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Federalists and Antifederalists campaigned strenuously. They wrote innumerable newspaper articles as well as some broadsides and pamphlets. Most of the items did not refer specifically to the election. Instead, writers continued to attack opposing leaders and their positions on the Constitution, and so too did the meetings held to nominate slates of candidates. On 22 October, a Northampton County Federalist meeting voiced strong support of the Constitution and attacked the assemblymen who had seceded from the previous Assembly. In Philadelphia, some leading Federalists required candidates to commit themselves to vote for the Constitution before placing their names on the Federalist ticket.
As most political observers predicted, a large majority of the Convention delegates elected on 6 November supported the Constitution James Madison reported from New York that he had been informed that the delegates elected “reduced the adoption of the plan in that state to absolute certainty and by a greater majority than the most sanguine advocates had calculated”.
Despite the Federalist victory, Antifederalist were heartened by the election of some of their principal leaders, and later two Antifederalist newspapers declared that more votes were cast for Antifederalist than for Federalist candidates.
Only four assemblymen were elected to the Convention, but all were Antifederalist leaders and all voted against ratification. They were Joseph Powell of Bedford and Robert Whitehill of Cumberland counties who had been members of the 11th Assembly, and Joseph Hiester of Berks and William Findley of Westmoreland counties who had been members of the 11th Assembly and were reelected to the 12th Assembly on 9 October.
Three members of the Supreme Executive Council whose terms expired on 8 October were elected to the Convention. They were William Brown of Dauphin, Jonathan Hoge of Cumerland, and John Whitehill of Lancaster counties. John Baird of Westmoreland and John Smilie of Fayette counties were reselected to the Council on 9 October and elected to the Convention. All five men were Antifederalists and all voted against ratification.
No Federalist assemblymen or councilors were elected to the Convention, apparently as a result of deliberate Federalist policy. They claimed that their oaths as assemblymen and councilors to support the state constitution made it improper for them to vote on a Constitution which would abridge the powers of the state government.
The partisan nature of the election was illustrated by a riot on Philadelphia. At midnight on election night a mob attacked the houses of several Philadelphia Antifederalist leaders and Major Alexander Boyd’s boarding house, where western assemblymen and councilors were lodged. On 9 November the Supreme Executive Council directed that a proclamation be issued requiring judges, justices of the peace, and other law enforcement officers to do all in their power to apprehend and punish the rioters. The next day the General Assembly voted to ask the Council to offer a reward for their capture. However, the Federalist assemblymen defeated a resolution asking the Council to direct the attorney general to prosecute the rioters. On 12 November the Council issued a proclamation offering a $300 reward, but no rioters were apprehended.
A short time later, James Wilson was accused of fomenting the riot, a charge echoed by an Antifederalist partisan, “The Scourge,” in January 1788. The same month another writer charged that the Federalists had employed British sailors “to raise a riot”.
No Pennsylvania newspaper ever published an account of the riot, although some newspapers reported the Assembly’s proceedings on 10 November concerning it and printed the Councils proclamation of 12 November.
Philadelphia City and County Nomination Tickets, 13 October 3 November
Philadelphia County and City Election Notice, 13 October
Public notice is hereby given, to the freemen of the city and county of Philadelphia,
That in obedience to a resolve of the General Assembly of the State of Pennsylvania of the 29th day of September last to choose suitable persons to serve as deputies in a convention on the Federal Constitution,
A general election is to be held for the city and county aforesaid, on Tuesday the sixth day of November next, for the purpose aforesaid and at the several places in the said city and county as are fixed by law for holding the elections of representatives to the General Assembly, and that said election is to be conducted by the officers who conducted the last general election and agreeable to the rules and regulations thereof, and at which places the electors of the city and county are to choose five persons for the city, and five persons for the county, to serve in a state convention.
Pennsylvania Herald, 31 October
We have been informed that the following tickets will be proposed at the ensuing election for delegates to the state Convention [for the city of Philadelphia]. By the Republicans Thomas McKean, James Wilson, Benjamin Rush, George Latimer, and Hilary Baker. By the Constitutionalist Benjamin Franklin, Thomas McKean, David Rittenhouse, Charles Pettit, and George Schlosser.
Philadelphia County Meeting, 2 November
At a meeting of a respectable number of the inhabitants of the county of Philadelphia, at the house of William Lesher in Germantown, on Friday the second of November, agreeably to notice in the public papers, for the purpose of nominating five suitable persons to serve in the ensuing Convention, the following gentlemen were chosen, viz., John Hunn, George Gray, Senior, William McPherson, Enoch Edwards, Samuel Ashmead.
