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Forging a New Nation, Ratification

constituent power, Confederation Congress, remaining states, Federalists, Constitutional Convention

The proceedings of the Constitutional Convention were kept secret until late September 1787. The Confederation Congress sent the completed Constitution out for ratification by state conventions elected for that purpose—not by state legislatures, many of which were hostile to the new document. Thus the Constitution—which began “We the people”—created a government with the people, and not the state legislatures, as the constituent power.

The Federalists, as proponents of the Constitution called themselves, were cosmopolitans who were better organized than their opponents. Particularly in the beginning of the ratification effort, they made greater use of pamphlets and newspapers. In New York, Federalist leaders Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison composed the powerful and enduring Federalist papers to counter doubts about the proposed new government. By January 1788 conventions in Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, and Connecticut had ratified the Constitution.

Opponents of the Constitution, who called themselves Anti–Federalists, were locals who feared a strong national government that would be run by educated and wealthy cosmopolitans who operated far away from most citizens. They were particularly distrustful of a Constitution that lacked a bill of rights protecting citizens from government attacks on their liberties.

Ratification contests in the remaining states were close, but by July 1788, 11 states had ratified, often with promises that the new government would enact a bill of rights. (North Carolina eventually ratified in 1789. The last state, Rhode Island, did not send delegates to the Constitutional Convention and did not ratify the Constitution until 1790.)

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