Constitution Ratification: How US Constitution was Ratified by Three American Heroes
These Three American Heroes Almost Singlehandedly Got the Constitution Ratified

These Three American Heroes Almost Singlehandedly Got the Constitution Ratified

Larry Holzwarth - February 28, 2022

These Three American Heroes Almost Singlehandedly Got the Constitution Ratified
Jay’s final contribution to the Federalist Papers described the power of the Senate in foreign affairs. Wikimedia

17. John Jay returned for one last essay, Federalist 64 in March 1788

Federalist 64 was published on March 5, 1788. The essay is one of just four which exist in the original, all of which are in Jay’s hand. In Federalist 64, Jay broke with his fellows regarding the role of the Senate in negotiating treaties. While most of the founders believed the Senate was responsible for that role, Jay argued the main power for foreign treaties sat with the Executive Branch, acting with the advice and consent of the Senate. That approval, under the Constitution, required two-thirds of the Senate supporting the treaty. Most interpreted the “advise and consent” entry to give the Senate the power to overturn treaties which did not meet its approval. Jay argued “advise and consent” gave the President leeway to decide when he needed its assistance in negotiating a treaty.

At the time it was written, Jay had more experience negotiating treaties than either Madison or Hamilton. He called on his experience, arguing the Senate represented the states and had less exposure to foreign affairs than the President. Over the course of American history, Presidents have come to rely on executive agreements between heads of state over treaties. Executive agreements allow the President to enter into foreign relationships without dealing with potential political difficulties in the Senate. The process developed early, and since the beginning of the 20th century, such agreements far outnumber formal treaties. Anti-federalists argued against Jay’s stance, and also opined the terms for the Senate, six years rather than a Representative’s two and the President’s four, were excessive. Jay disagreed, and defended the longer terms as essential for legislative experience.

These Three American Heroes Almost Singlehandedly Got the Constitution Ratified
Certification of electors from the State of Delaware, 1789. Wikimedia

18. New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify the Constitution

On June 21, 1788, New Hampshire ratified the Constitution, meeting the nine states required for the document to become law. The Confederation Congress was established December 15, 1788, as the date federal elections would begin in the nine states, with the election continuing through January 10, 1789. The states were to elect Representatives to the house, and electors to vote for President and Vice-President. Senators were elected by state legislatures. Not until 1913 did American voters vote directly for their Senators, as the Constitution read, “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each state, chosen by the legislature thereof for six years…” Each of the men composing essays as Publius supported such a composition of the Senate. All of them feared what some called “mob rule”, which would result from uninformed voters following factionalism.

The new government, under the Constitution, was scheduled to begin operating on March 4, 1789. But where it would be seated remained uncertain. New York had not ratified the Constitution, nor had Virginia. New York finally ratified the Constitution after weeks of contentious debate on July 26, 1788. Its ratification letter, (drafted by Jay and amended by Hamilton), called for the states to join in another convention for the purpose of amending the document it had just ratified. It listed 31 amendments, and 25 specifics to be included in a bill of rights. In the end, another convention proved unnecessary. Madison, elected to the House from Virginia (which ratified in June 1788) introduced amendments in Congress which led to the Bill of Rights during his first term. The government began operating on schedule, but with just eleven states in the Union.

These Three American Heroes Almost Singlehandedly Got the Constitution Ratified
A bound edition of the Federalist Papers, signed at the top by Hamilton’s wife, Elizabeth. Wikimedia

19. The list of essays known as the Federalist Papers came to a close in August, 1788

Alexander Hamilton wrote the last of the Federalist Papers, publishing the 85th essay on August 13 and 18, 1788. In it, he admitted the Constitution, as already ratified by several states, was imperfect. Yet he argued that imperfection was not sufficient reason to delay adopting it as the basis for government. “I never expect to see a perfect work from imperfect man”, he wrote. He argued that in order to bind the mutual interests of the states, “compromise of the dissimilar interests and inclinations” was necessary. To Hamilton, no compromise offered perfection, writing, “How can perfection spring from such materials”. Hamilton argued that opposition to a strong national government arose from “powerful individuals” seeking to maintain their own regional power and influence. Much of Hamilton’s essay attacked the leaders of the anti-federalist faction in New York, where the ratification debate had been particularly bitter.

