About the Exhibition 

The process of ratifying the United States Constitution culminated in the inauguration of the nation's first president, George Washington, at Federal Hall, then at Wall and Nassau streets in Manhattan on April 30, 1789. Only 15 years later, in the same spot, a group of businessmen and merchants founded The New-York Historical Society. Modeled in part after the learned societies of Europe, the Society noted in its founding statement that "without the aid of original records and authentic documents, history will be nothing more than a well-combined series of ingenious conjectures and amusing fables" and issued a call for materials that would reflect the history of the new nation and its colonial past.

The documents in this exhibition are, for the most part, drawn from the collections that resulted from this enlightened plea, with helpful additions from colleague institutions. Following conversations relating to the publication of the fifth and final New York volume of the multivolume Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution, University of Wisconsin–Madison historians John P. Kaminski and Richard Leffler agreed to curate both a physical exhibition in real time and an online exhibition that would capture the excitement and tension surrounding the ratification battle. New-York Historical Society staff members Marilyn Kushner and Mariam Touba served as in-house curators. We are grateful to them and to the institutions that have loaned us material for both presentations, as well as to Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of the New-York Historical Society, and the Society's Board of Trustees for making this exhibition possible.

Nation at the Crossroads Lesson Plans