Introduction to the New York Ratifying Convention
Day-by-Day-Summary | New York Ratifying Convention | New York Amendment Proposals
The Context of Ratification
Plaque Commemorating the Location of the New York Ratifying Convention
By the end of May 1788, proponents of the Constitution had secured the approval of eight state ratifying conventions. But securing the ninth state was not going to be an easy task. Everything rested on the three remaining states: New Hampshire, Virginia, and New York. (North Carolina and Rhode Island did not ratify the Constitution until the First Congress sent twelve amendment proposals to the states for ratification.) The best evidence suggests that going into these three ratifying conventions, the Federalist–Antifederalist delegate split was 52-52 in New Hampshire, 84-84 in Virginia and 19-46 in New York. And all were scheduled to meet in June: Virginia on the 2nd, New York on the 17th, and New Hampshire on the 18th. News that New Hampshire ratified came one week into the New York convention. Chancellor Livingston captured the moment: “The Confederation, he said, was dissolved. The question before the committee was now a question of policy and expediency.” News that Virginia had ratified reinforced Livingston‘s observation. Yet the delegates continued debating for another three weeks! On July 26, New York, by a vote of 30-27, ratified the Constitution and proposed 25 items in a Bill of Rights and 31 amendments. These proposals, along with the Circular Letter to the other States, are reproduced at the end of the day-by-day summary.
The Leading Delegates
Among those delegates who defended the Constitution at the New York Ratifying Convention were 1) Alexander Hamilton and 2) John Jay, joint authors of The Federalist Papers and 3) Chancellor Livingston who administered the oath of office to President George Washington at the First Inaugural. Opposing adoption of the Constitution were 1) Melancton Smith, 2) John Lansing, a New York delegate to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia who left in protest after six weeks, 3) and Governor George Clinton, author of the Cato essays and President of the Convention.
June 17-June 23: Preamble and Article I, Section 2
Chancellor Livingston sets the tone. The delegates agree to discuss the Constitution in a “systematic manner.” Thus they begin with the Preamble. The Hamilton–Smith exchange follows over the scheme of representation in the House. Is the proposed ratio of representation large enough to pass the twin tests of sufficiently “adequate” to represent the “interests” of the people and also to discourage the “corruption” of representatives? Are there assurances that the ratio will be adjusted?
June 24-June 26: Article I, Sections 3 and 4
The Federal Pillars
Word arrived on June 24 that New Hampshire had ratified. The delegates discuss the merits and demerits of an amendment proposal to require that Senators be subject to rotation and recall. Smith thinks that a six-year term with rotation meets the stability test and avoids the Senate becoming a “perpetual body.” Besides, rotation “will diffuse a more general spirit of emulation, and to bring forward into office the genius and abilities of the continent.” Hamilton claims the recall and rotation amendment would weaken the Senate and be contrary to “systematic government.”
Chancellor Livingston interrupts with news that New Hampshire has ratified the Constitution. This created “an alteration in circumstances.” Lansing disagrees, especially with Livingston‘s insinuation that there is a disunionist temperament in the air.
Lansing and Duane discuss whether a state-based district representation amendment is necessary and practicable.
June 26-July 2: Article I, Sections 8 and 9
Word arrived on July 2 that Virginia had ratified. The delegates discuss Congressional power. Williams considers the restrictions on Congressional power to be “inadequate.” In particular, he is concerned that the state governments are not provided with a source of revenue. Hamilton delivers a lecture in political theory: “When, in short, you have rendered your system as perfect as human forms can be, then you must give power.” Hamilton and Lansing had a “warm altercation” over remarks by the former at the Constitutional Convention. Tredwell suggested that the claim of the proponents that what was not expressly given in the Constitution is reserved is an “absurdity.”
July 4-July 5: Articles II and III
Mr. G Livingston and Mr. Smith raised serious concerns about the structure and power of the Presidency, including re-eligibility and responsibility to Congress. Mr. Jones introduced and defended 9 Resolves that would restrain the Judiciary.
July 7: Articles IV, V, and VI
Articles IV and V were read without interruption. Two amendments are proposed to Article VI. Smith moved to amend the necessary and proper clause, Article I, Section 8, Clause 17. Lansing suggested that a Bill of Rights be prefixed to the Constitution.
July 8-July 9: An Interlude of Sorts
The delegates meet but no business is conducted.
July 10: The Lansing Proposals
Lansing submitted “a plan of amendments, on a new arrangement, and with material alterations. They are divided into three1st, explanatory; 2d, conditional; 3d, recommendatory.”
July 11-July 18: The Jay Resolutions
Jay suggested two resolutions:  “the Constitution under consideration ought to be ratified by this Convention.  “that such parts of the said Constitution as may be thought doubtful ought to be explained, and that whatever amendment may be deemed useful, or expedient, ought to be recommended.”
