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

The document presented to the American people by the delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 generated considerable controversy. It far exceeded the expressed goals of the convention. Originally called to amend the Articles of Confederation the convention produced an entirely new form of government. It placed powers in federal hands previously in the hands of the states. Among them were the powers to levy taxes and control interstate commerce. Loud voices emerged throughout the young nation, protesting against the threat to their liberties presented by the new federal government. Anti-federalists, as they became known, argued vociferously against the ratification of the new constitution. Others supported ratification only if the document was amended to include protection of specific rights held by all Americans. Another concern was the power of the executive as defined, including its role as commander in chief of the armed forces.

These Three American Heroes Almost Singlehandedly Got the Constitution Ratified
The Articles of Confederation granted few powers to the national government. Wikimedia

The Constitutional Convention was held largely in secret. The records of its proposals and debates remained hidden from the people as their leaders worked out compromise after compromise. In order to protect this secrecy, two men who had served in the convention attempted to present the arguments for ratification assumed a shared pseudonym. Alexander Hamilton of New York, and James Madison of Virginia, wrote a series of essays for publication. They published under the name “Publius”. They were joined briefly by a third, John Jay, who contributed to the effort until ill-health forced him to withdraw. A series of 85 essays, comprising over 180,000 words, was published in support of ratification of a document which consists of 4,543 words, including 39 signatures. They explained the document, the rationalizations supporting it, and refuted the anti-federalists. Here is how three men helped persuade the states to ratify the US Constitution.

These Three American Heroes Almost Singlehandedly Got the Constitution Ratified
George Washington found Congress under the Articles weak and ineffective during and following the Revolution. Wikimedia

1. The Articles of Confederation were inadequate to govern a nation of states

The 2nd Continental Congress created the Articles of Confederation as the Revolutionary War raged around them. Fearful of replacing a despotic government in London with a despotic government in Philadelphia they severely limited centralized power. The army reported directly to Congress, which could not levy taxes to pay them. The Confederation Congress elected a President, though invested in him with little executive power. Under the Confederation, the individual states controlled trade with each other collected the revenues from international trade and levied taxes on their citizens. The state legislatures selected the delegates representing them in the Congress. If Congress needed money, which it did perpetually, it could only ask the states, literally begging for cash. Their requests were almost universally ignored. The American Revolution was funded primarily through private fortunes.

The Articles of Confederation left room for amendments, but any such changes required unanimous approval of all 13 states. That requirement made alterations virtually impossible, as each state guarded its own powers jealously. Congress had no power to enforce a quorum, which made action on pressing issues difficult to accomplish. Following the end of the Revolution and the disbanding of the Continental Army, each state maintained its own military force. Eleven of the new states had their own navies. Very little about the United States was united. Federalists argued for the need to amend the Articles to create a stronger central government. Anti-federalists who wanted to retain more localized authority, independent of the other states, opposed them. The anti-federalists finally agreed to a convention to modify the Articles in 1787, determined to defend states’ rights against federal control.

These Three American Heroes Almost Singlehandedly Got the Constitution Ratified
James Madison authored the Virginia Plan, which proposed an entirely new form of government. Wikimedia

2. The United States was a league of independent republics in 1787

When the Constitutional Convention began in May 1787, representatives arrived in Philadelphia having been selected by their state legislatures. Their intent was revision of the Articles of Confederation to create new powers for the federal government which would allow it to better deal with problems of national interest. Of the 70 men appointed to the convention, only 55 showed up. Rhode Island declined to participate at all. The only thing they found they could agree wholeheartedly on was the selection of George Washington as the presiding officer. On May 29 the Virginia delegation presented a 15-point plan to the convention, drafted by James Madison and presented by Edmund Randolph, then Governor of Virginia. It called for the creation of a bicameral legislature, with proportional membership elected by the people in a lower house, and state-appointed membership in an upper house.

It also proposed a new government, with executive, legislative, and judicial branches. Government under the Articles of Confederation contained a congress consisting of a single house, with the presiding officer, elected by the congress, serving as the executive. Madison had proposed an entirely new government. Under his proposal, Virginia, the most populous state at the time, would have the largest representation in both houses of the new congress. To the northern states, the idea was unthinkable. New Jersey offered a counterproposal. Proposed by William Paterson in mid-June, the New Jersey plan suggested a single house in the legislature, with each state receiving one vote, regardless of the size of its population. For the first two months of the convention, the delegates debated the two plans, with idea of amending the Articles of Confederation all but forgotten.