Pennsylvania Herald, 3 November
A correspondent is happy to observe that Dr. Franklin is in the list of persons proposed for the state Convention, since it is thought necessary to introduce a member of the Federal Convention to explain the new plan of government. His worth as a patriot and his wisdom as a politician entitle him to that distinction and as he enjoys the unbounded confidence of his fellow citizens, it is hoped that no personal consideration will induce him to waive this important service, at so critical a juncture.
City of Philadelphia Meeting, 3 November
At a very numerous meeting of the freemen of the city of Philadelphia at the State House, on Saturday evening the 3d instant, the following ticket was agreed on for the election, to be held this day, for the members of the ensuing state Convention: THOMAS McKEAN, JAMES WILSON, BENJAMIN RUSH, HILARY BAKER, GEORGE LATIMER.
The most remarkable unanimity appeared on the occasion, not men in nomination had previously, and have since, declared their conviction that it is necessary for the safety, happiness, and preservation of liberty and good government of the United States, that the plan of federal government, as proposed by the late Honorable Convention, should be adopted without alteration or delay.
At a meeting of the friends to the new Constitution held at the State House on Saturday last, Mr. [William?] Jackson, Mr. [Thomas] Fitzsimons, and several other gentlemen were appointed to wait upon the five persons fixed on as delegates to the state Convention and to demand, categorically, “whether they would support and adopt the proposed plan of government in all its parts, without alteration or amendment,” and unless they respectively declared in the affirmative, it was resolved to call another meeting to supply the place of the meeting that Mr. [Thomas] McKean had already unequivocally asserted to several gentlemen, who inquired his sentiments with a view to the present election, that he approved of the new plan of government and would support it in all its parts without alteration or amendment.
Cumberland County Nomination, 13 25 October
Ephraim Blaine to Benjamin Rush, Carlisle, 15 October (excerpt)
I have no news worth communicating, only our Stoney Ridge Convention have formed a ticket for our members of Convention, a majority of which I fear will be against federal measures.
Carlisle Meeting, 22 October
On Monday evening last a number of the inhabitants of Carlisle met at Mr. [Joseph R.] Postlethwait’s tavern, when it being agreed that, as many freeholders from several parts of the county [Cumberland] will necessarily attend in the town during the court, it would be the most proper time for calling a general meeting and taking the sense of the people at the present important crisis respecting the new federal government. Therefore, the freeholders and other electors of this county are requested to meet at the courthouse, tomorrow [25 October] at half an hour after eight o’clock in the morning, in order that a proper ticket may be formed for members of the state Convention.
Cumberland County Meeting, 25 October
In pursuance of notice published in our last paper, a respectable number of the inhabitants of this county met at the courthouse, on Thursday last, in order to forma ticket of members for the ensuing state Convention. Major General [John] Armstrong, being unanimously chosen chairman, opened the business of the meeting and, in a a short but animated address, exhorted us to unite and act as one man for the public good at the present most important crisis; and assured us that a cool dispassionate temper of mind and a determination to consider the good of our country, as infinitely to be preferred to the narrow interests of party, were absolutely necessary to enable us to act such a part as we can reflect upon with satisfaction, and for which we may be held in respect by our fellow citizens.
A committee was then chosen, consisting of three members from each township present, to name proper persons to represent this county in the ensuing state Convention. This committee agreed to meet at Mr. Semple’s tavern the same evening.
At the hour appointed, a number of gentlemen from different townships met accordingly and proceeded to the choice of four gentlemen to represent this county in the ensuing state Convention when a majority agreed to recommend the following gentlemen to their respective townships, viz., John Harris, Esquire; Jonathan Hoge, Esquire; William Brown, Esquire, Juniata [Dauphin County]; John Reynolds, Esquire.
Northampton Country Nominations, 22 October
At a meeting of sundry respectable inhabitants of the county of Northampton, held at Bethlehem, October 22d 1787, for to agree upon the nomination of persons, to be returned, to serve in the state Convention, as appointed by the Honorable House of Assembly; and to support such nomination at the election for that purpose.
Peter Rhoads, Esquire was unanimously chosen chairman.
