September 18
Liberty vs. Power: Political Identities in the New Republic
Robert J. Allison, PhD, Department of History, Suffolk University

Documents from the constitutional debate, originally identified as day one readings for the Summer Institute. (You should have these in your reading notebook.)

Would you have supported ratification of the U.S. Constitution, as it was proposed in September 1787, or would you have opposed it? Why? Which of the argum
Dr. Robert Allison
ents in the documents you read do you find most convincing?

On September 18th, Dr. Allison of Suffolk University facilitated a fascinating discussion about the two opposing viewpoints regarding the ratification of the United States Constitution.

The two opposing viewpoints were represented by the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists:

The Federalists' position (Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay):

The separation of powers into three independent branches protected the rights of the people. Each branch represents a different aspect of the peo ple, and because all three branches are equal, no one group can assume control over another.

A listing of rights can be a dangerous thing. If the national government were to protect specific listed rights, what would stop it from violating rights other than the listed ones? Since we can't list all the rights, the Federalists argued that it's better to list none at all.

The Anti-Federalists Position (George Mason, Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, Elbridge Gerry):
It gave too much power to the national government at the expense of the state governments.
There was no bill of rights.
The national government could maintain an army in peacetime.
Congress, because of the `necessary and proper clause,' wielded too much power.
The executive branch held too much power.

Nine states' approval were needed to put the Constitution into effect.

Five states ratified the Constitution with little or no delay:
New Jersey

There was much more discussion and debate in Massachusetts. The debates took place at Long Lane Meeting House in Boston (on what is now Federal Street). Representatives on both sides made passionate arguments supporting their positions but in the end, the Federalists had succeeded (187-168). One of the compromises resulted in the Bill of Rights.

Long Lane Meeting House Marker

Soon after Massachusetts voted to ratify, Maryland, South Carolina, and New Hampshire voted to adopt the Constitution.

Although the required nine states approved the new Constitution, New York and Virginia's approval was crucial to assure it's acceptance. Eventually, Virginia and New York voted to ratify as well, with North Carolina and Rhode Island following suit.

Additional Resources:
Massachusetts Historical Society
Massachusetts Archives
Commonwealth Massachusetts
Boston Public Library
American Antiquarian Society
Gore Place