These Three American Heroes Almost Singlehandedly Got the Constitution Ratified
Alexander Hamilton was one of the few Northerners to support the Virginia Plan. Wikimedia

3. America’s form of government was born out of compromise

On June 19th the delegates rejected the New Jersey Plan, and continued debate on the Virginia Plan. New York, the largest of the northern states, opposed Madison’s plan with one exception among its delegates. Alexander Hamilton favored Madison’s idea. By early July, the contentious debate had left the convention deadlocked. Five states favored the idea of a proportional lower house and equal votes in the upper house. Five states opposed the idea. Two did not vote, and Rhode Island was absent. The convention agreed to create a committee consisting of one member from each state to arrive at a solution. The committee recommended a compromise in which each state would have equal representation in the upper house and proportional representation in the lower. It also suggested that each state in the upper house would have a single vote.

Madison and Hamilton led the arguments against the arrangement, which included one representative in the lower house for every 40,000 free residents of a state. The Southern states at the time, except for Virginia, had smaller free populations, though large populations of enslaved people. The convention agreed to count enslaved people as three-fifths of the state’s total population. They also agreed that two members of each upper house delegation could vote independently of each other, rather than as a state. Madison and Hamilton agreed. Still, the debate roiled on, with the smaller states fearing a government dominated by the larger, more populous states. The final compromise created the Senate as the upper house, with equal representation among the states, and the House of Representatives with proportional representation based on population.

These Three American Heroes Almost Singlehandedly Got the Constitution Ratified
One compromise was counting the enslaved peoples as three fifths of the person for apprtionment of representatives. Wikimedia

4. Madison moved to strip power from the states in forming the Senate

Madison, with the support of Hamilton, favored longer terms for the members of the Senate, which represented the states, and shorter terms for the Representatives, who represented the people. The longer Senate terms reduced the influence of state legislatures on the upper house. The shorter terms of the House meant its Representatives had to face their constituents more frequently, ensuring the voice of the people was heard in the new government. Both Madison and Hamilton desired a powerful Senate, where reasoned debate would, in their view, prevent undo influence on federal laws by the raucous people. The Senate would be the house of statesmen; the House where the people’s needs and desires heard and acted upon. Any bill, passing in either house, required the approval of the other before it was sent to the executive to become law.

Once the makeup and relationship of the new Congress of the United States were agreed upon, the convention moved more rapidly. Debate over the creation of the executive branch was tempered by the fact that all present were aware the first President would be George Washington, as he was the most unifying man in America. Discussions over the Judiciary were similar less divisive. The Constitutional Convention lasted 100 days. When it was over the states were surprised to learn it had proposed an entirely new form of government. The debates of the convention were repeated in the legislatures of the states and in town meetings, taverns, churches, militia musters, and everywhere Americans gathered. Ratification of the document was far from assured. Madison and Hamilton decided to take their arguments directly to the people, via the free press of the United States.

These Three American Heroes Almost Singlehandedly Got the Constitution Ratified
James Madison’s palatial home at Montpelier, his family’s Virginia plantation. Wikimedia

5. Madison and Hamilton were of two very different backgrounds

James Madison was very much to the manor born. He came from an old, well-established, and socially prominent Virginia family. As the eldest son of the largest landowner in Virginia’s Piedmont, he stood to inherit his father’s farms, slaves, and social standing. His early education came from a private tutor. As a child, his health was never strong, but he studied enough to become highly adept in ancient languages, modern languages, mathematics, and classical literature and history. Because of his health, he opted not to attend the College of William and Mary, fearful of the climate in the Williamsburg region. Instead, he chose to study at the College of New Jersey, entering classes there in 1769. The College of New Jersey later changed its name to Princeton. There he obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in just two years, sooner than the usual three.

After graduating Madison remained at Princeton, learning to read and write in Hebrew, and studying the works of the European philosophers from the Age of Enlightenment. He then read the law in Virginia, becoming well-versed, but never practicing law or joining the bar. Madison served in the Continental Congress, and wrote an amendment to the Article of Confederation to give congress the power to create tariffs to raise money. The amendment passed a vote, but failed to gain unanimous ratification by the states. That failure led Madison to long study of the weakness of the government under the Articles, and the need to create a stronger central authority. He studied the history of other republics, including those of antiquity, often in their original languages of Greek and Latin. By 1787, no man had a more formed idea of the future American government. But he needed allies to make it a reality.

