On September 17, 1787 they thought were done. Since May a total of 55 delegates from 12 states suffered through a Philadelphia summer, listened and debated, compromised and approved a new form of government. When they had finished signing on the 17th, as noted by Washington in his diary, they “adjourned to the City Tavern, dined together and took cordial leave of each other.”
But, of course, in reality their work was not done. Now, the product of their labors would be submitted to specially-called conventions of the people to ratified or reject their work. Most of the delegates, particularly those who signed the document, returned to their home states and prepared for the political fight that was sure to come.
On this date, December 7, 1787, Delaware became to the first state to approve the Constitution. Ten delegates from each of Delaware’s three counties* gathered in Dover at Battell’s Tavern on December 3, 1787 to consider the new constitution. (Two of the delegates, Bedford and Bassett had been delegates at the Constitution Convention.) What were the issues which concerned them?
First, they strongly supported the proposed constitution because as a “small” state (by population) they had “won” equality of representation in the new Senate. But there were more reasons.
The Delaware delegates supported a strong central government because they understood that it would protect the state in two additional areas, the first militarily. With its small population, Delaware lacked the necessary men to defend its extensive coastline. A strong central government, could provide the necessary men and armaments to protect Delaware.
The second reason was economic. Delaware lands were losing their fertility and prices were dropping, which resulted in a slowing economy.
Without a large port, Delaware received most of its goods through Philadelphia. Pennsylvania imposed levies on exported goods with the result being goods were more expensive in Delaware than in Pennsylvania. Under Article 8, the central government’s control of interstate commence was seen as the ability to regulate pricing.
After only four days of consideration, the delegates voted to ratify the constitution unanimously, 30 – 0. They transmitted their approval,
We the Deputies of the People of the Delaware State, in Convention met, having taken into our serious consideration the Federal Constitution proposed and agreed upon by the Deputies of the United States in a General Convention held at the City of Philadelphia on the seventeenth day of September in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty seven, Have approved, assented to, ratified, and confirmed, and by these Presents, Do, in virtue of the Power and Authority to us given for that purpose, for and in behalf of ourselves and our Constituents, fully, freely, and entirely approve of, assent to, ratify, and confirm the said Constitution.
Done in Convention at Dover this seventh day of December in the year aforesaid, and in the year of the Independence of the United States of America the twelfth. In Testimony whereof we have hereunto subscribed our Names
Before the end the 1787, two more state conventions voted to ratify. On December 12, 1787 Pennsylvania concluded a contentious convention, approving the constitution by a split vote of 46 – 23. New Jersey, like Delaware, a “small” state, approved the constitution on December 18, 1787, also unanimously 38 – 0. (As it would later develop, the “large” states of Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia would each ratify with split votes.)
But on this date, Delaware became the “First State” on the march to adoption of the new constitution.
* Delaware Delegates
ISRAEL HOLLAND Kent County
DANIEL CUMMINS senr
GEORGE MANLOVE New Castle County
JAs LATIMER, President
GUNNING BEDFORD senr
GUNNG BEDFORD Junr
Donald Applestein is a retired attorney and an experience guide in the National Constitution Center’s Public Programs Department.