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Convention

When the Convention met in Poughkeepsie on June 17, 1788, there was a 46 to 19 majority opposed to the Constitution. Antifederalist leaders included Governor George Clinton of Ulster, Samuel Jones of Queens, Melancton Smith of Dutchess, and John Lansing, Jr., of Albany. The leading Federalists were Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and Chancellor Robert R. Livingston, all representing the city and county of New York. The Antifederalists were determined not to ratify the Constitution until it was amended to eliminate their objections.

By the time the New York Convention met, eight states had already ratified the Constitution unconditionally. The Constitution provided that once nine states ratified it, it would go into effect among the ratifying states. Thus, ratification by one more state would establish the Constitution. New Hampshire ratified on June 21, and the Constitution was established. News of the New Hampshire ratification reached the New York Convention on June 24. On June 25 Virginia ratified. Word of the Virginia ratification arrived in Poughkeepsie on July 2.

There was now urgency to the proceedings in the New York Convention. If New York did not ratify the Constitution, there might be terrible consequences. New York would be out of the Union. The federal government, which was located in New York City, would leave for someplace else. Federalists at the Convention threatened that the southern counties around New York City might secede from the state.

Leaders on both sides engaged in the art of compromise. The maneuvering took place on and off the floor. John Jay and Melancton Smith, experienced politicians representing opposing points of view, worked with their political peers to negotiate the compromise. Finally, on July 26 New York ratified the Constitution unconditionally. The Convention also recommended amendments to the Constitution, and it unanimously approved a "Circular Letter" to the states urging the call of a second general convention to consider these amendments and those proposed by other states. Antifederalist leaders orchestrated the final vote by suggesting that their delegates either vote to ratify or absent themselves when the vote occurred. Eleven Antifederalist delegates voted to ratify the Constitution while eight did not vote. By a vote of 30 to 27, New York became the eleventh state to ratify the Constitution.

The price of ratification was high for New York Antifederalists. The career of Melancton Smith, called "the most profound of the Antifederalists," was ruined. He never held a major office. As an Antifederalist he had disappointed the radical wing of his party by failing to require a bill of rights, agreeing instead to language that expressed confidence that one would be added. Nonetheless, his tireless behind-the-scenes work helped secure final approval of the Constitution.

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1788

When the Convention opens on June 17 in Poughkeepsie, Antifederalists have an overwhelming majority of 46 to 19; however, they agree to debate the Constitution clause by clause.

The Constitution is now officially adopted when New Hampshire becomes the ninth state to ratify it on June 21.

When news of the New Hampshire ratification reaches Poughkeepsie on June 24, prominent Federalists decide to hold a celebratory procession.

News of the Virginia ratification reaches Poughkeepsie on July 2. It is no longer to be doubted that a new government will be established.

The Convention completes debating the Constitution clause by clause on July 7. Immediately, Antifederalist John Lansing of Albany presents a bill of rights to be amended to the Constitution.

On July 10 Antifederalist John Lansing proposes ratifying the Constitution on conditions.

Federalist John Jay proposes unconditional ratification on July 11. Negotiations are ongoing to arrive at a plan for ratification that Federalists and Antifederalists can accept.

On July 17, Antifederalist delegate Melancton Smith seeks to find a compromise acceptable to both sides. One such plan is to have New York ratify unconditionally, but with the stipulation that if the amendments proposed by New York and the other states are not considered by a second general convention, New York can "recede" from the Union. He withdraws the proposal before it is put to a vote.

On July 23 a critical vote is taken in the Convention's Committee of the Whole. Antifederalist Samuel Jones of Queens moves that the Convention is ratifying "in full confidence" that amendments proposed by New York and other states will be considered. The vote is 31 to 29 and the majority includes several leading Antifederalists. This is unconditional ratification.

On the evening of July 25, the Convention votes 30 to 25 to adopt the report of the Committee of the Whole. Twelve Antifederalists vote in the majority. Although this is not the final vote, it is understood that New York has ratified the Constitution unconditionally.

On July 26, the Convention ratifies the Constitution unconditionally with a vote of 30 to 27, agreeing to the Declaration of Rights, the Form of Ratification, and the explanatory and recommendatory amendments. The Convention also unanimously agrees to the "Circular Letter," calling for the states to support a call for a second general convention. The Convention adjourns.