An Introduction to the In-Doors Debate

“In Doors” Coverage

There are four main component parts to the “in doors” coverage on the website. 1) A Commentary that breaks down the “in house” ratification into The Six Stages of the Ratification of the Constitution. 2) Elliot’s Debates is the major source for learning what took place at the various state ratifying conventions. Unfortunately, Elliot’s Debates does not provide a full and complete account of every ratifying convention because of the unavailability of extant records and, in the case of Pennsylvania, the convention recorder only summarized what the proponents said. Only a fragment is available from the second and decisive New Hampshire ratifying convention. Furthermore, Elliot includes only the first North Carolina ratifying convention rather than the decisive ratifying convention in 1789. But in the case of the three critical states — —Massachusetts, Virginia, and New York— — the coverage is sufficiently full and fair to provide readers with a reasonably accurate portrayal of the conversation. Accordingly, we have separated out Elliot’s Debates for these ratifying conventions while at the same time making the entire five volume set available for readers who wish to explore Elliot’s contribution to the study of the American Founding. 3) We have provided a day-by-day summary of each of these three ratifying conventions. This summary highlights the particular clauses of the Constitution that were under consideration on that day along with a synopsis of the main points that were made by the delegates. Each of the three day-by-day summaries is preceded by a brief overview of the entire ratifying convention. 4) A set of individual maps along with a comprehensive map that shows the location of Federalist and Antifederalist strength throughout the thirteen states.

The maps owe much to the entrepreneurial work of Colleen Garot and are based on Orin Grant Libby’s original black and white 1894 study called The Geographical Distribution of the Vote of the Thirteen States on the Federal Constitution, 1787-8. Libby relied on the maps to validate his thesis that insufficient attention had been given to an economic and social interpretation of the founding. He wanted to go behind the “mere utterances” of delegates in order to capture what was really going on. He thought that his geographical work would counteract the “firmly rooted” misconception that “the fate of the Constitution was determined exclusively, or at least predominantly, by discussions in convention on the various provisions of that instrument, from the point of view of the political scientist, or of the statesman.” And Progressive historians Jackson Turner Main and Charles Beard build on Libby to bolster their claim that what was “really” driving the discussions were paper money, the impost, debt issues, and status in the community. Contrary to Libby and the Progressives, however, the maps actually reinforce the argument that the Founding is primarily a political rather than an economic and social phenomenon.



In 1787 and 1788, following the Constitutional Convention, a great debate took place throughout America over the Constitution that had been proposed.

In-Doors Debate

View in-depth studies of the Massachusetts, Virginia, and New York state ratifying conventions.

The Federal Pillars

View drawings of the federal pillars rising published by the Massachusetts Centinel during the ratification debate.

View Feature

The Stages of Ratification: An Interactive Timeline

View the six stages of the ratification of the Constitution with links to many other features on this site.

View Feature

Interactive Ratification Map

View interactive maps showing the breakdown of Federalist-Antifederalist strength at the state level during the Ratification debate.

View Interactive is a project of the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University

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