This Day in History: Maryland Ratifies the Constitution
On this day in 1788, Maryland becomes the seventh state to ratify the U.S. Constitution.
The state was home to Luther Martin and John Mercer, both of whom had walked out of the Constitutional Convention in disgust. Perhaps odd that anti-Constitution forces didn’t mount a more effective defense in Maryland?
Both men failed to turn the tide against ratification in their home state.
The pro-Constitution forces were in a bit of a slump during the spring of 1788. Connecticut ratified early in the year, but Massachusetts’s ratification had been relatively tepid: The state had approved the Constitution but had also forwarded a list of proposed amendments. Soon thereafter, Rhode Island rejected the Constitution and New Hampshire refused to vote on the matter at all.
Maryland was next up to the plate.
What would happen if Maryland postponed, as New Hampshire had done? Or rejected the Constitution altogether? What could that do to the momentum for ratification? What influence would it have on the important Virginia ratifying convention, which was soon to meet? Could Maryland’s reluctance give a “fatal advantage to that which opposes the Constitution,” as James Madison wrote?
George Washington was apparently worried. “[A]n adjournment, (if attempted),” he wrote to a Maryland delegate, “of your Convention, to a later period than the decision of the question in this State, will be tantamount to the rejection of the Constitution. . . . An event similar to [New Hampshire’s postponement] in Maryland, would have the worst tendency imaginable . . . .”
Maryland’s convention convened on April 21. The Federalists had a simple strategy: refuse to engage. They refused to participate in a clause-by-clause discussion of the Constitution. They refused to discuss the possibility of amendments. And they received an unexpected boost from the fact that the three leading anti-Federalists were late to the Convention. One of them, Martin, could not speak much because he arrived with a case of laryngitis.
On April 24, one latecomer, anti-Federalist William Paca, asked if the convention could adjourn while he took time to draft some proposed amendments. His request was allowed, but his victory was short-lived. When he tried to read his amendments the next day, the delegates did not allow it. Instead, several of them declared “that they were elected and instructed, by the people they represented, to ratify the proposed Constitution, and that as speedily as possible, and to do no other act; that, after the ratification, their power ceased, and they did not consider themselves as authorized by their constituents to consider any amendments.”
Anti-Federalists still attempted to stall. Maybe you could say that they filibustered?! In the end, however, the Federalists simply refused to engage in debate. The notes for the convention are sparse, but they simply say that the “advocates of the government, although repeatedly called on, and earnestly requested, to answer the objections, if not just, remained inflexibly silent.”
The anti-Federalists apparently could not succeed in the face of this silence. On the 26th, an up-or-down vote on the Constitution was taken. The document was approved 63 to 11.
Afterwards, a committee was allowed to look at Paca’s proposed amendments, but that committee could not come to an agreement. On April 28, the convention signed the form of ratification. The next day, it instructed the governor to submit the form to Congress.
Maryland was ready to join the Union.
A Fragment of Facts disclosing the Conduct of the Maryland Convention, on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution (reprinted in Elliot’s Debates, HERE).
Bernard C. Steiner, Maryland’s Adoption of the Federal Constitution (American Historical Review, Dec. 1899)
Letter from George Washington to Thomas Johnson (April 20, 1788)
Letter from George Washington to James Madison (May 2, 1788)
Letter from James Madison to George Washington (April 10, 1788)
Letter from James McHenry to George Washington (May 18, 1788)
Pauline Maier, Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788 (2010)