in support of ratification. With much dramatic and rhetorical flair, he warned that the Confederation was deteriorating with each succeeding day and, as well, problems were accumulating faster than they could be resolved by the Continental Congress.
Jay intimated that if the proposed Constitution wasn’t ratified as soon as possible, then America would fail. Moreover, various states would become like snarling, hungry animals ready to pounce on one another or enter into alliances with foreign powers that would seek to exploit the situation.
It was: ‘The-sky-is-falling’ gambit. According to Jay, only the proposed Constitution could save America from a fate worse than death.
Before the Articles of Confederation had even been ratified, they were helping to guide America through its struggle for independence. After the Articles were ratified, they continued to do more of the same.
Seven years had passed since the Articles had been ratified. America had won a war against one of the world’s great powers, was now at peace, and enjoyed good relations with the rest of the world.
America did have problems. However, it wasn’t falling apart, and the difficulties it was facing were not increasing but were pretty much the same as they had been for more than a decade … financial and economic. In fact a little bit of progress actually had been made on paying down America’s debt.
Just as Hamilton had exaggerated when he tried to argue that Americans had placed their faith concerning the future in the hands of the Philadelphia Convention, Jay was exaggerating when he talked about the dire nature of America’s situation in 1788. Things were difficult, but America was not experiencing the sort of crisis that had to be solved in a few months or else face complete ruin.
The participants in the Philadelphia Convention of 1787 had tried to argue -- both during and after the fact -- that the reason why a new constitution was necessary was because the country was falling apart and, therefore, urgent action was needed. Here it was a year later and although America was intact enough to go through a complex, time-consuming ratification process in 13 different states, people like Jay were dragging up the same fear-laced scenarios concerning the disasters which would populate America’s imminent future if the proposed Constitution was not adopted straight away.
Jay also played a variation on the fear card by trying to suggest that New Yorkers had some sort of responsibility to ensure that the rest of the world did not become suspicious toward the idea of republican government. After all, if New Yorkers did not ratify the Constitution simply because they were preoccupied with, for example, the issue of amendments, then people in other parts of the world might opt for forms of government that were less given to protecting liberties than the republican form of government was just to be able to avoid the sort of difficulties that were being introduced into the discussion by those who were resistant to ratifying the proposed Constitution.
Jay’s argument was purely speculative. No one knew how people in other parts of the world would evaluate what was going on in America … in fact, not even Americans knew what sense to make of such events.
Yet, none of the foregoing considerations dissuaded Jay from putting forth fatuous sorts of argument in which the fate of the whole world depended on whether, or not, Americans voted in favor of ratifying the proposed Constitution. Republicanism was the philosophy of the framers of the Constitution, but, somehow, defending that philosophy was being described as a duty that New Yorkers owed to republicanism and, yet, the justification for such a duty was rather declaratory in nature -- namely, New Yorkers had such a duty because people like Jay said this was the case.
The end-result of all the pamphlets and newspaper coverage – or, perhaps, in spite of such material -- ran against the proponents of ratification. 46 delegates who were resistant to, or cautious about, the proposed Constitution were elected to the New York ratification convention, while only 19 individuals who were in favor of ratification were elected to attend that convention.
Since the ratification vote in New York turned out to be: 30 for ratification, with 27 against adoption of that document, one needs to account for what appears to be a fairly significant turn-around in sentiment concerning the proposed Constitution. One also needs to explain what happened to the missing 8 votes (65 delegates were elected, but only 57 of those individuals actually cast a vote).
The ratification vote in New York was held in a city – Poughkeepsie – that was located in an area of the state where sentiments resistant to the proposed Constitution ran fairly high. This was a departure from what occurred in many other states during their respective ratification conventions when the location for such assemblies were held in areas where pro-ratification fervor tended to prevail.
Consequently, the delegates who were resistant to the proposed Constitution would enjoy an advantage that they did not have in most of the other ratification conventions. In other words, the people in the galleries would, for the most part, be on their side.