These Three American Heroes Almost Singlehandedly Got the Constitution Ratified
Hamilton went to the Constitutional Convention as an authority on finance and trade. Wikimedia

6. Alexander Hamilton was unsure of his own ancestry

Unlike James Madison, who came from a distinguished Virginia family, Alexander Hamilton was born out-of-wedlock. The year of his birth, on the island of Nevis, is uncertain. His mother was a bigamist, and her death left Hamilton and his brother, James, orphaned. Their father had abandoned them some time before. By the late 1760s, Hamilton worked for an import-export firm in New York, operating out of various Caribbean ports. Because of the circumstances of his birth, Hamilton could not be educated in the schools of the Church of England. He largely educated himself through reading, supplemented by a private tutor. In 1772 he moved to New York, where he undertook to prepare himself to enter King’s College, today’s Columbia University. He served with Washington during the American Revolution, spending four years of the war as the General’s chief aide.

After returning to New York following the victory at Yorktown Hamilton studied for several months before passing the bar exam in 1782. In 1784 he founded the Bank of New York. He went to the Constitutional Convention well-versed in finance, law, and the weakness of the federal government under the Articles of Confederation. He became one of the earliest supporters of the Virginia Plan, and an ardent supporter of the draft constitution submitted to the states for ratification in 1787. The convention kept no minutes of its debates, all that was left to posterity were the notes kept by its delegates which have survived. Madison kept meticulous, extensive notes, over 100 pages. Hamilton’s are less so, though from the essays which followed arguing in support of ratification his position during the convention can be readily inferred.

These Three American Heroes Almost Singlehandedly Got the Constitution Ratified
John Jay, a skilled New York attorney and experienced foreign affairs minister. Wikimedia

7. John Jay was the third man to publish essays under the name of Publius

John Jay grew up in Rye, New York, entering King’s College in 1760, at the age of 14. A member of the New York bar from 1768, Jay spent the pre-Revolutionary War years practicing law. For a time he supported reconciliation with the British Parliament through legal redress of grievances. By 1776, Jay supported independence, and he spent the war years working toward that goal. He served in the First and Second Continental Congresses, including as President of the latter from late 1778 to September of 1779, one of the most tumultuous years of the war. Jay then served as Minister to Spain, where he extracted a loan from the government for the United States, but he failed to gain Spanish recognition of American independence. He then joined the peace conference in Paris which ended the war and achieved British recognition of the United States of America.

On his return to America, he served in the Articles of Confederation Congress as Secretary of Foreign Affairs, where he experienced first-hand the weakness of the federal government. Jay recognized that a strong national foreign policy was impossible under the government of the Articles. He sided with Madison and Hamilton to create a strong central government. He particularly noted that the Congress had no authority to enforce its actions in any area. “In short, they may consult, and deliberate, and recommend, and make requisitions, and they who please may regard them”, he wrote. Jay was the third man of the triumvirate who fought for ratification via the Federalist Papers, though his contribution was small. Ill health prevented him from contributing more than five articles. Nor did he participate in the Constitutional Convention. His support of the constitution came from his experience with the weakness of the Articles of Confederation.

These Three American Heroes Almost Singlehandedly Got the Constitution Ratified
George Clinton, first governor of New York and staunch anti-federalist. New York Public Library

8. Opposition to the proposed Constitution appeared in New York within days of submission

Just days after the draft Constitution was presented to the states for ratification, a letter appeared in the New York Journal, signed by “Cato”. Although Cato’s identity remains uncertain, most historians believe him to have been then New York governor George Clinton. Initially, Clinton supported amending the Articles of Confederation to create a stronger central government. His support of fellow New Yorker Alexander Hamilton wavered when he learned of the proposal, under the Constitution, to give the power of creating tariffs to Congress. Tariffs provided the main source of income to New York, and losing them threatened the state’s financial well-being. He also became an early and vocal supporter of a Bill of Rights, arguing the proposed Constitution did not adequately protect the rights of citizens against government transgressions.

