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This Day in History: New York ratifies the United States Constitution

On this day in 1788, New York ratifies the U.S. Constitution. It was the 11th state to join the Union, but the timing of that decision created some interesting dynamics for New Yorkers to consider.

Remember, only nine states were needed to put the Constitution into effect. At this point in the process, then, New York’s vote was no longer really needed. The United States of America could (and would) exist, with or without New York.

Thus, the question before the New York ratifying convention took on a new nuance. They were no longer helping to create the United States. They were simply deciding whether to join a Union that had already been formed.

The New York delegates learned that their vote was no longer needed on June 24, when word came that New Hampshire had ratified the document. Interestingly, on that same day, Alexander Hamilton gave a speech in which he argued that the federal government created by the Constitution could not possibly become too powerful. The state governments, he thought, would keep the federal government in line.

“Gentlemen indulge too many unreasonable apprehensions of danger to the State governments,” he stated. “[T]hey seem to suppose that the moment you put men into a national council, they become corrupt and tyrannical and lose all their affection for their fellow citizens. But can we imagine that the Senators will ever be so insensible of their own advantage as to sacrifice the genuine interest of their constituents?”

To the contrary, he argued, the “State governments are essentially necessary to the form and spirit of the general system.” Congress, too, will know this and will act accordingly. He concludes: “This conviction can never leave them, unless they become madmen.”

Hmm. “Unless they become madmen,” huh?

How many New York delegates voted for the Constitution expecting (or at least hoping) that the federal government would not become too powerful? If anything, Hamilton argued, the states would be *so* powerful that it would be difficult to keep them from treading on areas of federal sovereignty.

“The probable evil,” Hamilton explained, “is, that the general government will be too dependent on the state legislatures, too much governed by their prejudices, and too obsequious to their humours; that the states, with every power in their hands, will make encroachments on the national authority, till the union is weakened and dissolved.”

So much for that? One wonders what Hamilton would think if he saw the massive United States government today.



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