November 26, 1787
Delaware Whigs and Tories both favored ratification, but according to “Timoleon” the Tories spread “false and scandalous” rumors that the Whigs were opposed to the Constitution while the Tories were the “patrons of it.” The only record of an attempt to stir up opposition is that of Richard Henry Lee, a Virginia Antifederalist. Enroute from Congress in New York to Virginia, Lee stopped at Wilmington the second week in November and was reported to have “harangued” the populace, cautioned against hasty adoption, and distributed “inflammatory papers” against the Constitution.
The election of Convention delegates turned on local political issues, not on the Constitution. Whigs in New Castle County defeated nine of ten men, including George Read, nominated on a “read—Tory” ticket. Tories won in Kent County, where apparently, the Whigs did not vote. But again there was intimidation and threats of violence in the Sussex County election of Convention delegates and of representatives to the legislature.
Prior to the election in Sussex Country, efforts were made to create a “Union Ticket” as in the election on 15 October, but the effort failed. Tories encamped hundreds of armed men a mile from the polls, and Whig leaders persuaded their followers not to vote for fear of bloodshed. The threat of violence, the abstention of most Whigs, and the removal of the polling place from Lewes to Nanticoke Hundred in the Tory—dominated western part of the county resulted in a Tory victory.
Fewer than 700 people voted, as contrasted to the 1000 to 1100 who usually voted. The records make no distinction between the votes for delegates to the Convention and for representatives to the legislature, but Whigs protested the results of both. Nine petitions, signed by 369 people, were sent to the state Convention asking it to call a new election. An additional nine petitions, signed by 405 people, protesting the legislative election were sent to the legislature which met in January 1788. The Convention refused to consider the petitions sent to it. The legislature investigated the election of representatives, but it evidently had no intention of voiding the results. The Sussex County election of representatives was validated by the House of Assembly on 22 January, and the election of the councilor was validated by the Council on 24 January.
The Election Campaign
In the recess of the legislature, the Tories went immediately to canvassing for the election of Convention men. As if by concert, they spread rumors throughout the state that the Whigs would be averse from the new Federal Constitution; and they everywhere set themselves up as the patrons of it. They asserted in the most false and scandalous manner without the least foundation, that certain respectable characters, in each county, were opposed to the Constitution. As nobody in the state opposed its establishment, their lying and slandering and affected eagerness in defense of the new Constitution could only be accounted for from a desire of gaining popularity and seizing upon the powers of the new government. The Whigs rejoiced at the prospect of any government that would probably relieve them from the wanton tyranny of DIONYSIUS [George Read]. Those more adequate to the task so determined that the new Constitution was formed on republican principles; that its powers were no more than adequate to good government; that the people were free enough, and had full powers to maintain their liberty, so long as they were virtuous. There was this odds indeed between the Whigs and Tories, that the latter approved by authority, the former from reflection and judgment. We were led to this discovery by observing that a number of the more intimate acquaintance[s] of DIONYSIUS lamented that the government had not been more monarchical. This led into an inquiry into the TYRANT’s own sentiments. We soon found that his wish was to bask in the sunshine of monarchy; that the scheme of government which he had advocated in the Convention was a monarch chosen for life, Senators also chosen for life, and an entire abolition of state governments. Nevertheless, his followers make a mere hobby—horse of the Federal Constitution; and, let the government be what it may, they hope to ride in chief authority.
Earn graduate credits toward a Master’s
degree for each Live Online Graduate
Course in American History &
Government from Ashbrook Center at
Ashland University. Learn More