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Elections

The intense debate took place because the Constitution provided that it was to be adopted by ratifying conventions elected by the people in each state. On February 1, 1788, the New York Assembly passed a resolution calling a convention to meet in Poughkeepsie in mid-June and for the elections to take place at the same time as legislative elections in late April. The resolution provided that all adult free men could vote for delegates whether or not they owned property. At least partly because of this, the number of voters in the elections for Convention delegates was substantially higher than in the elections for legislators, which had property qualifications.

The public debate was a political campaign over who should be elected to the ratifying convention—Federalists or Antifederalists. The two sides organized, held public meetings, proposed election tickets, and wrote essays. This election, by secret ballot, with no property qualifications, and with organized parties, may be considered among the first truly democratic elections in the modern sense. New Yorkers elected 46 Antifederalist delegates and 19 Federalists delegates to represent them in the Poughkeepsie Convention.

Video: Electing the Delegates

Map: Origin of Federalist and Antifederalist Delegates

1788

From January 31 to February 1, the New York Assembly and Senate call for the New York State Ratifying Convention to meet at the Poughkeepsie courthouse on June 17. The election of delegates to the Convention—by secret ballot and with no property qualifications for voters—will begin on April 29 and the polls will stay open as long as five days.

The Federalist essays have become so voluminous that they are published as a book on March 22. Volume one contains the first 36 essays.

On April 15, John Jay’s pamphlet, An Address to the People of the State of New-York, signed by "A Citizen of New-York," is published. This pamphlet, like The Federalist, aims to convince voters to elect supporters of the Constitution to the Convention. It is clearly written and one observer says it "has had a most astonishing influence in converting Antifeoderalists."

An Address to the People of the State of New-York: Shewing the Necessity of Making Amendments to the Constitution . . . signed by "A Plebeian" (suggesting a working-class opponent to the Constitution) is published on April 17. The author (possibly merchant and Antifederalist Melancton Smith or New York City Antifederalist leader John Lamb) responds to Jay’s praise of the Philadelphia Convention by criticizing some of its members as "great public defaulters."

Voters go to the polls from April 29 through May 3. Both parties print election lists of candidates for the Convention, the Assembly, and the Senate. The lists are distributed as broadsides and are printed in newspapers. Campaign literature is circulated throughout the state. These elections are not too different from modern election campaigns.

The second volume of The Federalist, containing the remaining 49 essays, is published on May 28.

Following the rules of the election law of February 13, 1787, the ballot boxes are not opened until May 29. The final result: 19 Federalist and 46 Antifederalist delegates are elected to the Convention.

The ballot count shows a large turnout for the election of Convention delegates. The New York Packet reports on May 30 that in New York City more votes were cast for delegates to the Convention than for members of the state Assembly: 2,836 versus 1,650. This was generally true throughout the state.