According to the Recorder:
“The debates on this motion continued till Tuesday, the 15th of July; when Mr. SMITH moved, as an amendment, to add to the first resolution proposed by Mr. JAY, so that the same, when amended, should read as follows:
“Resolved that the Constitution under consideration ought to be ratified by this Convention: upon condition.”
The delegates apparently made little progress.
July 19 – July 26: The Adoption of the Constitution
Lansing urged a “consideration [of] a draft of a conditional ratification, with a bill of rights prefixed, and amendments subjoined.” [The Recorder: “Debates arose on the motion, and it was carried. The committee then proceeded to consider separately the amendments proposed in this plan of ratification.”] The condition was that New York could secede from the Union if a convention had not been called in four years.
Jones moved “on condition, in the form of the ratification, should be obliterated, and that the words in full confidence should be substitutedwhich was carried.”
The whole being gone through and amended, the question was put, whether the committee did agree to the same, which was carried in the affirmative.
The bill of rights, and form of the ratification of the Constitution, with the amendments, were read. The question was “put” whether the same should pass. The vote was 30-27 in favor of ratification.
Who Changed Their Mind?
The nine probably included Mr. Scudder, Mr. J. Smith, Mr. Junes, Mr. Schenek, Mr. Lawrence, Mr. Carman, Mr. Platt, and Mr. Williams. Melancton Smith and Mr. De Witt, along with nine other delegates changed their mind in light of the practical reality that the Constitution had received the affirmation of ten state ratifying conventions. Abraham Yates, John Lansing, and Thomas Tredwell, however, voted to reject the Constitution. Governor Clinton, and seven other Antifederalists, abstained.
The above painting is a mural located on the north wall of the Poughkeepsie Post Office that was painted by Gerald Foster in 1938. Foster was an American muralist, painter, and illustrator from New Jersey who lived from 1900 to 1987. He was a student at Princeton, the National Academy of Design, and the Art Students League. The mural was commissioned by Franklin D. Roosevelt for the post office as a part of the New Deal under the Section of Painting and Sculpture of the Treasury Department. Shown from left to right are: Philip Van Cortlandt, Cornelius Schoonmaker, Peter Vrooman, John Haring, Israel Thompson, Robert R. Livingston, Melancton Smith (with his hand on Governor Clinton’s back), Governor George Clinton,Alexander Hamilton (shaking hands with Governor Clinton), Abraham Bancker, John Jay, James Clinton, Issac Roosevelt, John Sloos Hobart, Jacobus Swartwout, Peter Vandervoort, James Duane, Philip Livingston, John Lansing, Lewis Morris, Richard Morris, Dirck Wyncoop and Gozen Ryerss. The artist’s rendition of the interior of the Dutchess County Courthouse is based upon careful historical and architectural research of the period. Thanks to the Poughkeepsie Post Office for permission to use the image.
The Federalist Papers
The Federalist Papers were a series of eighty-five essays urging the citizens of New York to ratify the new United States Constitution. Written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, the essays originally appeared anonymously in New York newspapers in 1787 and 1788 under the pen name "Publius." The Federalist Papers are considered one of the most important sources for interpreting and understanding the original intent of the Constitution.
Library of Congress Web Site | External Web Sites | Selected Bibliography
A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875
This collection contains congressional publications from 1774 to 1875, including debates, bills, laws, and journals.
- Elliot's Debates is a five-volume collection compiled by Jonathan Elliot in the mid-nineteenth century. The volumes remain the best source for materials about the national government's transitional period between the closing of the Constitutional Convention in September 1787 and the opening of the First Federal Congress in March 1789.
- Farrand's Records gathered the documentary records of the Constitutional Convention into four volumes, three of which are included in this online collection, containing the materials necessary to study the workings of the Constitutional Convention. The notes taken at that time by James Madison, and later revised by him, form the largest single block of material other than the official proceedings. The three volumes also include notes and letters by many other participants, as well as the various constitutional plans proposed during the convention.
- The Making of the U.S. Constitution is a special presentation that provides a brief history of the making of the Constitution followed by the text of the Constitution itself.
Documents from the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, 1774 to 1789
This collection contains 277 documents relating to the work of Congress and the drafting and ratification of the Constitution.
George Washington Papers
The complete George Washington Papers collection from the Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress consists of approximately 65,000 documents.
The Washington Papers include the following references to the Federalist Papers:
- George Washington to Alexander Hamilton, November 10, 1787, "I thank you for the Pamphlet and for the Gazette contained in your letter of the 30th Ult. For the remaining numbers of Publius, I shall acknowledge myself obliged, as I am persuaded the subject will be well handled by the Author."
- George Washington to Alexander Hamilton, August 28, 1788, "As the perusal of the political papers under the signature of Publius has afforded me great satisfaction, I shall certainly consider them as claiming a most distinguished place in my Library."
Search Washington's papers using the word "Publius" to locate additional documents related to the Federalist Papers.
