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ALTHOUGH the main events and dates of the beginning of the present Union-the signing of the Constitution on September 17, 1787, the last necessary state ratification on June 21, 1788, and the formal commencement of the new nation on March 4, 1789-are matters supposedly of general knowledge, the means by which the new America was put in practical operation remain little known. The transition to actual and efficient government is, however, both important and interesting. The material has much political value. Of particular significance is the opportunity it gives for comparison of the problems and spirit of that day with those of the present time, distant as they are in point of years. For that reason alone, if for no other, such a study as this may be worth while.
Thirty years ago Dr. Frank Fletcher Stephens published The Transitional Period, 1788-89, in the Government of the United States. This small volume remains still the chief study upon the subject, though it is confined to the elections, with a chapter on adjustments of national and state relations. Meanwhile, historical knowledge has been much advanced by new materials and secondary books on the services of the Continental Congress, on the states during that time, on the Philadelphia Convention of 1787, by various monographs on state ratification, and by biographies and writings of leaders of the period. The Honorable Sol Bloom, Director General of the Commission, decided that the Sesquicentennial of the Constitution furnished a proper occasion to add to these a new intensive study of the beginning of the government under the Constitution, that would carry the history of the formation of the Union through the period when its principles were first given practical application-not a history of early legislation, but of organization to legislate, administer, and interpret, though of necessity inclusive of a study of the legislative acts to effect the building up of the branches of the central government. This embraces not only the topics of Dr. Stephens' book, but
also the establishment of the three great departments of government as units and in their relationship to each other, with particular reference to the way in which precedents resulted. A chapter is included on the ratifications by North Carolina and Rhode Island, because these were bound up with the national organization, while the other eleven ratifications preceded it; and, equally a supplement of the ratification period, one on the first ten amendments. Finally there is, as in Dr. Stephens' work, an account of various adjustments made necessary by the imposition over the states of a self-acting and vigorous general government. Like his study, this does not aim at completeness; indeed, the whole national history is made up of such adjustments and must continue to be so as long as it is federal. It does, however, attempt to show the matters first directly under consideration and important to the proper working of the new government, with some indication of resulting problems.
Various phases of the contents of the present work have formed a part of many monographs which deal with particular elements of the general government. The debt to these is freely acknowledged; none the less, a fresh study of the sources has been made and the account built up from the material collected. Most of the work has been done in the Library of Congress, but search was made in and around Boston, Hartford, New York, Ann Arbor, and Chicago, and correspondence held with custodians of depositories of sources elsewhere. A main purpose is to preserve in the narrative the spirit of the time in which the events happened, to let the participants tell the story as much as possible. In consequence, the work is made up much more of quotations than would ordinarily be the case; and this plan has been followed as the better part in spite of the possibility of repetitions, and, at times, rather loose connection.
The references have been in the main confined to the direct quotations, as it is believed that the abundant use of specific dates in connection with place and event will make sufficiently evident the source of the facts, especially in matters dealing with legislative proceedings. The index is included in the general index of the volume.
Grateful acknowledgment is made to Dr. Edmund C. Burnett and to Mr. Alan Robert Murray, one time member of the staff of the Commission, for critical reading of the text. A considerable portion of the material for the chapter on the Inauguration was collected by Dr. Clarence R. Williams while a member of the History Division. DAVID M. MATTESON
WASHINGTON, June 30, 1940.
The Action of the Continental
THE CONVENTION of New Hampshire, sitting at Concord, ratified the Constitution of the United States at 1 o'clock, Saturday afternoon, June 21, 1788. This was the ninth and last ratification "sufficient for the establishment of this Constitution between the States so ratifying the same." John Langdon and John Sullivan, Federalist leaders in the convention and the state, immediately sent off an express to inform Alexander Hamilton and others of the happy event. Sullivan's letter to Knox at New York City was dated "one of Clock" and said: "I have the pleasure to inform you that our Convention have this moment adopted the New Constitution." 2 The New York convention was assembled at Poughkeepsie at that time and Hamilton was leading the then rather forlorn hope of the Federalists in the gathering. Evidently the courier reached the Hudson sometime after midnight on June 24 and was sent on at once to New York City. The message was read in the Continental Congress in that city at 12: 30 on June 25, some ten hours after it left Poughkeepsie. The tidings were speeded on their way to Richmond, where the Virginia convention was in session; but the express met on the route the information that Virginia had also ratified; in fact, the vote took place in that convention on the same day that Congress received the unofficial New Hampshire message, though the formal ratification is dated June 26. The Virginia news seems to have been sent by mail and not by courier, as it took a week to arrive; but the crossing of the important dispatches was probably between Baltimore and Alexandria. Washington wrote General Pinckney, June 28, that the citizens of Alexandria had the Virginia intelligence at night on June 27, and decided to celebrate the next day, their cause for rejoicing being increased by the arrival of an express "two hours before day" (about 3 o'clock) with the New Hampshire information.3 This express was the one that had been sent to Richmond from New York City.