The business of the meeting was opened by the chairman, and the Constitution of the United States, as formed by the late Convention, being read, the following resolutions were unanimously entered into:
resolved, That this meeting do most warmly and cordially approve of the said Constitution, and that they esteem it the only salvation of this country, on which the existence of the United States of America, as a people, depends.
Resolved, That this meeting entertain the highest sense of the public virtue and patriotism of the majority of the House of Assembly, in calling immediately a convention of this state in pursuance of the recommendation of the Federal Convention.
Resolved, That it is the opinion of this meeting that the withdrawing or absenting of any members of Assembly, who was sworn to serve his country to the best of his abilities, tends to subvert all order and the fundamental principles of good government and establishes precedents of aristocratic powers, for a minority, to defeat the proceedings of a majority.
Resolved, That this meeting nominate four persons, proposed by a committee, appointed for that purpose, as candidates, for to serve in the said state Convention, and that each person present engages to support this ticket at the ensuing election and, as much as in him lieth, to prevent all fraud and deceit at the said election.
Resolved, That each of the candidates, nominated as aforesaid, do make public declaration before this meeting that if it should be his lot to be elected as member of the said Convention, he will use his utmost endeavors that the said Constitution be ratified.
And the said four candidates accordingly severally made the said declaration before this meeting.
Resolved, That the chairman sign these resolves, and that the same be printed and published.
Chester County Nomination, 24 October 1 November
Agricola, To the Freemen of Chester County, 24 October
Permit a person whose interests are inseparable with your own to advise you on the subject of the approaching election for deputies to the Convention. You are perhaps generally acquainted that at the late county meeting convened at the courthouse [6 October], for the purpose of forming a ticket for persons to represent you in Assembly, the object of the meeting having been accomplished, General [Anthony] Wayne, who presided as chairman, suggested the expediency of forming a ticket for deputies to the Convention to obviate pediency of forming a ticket for deputies to the Convention to obviate the necessity of calling the people together at a future day. This proposition obtained the unanimous concurrence of the meeting, and the committees previously nominated from each of the districts composing the county were ordered to prepare a ticket for the conventional election, which they did and presented the following ticket to the chair, viz., Anthony Wayne, William Gibbons, Thomas Bull, John Hannum, Richard Downing, Jr. and Thomas Cheney, whose names were separately offered to the meeting at large for their probation, which was I believe unanimously assented to. I would not wish to flatter the gentlemen who compose this ticket, nor detract from the merits of any other gentleman in the county, when I assert that a better ticket could not have been formed, nor persons at this crisis found more worthy of your confidence. That this sentiment is prevalent in the county I believe no person will deny, which presages that unanimity which has hitherto characterized the friends of equal liberty and crowned their efforts with success. But, my friends, the Antifederal junto of East Whiteland, leagued with some others of the same political creed in the county, have issued an advertisement requesting you to attend at the close of the Supreme Court to form a ticket, or rather to undo what has been already done, hoping at least to produce some division, and knowing full well that their numbers are too insignificant to effect anything without previously disseminating divisions among you. There is this consolation to be drawn, that when the county at large comes to be possessed of the knowledge from whence the advertisement alluded to originated, they will treat it with that contempt it deserves. That Judas like complacence and electioneering indifference which pervaded the Antifederal junto, at the late election, was only a prelude to the vigorous exertions they intend making on the day of election to defeat the ticket already formed. That you may evince to the world on the day of election that you are not to be made dupes by any daemon of discord is the fervent desire of AGRICOLA. Chester County, October 21, 1787.
A Friend to Efficient Government, To the People of Chester County, 31 October
A writer in Hall and Sellers paper of the 24th inst., under the signature of Agricola, addresses you on the subject of ensuing election for deputies to the state Convention, and blames the people of East Whiteland for publishing an advertisement desiring you to meet during the sitting of the Supreme Court to for a ticket against the said election. No inhabitant of East Whiteland or Antifederalist was concerned in framing the advertisement complained of. The writers were actuated by the purest motives and a wish to lend a helping hand to establish an efficient government in the United States. But it would seem that Agricola and his coadjutors have kindly saved you the trouble of meeting by making a ticket previous to the late general election without apprising you of such business being intended, and speaks of committees being previously nominated for each of the districts composing the county, when, in fact, no persons were authorized by all the districts to attend. One, I know, made no nomination, and if it had, would not have sent such men as presumed to represent it.
