Delaware Ratifies the US Constitution and is the First State Admitted to the Union

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-
Sussex County

Kent County

New Castle County

JAs LATIMER, President

To all whom these Presents shall come Greeting, I Thomas Collins President of the Delaware State do hereby certify, that the above instrument of writing is a true copy of the original ratification of the Federal Constitution by the Convention of the Delaware State, which original ratification is now in my possession. In Testimony whereof I have caused the seal of the Delaware State to be hereunto an'exed.


On September 17, 1787, a majority of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention approved the documents over which they had labored since May. After a farewell banquet, delegates swiftly returned to their homes to organize support, most for but some against the proposed charter. Before the Constitution could become the law of the land, it would have to withstand public scrutiny and debate. The document was "laid before the United States in Congress assembled" on September 20. For 2 days, September 26 and 27, Congress debated whether to censure the delegates to the Constitutional Convention for exceeding their authority by creating a new form of government instead of simply revising the Articles of Confederation. They decided to drop the matter. Instead, on September 28, Congress directed the state legislatures to call ratification conventions in each state. Article VII stipulated that nine states had to ratify the Constitution for it to go into effect.

Beyond the legal requirements for ratification, the state conventions fulfilled other purposes. The Constitution had been produced in strictest secrecy during the Philadelphia convention. The ratifying conventions served the necessary function of informing the public of the provisions of the proposed new government. They also served as forums for proponents and opponents to articulate their ideas before the citizenry. Significantly, state conventions, not Congress, were the agents of ratification. This approach insured that the Constitution's authority came from representatives of the people specifically elected for the purpose of approving or disapproving the charter, resulting in a more accurate reflection of the will of the electorate. Also, by bypassing debate in the state legislatures, the Constitution avoided disabling amendments that states, jealous of yielding authority to a national government, would likely have attached.

Ratification was not a foregone conclusion. Able, articulate men used newspapers, pamphlets, and public meetings to debate ratification of the Constitution. Those known as Antifederalists opposed the Constitution for a variety of reasons. Some continued to argue that the delegates in Philadelphia had exceeded their congressional authority by replacing the Articles of Confederation with an illegal new document. Others complained that the delegates in Philadelphia represented only the well-born few and consequently had crafted a document that served their special interests and reserved the franchise for the propertied classes. Another frequent objection was that the Constitution gave too much power to the central government at the expense of the states and that a representative government could not manage a republic this large. The most serious criticism was that the Constitutional Convention had failed to adopt a bill of rights proposed by George Mason. In New York, Governor George Clinton expressed these Antifederalist concerns in several published newspaper essays under the pen name Cato, while Patrick Henry and James Monroe led the opposition in Virginia.

Those who favored ratification, the Federalists, fought back, convinced that rejection of the Constitution would result in anarchy and civil strife. Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay responded to Clinton under the pen name Publius. Beginning in October 1787, these three penned 85 essays for New York newspapers and later collected them into 2 volumes entitled The Federalist, which analyzed the Constitution, detailed the thinking of the framers, and responded to the Antifederalist critics.

They successfully countered most criticism. As for the lack of a bill of rights, Federalists argued that a catalogued list might be incomplete and that the national government was so constrained by the Constitution that it posed no threat to the rights of citizens. Ultimately, during the ratification debate in Virginia, Madison conceded that a bill of rights was needed, and the Federalists assured the public that the first step of the new government would be to adopt a bill of rights.

It took 10 months for the first nine states to approve the Constitution. The first state to ratify was Delaware, on December 7, 1787, by a unanimous vote, 30 - 0. The featured document is an endorsed ratification of the federal Constitution by the Delaware convention. The names of the state deputies are listed, probably in the hand of a clerk. The signature of the President of Delaware's convention, Thomas Collins, attests to the validity of the document, which also carries the state seal in its left margin. Delaware's speediness thwarted Pennsylvania's attempt to be first to ratify in the hope of securing the seat of the National Government in Pennsylvania.

The first real test for ratification occurred in Massachusetts, where the fully recorded debates reveal that the recommendation for a bill of rights proved to be a remedy for the logjam in the ratifying convention. New Hampshire became the ninth state to approve the Constitution in June, but the key States of Virginia and New York were locked in bitter debates. Their failure to ratify would reduce the new union by two large, populated, wealthy states, and would geographically splinter it. The Federalists prevailed, however, and Virginia and New York narrowly approved the Constitution. When a bill of rights was proposed in Congress in 1789, North Carolina ratified the Constitution. Finally, Rhode Island, which had rejected the Constitution in March 1788 by popular referendum, called a ratifying convention in 1790 as specified by the Constitutional Convention. Faced with threatened treatment as a foreign government, it ratified the Constitution by the narrowest margin (two votes) on May 29, 1790.

Following the American Revolution, statesmen from Delaware were among the leading proponents of a strong central United States with equal representation for each state. Once the Connecticut Compromise was reached—creating a U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives—the leaders in Delaware were able to easily secure ratification of the U.S. Constitution on December 7, 1787, making Delaware the first state to do so.

George Washington to James Madison Jr., December 7, 1787

The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799. John C. Fitzpatrick, Editor.

Mount Vernon, December 7, 1787.

My dear Sir: Since my last to you, I have been favored with your letters of the 28th. of October and 18th. of November. With the last came 7 numbers of the Foederalist, under the signature of Publius, for which I thank you. They are forwarded to a Gentleman in Richmond for republication; the doing of which in this State will I am persuaded, have a good effect as there are certainly characters in it who are no friends to a general government; perhaps I should not go too far was I to add, who have no great objection to the introduction of anarchy and confusion.