Moreover, since a significant majority of the New York State delegates were leaning toward not ratifying the proposed Constitution – at least not in its current form, they were able to elect someone – George Clinton – to preside over the convention who was sympathetic to the concerns of the majority. This also was in marked contrast to what occurred in most other ratification conventions.
On the other hand, those who were resistant to the idea of ratification were at a distinct disadvantage when it came to rhetorical skills. The leading speakers for the minority featured: Alexander Hamilton, Robert Livingston, and John Jay, all of whom were graduates of King’s College (now known as Columbia University), and the delegates who were resistant to the idea of ratification had no one with comparable rhetorical skills, although one of the delegates on the majority side – Melancton Smith – did have some ability in this respect.
One might hope that what is said would be more important than how it is said. However, this was not always the case in 1788.
The delegates who were in favor of ratification sought to gain a favorable ruling which would prevent the convention from taking votes on proposed amendments during the ensuing debate concerning the proposed Constitution. The delegates who were resistant to ratification agreed with this suggestion but offered a countervailing idea which indicated that delegates should not be prevented from offering amendments during the debate even if they were not voted on at the time such possibilities were introduced.
The delegates agreed to examine the Constitution clause by clause. No vote would take place until such an examination had occurred, but delegates would be free to suggest amendments that might be taken to a vote toward the end of the convention.
The New York convention had been going on for just a week when word came from New Hampshire that the latter state had ratified the Constitution during its reconvened ratification convention. New Hampshire was the ninth state to indicate its willingness to adopt the Constitution for the national form of government in America, and as stipulated in Article VII of the proposed Constitution, nine states was the threshold for instituting the Constitution amongst the ratifying states.
Not only had the Philadelphia Convention been an extra-legal and rather arbitrary exercise in constitution making, and not only had the Philadelphia Convention sought to by-pass the authority of the Articles of Confederation, but, as well, the framers of the proposed Constitution had the gall to specify the conditions under which the Constitution should be considered a legally binding document. The proponents of ratification seemed to find nothing untoward in any of this and appeared to be disinclined to raise questions about the legitimacy of such a set of arrangements.
There were serious problems surrounding the manner in which the Continental Congress and the state legislatures engaged the propriety – let alone legality – of the Philadelphia Constitution, and, there also were numerous problems tainting the manner through which ratification delegates had been elected and through which the ratification conventions had been conducted in the nine states that had ratified the Constitution. Some of those problems have been outlined in the previous pages of this chapter.
The operative ‘rule of law’ of the ‘framers of the Constitution’ and their supporters seemed to be that one could invent one’s own notion of legality through methods and techniques of questionable ethical pedigree. The operative ‘rule of law’ appeared to be that one could impose a system of governance on people irrespective of questions concerning legality, legitimacy, authority, ethics, and fairness. The operative ‘rule of law’ seemed to be that irrespective of whether ‘We the People’ had been properly consulted or represented in the whole process, they were now legally obligated to act in accordance with the Philadelphia Constitution.
The way of power was being hyped as democratic self-governance. The way of sovereignty for the people – as opposed to the power elites – was nowhere in sight, and, in fact, the ‘Framers of the Constitution’ and their supporters were now claiming that the sovereignty of a federalized government was more important than the sovereignty of individual citizens.
The rhetorical skills of the pro-ratification forces had served the ‘Framers’ well during the ratification conventions. Now those skills were being used to promulgate a myth about how ‘We the People’ had become the source of authority for the ‘rule of law’ that was to be imposed on Americans.
When word of New Hampshire’s favorable ratification vote reached the New York convention, the pro-ratification forces tried to argue that the New Hampshire vote meant that the Confederation of Perpetual Union had now been dissolved. In addition, they argued that continuing on with the ratification convention in New York was now a moot point.
How one derives legality from illegality was an issue that was never plausibly addressed by the pro-ratification forces. How one derives legitimate authority from ‘We the People’ when only a very minor portion of that collective were actually managing the process for electing ratification delegates, along with the ensuing conventions, was another issue that seemed to escape the consciences of pro-ratification forces.