Addressed as a “Letter to the Citizens of New York“, Cato’s first letter did not openly condemn the proposed Constitution but warned citizens to be wary of its contents. “Government, to an American, is the science of his political safety, Cato noted. He then went on to warn Americans that, “this is a very important crisis of your safety and character”. Cato told his readers to, “…teach the members of that convention, that you are capable of a supervision of their conduct”. He warned that the time was present to amend the proposed Constitution before it was ratified, or even, if necessary, rewrite the document in its entirety. “Your fate, and that of your posterity, depends on your present conduct”. Cato told his readers to consider their decisions carefully, reminding them, “in principles of politics, as well as in religious faith, every man ought to think for himself”.

These Three American Heroes Almost Singlehandedly Got the Constitution Ratified
Hamilton chose the name of Publius, one of the founders of the Roman Republic, as the “author” of the Federalist Papers. Wikimedia

9. Cato hinted the new Constitution could lead to the suppression of individual liberties

In his first letter, Cato mentioned in passing the concentration of power in the hands of a few, as well as the existence of a permanent standing army, under the control of the President. “If you find that the influence of a powerful few, or the exercise of a standing army, will always be directed and exerted for your welfare alone, and not to the aggrandizement of themselves…adopt it,” he wrote. “…if it will not, reject it with indignation – better to be where you are, for the present, than insecure ever afterward.” He asked his readers to consider the government of the Netherlands, telling them that under the Constitution they would find themselves, “…under a government substantially similar to theirs”. Cato did not specifically support or denounce the proposed new government. Rather he counseled his readers to consider it with extreme caution.

Cato closed his letter by informing his readers he would, when circumstances warranted, provide “such observations, on this new constitution, as will tend to promote your welfare, and be justified by reason and truth.” Subsequent letters did appear, by Cato, other writer, using the names Brutus and Centinel, and others. Patrick Henry argued against the document using his own name. Some of the papers, which came to be known as the anti-federalist papers, were written as rebuttals of the essays submitted to the New York papers by Publius (the trio of Hamilton, Madison, and Jay). Unlike the Federalist Papers, 85 essays written by Publius, there exists no accepted canon for the anti-federalist papers, which continued to appear following ratification, before falling into relative obscurity.

These Three American Heroes Almost Singlehandedly Got the Constitution Ratified
An annotated draft of an essay by John Jay from 1787. Wikimedia

10. Hamilton decided to take the argument for ratification to the people

Hamilton decided to respond to the arguments against the proposed Constitution with a well-planned and executed campaign. To do so more effectively, he sought the support and contributions from James Madison and John Jay. It was Hamilton who selected the pseudonym Publius, and he decided to publish the essays in New York newspapers, knowing they would be picked up by other newspapers throughout the states. Publius Valerius Poplicola was one of four Roman citizens who overthrew the monarchy in 509 BCE, establishing the Roman Republic. It was not the first time Hamilton had used the name when he published the first of what became the Federalist Papers. During the Revolutionary War, Hamilton used the name when he published letters revealing Samuel Chase had used inside information to engage in profiteering in supplies to the army.

The initial essay, which appeared in The Independent Journal, a New York newspaper, was written by Hamilton. In it, he described the purpose of the series of essays to follow, as well as the subjects each essay would address. Hamilton described the necessity of replacing the Articles of Confederation, its weaknesses, and the manner in which the proposed Constitution addressed and corrected them. He also described the sources of opposition to the Constitution. Some of these he ascribed to “venomous bias”, though he also recognized reasonable arguments and announced he would try to address them with equally reasonable explanations. He addressed himself to the citizens of New York, urging them to consider with open minds, rather than be swayed by, “…all attempts, from whatever quarter, to influence your decision in a matter of the utmost moment to your welfare”.

These Three American Heroes Almost Singlehandedly Got the Constitution Ratified
Announcement of Virginia’s ratification of the Constitution in the Independent Journal, July 2, 1788. Wikimedia

11. Other newspapers began reprinting the essays in New York within days

The first of the essays written by Publius appeared in The Independent Journal on October 27, 1787. The New York Packet and The Daily Advertiser began reprinting the articles, with the three newspapers agreeing to a schedule for their appearance. Within a month seven essays had been printed and reprinted, the first, sixth, and seventh written by Hamilton. Jay wrote the others. Jay’s essays were titled “Concerning Dangers from Foreign Force and Influence”. He argued that only a strong union of all the states could ensure lasting security and prosperity. In his view, sovereign individual states would look first to their own security, without concern for those of another region. Thus, individual sovereign states weakened the nation as a whole. He also addressed the need for a national military supported by all the states, rather than each state relying on its own militia for its security.