I am as far removed from flatter or detraction as Agricola, and highly esteem some of the persons proposed, but I know the county is not so barren as to be obliged to make use of either of their names in forming a ticket at least equal, and I think superior, and one in which you may repose full confidence. That Judas like complacence and electioneering indifference, of which that writer speaks, can be understood by himself only. I am as much interested as any of you and earnestly desire that, throwing aside all party, you will endeavor to choose the most suitable men in the countymen of abilities equal to the great task, if such can be found, whose conduct in private life will not disgrace the virtuous and the good electors of Chester County. Chester County, October 25, 1787.
John Hannum to Anthony Wayne, Turk’s Head, 1 November
The most insidious attempt has this day been made by the Antifederal junto, stimulated thereto by their grand master Judge [George] Bryan, to disseminate divisions amongst us (knowing their numbers to be too insignificant to effect anything without previously disarming us ) by sowing divisions amongst us; and that they have effected their fell purposes in part is much to be feared. That they have acted with more cunning and address this day than heretofore will appear to you in a very striking manner when I inform you of the mode of their proceeding. Yesterday being the day for forming a mode of their proceeding. Yesterday being the day for forming a ticket agreeable to a notification given by some anonymous writer who did not think proper to come and open the business of the day, notwithstanding which a very great number of persons met and determined [that] should any person who was opposed to the ticket formed at the late county meeting intimate a wish to make a change, they would enter on the business and sanctify what was done the 6 of October, which would have certainly been effected from the determination which generally pervades. Antifederal sagacity led them to believe it would certainly have been the case for which reason they prudently deferred it, often declaring [that] they were easy and knew of no dissension. But next morning, finding the people generally gone and the remainder off their guard, they made sham committees from the different districts of the county and ushered in their new ticket; which, could I believe they intended to [run], or that the people would generally run, I should be perfectly easy. But I concluding, as I am sure they have done, that a division will [ensue?] at the day of election amongst us whereby they may get in at least their Bryanites, for rest assured that party will not run one single person either formed this day nor that formed the 6th October. No my friend, they have their [– — –] robins and which they intend vigorously to push on that day. One of the junto disclosed the secret. Only turn your eyes to persons that formed the ticket and you will find their matchless effrontery equal to their accustomed treachery [and you?] will have abundant reasons to be satisfied with the [ticket enclosed herein?]. For the Red Lion District: Samuel Cunigham, John Culbertson, William Hunter, and William Clingan, Esquire; for the Turk’s Head, Aaron Musgrove, Daniel Cornog; for Chester, Thomas Levis, Esquire; for Chatham all Anticonstitutionals, their being promised, and I think your faith must be sufficient to remove mountains to suppose they will run any persons that are not perfectly Antifederalist. I am assured that you have the weal of our country too much at heart to suffer those “Daymons of Discord” from spreading their poison in your neighborhood, and that you will effectually heal the wounds they have made.
Newspaper Reports of the Election of Convention Delegates on 6 November
Pennsylvania newspapers did not print the names of all the sixty-nine delegates elected to the state Convention. By 20 November, four Philadelphia newspapers the Independent Gazetteer, Pennsylvania Herald, Pennsylvania Journal, and Pennsylvania packet had reported the names of fifty-five delegates elected in Philadelphia and in twelve of the state’s eighteen counties. The reports in four other Philadelphia newspapers the Freeman’s Journal, Pennsylvania Gazette, Pennsylvania Mercury, and Philadelphische Correspondenze were somewhat less full. By 21 November, two western newspapers, the Carlisle Gazette and Lancaster Zeitung, had printed the names of fifty and fifty-eight delegates, respectively.
Independent Gazetteer, 8 November
Tuesday last came on the election for five persons to represent this city in the ensuing state Convention. On the close of the poll, at the State house, the votes stood as follows, viz.:
Pennsylvania Gazette, 14 November (excerpt)
Nothing shows the weakness of the Antifederal junto more than the above state of the votes of our city. With their utmost exertions and industry, their whole number of votes amounted only to 150. Dr. Franklin, who was run in their ticket a s a decoy, was left our of the Federal ticket, only because his infirmities and present station would have made it improper to put him in the chair of the Convention, and he could not have been there without being president. Mr. [John] Steinmetz, who is a Federalist, was low in votes only from being in Antifederal company.
