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After nearly a year’s worth of debate at both the national and state level, the United States Constitution passed the final hurdle to complete ratification on June 21, 1788 when the New Hampshire Convention of Delegates agreed to its provisions. Being the ninth state to do so, New Hampshire cast the deciding vote in the making of the world’s oldest constitution still in use.
The process of arriving at a document worthy for the intricate republic of the United States of America had been an exhaustive one. After the Articles of Confederation – the weak charter created during 1783 in the wake of the American War for Independence – showed itself to be untenable, Congress directed the government to convene and create a new constitution.
Beginning on May 25, 1787, the Framers convened at Independence Hall in Philadelphia – seven of them having been there for the signing of the Declaration of Independence some 11 years before. Their task this time was to formulate a strong central government under which the states might operate. The goal, in some cases as simple as formulating a method to raise revenue for a national army, would be to secure a truly United States instead of a group of largely-autonomous states with a loose affiliation. For three months, the committee worked to create a solution under the direction of George Washington, with delegations from every state present except Rhode Island.
The finished work was completed on September 17th and signed by 38 of the 41 delegates in attendance. Now released to the public, the document would have to be approved by the legislatures of nine of the thirteen states in order to be considered legitimate. Three months later, the Constitution was already past the halfway point: Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia and Connecticut ratified it in the first part of December.
Other states, particularly Massachusetts, were uncomfortable with the language. In many ways, the Constitution used vagueness to leave open possibilities for future laws and powers. After another six weeks of debate, Massachusetts agreed to ratify the document with the condition that certain rights would become guaranteed later – freedom of speech and religion – and that those powers not named within the Constitution would rest with the states. Similar caveats are listed on the notification provided by New Hampshire’s Convention of Delegates, such as one barring Congress from disarming “any citizen, unless such as are or have been in actual rebellion.”
Maryland and South Carolina soon followed Massachusetts’ narrow “yea” vote, then New Hampshire sealed the deal. With the Constitution now the official guiding document for the United States government, officials determined March 4, 1789 to be the day it would go into full effect. Virginia would vote to ratify five days after New Hampshire, on June 26th, with New York following near the end of July.
Members of Congress reported for the first legislative term in the United States’ history on September 25, 1789, with North Carolina ratifying the Constitution the following November. Six months later, with just two days left in May 1790, Rhode Island joined the other twelve states, having been threatened with commercial sanctions if they did not. To this day, much of what was conceived remains in effect, including the Bill of Rights released to the states by the First Congress (ratified in 1791).
Last Updated on: June 13, 2012