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1787-1790: We adopt a Constitution for our new Republic

December 12, 1787
Pennsylvania says “Yes!”

Pennsylvania State House

“To give the new system its proper validity and energy, a ratification must be obtained from the people and not merely from the ordinary authority of legislatures.”
— James Madison

For the first time ever, the people of a nation are being asked to approve their form of government in special ratifying conventions.

The Constitution’s critics have been listing their worries. A powerful new executive. A senate that might become a new kind of aristocracy. No bill of rights. How, they ask, will liberty survive?

Delegate James Wilson made a speech to answer them. The Constitution gives the new government the powers it needs, he says, but only the powers it needs: “everything...not given is reserved.”

Pennsylvania delegates ratified the Constitution today by a vote of 46 to 23. They’re the second state to ratify, after Delaware.

The rest of the states are still debating. Opposition is gathering strength in states like Virginia, Massachusetts and New York.

Supporters must find success in seven more conventions before the new Constitution becomes law.

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