Introduction to the Ratification Web Site

The “In Doors” and “Out of Doors” Conversations

The years were 1787 and 1788. The places: a) “in doors” in the State Houses in the various states attracting over 1600 elected delegates who debated the merits of the Constitution and b) “out of doors” where the world witnessed the largest outpouring ever of pamphlets, newspapers, broadsides, and letters in favor and against the ratification of the Constitution. This is the story of a) the records of the debates of the official delegates that took place essentially between December 1787 and July 1788 and b) the public advocates who participated in the conversation over whether or not to ratify the newly proposed Constitution for the federal republic of the United States that took place mainly between October 1787 and July 1788.

We have provided a Timeline to assist the reader to follow the unfolding of the twofold ratification process. There are also brief Biographical Sketches of the leading delegates and principal authors. These include, but are not limited to, the 29 Framers of the Constitution in Philadelphia who participated in the ratification process.

There are two questions that have bothered scholars of ratification over the last two hundred years.

The first can be put in the form of the following question posed by the historian Jackson Turner Main: “Since the Federalists were a minority in at least six and probably seven states, they ought surely to have been defeated. Yet they came from behind to win.” Why? We will explore, and challenge one of the leading answers: that the aristocratic Federalists manipulated the electoral system, the media, and the use of personal prestige to unjustly defeat the Antifederalist opposition. Why, continues the critique, the Federalists even stole the name from the “true” Federalists and bestowed on them the appellation Antifederalist. We invite readers to immerse themselves in the debates and to grapple with what it means to engage in democratic republican political conversation. In particular, we need to examine the role of political compromise in the ratification process. And did the Antifederalists really lose if their ideas on the Bill of Rights and the enumeration of the powers of the federal government were incorporated into the Constitution?

Main is bothered by the fact that “at least sixty delegates, perhaps as many as seventy-five, who were chosen as Antifederalists, ended by voting for ratification.” He seems to be suggesting that they abandoned their principles. And who are these people? They “came from the regions near the coast and from the upper socio-economic stratum of society.” But what if these “converts” were actually motivated by political considerations?

The second question turns on the issue: how enduring and educative, over against how immediate and propagandistic, is the pamphlet war that took place in the press and letters between 1787 and 1789? Aren’t The Federalist and Antifederalist essays “tracts for their time,” and self serving ones at that? To be sure, there are a lot of outrageous claims and exaggerated rhetoric being made by both sides, but that too is the stuff of democratic republican political conversation. It is a vital part of being politically free that one can distinguish between the demagogic and the democratic, between hope and fear, and between the high appeal to liberty and responsibility and the low urge to anarchy and paternalism.

The “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.

The “Out of Doors” Coverage

The “out of doors” literature is rich, varied, and immense. On the pro-Constitution side, of course, are the eighty-five essays collectively known as The Federalist. They have acquired an authoritative status virtually equal to the Constitution itself.

Federalist Papers

The Federalist Papers

But these essays were not the only, or even the most influential, of the pro-Constitution essays. The “Other Federalists” include such heavyweights as James Wilson, Rufus King, Oliver Ellsworth, Roger Sherman, Timothy Pickering, John Marshall, and John Dickinson. The opponents—variously described as Anti-Federalists, antifederalists, and our preferred usage, Antifederalists— also wrote a vast and varied literature. Accordingly, this website must be selective in its coverage lest in its efforts to be comprehensive it turns people away because of the enormity of the writing.

There are four main component parts to the “out of doors” coverage on the website. 1) A complete reproduction of the 85 essays of The Federalist in defense of the Constitution. 2) An Essay-by-Essay Summary of The Federalist including a paragraph by paragraph summary of the leading essays. 3) A reproduction of the original works of the Leading Antifederalists who criticized the proposed plan under consideration. 4) An Essay-by-Essay Summary of the Leading Antifederalists.

To assist the reader in following the argument of The Federalist, I have broken the argument down into seven major parts. This breakdown follows the open ended one provided in Federalist 1. This can be used in conjunction with the Essay-by-Essay Summary and the actual text of The Federalist. Here is the breakdown of the argument.

