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Ratifying the Constitution
Digital History ID 186

Author:   George Washington


During the ratification debates, the Constitution's proponents stressed the document's democratic and republican character. Even though the framers had expressed concern during their deliberations over the dangers of democracy and demagoguery, they knew that ratification would fail if the new plan of government was perceived as "aristocratic." In the following letter to Henry Knox, his Revolutionary war comrade-in-arms, George Washington discusses the ratification debates.


...Congratulations on the acceptance of the new constitution by the State of Massachusetts. Had this been a larger majority, the stroke would have been more severely felt by the antifederalists in other States. As it is, it operates as a damper to their hopes, and is a matter of disappointment and chagrin to them all.

Under the circumstances enumerated in your letters, the favorable decision, which has taken place in that State, could hardly have been expected. Nothing less than the good sense, sound reasoning, moderation, and temper of the supporters of the measure could have carried the question. It will be very influential on the equivocal States. In the two, which are next to convene, New Hampshire and Maryland, there can be no doubt of its adoption, and in South Carolina but little, which will make nine States without a dissentient. The force of this argument is hardly to be resisted by local sophistry. Candor and prudence, therefore, it is to be hoped will prevail; and yet I believe there are some characters among us, who would hazard everything rather than cease their opposition, or leave to the operation of the government the chance of proving the fallacy of their predictions, by which their sagacity and foresight might be impeached.

From the last European intelligence, the political state of affairs in France seems to be in a delicate situation. What will be the issue is not easy to determine; but the spirit, which is diffusing itself, may produces changes in that government, which a few years ago could hardly have been dreamt of.

Source: Gilder Lehrman Institute

Additional information: George Washington to Henry Knox

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