In May of 1787, 55 delegates from the 13 states (12 actually, Rhode
Island never showed up) met in Philadelphia to revise the Articles
of Confederation. It soon became apparent to the delegates,
that rather than amend the Articles, they would write a new
Constitution for the U.S. government. Throughout the hot
Philadelphia summer, the delegates pursued their task, one which
required tremendous deliberation and compromise. Article VII
of this new Constitution required that 9 of the 13 states ratify the
document for it to go into effect. On September 28, Congress
directed the state legislatures to call ratification conventions in
each state. Because the Constitutional Convention had been
conducted in secret, the ratifying conventions served to inform the
public of the provisions of the proposed new government. More
importantly, the ratifying conventions insured that the
Constitution’s authority came from the people, through
representatives specifically elected for the purpose of approving or
disapproving the proposed charter.
Ratification was not a foregone conclusion. Many were
skeptical of the structures and powers proposed in this new
government and feared a new tyranny taking over the republic.
These skeptics came to be known as the Anti-Federalists, opposing
the Constitution for a variety of reasons. Those who favored
ratification, the Federalists, fought back, convinced that rejection
of the Constitution would result in anarchy and civil strife.
Throughout the country, a vigorous debate ensued in newspapers,
pamphlets, and public meetings.
York State, the debate was most contentious, pitting rural and urban
interests. The New York ratification convention met in mid-June
1788 in Poughkeepsie. At this point there was tremendous pressure
on New York. Eight states had already ratified the document:
Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut,
Massachusetts, Maryland, and South Carolina. Under the leadership
of Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, Federalists worked to convince
Anti-Federalists led by Melancton Smith and Governor George Clinton.
The nation watched to see which direction New York, and hence the
Constitution, would go.