TASK OF THE CONTINENTAL CONGRESS
CONGRESS On June 25 took no action on the New Hampshire news; but on July 2 formal announcement of the ratification was made by the state delegates. Governor Langdon forwarded this document on June 25 and it reached New York, probably by mail, on July 1. On July 2 Congress also had word of Virginia's approval of the new plan of government; whereupon: "Ordered That the ratifications of the constitution of the United States transmitted to Congress be referred to a comee. to examine the same and report an Act to Congress for putting the said constitution into operation in pursuance of the resolutions of the late federal Convention." This motion was carried by 8 votes, Rhode Island being excused, North Carolina abstaining, and New York being divided, a vote that harmonized with the conditions respecting ratification, for Rhode Island had refused to call a convention, the North Carolina convention had not yet met, and the New York one gave strong indication of an intention to reject.
The Committee of Detail of the Philadelphia Convention of 1787 had on August 6, 1787, submitted a plan "to introduce" the new government. This was debated and adopted and sent to the Committee of Style for final shaping. The report of this committee was sent by the convention to Congress on September 17, 1787, along with the engrossed parchment text of the Constitution. It is on a fifth sheet of parchment and reads as follows:
Resolved, . . . That it is the Opinion of this Convention, that as soon as the Conventions of nine States shall have ratified this Constitution, the United States in Congress assembled should fix a Day on which Electors should be appointed by the States which shall have ratified the same, and a Day on which the Electors should assemble to vote for the President, and the Time and Place for commencing Proceedings under this Constitution. That after such Publication the Electors should be appointed, and the Senators and Representatives elected: That the Electors should meet on the Day fixed for the Election of the President, and should transmit their Votes certified, signed, sealed and directed, as the Constitution requires, to the Secretary of the United States in Congress assembled, that the Senators and Representatives should convene at the Time and place assigned; that the Senators should appoint a President of the Senate, for the sole Purpose of receiving, opening and counting the Votes for President; and, that after he shall be chosen, the Congress, together with the President, should, without Delay, proceed to execute this Constitution.3
DATES IN THE PROGRESS OF ORGANIZATION THE COMMITTEE of Congress reported promptly on July 8: "That the first Wednesday in December next be the day for appointing Electors in the several States . . . That the first Wednesday in
FIRST TASK IN ORGANIZATION
January next be the day for the Electors to assemble vote . . . and that the first Wednesday in February next be the time, and the place for Commencing proceedings under the said Constitution." It took Congress more than two months to fill that blank. Although the resolution of the Philadelphia Convention spoke of the elections to the new Congress, that was an affair left by the Constitution to the legislatures of the different states, and was outside the concern of the Continental Congress, especially as there was no need of a common day for them; so the above resolution was confined to the presidential election, the time of organization, and the place.
Immediate action on the resolution was generally considered inadvisable, even though it was important to get the new government into operation as soon as possible. The North Carolina convention was summoned for July 21, and prompt ratification there was expected, especially if meanwhile the Federalists were successful in the New York convention. Also New York City, being then the seat of government, would necessarily be considered when it came to filling that blank, unless meanwhile her state had voted to remain outside the new Union. The influence of the city was used to delay consideration, the question being "peculiarly interesting to this place"; so Congress "omitted making the necessary arrangements . . . out of delicacy to the situation of New York" and in North Carolina. There was also another reason for delay, which Madison pointed out. He feared that if there was too great an interval between the action of Congress and the next election or meeting of a state legislature to put it in operation, a special meeting might be called of the existing members, "who are everywhere less federal than their successors hereafter to be elected will probably be." On the other hand, among the southern delegates there was doubt whether the necessary action of their legislatures and the elections for which they should provide could be compassed within the dates mentioned in the report of the committee. There was a slight attempt to meet this on July 14 by a suggestion of staggering the elections, but it received the vote of only three states.
The report of the committee did not come up again for two weeks, by which time New York had ratified. Meanwhile, the interest in the matter of organizing the new government was made evident by a full attendance in Congress on July 11, all thirteen states being represented. It was the first time this had occurred since 1776, and the attendance continued an unusually full one until the matter was disposed of; but it was a final burst of energy, for never after