The Order In Which the States Ratified the US Constitution

Two women looking at a display of the US Constitution
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The United States Constitution was created to replace the failing Articles of Confederation. At the end of the American Revolution, the founders had created the Articles of Confederation as a method to allow states to keep their individual powers while still gaining of the benefit of being part of a larger entity. The Articles had gone into effect on March 1, 1781. However, by 1787 it became apparent that they were not viable in the long term. This especially became clear when in 1786, Shay's Rebellion occurred in western Massachusetts. This was a group of people who were protesting rising debt and economic chaos. When the national government tried to get states to send a military force to help stop the rebellion, many states were reluctant and chose not to get involved.

Need for a New Constitution

Many states realized the need to come together and form a stronger national government. Some states met to try and deal with their individual trade and economic issues. However, they soon realized that this would not be enough. On May 25, 1787, the states sent delegates to Philadelphia to try and change the Articles to deal with the issues that had arisen. The articles had a number of weaknesses including that each state only had one vote in Congress, and the national government had no power to tax and no ability to regulate foreign or interstate trade. In addition, there was no executive branch to enforce nationwide laws. Amendments required a unanimous vote, and individual laws required a 9/13 majority to pass. Once the individuals who met in what was to become the Constitutional Convention realized that changing the Articles would not be enough to fix the issues facing the new United States, they set to work to replace them with a new Constitution. 

Constitutional Convention

James Madison, known as the Father of the Constitution, set to work to get a document created that would still be flexible enough to ensure that states retained their rights yet created a strong enough national government to keep order among the states and meet threats from within and without. The 55 framers of the Constitution met in secret to debate the individual parts of the new Constitution. Many compromises occurred over the course of the debate including the Great Compromise. In the end, they had created a document that would need to be sent to the states for ratification. In order for the Constitution to become law, at least nine states would have to ratify the Constitution.

Ratification Was Not Assured

Ratification did not come easily or without opposition. Led by Patrick Henry of Virginia, a group of influential colonial Patriots known as the Anti-Federalists publicly opposed the new Constitution in town hall meetings, newspapers, and pamphlets. Some argued that the delegates at the Constitutional Convention had overstepped their congressional authority by proposing to replace the Articles of Confederation with an “illegal” document — the Constitution. Others complained that the delegates in Philadelphia, being mostly wealthy and “well-born” landowners had proposed a Constitution, and thus a federal government, that would serve their special interests and needs. Another often-expressed objection was that the Constitution reserved too many powers to the central government at the expense of “state’s rights.”

Perhaps the most impactful objection to the Constitution was that the Convention had failed to include a Bill of Rights clearly enumerating the rights that would protect the American people from potentially excessive applications of government powers.

Using the pen name Cato, New York’s Governor George Clinton supported the Anti-Federalist views in several newspaper essays, while Patrick Henry and James Monroe led the opposition to the Constitution in Virginia.

Favoring ratification, the Federalists responded, arguing that rejection of the Constitution would lead to anarchy and social disorder. Using the pen name Publius, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay countered Clinton’s Anti-Federalist Papers. Beginning in October 1787, the trio published 85 essays for New York newspapers. Collectively titled The Federalist Papers, the essays explained the Constitution in detail along with the framers’ reasoning in creating each section of the document.

To the lack of a Bill of Rights, the Federalists argued that such a list of rights would always be incomplete and that the Constitution as written adequately protected the people from the government. Finally, during the ratification debate in Virginia, James Madison promised that the first act of the new government under the Constitution would be the adoption of a Bill of Rights.

The Delaware legislature became the first to ratify the Constitution by a vote of 30-0 on December 7, 1787. The ninth state, New Hampshire, ratified it on June 21, 1788, and the new Constitution went into effect on March 4, 1789. 

Order of Ratification

Here is the order in which the states ratified the US Constitution.

  1. Delaware - December 7, 1787
  2. Pennsylvania - December 12, 1787
  3. New Jersey - December 18, 1787
  4. Georgia - January 2, 1788
  5. Connecticut - January 9, 1788
  6. Massachusetts - February 6, 1788
  7. Maryland - April 28, 1788
  8. South Carolina - May 23, 1788
  9. New Hampshire - June 21, 1788
  10. Virginia - June 25, 1788
  11. New York - July 26, 1788
  12. North Carolina - November 21, 1789
  13. Rhode Island - May 29, 1790

Updated by Robert Longley