The first installment in this series reviewed highlights from the recently-issued Volume 27 of the Documentary History of the Constitution of the United States, which covers South Carolina. This second installment continues with highlights from Volume 28, which covers New Hampshire.
New Hampshire was a small state, but its ratification was significant. It was one of only two states—the other was North Carolina— whose convention adjourned rather than approve the Constitution. The New Hampshire convention, like its North Carolina counterpart, later re-assembled for purposes of ratifying. (Rhode Island initially rejected the document in a referendum, but later ratified by convention.)
The initial session of the New Hampshire convention met in February, 1788. When it reconvened and ratified the following June, it made New Hampshire the ninth state to approve the document, bringing it to life for the ratifying states. As I explain in my book, The Original Constitution: What It Actually Said and Meant, the framers apparently chose the nine-state threshold because Americans were familiar with it and, perhaps more importantly, the conventions of even the smallest nine states represented a majority of the American people. Furthermore, New Hampshire’s decision spurred adoption in New York and Virginia.
The Original Constitution: What It Actually Said and Meant also explains that, as valuable as Hamilton, Madison’s, and Jay’s “Federalist Papers” are, we should not rely too heavily on them. This is because The Federalist’s influence on the ratifiers was not as great as we might imagine. The editors of the Volume 28 report that not a single New Hampshire newspaper reprinted even one complete essay from The Federalist. Only one New Hampshire newspaper printed part of single essay. By contrast, the New Hampshire Spy reproduced all of John Dickinson’s Fabius essays, and the New Hampshire Gazette reprinted five of the nine.
Here are some other highlights from Volume 28:
1. The book reprints two essays by “A Friend to the Rights of the People” and “A Friend to the Republic”—apparently the same anti-federalist author. The essays advance some unique points against the Constitution—for example, that it would make it harder for Vermont to become a state. But the real usefulness of these essays is that they serve as a compendium of nearly all the important arguments against the Constitution: (1) The instrument provided for congressional terms that were too long, (2) it gave too much power to Congress over congressional elections, (3) it contained insufficient curbs on congressional pay, (4) it allowed a standing army in time of peace, (5) it did not permit Congress to end the slave trade for 20 years, (6) its definition of the judicial power were too expansive, (7) the document prescribed no religious test for federal office, (8) its fiscal restraints were insu