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26. Georgia and Connecticut Follow

Pennsylvania had been difficult, but the next state to ratify was as simple as Delaware and New Jersey. Sentiment for the Constitution in Georgia did not quite approach unanimity as in the former states, but it was nonetheless overwhelming. That the plantation landlords enthusiastically welcomed the Constitution was not surprising since conditions resembled neighboring South Carolina. Furthermore, much of the nearer interior settlers lived along the Savannah River, and that meant they were bound to Savannah in a commercial nexus. But what of the western backcountry? Why did it not, as did the other backcountry areas, oppose the Constitution? The answer is the acute danger of war with the Creek Indians. The Creeks, led by the brilliant young Alexander McGillivray, pursued a strategy of defending their hunting grounds from continual settler encroachments and constantly harassed and drove off settlers invading Creek territory. For their part, the Georgians of the backcountry pursued a course that was typical of American frontiersmen. After first taking upon themselves to invade and settle Indian lands, and their finding that they could not cope with meeting the responsibility for their own actions, the settlers yelled for state—or in the case of scarcely settled Georgia—national aid. Let other people, the taxpayers of other regions or even other states, be forced to come to their rescue! Hence, while Thomas Gibbons led a substantial minority of Antifederalists in Savannah and there were isolated rumblings of discontent after the Georgia convention, that convention, meeting on December 25, ratified the Constitution unanimously on January 2 by a vote of 26-0.

Ratifying soon after was Connecticut, the first of the New England states. Again, the Federalists in control of the state acted very quickly and held elections in November for the state convention. Again, the Federalists had complete control of the press and consequently propagandized them. At first the Federalists had been worried, but the direct and immediate impact of Shays’ Rebellion, which spilled over into northern Connecticut, turned the great majority of the state into the Federalist camp. In addition to the press, all the prominent people in Connecticut, as usual, were concentrated in the commercial centers and thus strongly favored the Constitution. The commercial areas included the coastal towns, Fairfield County in the southwest, and the Connecticut and other river valleys. The propaganda for the Constitution was led by Roger Sherman and Oliver Ellsworth. Religion generally played no prominent part in the ratification struggle, but an outstanding exception was the vote of the congregational clergy in Connecticut. In a state where the congregated clergy retained much of its old-time power and influence, the Connecticut clergy pushed strongly for ratification.

This combination was simply too much, and Antifederalism was largely confined to the rural northern interior of the state. Captain Hugh Ledlie of Hartford, an ardent Antifederalist and former Son of Liberty for eastern Connecticut, lamented the Federalist control and their high-handed domination of the convention. Moreover, a scattered movement of the largely unknown, uneducated, and poor, such as the Antifederalists, is peculiarly dependent on the direction and drive of its leaders precisely because articulate leadership of such movements is so rare. And in Connecticut there was foreshadowed the method by which the Federalists would finally be able to win: betrayal by the Antifederal leadership. Such betrayal was particularly responsible in thwarting the popular will, which had expressed itself directly on the single issue of ratification by electing delegates to the state conventions. And yet, after being elected specifically on an Antifederal delegation, Joseph Hopkins of Waterbury and William Williams of Lebanon, leaders of the Antifederalist cause during the convention debates, turned renegade and voted for the Constitution. In the case of Connecticut, the Constitution probably would have been ratified even without the betrayal, but the margin would have been narrower than the final vote by the convention (128-40) that met at Hartford and ratified on January 9.

The convention’s delegates were elected in a broad popular ballot by the separate towns. While many of the northern towns that had been arch-nationalist voted for the Constitution, the Antifederals also came largely from that area. As in Pennsylvania, a detailed analysis of the convention delegates shows that the wealthy and influential were overwhelmingly Federalist. While the farmers were more evenly divided, of the merchants, lawyers, and large landowners at the convention, fifty-six were Federalist and five Antifederalist; of the farmers, eleven were Federalist and eight Antifederal. In terms of the well-educated, twenty-two out of twenty-three delegates were Federalists. Virtually all the state dignitaries, judges, congressmen, state senators, and high army officers, were Federalist.

Five states had now ratified the Constitution. With the exception of Pennsylvania, all of these were small states, and they comprised five of the six states where the Federalists enjoyed a popular majority (the other was Maryland). The situation now facing the Federalists was enormously more difficult. If justice had prevailed, only Maryland of the remaining states would have ratified, and the Constitution would have been totally destroyed.10

  • 10. [Editor’s footnote] Main, The Antifederalists, pp. 109, 195–200, 289–90; McDonald, We the People, pp. 129–48.
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