Ratification debate of the Constitution

It was agreed that the Constitution should be transmitted to the governing body of each State, and when ratified by nine States, Congress should prepare for commencing proceedings under it. It was immediately circulated, and received with favor, and even enthusiasm. The secrecy of the Convention had given rise to unpleasant rumors, which the publication of the instrument set at rest.

The Constitution was instinctively and joyfully welcomed by farmers, mechanics, and merchants. Soon, however, the newspapers teemed with the views of men eminent for ability, honesty, and patriotism, against its adoption; and they won adherents. Hence the country became divided into two great parties: one, called the Federalists, composed of those who were in favor of the ratification of the Constitution; the other, termed anti-Federalists, or those opposed to the ratification, who could boast among their leaders the great names of George Clinton and Patrick Henry.

The conflict of opinion was carried on in public meetings, through the press, and in the representative assemblies, and all these in thought and action were unfettered. This constituted another great period in American history. It has been thoroughly explored and ably narrated. In advocating the adoption of the Constitution, James Wilson made a noble record in the Pennsylvania Convention and the popular forum, Hamilton and Madison shone in the State conventions and in the press. Their greatest legacy was their share in the "Eighty-five Essays," which appeared in a New York newspaper, under the signature of "Publius." In this they were associated with Jay, who, however, on account of illness, contributed only six of the number. These "Essays" were collected in the well-known volume entitled "The Federalist," which is a classic in American political literature.

The Constitution was ratified by conventions in the several States. Its character may be briefly outlined.

Union was acknowledged as an already existing fact; and the object of the Constitution was declared to be to make a more perfect Union. Government is provided for in a legislature consisting of two branches to make laws, a judiciary to interpret the law, and an executive power in a President, "to take care that the laws be faithfully executed." The Senate is based on State equality, the House on numbers. The powers enumerated which a government, under this Constitution, might exercise, were, in general, those which throughout the colonial age were proposed to be vested in a Union,--even the important power of levying taxes and collecting them, while leaving the local governments to levy and collect taxes for local purposes, being in Franklin's Albany plan. They provided for a government to act directly on individuals, instead of a league acting on States, as in the Articles of Confederation; for influence thus substituting public authority. The Union was endowed with political power supreme in its sphere; and though it had no power to make or to abolish the State governments, "yet," is the great comment of Madison, "if they were abolished, the General Government would be compelled, by the principle of self-preservation, to reinstate them in their proper jurisdiction."

The spheres of the two governments, State and National, were defined with much exactness; but, to determine controversies that might arise between the boundaries of their powers, it was provided that the judicial authority should extend to all cases under the Constitution, the laws, and treaties, naming in the list controversies between two or more States, and that this power should be vested in a Supreme Court, to be established by Congress.

The laws made in pursuance of these powers, and all the treaties, were "to be the supreme law of the land," and the judges in every State were "to be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding;" all officers, "both of the States and of the United States," were to bind themselves, "by oath or affirmation," to support this Constitution; and it was to stand until amended in the form prescribed; the final stage being that new articles should be ratified by three-fourths of the several States, or by conventions of three-fourths of the States, or by conventions of three-fourths of the States, as might be proposed by the Congress; with the proviso that no State, without its consent, should be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate.

It was provided that the citizens of each State should be entitled to all the rights of citizens in the several States. The word "slave" is not in the Constitution; and so peculiar and wise were the provisions, that, when State after State abolished slavery, no alteration was required to meet the great social change. Nor would any change have been required had all the States abolished slavery. Recent amendments prohibit its establishment, as the original instrument prohibited the States from granting an order of nobility.

Article seventh and last is, "The ratification of the conventions of nine States shall be sufficient for the establishment of this Constitution between the States so ratifying the same."

On the 2d of July, 1788, the President of Congress informed that body that he had laid before them the ratification of the Constitution by the conventions of nine States. On that day a committee was appointed to report an act "for putting the said Constitution into operation." It was not, however, until the 13th of September that Congress agreed upon a plan. . The first Wednesday in March [1789] was fixed on as the time, and New York as the place, for commencing proceedings under the Constitution.

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