Jay’s arguments were timely. Following the recognition of American independence, merchants of the new nation lost the protection of the Royal Navy for their shipping. Piratical activities in the Mediterranean were already plaguing the young United States, which had disbanded the Continental Navy at the end of the Revolutionary War. Several individual states authorized their own “navies”, which was impractical and inefficient. Arming merchant ships added expenses to trade, in return for relatively little protection. At the same time, Native American raids on the rapidly expanding frontier (often encouraged by the British), demonstrated the need for a unified army to defend the territories of the Old Northwest. The British retained some of their forts in the territories, in violation of the Treaty of Paris. Jay argued that only a strong central government supported by unified states could successfully address such issues.

These Three American Heroes Almost Singlehandedly Got the Constitution Ratified
Shays’ Rebellion, an uprising against tax collectors in Massachusetts, demonstrated the inadequacy of the national government. Wikimedia

12. Hamilton used the essays to address the issue of conflict between the states

In essay number six, first published on November 14, 1787, Hamilton argued that a weak central government held no power to resolve differences between the states. He presented the view of internal dissension leading to conflicts between the states, much to the delight of foreign nations. He cited examples of republics and city-states of antiquity in his arguments. Hamilton wrote the failure of the Ancient Greeks to unify led them to constant wars among themselves, and eventually their collapse. Examples of failed republics of history included the Roman Republic, Sparta, Carthage, and others. The recent uprising in Massachusetts known as Shays’ Rebellion is presented as an example of what could be expected in the future should the Constitution not create a strong central government.

Hamilton’s arguments drew a direct response from anti-federalists. Their published response attacked the Constitution itself, rather than Hamilton’s arguments supporting it. Chiefly, they decried the lack of the rights of citizens being inserted in the document. While Hamilton envisioned a strong republic which eventually would cover the continent, his opponents foresaw a loose confederation of individual nation states, more allies than united by one government. Federalist 6, and its immediate successor, Federalist 7, also written by Hamilton, remained sources of debate during the Nullification Crisis, the secession crisis, and in modern times. In Federalist 7, Hamilton argued that disunited states would likely find reasons to go to war with each other. Though anti-federalists dismissed that argument, Hamilton’s point was proven correct in 1861.

These Three American Heroes Almost Singlehandedly Got the Constitution Ratified
Madison served in the Confederation Congress in New York at the time he wrote his essays for the Federalists. Wikimedia

13. Madison’s first submission appeared as Federalist 10

On November 22, 1787, Publius submitted Federalist 10 in The Daily Advertiser. It was the first of the Federalist papers to make its initial appearance in that newspaper. In the preceding essay, written by Hamilton, the dangers of factions to the nation were introduced. Madison expanded upon Hamilton’s arguments in Federalist 10. He described the emergence of factions as irretrievably linked to property. “Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society”. Madison wrote the causes of faction were innate to human nature, and thus the only means of preventing its damage to the nation and government were to control its effects. Eliminating factions was impossible, but limiting its damage imperative for a free nation to survive.

Madison argued that a large republic, with representative government, had a greater chance of survival than a confederation of small democracies. The anti-federalists disputed this notion, arguing that the diverse regional interests of the emerging nation could not possibly be governed equably by central authority. It was Madison’s Federalist 10 that explained the principle that the rights of the minority must be defended and protected by the majority, and that only the federal government created by the Constitution could ensure this. Otherwise, the states would be subject to the tyranny of a majority faction. Thus, certain liberties had to be restrained to limit the influence of factionalism. Federalist 10 serves as evidence that the Constitution was intended by its creators to avoid the emergence of partisan politics, though the seedlings of political parties were sown during its ratification debate.