Even before the Federalist Papers had been completed, copies of those already published had been gathered and bound in volumes. How widely they were disseminated during the ratification debates in several states is unknown. Surely Madison made certain they were available in Virginia, his home state, and they were published in New York. Yet those states were among the last to ratify, and both did so conditionally upon the enactment of a Bill of Rights, among other changes to the document. Rhode Island and North Carolina did not ratify the Constitution until after the first Washington administration was inaugurated. Both demanded changes to the document in their letters notifying Congress of their ratification. In 1791, Vermont formed a convention and ratified the Constitution, becoming the first state outside of the original 13 to join the Union.

These Three American Heroes Almost Singlehandedly Got the Constitution Ratified
Alexander Hamilton helped create America’s financial system before dying at the hands of Aaron Burr. Wikimedia

20. The three men who wrote as Publius remained active in the new government

James Madison served four consecutive terms in the House, as Secretary of State under Thomas Jefferson, and as the fourth President of the United States. He came to be widely regarded as the Father of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Alexander Hamilton served as Washington’s first Secretary of the Treasury. His efforts helped place the United States under a stable financial system. He also made numerous political enemies, became embroiled in scandals, and eventually died following a duel with the then sitting Vice-President, Aaron Burr. John Jay served as the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and later as Governor of New York. In 1795 he negotiated the Jay Treaty, which gave the United States “most favored nation” status in trade with Great Britain but failed to address American grievances. The treaty helped create party factionalism within the new government.

How much the Federalist Papers contributed to ratification remains controversial. But there is no question they contributed to the creation of political parties by publicizing the rift between the Federalists and anti-federalists. The latter morphed into the Democratic-Republican party, led by Jefferson and Madison. The former became the Federalist Party of Hamilton, Jay, and John Adams. Federalists influenced the form of the Supreme Court for the next thirty years, through John Jay and later John Marshall. George Washington despaired of the formation of partisan political parties in American government, and famously warned against them, to no avail. The Federalist Papers, though relatively obscure, continue to affect American government, used by judges and legislators to determine the intent of the Founders when interpreting the Constitution they were written to support. As of 2000, the Supreme Court has cited the essays by Madison, Hamilton, and Jay, in 291 legal decisions.

Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Articles of Confederation: Historical Background”. Official Publication, Government Printing Office. Online

“The Virginia Plan”. Article, United States Senate. Online

“The Constitutional Convention”. Article, Online

“James Madison, 1751 – 1836”. Entry, Miller Center, University of Virginia. Online

“A Leap in the Dark: The Struggle to Create the American Republic”. John Ferling. 2003

“Alexander Hamilton”. Entry, George Washington’s Mount Vernon. Online

“John Jay”. Article, Online

“George Clinton”. Entry, Miller Center, UVA. Online

“The anti-federalist papers”. Article, Historical Society of the New York Courts. Online

“Federalist 1, General Introduction”. Alexander Hamilton. 1787. Online

“Federalist 2-5, Concerning Dangers from Foreign Force and Influence”. John Jay. 1787. Online

“Historical Overview of the Federalist Navy, 1787-1801” Article, US Navy History and Heritage Command. Online

“Federalist 6-7, Concerning Dangers from Dissensions Between the States”. Alexander Hamilton. 1787. Online

“Federalist 10, The Union as a Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and Insurrection”. James Madison. 1787.

“27th Amendment: Congressional Compensation 1789, 1992″. James Madison. Online

“Federalist 29, Concerning the Militia”. Alexander Hamilton. 1788. Online

“The Ratification Debate”. Essay, Bill of Rights Institute. Online

“Federalist 64, The Powers of the Senate”. John Jay, 1788. Online

“Direct Election of Senators”. Article, United States Senate. Online

“The Significance of March 4”. Article, United States Senate. Online

“Federalist 85, Concluding Remarks”. Alexander Hamilton. 1788

“Federalist Papers”. Editors, January 28, 2020