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Wednesday, December 7, 2022

December 7, 2022: Constitutional Contexts: Delaware

[On December 7th, 1787, Delaware became the first state to ratify the U.S. Constitution. So for the 235th anniversary of that historic moment, this week I’ll AmericanStudy a handful of Constitutional contexts, leading up to a special weekend post on present issues and debates!]

On three relevant contexts for Delaware’s historic ratification.

1)      The 1776 Constitution of Delaware: Delaware wasn’t just “The First State” to ratify the U.S. Constitution; it was also the first to create its own state constitution after the Continental Congress requested that the newly independent states do so, with a Constitutional Convention convening in August 1776 and the resulting Constitution (hyperlinked above) proclaimed in September. That 1776 Constitution was of course specific and distinct, from those of other new states and from the national Constitution a decade later. But it certainly foreshadowed all those later documents (see for example the “no religious test” clause, very similar to the radical one featured in the U.S. Constitution’s Article VI), and indeed helped push both the states and the nation forward toward the idea of Constitutional governments on all those levels. Makes sense that Delaware would quickly convene a U.S. Constitution ratification convention eleven years later, doesn’t it?

2)      The Penman of the Revolution”: A significant participant in all those moments and steps was John Dickinson, the Delaware planter and politician (and, yes, slaveowner—a truly ubiquitous issue across the community of Founders/Framers) who became known by this nickname for his pre-Revolutionary writings challenging the British and urging his fellow Americans to move toward Revolution. Dickinson would remain active in, indeed central to, Delaware and national politics alike throughout the Revolutionary and Framing periods, eventually serving as one of the state’s delegates to the Constitutional Convention and becoming one of the main advocates (both in his home state and throughout the country) for ratifying that Constitution.

3)      The Ongoing Ratification Process: As the last hyperlinked piece in that prior paragraph illustrates, Dickinson continued to use his pen to argue for ratification, publishing a series of letters under the pseudonym Fabius that echoed and extended the arguments and perspectives of the Federalist Papers. But while Delaware’s ratification convention was incredibly smooth and harmonious—the convention began on December 3rd and its delegates voted 30-0 to ratify the U.S. Constitution just four days later—the national ratification process and debate was anything but. It took many stages and steps to get to full ratification, including the addition of the Bill of Rights about which I’ll blog in tomorrow’s post. But none of that means that Delaware’s early and enthusiastic ratification wasn’t an important ongoing influence, just as the state and its own Framers had been since those first Revolutionary moments.

Next Constitutional context tomorrow,


PS. What do you think?

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