These Three American Heroes Almost Singlehandedly Got the Constitution Ratified
The demands of anti-federalists in several states led to the adoption of the Bill of Rights after ratification. Wikimedia

14. Madison listened to the arguments of the anti-federalists and proposed corrections to the Constitution

Both Alexander Hamilton and James Madison initially opposed specifying individual rights within the Constitution. Madison believed that specifically citing some rights would lead to the exclusion of those not cited. During the debate over ratification, Madison applied the arguments of the anti-federalists to the proposed Constitution. While many he rejected out of hand, others he considered more carefully. During the debate, he drafted a series of corrective measures, seventeen in all, to address the issues raised by the anti-federalists. They were not proposed until after the Constitution had been ratified, and were not part of the Federalist Papers. Instead, the measures were proposed as amendments to the Constitution, the first ten comprising the Bill of Rights. Another, the second measure proposed by Madison, became law as the 27th Amendment in 1992.

One of the chief arguments of the anti-federalists during the ratification debate hinged on the perceived difficulty presented by amending the Constitution. Federalists argued that such difficulties were required in order to maintain a continuity of government. Otherwise, factions such as powerful banking interests could easily change the role of government at their whim. Yet Madison came to agree that flexibility was necessary for the government to adapt to changing society, as the nation expanded and grew in population. The debate over ratification and its impact on the thinking of James Madison, in particular, is clear in his role first opposing, then supporting, and finally authoring the Bill of Rights. Following ratification, Madison ran for the House of Representatives in Virginia. During his campaign, he promised to submit a Bill of Rights to Congress during his term.

These Three American Heroes Almost Singlehandedly Got the Constitution Ratified
Local militia stand against British regulars in Lexington, Massachusetts, April 19, 1775. Wikimedia

15. Hamilton wrote an essay defining a “well-regulated militia” in Federalist 29

On January 9, 1788, Alexander Hamilton published Federalist 29, under the usual pseudonym of Publius. It appeared in The Independent Journal, and it was out of sequence. By then Federalist 36 had already appeared in print. Why Federalist 29 was out of sequence is unknown, but it dealt on a subject which had always been in the hands of the states, even when those states had been British colonies. Titled Concerning the Militia, Hamilton presented his thoughts about what a well-regulated militia should be. He argued for small, well-trained, militia units maintained by the individual states, but subject to the call of the other states when necessary. Such necessities could include insurrections, foreign attacks, and other crises of an undefined character. To Hamilton, a well-regulated militia included small uniformed units, with each state providing its own units.

“Little more can be reasonably aimed at, with respect to the people at large, than to have them properly armed and equipped; and in order to see that this be not neglected, it will be necessary to assemble them once or twice in the course of the year”, Hamilton wrote. Hamilton argued the state militias served as a check on government tyranny. The anti-federalists disagreed, arguing they could easily be used by the federal government to impose unwanted laws. Hamilton responded in writing, “Wherein in the name of common sense, are our fears to end if we may not trust our sons, our brothers, our neighbors, our fellow citizens?” The term “well-regulated militia’ later appeared in the Second Amendment, as a prelude to the right to bear arms. It has been a point of contention between Second Amendment supporters and gun control activists for decades.

These Three American Heroes Almost Singlehandedly Got the Constitution Ratified
John Hancock helped engineer a compromise with the Federalists to ensure ratification in Massachusetts. Wikimedia

16. The ratification debate grew more rancorous even as states voted for the Constitution

By January 9, 1788, five states had ratified the Constitution; Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, and Connecticut. Under the terms provided by the Confederation Congress when it submitted the document to the states, nine states were required for it to go into effect in those which had ratified. Notably absent states were in which the debate over ratification was loudest, Massachusetts, Virginia, and New York. Between January 11, 1788, and February 20, 1788, James Madison submitted 21 essays, explaining the Constitution, the government which it would create, and its relationship to the individual states, as well as the people. Following that impressive display of energy, Madison composed just two more essays, submitted on February 27 and March 1, 1788. By then, Massachusetts had joined in ratifying the Constitution, after its convention entered a compromise.

Massachusetts was evenly divided among Federalists and anti-federalists. Among the latter were two leaders of the Revolution, John Hancock and Samuel Adams. It was they who proposed a compromise which broke the deadlocked convention. They agreed to support ratification if the letter which announced the fact also included a recommendation to amend the Constitution to correct perceived deficiencies. The compromise included a promise of Federalist support for the recommendation. How much the Federalist Papers persuaded the Massachusetts leaders to give even grudging support for ratification has been debated ever since. Massachusetts made six, but the critical states of New York and Virginia, the homes of Hamilton and Madison respectively, remained openly opposed to the Constitution. Both states’ governors were strongly anti-federalist. Neither appeared open to compromise.

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