Disinterestedness was a quality that was one of the primary components in the foundation of the philosophy of republicanism. Yet, at almost every turn of the constitutional process, the proponents of ratification abused this facet of their supposedly guiding philosophy because they were all highly interested in advancing the cause of the proposed Constitution and its ratification.
The participants in the Philadelphia Convention – whether, or not, they were signatories -- should have recused themselves from taking an active part in any aspect of the ratification process. This would have demonstrated their dedication to the principles of disinterestedness that formed part of the core of the philosophy that they claimed would ensure government could be conducted in a fair and trustworthy manner, but, instead, they did exactly the opposite and, as a result, couldn’t resist trying to control the whole process.
Some of the delegates at the New York convention who were among the leaders of those who were resistant to the proposed Constitution indicated that the New Hampshire vote was irrelevant to what was going on in New York. New York was not bound in any way by another state’s vote on ratification, and the delegates in the New York convention had to try to work out their own assessment of the situation.
The debate continued. Four days later it was interrupted again when the convention was informed that Virginia had also ratified the Philadelphia Constitution.
Just as someone had dispatched a rider from New Hampshire to interfere with the ratification convention in New York, so too, someone had dispatched riders -- first from Virginia, and, then, from New York City – to interfere in the same proceedings. The ratification convention in New York should have been free of any attempt to influence its deliberations, but, apparently, pro-ratification forces believed they had the right to do whatever they liked to ensure that things took place in accordance with their wishes.
The New York debate should have focused on the extent to which the proposed Constitution was, or was not, a viable form of self-governance. Instead, discussion of substantive matters was being colored and biased through information that should not have been sent to, or permitted into, the New York ratification convention.
The proceedings were rapidly becoming an exercise in the pragmatics of social dynamics. Rigorous, critical exploration of the proposed Constitution was receding further into the background.
When some among those who were resistant to the idea of the Constitution-as-written began to talk about adding a set of amendments to the ratification vote, proponents of the Philadelphia Convention – such as Jay and Livingston -- claimed that the Congress didn’t have the authority under the new Constitution to permit such amendments, a question was raised concerning what authority such a Congress had to do anything given that the new Congress was coming into existence only because the authority of the Articles of Confederation and the Continental Congress had been ignored. In addition, the point was made that the yet-to-be-formed Congress had no authority to dictate what a proper form of ratification should look like.
New York had not even ratified the Constitution. Nonetheless, the forces in favor of ratification were trying to dictate what could be done under the authority of a proposed Constitution that had not been adopted by New York.
At this point, more tactics of fear were introduced into the convention. More specifically, Robert Livingston, one of the leaders of the pro-ratification forces, introduced the possibility that if New York did not ratify the Constitution, then New York City and surrounding areas would likely defect to the states which had ratified the proposed Constitution, and, in addition, the western frontier regions of New York would become vulnerable to the British and the “Savages” who inhabited those areas.
While such considerations were part of a political calculus that could be brought to bear on the possible ramifications that might ensue from a rejection of the proposed Constitution, they really had nothing to do with whether, or not, the proposed Constitution was a viable form of self-governance. Irrespective of what New York did about the issue of ratification, the western frontier of New York would continue to be vulnerable in a variety of ways.
Alexander Hamilton placed before the convention a question that he probably presumed was a rhetorical question. He pointed out how a number of great patriots – including Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, George Washington, and John Hancock – were in favor of the proposed Constitution. Would they endorse something that might be injurious to the American people or threaten their liberties?
The question was not rhetorical. John Hancock had sold his ratification vote for the price of a governorship and a possible presidency. Benjamin Franklin and George Washington had chosen to participate in a series of meeting that were not authorized and, then, sought to sanction something which was a violation of the existing Articles of Confederation. Moreover, hadn’t Washington given his word that he was retiring from public life? In addition, not only had John Adams not participated in the Philadelphia Convention, but, as well, he had a very different understanding of the Constitution than did, say, Madison … an understanding that, among other places, manifested itself during the Alien and Sedition Crisis of 1798.
