Women and Ratification

Women were constitutionally prohibited from voting and holding office in New York. Nonetheless, many were still interested in politics and involved in the ratification process. Sarah Jay (1756–1802), the daughter of New Jersey governor William Livingston, regularly advised her husband John Jay on political matters. In this letter, Sarah Jay advised her sickly husband "not [to] have a greater share of business imposed upon you than your just proportion," because his "Colleagues are Men of Abilities." She hoped that the New Hampshire and later the Virginia ratifications would stimulate New York's Convention to ratify.

Other women took part in the New York debate over the Constitution, as well. "A Columbian Patriot" (an Antifederalist pamphlet written by Mercy Otis Warren of Milton, Massachusetts) was reprinted in April 1788 by the New York Federal Republican Committee and 1,700 copies were distributed throughout the state. The Albany Anti-Federal Committee noted that it was "a well composed piece but in a Stile too sublime & florid for the common people in this Part of the Country."

Governor George Clinton's family was said to be "all politicians." One of his five daughters was alone at home when a spontaneous Federalist mob roamed the streets of New York City on the night of July 26, celebrating New York's ratification. When in front of the governor's house, the mob yelled "a halter for the governor!" The young girl threw open the window, courtseyed, and yelled out, "I thank you gentlemen, for the compliment you pay my father, he has always had the censure of disorderly people, and I have heard him say, that nothing gratified him more highly than it, except the approbation of good men."

Following the example of their husbands, the women of Half-Moon district joined by women from Lansingburgh assembled at Waterford on the east bank of the Hudson in Albany County and marched in a "beautiful" procession. Sixty-four women "dress'd with the utmost neatness and simplicity, without the aid of foreign gew gaws to embellish their persons, . . . walked two by two, at a proper distance, and in perfect order, through the different streets." Led by "two ladies supporting the constitution, ornamented with blue ribbon, on the end of a flag-staff," the procession "moved to the green west of the town," where "beneath an elegant colonnade" they shared tea with their townsmen. While celebrating "the company were thus regaled by eleven cannon. When the tea ended, "a drum, fife and violin, gave the signal for a country dance . . . in a perfectly rural style." When the dance ended the procession retraced its steps through the town to a pre-appointed house where the dance continued until "the company retired at an early hour." Other New York communities celebrated ratification with dinners and dances.