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Va. Ratifying Convention Letter to N.Y. Convention

  • Letter from the Virginia Ratifying Convention to the New York Ratifying Convention, July 2, 1788
This broadside published the Virginia ratifying convention's letter telling the New York convention that Virginia had ratified the U.S. Constitution.
Related documents:
  • Articles of Confederation
    Articles of Confederation, March 1, 1781
  • Virginia Plan
    The Virginia Plan, May 29, 1787
  • Virginia Ratifying Convention Journal
    Virginia Ratifying Convention Journal, June 25, 1788
  • United States Constitution
    United States Constitution, September 17, 1787
  • Grayson's Calculations
    William Grayson's Calculations and Proposed Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, June 1788
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Letter from the Virginia Ratifying Convention to the New York Ratifying Convention, July 2, 1788

The United States Constitution went into effect in 1789. Ratification by nine states was needed for the Constitution to be adopted. The decision to ratify it was made by ratifying conventions from eleven of the thirteen states; North Carolina and Rhode Island initially refused to ratify the constitution. The two most important states that had not decided by June 1788 were Virginia and New York, and without them in the Union the country would have been divided into parts: New England, the mid-Atlantic states, and the southern states. In effect, the new system of government could not have functioned without Virginia and New York. The leading prospect for the president or the head of the executive branch was George Washington from Virginia, adding another reason that the United States needed Virginia.

Virginia was not only one of the largest states of the thirteen, as it included what is now West Virginia and Kentucky, and the most populous state, but it also was the largest exporter of tobacco, an important cash crop of the time. New York had the fifth largest population at the time and was also of immense commercial importance. Within New York's ratifying convention the Anti-Federalists had a more than two-to-one majority. The delegates began debating while they awaited the response of Virginia on the issue. If Virginia rejected the Constitution, then New York would have done likewise. Though New York was prepared not to ratify, many members of the state convention did not wish to divide the nation if Virginia was not with them; there was also the potential for the new nation's capital to remain in New York City. The decision of the New York convention rested in part on that of Virginia.

The Virginia ratifying convention ratified the U.S. Constitution on June 25, 1788, by a vote of 89 to 79. Alexander Hamilton, a leading Federalist in New York, had requested that James Madison have a message sent from Richmond to the New York convention in Poughkeepsie by express rider in order to inform them of Virginia's decision. Members of both parties in New York anxiously awaited the news. When the message arrived on July 2, 1788, it helped to convince Anti-Federalist leaders that New York must ratify, which was done on July 26, 1788. In addition, New York Anti-Federalists recommended that amendments be added to the Constitution similar to those proposed in Virginia, and the New York convention unanimously agreed to a circular letter to the states calling for a second general convention that would consider them.

Virginia and New York became the tenth and eleventh states to ratify the U.S. Constitution, giving the new nation the strength it needed to recover from the debts of the Revolutionary War and to prepare for future events. The later addition of the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution eased the concerns of many of the Anti-Federalists. It prohibited Congress from infringing such essential rights as freedom of speech and of the press, freedom of religion, and the right to jury trials in civil and criminal cases, as well as stating in the Ninth and Tenth Amendments that all individual rights not enumerated in the Constitution remain with the people and that all powers not delegated to the national government remain with the people and the states.

For Educators

Questions

1. Where is Poughkeepsie, and what was the importance of this city?
2. What is a ratifying convention?
3. Who was Alexander Hamilton?
4. When did New York ratify the U.S. Constitution?

Further Discussion

1. Consider how the states that hesitated to ratify the United States Constitution, such as New York, depended on Virginia's decision. If Virginia had not ratified the Constitution, what might have happened to the structure of the new nation? How might the new nation's political, economic, and military power have been affected if Virginia had not joined?

Notes

Virginia ratified the United States Constitution by a vote of 89 to 79. This broadside states the vote was 88 to 78. Two votes were recorded after the main vote on June 25. The news of the results may have been sent out before those belated votes were cast.

Links

Library of Congress Bibliographic Information-Virginia Ratification Convention Letter

Suggested Reading

Conley, Patrick T., and John P. Kaminski, eds. The Constitution and the States: The Role of the Original Thirteen in the Framing and Adoption of the Federal Constitution, Madison, Wis.: Madison House, 1988.

Brooks, Robin. "Alexander Hamilton, Melancton Smith, and the Ratification of the Constitution in New York." William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 24 (July 1967): 340–358.

POGHKEEPSIE,
July 2d, 1788.

J U S T A R R I V E D

B Y E X P R E S S,
 
The Ratification of the New Constitution by the Convention of the State of Virginia, on Wednesday the 25th June, by a majority of 10; 88 agreeing, and 78 dissenting to its adoption.

"WE the Delegates of the People of Virginia, duly elected in Pursuance of a Recommendation of the General Assembly, and now met in Convention, having fully and fairly investigated and discussed the Proceedings of the Federal Convention, and being prepared as well as the most mature Deliberation will enable us to decide thereon, DO, in the Name and on Behalf of the People of Virginia, declare and make known, that the Powers granted under the Constitution being derived from the People of the United States, may be resumed by them whensoever the same shall be perverted to their Injury of Oppression, and that every Power not granted thereby remains with them and at their Will: That therefore no Right, of any Denomination, can be cancelled, abridged, restrained or modified by the Congress, by the Senate, or House of Representatives, acting in any Capacity, by the President, or any Department or Officer of the United States, except in those instances where Power is given by the Constitution for those Purposes: That among other essential Rights, the Liberty of Conscience, and of the Press, cannot be cancelled, abridged, restrained or modified by any Authority of the United States.
With these Impressions, with a solemn Appeal to the Searcher of Hearts for the Purity of our Intentions, and under the Conviction, that whatsoever Imperfections may exist in the Constitution, ought rather to be examined in the Mode prescribed therein, than to bring the Union into Danger by Delay, with a Hope of obtaining Amendments previous to the Ratification:
 We the said Delegates, in the Name and in Behalf of the People of Virginia, do by these presents assent to and ratify the Constitution, recommended on the 17th day of September, 1787, by the Federal Convention for the Government of the United States; hereby announcing to all those whom it may concern, that the said Constitution is binding upon the said People, according to an authentic copy hereunto annexed, in the Words following:"—
[Here comes in the Constitution.]
 A Letter from Richmond advises, that a Motion for previous Amendments was rejected by a Majority of Eight; but that some days would be passed in considering subsequent Amendments, and these, it appeared, from the temper of the Convention, would be recommended.