All of the people that Hamilton mentioned had violated core principles of the philosophy of republicanism to which they claimed to be committed. How could the opinion of such people concerning the integrity of the proposed Constitution be trusted?
Thus, although a considerable majority of the New York delegates continued to be resistant to the proposed Constitution in one fashion, or another, they were motivationally fractured. Whereas the delegates in favor of ratification remained focused and adamant from beginning to end, the delegates who were much more wary about the alleged wisdom of the proposed Constitution were fairly diverse.
In the end, the aforementioned diversity worked in the favor of those who had been pro-ratification from the beginning of the convention. Many of those who initially had been resistant to the proposed Constitution either crossed their fingers or held their noses closed while voting for ratification.
Such delegates were undoubtedly sincere in trying to determine what might be best for both the people of New York and for America. Whether, or not, they fairly represented the people who elected them to be delegates to the ratification convention might be another matter … and, of course, there also was a question concerning whether, or not, all the people who were not eligible to vote in the elections for delegates to the ratification convention (e.g., women, white men who were indentured servants, slaves, and free white men who were between, say, the ages of 18 and 21) or those who were eligible to vote but did not participate in the elections, were properly represented.
With respect to the latter group it might be argued that one can hardly blame the ratification process if, for whatever, reason someone who was eligible to vote chose not to do so. On the other hand, coming up with a viable justification for imposing a system of government on someone who did not participate in the selection of delegates to the ratification conventions seems rather problematic.
Tyranny is tyranny no matter how it takes places. And, imposing a form of governance on those who did not vote for it is a form of tyranny.
In addition, there is the question of the eight individuals who were elected to serve as delegates to the New York ratification convention but, for whatever reason, did not vote. No matter what the reasoning of such people might have been, the interests of the people who voted for them were not served.
In a vote as close as the New York ratification tally (30 to 27), attempts should have been made to ensure representation for the voters who had elected the absentee delegates. This was not done.
Consequently, one might question the legitimacy of the New York vote concerning ratification. Apparently, this is but one more example of how “We the People” did not determine the outcome of a ratification process but, rather, such determinations were left to be managed and controlled through arbitrary decisions and considerations – that is, decisions and considerations that cannot be adequately justified.
In passing, one could note that even in victory a sizable number of those who were in favor of ratification were ethically challenged. More specifically, sometime after midnight on the morning following New York’s ratification of the Philadelphia Constitution, an estimated mob of some 500 people, presumably men, converged on the print shop/home of Thomas Greenleaf, the publisher of the New York Journal … the lone New York City newspaper that had dared to print material which was critical of the proposed Constitution.
These stalwart patriots and lovers of freedom proceeded to smash windows and trash the printing shop that belonged to Thomas Greenleaf. In addition, the mob then went to the house of John Lamb, who was among those that were resistant to the proposed Constitution, and Lamb was forced to barricade his family in the house while facing down the mob with guns in hand and, thereby, inducing the riotous crowd to disperse.
There is one last question which must be raised. This question remains even if one were to concede that the entire process of switching from the Articles of Confederation to the Philadelphia Constitution were entirely ethical, equitable, and justifiable … which I believe previous postings have helped to demonstrate that such an argument cannot be plausibly maintained.
This final question is quite straightforward. Why should anything that was decided by people more than two hundred years ago be incumbent upon people today who were not consulted about the proposed constitution, nor did they ratify it? And, this issue is similar to, but quite independent of, the possibility that “We the People” never actually ratified the Philadelphia Constitution despite the existence of a mythology to the contrary.
A correlative question is: What is the source of the obligation that people today have toward observing the requirements of the Constitution? Practical considerations and social conventions could be offered as reasons for why a certain path might continue to be pursued despite the absence of any justifiable source of obligation or authority for such a path, but neither practical considerations nor social conventions necessarily generate the quality of obligation … although these factors might generate coercive forces of one kind or another to ensure the compliance of citizens.