Lancaster Zeitung, 14 November (excerpt)
In an election held last Tuesday for delegates to a state Convention the following gentlemen were elected:
|For Lancaster County||votes|
|Henrich Schlegel [Henry Slagle]||916|
|John Bischoff [Bishop]||488|
William Shippen, Jr. to Thomas Lee Shippen, Philadelphia, 7, 13, 15, and 18 November (excerpts)
Last evening T[homas] McKean, J[ames] Wilson, G[eorge] Latimer, B[enjamin] Rush, and H[ilary] Baker were chosen city members of the Convention, but not before they had given their honor to vote for the adoption of the new Constitution in toto. 5 were chosen for the county on the same terms; could you have supposed the Chief [Justice McKean] would be made such a slave of? When the election was over, honest [William] Findley and other country members who lodged at [Alexander] Boyd’s were insulted at 12 o’clock, the windows broken with large stones, etc. The house of G[eorge] Bryan, [John] Ewing, [James] Hutchinson were attacked by a violent noise and they abused, their wives frightened, etc. Does not this give us a foretaste of this blessed Constitution? Howver, tis supposed when all the elections thro the state are known,, there will not be more than a majority of 5 or 6 in favor of receiving it as it stands. Findley, [Robert] Whitehill, etc. will come down well prepared to oppose it. There will be a very respectable minority and a severe and pointed protest-and if they succeed in their first motion, which will be to adjourn the Convention to Lancaster or Reading, perhaps they will find a majority against it, which your Uncle R[ichard] H[enry] L[ee] ardently prays may be the case. He went from hence yesterday on his way to Virginia determined to prevent its adoption in Virginia. While here he had a long interesting conference w[ith] Findley, [James] McClean, [Charles] Pettit, Hutchinson, Bryan, [John] Smiley, and Ab[raham] Smith at my house. I apprehend if the Constitution is adopted in this state it will produce a mighty convulsion.
(13 November) The Convention is chosen and there appears to be a much greater majority in favor of the new Constitution than was expected.
(15 November) The Assembly have offered a reward of 300 dollars for apprehending the rioters who insulted the members at Boyd’s house. The Republicans could not defend the traitors tho they loved the treason. Tomorrow a motion is to be made in the House to move the seat of government to Lancaster and tis thought there will be a majority for it, a happy consequence of the mob.
(18 November) Findley, Smilie and Whitehill are chosen for the Convention and will be strenuous in their opposition. [Hugh H.] Brackenridge had but 3 votes and D[aniel] Clymer 10. I am thus particular because I suppose you wish to know all on political movements.
Samuel Baird to John Nicholson, Norristown, 9 November
It is with the deepest concern, my dear sir, that I have heard of the insult offered to you a few nights since. And in a particular manner so on account of Mrs. Nicholson, whose situation must have been truly distressing. I hope the perpetrators will be detected and severely punished.
Every man who has a regard for the peace and good order of society must in the highest degree reprobate such conduct. The moment a person is liable to insult for his sentiments on public affairs, that moment liberty is at an end. And sooner than see a faction powerful enough to do so, and evade punishment, I would with pleasure see another Caesar proclaim himself perpetual dictator.
A difference in opinion will ever obtain among mankind; and in all free countries parties will arise and will be distinguished by names which sometimes have but little reference to their general principal. But so far from thinking these dangerous, I think they are beneficial to the state and become otherwise only when, as above alluded to, government does not support its dignity and protect the individual. Surely it would have been in the power of the magistrates and constables to have put a stop to such villainous proceedings. Write me by the first opportunity. Let me know all on any that are supposed to have been concerned, and my good sir do bring [Mrs. N?] up to see us, if it is any how possible.
Mrs. B[aird] presents her compliments to Mrs. Nicholson. Do not forget to bring up some members of Assembly and Council with you.
Benjamin Rush to John Montgomery. Philadelphia, 9 November (excerpt)
I am sorry to inform you that I was misinformed last evening with respect to the election in Berks County. Every man in their ticket is Antifederal. Men capable of believing that George Bryan is infallible, and that the President of the United State will black their faces, seize their plantations, press their wagons, and afterwards sell them for slaves at public vendue.
How long, how long!, wilt thou. But I will not intrude a prayer into my letter. Instead of it, I shall conclude with a text of Scripture which applies directly to the beast, and his companion the red Having great wrath, because their time was short. All will end well, no less with our federal government that with our college [Dickinson College].
Supreme Executive Council Minutes, 9 November
A proclamation was also directed to issue requiring all judges, justices, etc. to use their utmost endeavors to apprehend and bring to exemplary punishment the persons who were concerned in the riot in the night of the sixth instant.