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This Day in History: Connecticut ratifies the U.S. Constitution

On this day in 1788, Connecticut becomes the fifth state to ratify the U.S. Constitution. The state had come a long way! Just one year earlier, Connecticut balked at so much as attending the Constitutional Convention.

After all, those in Connecticut were pretty worried by the then-existing political scene.

The Library of Congress describes this “satire touching on some of the major issues in Connecticut politics on the eve of the ratification of the U.S. Constitution.”

How would the state be affected if Congress were strengthened? One particular issue caused Connecticut to worry.

After the war, the Confederation Congress had decided to give officers in the Continental Army full pay for 5 years. The decision was considered a compromise, because the norm in Europe was more generous: Officers were given half-pay, not just for 5 years, but for the rest of their lives.

But what about the regular enlisted soldiers? Why were they treated differently from officers? Was an aristocracy being created? And where did Congress expect the states to get money? Connecticut was having enough trouble paying off its own debts, without adding on more.

These and other issues left Connecticut in political turmoil. Noah Webster summarized the situation in late 1786: “There are two parties in the state, jealous of each other; federal men and anti-federal. The federal men suppose the anti-federal to be knaves, designing artful demagogues. The anti-federal suppose the federal to be ambitious tyrannical men, who are aiming at power and office at the expense of people at large.”

Unsurprisingly, appointment of delegates to the Constitutional Convention was delayed in such an atmosphere. Perhaps some hoped the delay would continue indefinitely? “Connecticut is under the influence of a few such miserable, narrow-minded & I may say wicked Politicians,” David Humphreys wrote George Washington, “that I question very much whether the Legislature will chuse Members to appear in the Convention; and if they do, my apprehension is still greater that they will be sent on purpose to impede any salutary measures that might be proposed.”

In the end, Connecticut appointed delegates to the Convention at the last minute. With the benefit of hindsight, we now know how beneficial that decision proved to be. As it turned out, the state’s delegates played a critical role in proposing the so-called Connecticut Compromise, which resolved a heated disagreement about the composition of Congress.

Soon after the Constitution was proposed to the states, Connecticut found itself leaning very pro-Constitution, despite the earlier turmoil. Pro-Constitution Federalists were seemingly aided and abetted by local newspapers, which published many pro-Constitution pieces and rarely published anti-Constitution pieces. The state’s ratifying convention finally met on January 3, 1788. When the final vote came on January 9, the outcome must have seemed fairly anti-climactic after all the previous furor. The tally was a decidedly lopsided 128 to 40 in favor of the Constitution.

Connecticut was on board! Federalists needed only four more states to put the Constitution into effect.

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