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24. Little Delaware and New Jersey Ratify

The Federalist strategy was to drive the Constitution through as quickly as possible and concentrate on building momentum by getting rapid approval in the states in which they had a comfortable majority. The two leaders of the small-state bloc, Delaware and New Jersey, were two of the earliest ratifiers and ratified unanimously. This bloc fought the large-state nationalists at the convention, not to whittle down the basic nationalist program, but to ensure small-state equality in running that program. The achievement of equality in the Senate satisfied their qualms. Both of these states, especially Delaware, were in the Philadelphia commercial ambit and hence acquired the overwhelmingly pro-Constitution attitude of the commercial men there. Delaware was the first state to ratify; its Assembly received the Constitution on October 4, called for elections to a state convention on November 26, and the convention ratified on December 7 by a vote of 30-0. Only scattered hints have been noted of any opposition in the state of Delaware.

On December 18, New Jersey’s ratification followed soon after by a vote of 38-0. The almost unanimous support in the state, even including the large body of farmers, was received by the peculiar economic condition of New Jersey. The state had accumulated a heavy debt and was securing the debt by levying crippling taxes on land. The Constitution would undoubtedly assume much of all the state debts by the central government, which would finance most of its revenue from imposts and western land sales—and New Jersey had no foreign trade or western land. Thus, New Jersey’s public creditors would welcome national assumption, and its farmers would exult over the lower tax burden. West Jersey’s commercial dependence on Philadelphia was also a contributing factor. Despite this overwhelming support for the Constitution and the unanimous vote, there were mumblings against the newly powerful central government led by Abraham Clark of Essex County, who had refused to attend the Philadelphia Convention. It is possible that given a decent period of time, some Antifederalist opposition could have developed in New Jersey, but in any case, the Constitution still would have been easily ratified.5

  • 5. [Editor’s footnote] Main, The Antifederalists, pp. 193–95; McDonald, We the People, pp. 116–29.
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