From the Articles of Confederation to the U.S. Constitution

Debate over Ratification of the U.S. Constitution

Federalists and the Federalist Papers

Americans were divided over the ratification of the Constitution. Federalists, proponents of a stronger central government, argued in favor of the new document.
Ratification was not easy and came with significant opposition. Federalists were supporters of a strong federal government and ratification of the new Constitution. Federalists included leaders such as George Washington, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and Benjamin Franklin.

To plead their case, Madison, Hamilton, and John Jay wrote a series of 85 essays supporting the strong federal government outlined in the Constitution that became known as the Federalist Papers. These essays argued in favor of ratification by explaining the intent of the Constitution. The essays were published anonymously in New York newspapers in 1787 and 1788 under the pen name "Publius." Federalist Papers no. 10 and no. 51 were particularly significant. In no. 10, Madison argued that a republican form of government gave the United States the greatest chance of success because it was less likely that a faction, or group with common interests, could gain control of the government and impose its will. In no. 51, he describes how the system of checks and balances provides the best possible plan for creating a strong national government that cannot abuse its power.

Arguments of the Anti-Federalists Against Ratification

The Anti-Federalists, who believed the new central government was given too much power and could deprive individuals of their liberties, were against ratification of the Constitution.
Anti-Federalists were opponents of ratification of the Constitution because of the belief that the federal government was given too much power. The Anti-Federalists were concerned that the stronger national government would be too powerful and infringe on the individual liberties of citizens. Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and Patrick Henry were prominent Anti-Federalists. Among their supporters were many farmers and people who lived in more rural areas. The Anti-Federalists also engaged in essay writing, referred to as the "Anti-Federalist Papers," to argue against ratification but in a less-organized way. Their efforts led to ratification becoming dependent on the addition of a bill of rights in three key states—Massachusetts, Virginia, and New York.

Adoption of the Bill of Rights

The Bill of Rights—the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution—secures the basic rights and personal freedoms of U.S. citizens.
Ratification of the Constitution ultimately became dependent on a promise by Federalists to amend it with a bill of rights that described specific rights protected under the Constitution. The necessity of a bill of rights became even more clear as ratification was debated in the different states. By the fall of 1788, even James Madison supported a bill of rights.

Following the process for amending the Constitution, by December 1791 three-fourths of the states had ratified the Bill of Rights. Ratification of these first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution ensured individual protections from the government. The Bill of Rights includes rights such as freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to assemble, the right to bear arms, and the right to due process of law. Unlike the other amendments in the Bill of Rights, the 9th and 10th Amendments do not guarantee specific rights. The 9th Amendment says that the people have other rights that are not expressly written in the Constitution. The 10th Amendment states that any powers not given directly to the United States belong to the states or to the people.

Order in Which the States Ratified the Constitution

1. Delaware December 7, 1787
2. Pennsylvania December 12, 1787
3. New Jersey December 18, 1787
4. Georgia January 2, 1788
5. Connecticut January 9, 1788
6. Massachusetts February 6, 1788
7. Maryland April 28, 1788
8. South Carolina May 23, 1788
9. New Hampshire June 21, 1788
10. Virginia June 25, 1788
11. New York July 26, 1788
12. North Carolina November 21, 1789
13. Rhode Island May 29, 1790