Part I
Federalist 1: The Challenge and the Outline

Part II
Federalist 2-Federalist 14: “The Utility of the Union”

Part III
Federalist 15-22: The “Insufficiency” of the Articles of Confederation

Part IV
Federalist 23-36: The minimum “energetic” government requirement

Part V
Federalist 37-51: “The Great Difficulty of Founding”

A. Federalist 37-40: The Difficulty with Demarcations and Definitions
B. Federalist 41-46: The Difficulty of Federalism
C. Federalist 47-51: The Difficulty of Republicanism

Part VI
Federalist 52-84: “The True Principles of Republican Government”

A. Federalist 52-61: The House of Representatives
B. Federalist 62-66: The Senate
C. Federalist 67-77: The Presidency
D. Federalist 78-82: The Judiciary
E. Federalist 83-84: Five Miscellaneous Republican Issues

Part VII
Federalist 85: Analogy to State Governments and Added Security to Republicanism

The Antifederalist literature is particularly difficult to collect under one accessible roof. For example, no three Antifederalist authors sat down and produced the Antifederalist Papers. And while it is tempting to try to match up individual Antifederalist writings with numbers in The Federalist, this ultimately proves to be a daunting and unproductive exercise. It is far more rewarding to match up major themes than it is to match up individual essays. Thus, Brutus is excellent when it comes to the theme of the Judiciary, as is Cato when the Executive is under consideration. One certainly gets the feel that Hamilton has these two authors in mind when writing the Executive and Judiciary essays. Probably The Federal Farmer writes the best opposition essays on representation in the House and Senate. Again, one gets the impression that Madison was keenly aware of the Federal Farmer essays as he wrote Federalist 55, 56, and 57.

The New York Journal published the sixteen Brutus essays between 18 October 1787 and 10 April 1788. He is presumed to be a New York Antifederalist since, among other things, three quarters of the essays were addressed to the citizens or the people of New York. Robert Yates is the possible author, although Abraham Yates, Thomas Tredwell, and Melancton Smith have also been suggested.

Federal Farmer

Federal Farmer

The first five essays are among the best representations of the general Antifederalist critique of the Constitution. Essays six through ten, published in late December and January, cover the legislative branch. The New York Journal also published The Federalist essays 23-26 by Hamilton during this period thus encouraging scholars to see a direct Brutus-Publius confrontation. Five of the last six essays are a critique of the Judiciary and it is probable that Hamilton‘s defense of the independent judiciary in Federalist 78 is a response to Brutus.

The eight letters of Cato were published in The New York Journal between September 1787 and January 1788. The first letter appeared in the 27 September 1787 issue. This issue produced another first: this marked the first time the full text of the Constitution was published in the paper. The presumed author is Governor George Clinton of New York although scholars have disputed his authorship. In the first essay, Cato urges that his readers attach importance to “measures not to men.” Essay three reiterates a familiar Antifederalist critique of Federalist 10: a large and extensive territory is ripe for consolidation and the collapse of republicanism. Cato’s essays are most often associated with his warnings on the Presidency and this is the subject matter of Essay 4. The remaining essays deal with a critique of the House and the Senate.

A third major Antifederalist out-of-doors writer alluded to above was The Federal Farmer. He is presumed to be Richard Henry Lee, although this authorship has been challenged. He wrote five original letters in October 1787 in which he argued 1) that the proposed plan would lead to consolidation of the States under one government and that 2) the powers of the general government were ill defined. He devoted a number of additional letters to representation in the legislative branch and the need for a Bill of Rights.


I wish to thank Susan Allegretti, Joseph Groff, Margie Hope, Andriana Ivanovic, Ben Kunkel, Jack Polson, and Lindsey Svendsen for their assistance.

I also thank Peter Zabriskie, a tenth generation member of the Zabriskie family, for pointing out that Elliot incorrectly spells Peter Zabriskie, a pro-Constitution delegate from Bergen County at the New Jersey Ratifying Convention, as Peter Zobriskie. See Elliot’s Debates, Volume I.


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.

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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