The Sollicitude to discover what the several State Legislatures would do with the Constitution is now transferred to the several Conventions. the decisions of which being more interesting and conclusive is, consequently, more anxiously expected than the other. What Pennsylvania and Delaware have done, or will do must soon be known.72 Other Conventions to the Northward and Eastward of them are treading closely on their heels; but what the three Southern States have done, or in what light the new Constitution is viewed by them, I have not been able to learn. North Carolina it has been said (by some accts. from Richmond) will be governed in a great measure by the conduct of Virginia. The pride of South Carolina will not I conceive suffer this influence to work in her councils; and the disturbances in Georgia will or I am mistaken show the people of it the propriety of being United, and the necessity there is for a general Government. If these with the States Eastward and Northward of us, should accede to the Foederal Government, I think the citizens of this State will have no cause to bless the opposers of it here if they should carry their point. A paragraph in the Baltimore Paper has announced a change in the Sentiments of Mr. Jay on this subject; and adds that, from being an admirer of the new form, he has become a bitter enemy to it. This relation (without knowing Mr. Jay's opinion) I disbelieve, from a Conviction that he would consider the matter well before he would pass any Judgment. It is very unlikely therefore that a man of his knowledge and foresight should turn on both sides of a question in so short a space. I am anxious however to know the foundation (if any) for this.

[Note 72: Delaware ratified the Constitution Dec. 7, 1787, and Pennsylvania, the second State to ratify, on December 12.]

It would have given me great pleasure to have complied with your request in behalf of your foreign acquaintance. At present I am unable to do it. The survey of the Country between the Eastern and Western Waters is not yet reported by the Commissioners tho' promised to me very shortly, (the Survey being compleated) by one of them. no draught that can convey a proper idea of the work on this River has yet been taken. much of the labor except at the great fall has been bestowed in the bed of the River in a removal of the rocks and deepening the Water. At the Great falls the labour has indeed been great; the water there is taken into a canal about 200 yards above the Cataract and conveyed by a level cut (thro' a solid rock in some places and very Stoney ground in others) more than a mile to the lock seats; [five] in number, by means of which the Craft when these locks are compleated will be let into the River below the fall (which in all is 76 feet). At the Seneca falls six miles above the great fall a channel which has been formed by the river in freshes is under improvement for the navigation; the same at Shannondoah in part. At the lower fall (where nothing has yet been done) a level cut and locks are proposed. These constitute the principal part of the work to compleat the navigation; the parts of the river between requiring loose stones only to be removed in order to deepen the water where it is too shallow in dry seasons.

P.S. Since writing the foregoing, I have received a letter from a member (of the Assembly) in Richmond dated the 4th. Inst. giving the following information.

I am sorry to inform you, that the Constitution has lost ground so considerably that it is doubted whether it has any longer a majority in its favor. From a vote which took place the other day, this would appear certain, tho' I cannot think it so decisive as the enemies to it consider it. It marks however the inconsistency of some of its opponents. At the time the resolutions calling a Convention were entered into Colo M-- sided with the friends to the Constitution, and opposed any hint being given, expressive of the Sentiments of the House as to amendments. But as it was unfortunately omitted at that time to make provision for the subsistence of the Convention, it became necessary to pass some resolution providing for any expence whh. may attend an attempt to make amendments. As M-- had on the former occasion declared, that it would be improper to make any discovery of the Sentiments of the House on the subject, and that we had no right to suggest any thing to a body paramt. to us, his advocating such a resolution was matter of astonishment. It is true, he declared it was not declaratory of our opinion; but the contrary must be very obvious. As I have heard many declare themselves friends to the Constitution since the vote, I do not consider it as altogether decisive of the opinion of the House with respect to it.

I am informed, both by Genl. Wilkinson (who is just arrived here from New Orleans by way of No. Carolina) and Mr. Ross, that North Carolina is almost unanimous for adopting it. The latter received a letter from a member of that Assembly now sitting.

In a debating Society here, which meets once a week, this subject has been canvassed at two successive meetings, and is to be finally decided on tomorrow evening; as the whole Assembly, almost has attended on these occasions, their opinion will then be pretty well ascertained; and as the opinion on this occasion will have much influence, some of Colo. Innis's friends have obtained a promise from him to enter the list.

The bill respecting British debts has passed our house but with such a clause as I think makes it worse than a rejection.

The letter, of which I enclose you a printed copy, from Colo. R H Lee to the Govt. has been circulated with great industry in manuscript, four weeks before it went to press, and said to have had a bad influence. The enemies to the Constitution leave no stone unturned to encrease the opposition to it. I am, &c.

The document that makes Delaware “The First State”.

After the delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia completed their work on the new United State Constitution, it was presented to each of the states for ratification (approval). Delaware’s legislature directed that ten delegates from each county be selected at a special election held on November 26, 1787, and that these delegates meet the following week in a ratification convention. Because the State House was not yet constructed, the convention’s sessions were held in Battell’s Tavern, located on the north side of the Dover Green. The thirty delegates quickly and unanimously approved the new constitution. The convention clerk hand-scripted their approval on a large piece of parchment, now called the Ratification Document, and the delegates signed it on Friday, December 7, 1787. The clerk made a duplicate copy, including signatures, and sent it to the national government. This action on December 7th made Delaware the First State to officially approve the new United States Constitution.