Business Of The Highest Magnitude


December 12: Pennsylvania became the second state- and the first large state—"to assent to and ratify” the Constitution. The vote was, predictably, 46 to 23. A transcript of the convention proceedings was made for publication, but the Federalists persuaded the court printer to release only the Federalist speeches.

December 13: The delegates marched in procession to the Court House at Market and Second streets, accompanied by members of the new Assembly, state and city officiais, and other local dignitaries. The ratification was read from a balcony to a great gathering of citizens. The city bells rang out, and thirteen cannons fired salvos.

December 18: The defeated Democratic delegates issued a pamphlet titled Reasons for Dissent and mailed a copy to every printer in the country. No copies were delivered. Democrats charged that they were destroyed by “the sons of power” who controlled the Pennsylvania postoffice system.

December 27: Federalists in Carlisle, a Scotch-Irish town of three hundred houses in the Cumberland Valley some 120 miles west of Philadelphia, staged a public celebration in honor of the ratification. They procured James Wilson for an oration, dragged a cannon to the public square, and heaped up a great stack of barrels for a bonfire. Antifederalists charged the crowd, upset the barrels, spiked the cannon, burned a copy of the Constitution, and began to beat Wilson with bludgeons. An old soldier saved his life by throwing himself over the body and taking the blows until help came.

Two days of riots followed. John Montgomery, venerable Federalist, one of the founders of Dickinson College in Carlisle five years earlier, wrote to a friend, “They are violent on both sides. … We [Federalists] are in a very disagreeable unhapey situation in this place nothing ever happned so bad amongst us neaghbours pass each other without speaking.”

June 21, 1788: The Constitution became law and the United States a new nation with ratification by New Hampshire, the ninth state.

July 4: Philadelphia mounted an all-day celebration to mark the day of Independence and the forming of the new Union. Some five thousand marched or rode in a Federal Procession a mile and a half long. All the trades, crafts, and professions were represented, many of them with elaborate floats, in a spectacle such as no American had ever seen before. High point of the procession was a structure called the “New Roof or Grand Fcederal Ediface,” 36 feet high, drawn by ten white horses. Benjamin Rush called the Ediface “truly sublime” and observed approvingly that of the thousands who took part in the ceremonies that day, very few engaged in quarrels and almost no one was intoxicated.

On an open field at the parade’s end, James Wilson, standing on the Grand Ediface, delivered the Fourth of July oration. Some of his passages were drowned out by the ill-timed firing of thirteen cannons on vessels anchored in the Delaware, but his soaring closing words were loud and clear: “ PEACE walks serene and unalarmed over all the unmolested regions—while LIBERTY , VIRTUE , and RELIGION go hand in hand harmoniously protecting, enlivening , and exalting all! HAPPY COUNTRY, MAY THY HAPPINESS BE PERPETUAL !”

The Pennsylvania Democrats made their peace with the new form of government. Within two years they got the Bill of Rights they had fought for: ten amendments to the Constitution that were remarkably like the amendments Robert Whitehill had vainly offered to the Pennsylvania state convention. James McCalmont became a judge, and Jacob Miley a representative, under the new Pennsylvania constitution. Robert Whitehill served four terms and John Smilie served eight terms in the House of Representatives of the United States. William Findley served eleven terms, and in one of them, in 1795, he moved the creation of the first standing congressional committee—a body of honest representatives called the Ways and Means Committee, formed to keep a sharp eye on the financial operations of a Federalist administration.