Elliot’s Debates: Volume 1

Occurences Incident to Act of Confederation

During the time that the Declaration of Independence was under consideration, Congress took the necessary measures for the formation of a constitutional plan of union. On the 11th of June, 1776, it was resolved, that a committee should be appointed to prepare and digest the form of a confederation to be entered into between the colonies; and on the day following, after it had been determined that the committee should consist of a member from each colony, the following persons were appointed to perform that duty, to wit: Mr. Bartlett, Mr. S. Adams, Mr. Hopkins, Mr. Sherman, Mr. R. R. Livingston, Mr. Dickinson, Mr. M’Kean, Mr. Stone, Mr. Nelson, Mr. Hewes, Mr. E. Rutledge, and Mr. Gwinnett. Upon the report of this committee, the subject was from time to time debated, until the 15th of November, 1777, when a copy of the Confederation being made out, and sundry amendments made in the diction, without altering the sense, the same was finally agreed to Congress, at the same time, directed that the Articles should be proposed to the legislatures of all the United States, to be considered; and, if approved of by them, they were advised to authorize their delegates to ratify the same in the Congress of the United States; which being done, the same should become conclusive. Three hundred copies of the Articles of Confederation were ordered to be printed for the use of Congress; and on the 17th of November, the form of a circular letter, to accompany them, was brought in by a committee appointed to prepare it, and, being agreed to, thirteen copies of it were ordered to be made out, to be signed by the president, and forwarded to the several states, with copies of the Confederation. On the 29th of November ensuing, a committee of three was appointed, to procure a translation of the Articles to be made into the French language, and to report an address to the inhabitants of Canada, &c.

On the 26th of June, 1778, the form of a ratification of the Articles of Confederation was adopted; and it was ordered that the whole should be engrossed on parchment, with a view that the same should be signed by the delegates, in virtue of the powers furnished by the several states. On the 20th of June, 1778, Congress resolved, that the delegates of the states, beginning with New Hampshire, should be called upon for the report of their constituents upon the Confederation, and the powers committed to them, and that no amendments should be proposed but such as came from a state. Upon subsequent examination, it appeared that New Hampshire, New York, Virginia, and North Carolina, accepted the Articles as they stood, with a proviso, on the part of New York, that the same should not be binding on the state until all the other states in the Union should ratify the same. Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and South Carolina, proposed alterations, additions, or amendments, which, upon their being considered by the Congress, were all rejected. The delegate from Georgia, when called on, stated, that he had not received any instructions from his constituents respecting the Articles of Confederation; but that, his state having shown so much readiness to ratify them, even in an imperfect form, and it being so much for their interest that the Confederation should be ratified, he had no doubt of their agreeing to the Articles as they stood. Delaware and North Carolina having no delegates present in Congress, no report was received from them; but North Carolina had signified her unanimous accession, by a letter from Governor Caswell, of the 26th of April, 1778. On the 9th of July of that year, the ratification of the Articles of Confederation, having been engrossed on a roll of parchment, was examined, the blanks filled up, and it was signed, on the part and in behalf of their respective states, by the delegates of New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and South Carolina, agreeably to the powers vested in them. The delegates of the states of New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland, informed Congress that they had not yet received powers to ratify and sign. North Carolina and Georgia were not at that time represented in Congress. A committee was appointed to prepare a circular letter to such states as had not authorized their delegates to ratify the Confederation, which was brought in and adopted, as follows: —

Sir: Congress, intent upon the present and future security of these United States, has never ceased to consider a confederacy as the great principle of union, which can alone establish the liberty of America, and exclude forever the hopes of its enemies. Influenced by considerations so powerful, and duly weighing the difficulties which oppose the expectation of any plan being formed that can exactly meet the wishes and obtain the approbation of so many states, differing essentially in various points, Congress have, after mature deliberation, agreed to adopt, without amendments, the Confederation transmitted to the several states for their approbation. The states of New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, have ratified the same, and it remains only for your state, with those of—,to conclude the glorious compact, which, by uniting the wealth, strength, and councils of the whole, may bid defiance to external violence and internal dissensions, whilst it secures the public credit both at home and abroad. Congress is willing to hope that the patriotism and good sense of your state will be influenced by motives so important; and they request, sir, that you will be pleased to lay this letter before the legislature of—,in order that, if they judge it proper, their delegates may be instructed to ratify the Confederation with all convenient despatch; trusting to future deliberations to make such alterations and amendments as experience may show to be expedient and just.

I have the honor to be, &c.

On the 21st of July, 1778, the delegates of North Carolina, being then empowered, signed the ratification; those of Georgia, being also authorized, signed it on the 24th of the same month. The delegates of New Jersey, in virtue of full powers, affixed their signatures on the 26th of November following. On the 5th of May, 1779, Mr. Dickinson and Mr. Vandyke signed the Articles of Confederation in behalf of the state of Delaware, Mr. M’Kean having previously signed them in February, at which time he produced a power to that effect. Maryland did not ratify until the year 1781. She had instructed her delegates, on the 15th of December, 1778, not to agree to the Confederation, until matters respecting the western lands should be settled on principles of equity and sound policy; but, on the 30th of January, 1781, finding that the enemies of the country took advantage of the circumstance to disseminate opinions of an ultimate dissolution of the Union, the legislature of the state passed an act to empower their delegates to subscribe and ratify the Articles, which was accordingly done by Mr. Hanson and Mr. Carroll, on the 1st of March of that year, which completed the ratifications of the act; and Congress assembled on the 2d of March under the new powers.

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Contents

General Overview

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.

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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.

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Interactive Ratification Map

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

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