James Madison Papers, 1723 to 1859
James Madison (1751-1836) is one of 23 presidents whose papers are held in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress. The Madison Papers consist of approximately 12,000 items.
- James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, August 10, 1788. Partly in Cipher, "I believe I never have yet mentioned to you that publication. It was undertaken last fall by Jay, Hamilton, and myself. The proposal came from the two former. The execution was thrown, by the sickness of Jay, mostly on the two others. Though carried on in concert, the writers are not mutually answerable for all the ideas of each other, there being seldom time for even a perusal of the pieces by any but the writer before they were wanted at the press, and sometimes hardly by the writer himself."
- James Madison to Jacob Gideon, Jr., January 28, 1818, "I send you a Copy of the 1st. Edition of the “Federalist,” with the names of the writers prefixed to their respective numbers."
Search the Madison papers using terms such as "Publius" or "Federalist" to locate additional documents related to this topic.
Thomas Jefferson Papers, 1606 to 1827
The complete Thomas Jefferson Papers from the Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress consists of approximately 27,000 documents.
- Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, November 18, 1788, Sent with Two Plans for Funding Foreign Debt, "With respect to the Federalist, the three authors had been named to me. I read it with care, pleasure & improvement, and was satisfied there was nothing in it by one of those hands, & not a great deal by a second. It does the highest honor to the third, as being, in my opinion, the best commentary on the principles of government which ever was written." [transcription]
Words and Deeds in American History: Selected Documents Celebrating the Manuscript Division's First 100 Years
In honor of the Manuscript Division's centennial, its staff has selected for online display approximately ninety representative documents spanning from the fifteenth century to the mid-twentieth century.
American Treasures of the Library of Congress - The Federalist
James Madison's Federalist no. 10 is one of the most important and enduring statements of American political theory. Its reasoned statement explains what an expanding nation might do if it accepted the basic premise of majority rule, a balanced government of three separate branches, and a commitment to balance all the diverse interests through a system of checks and balances.
Creating the United States
This online exhibition offers insights into how the nation’s founding documents were forged and the role that imagination and vision played in the unprecedented creative act of forming a self–governing country. The exhibition includes a section on Creating the United States Constitution that contains images from Thomas Jefferson's copy of the Federalist Papers.
Includes Thomas Jefferson's annotated copy of the Federalist Papers.
The federalist: a collection of essays, written in favour of the new Constitution, as agreed upon by the Federal convention, September 17, 1787, in two volumes. New-York: Printed and sold by J. and A. M'Lean ..., 1788.
December 12, 1745
John Jay, one of the nation's founding fathers, was born on December 12, 1745, to a prominent and wealthy family in the Province of New York.
March 16, 1751
James Madison, "Father of the Constitution" and fourth president of the United States, was born on March 16, 1751.
September 17, 1787
Members of the Constitutional Convention signed the final draft of the Constitution on September 17, 1787.
October 27, 1787
Known as the Federalist Papers, the first in a series of eighty-five essays by "Publius," the pen name of Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, appeared in the New York Independent Journal on October 27, 1787.
December 15, 1791
The new United States of America adopted the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution, confirming the fundamental rights of its citizens on December 15, 1791.
July 11, 1804
On July 11, 1804, political antagonists and personal enemies Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr met on the heights of Weehawken, New Jersey to settle their longstanding differences with a duel. The participants fired their pistols in close succession. Burr's shot met its target immediately, fatally wounding Hamilton and leading to his death the following day. Burr escaped unharmed.
The Federalist Papers, The Avalon Project at Yale Law School
The Founders' Constitution, University of Chicago Press and the Liberty Fund
Our Documents, Federalist Papers, No. 10 & No. 51, National Archives and Records Administration
Adair, Douglass. "The Authorship of the Disputed Federalist Papers." William & Mary Quarterly 1, no. 2 (April 1944): 97-122.
-----. "The Authorship of the Disputed Federalist Papers: Part II." William & Mary Quarterly 1, no. 3 (July 1944): 235-264.
Cooke, Jacob E., ed. The Federalist. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1961. [Catalog Record] [Full Text]
Dietze, Gottfried. The Federalist: A Classic on Federalism and Free Government. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999. [Catalog Record]
Duvall, Edward D. The Federalist Companion: A Guide to Understanding the Federalist Papers. Gilbert, Ariz.: Fremont Valley Books, 2011. [Catalog Record]
Morris, Richard B. Witnesses at the Creation: Hamilton, Madison, Jay, and the Constitution. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1985. [Catalog Record]
Rossiter, Clinton L., ed. The Federalist Papers: Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay. New York: Mentor, 1999. [Catalog Record]
Taylor, Quentin P., ed. The Essential Federalist: A New Reading of the Federalist Papers. Madison, Wis.: Madison House, 1998. [Catalog Record]
Ball, Lea. The Federalist--Anti-Federalist Debate over States' Rights: A Primary Source Investigation. New York: Rosen Central Primary Source, 2005. [Catalog Record]