University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
The History Collection

Page View

Jensen, Merrill; Kaminski, John P.; Saladino, Gaspare J. (ed.) / Ratification of the Constitution by the states: Pennsylvania
(1976)

B. The Dissent of the Minority of the Convention,   pp. 617-640


Page 617

B. THE DISSENT OF THE MINORITY
OF THE CONVENTION
The "Dissent of the Minority of the Convention" was signed by
twenty-one of the twenty-three members who had voted against rat-
ification of the Constitution. The "Dissent" summarized the argu-
ments against the Constitution set forth in the newspaper essays and
pamphlets printed in Pennsylvania and elsewhere since mid-September,
and the arguments Robert Whitehill, John Smilie, and William Find-
ley had used in the state Convention. It attacked the secrecy of the
Constitutional Convention and its lack of authority to write a new
constitution. It denounced both the force used to secure a quorum
of the Pennsylvania Assembly to make the calling of a state convention
possible and the procedures of the state Convention and the behavior
of the majority of its members.
However, the "Dissent" was more than a political attack upon po-
litical opponents. The document provided a detailed analysis of the
Constitution from the point of view of men who believed in the sov-
ereignty of the states, and who believed that the new government would
destroy state sovereignty and deprive individual citizens of their rights
and liberties.
Most importantly of all, the "Dissent," as the "official" statement
of the minority of the Convention, presented the amendments to the
Constitution that Robert Whitehill had submitted to the Convention
on 12 December. The majority of the Convention had refused to
consider the amendments or to allow them to be placed on the Con-
vention Journals. Although not an official document in a strict sense,
the "Dissent" gave formal sanction to the growing demand for amend-
ments in Pennsylvania, and it provided an example for men in other
states as their conventions met to consider the Constitution.
In 1807, in applying for office under the administration of Thomas
Jefferson, Samuel Bryan, the author of "Centinel," declared that he
had written the "Dissent of the Minority." If so, he must have had
the help of minority members of the Convention.
The "Dissent" was published on 18 December in the Pennsylvania
Packet and as a broadside by Eleazer Oswald. By 9 February 1788 it
had been reprinted in the Freeman's Journal, Pennsylvania Mercury,
Carlisle Gazette, American Museum, Lancaster Zeitung, Philadelphis-
che Correspondenz, and the Pittsburgh Gazette. For Pennsylvania re-
sponses to the "Dissent," see the Pennsylvania Gazette, 26 December
and 9 January 1788, and "A Citizen of Philadelphia," 23 January, all in
IV:A below; "A Freeman" I, II, III, Pennsylvania Gazette, 23, 30 Jan-
uary, 6 February and "Centinel" XVIII, Independent Gazetteer, 9
April, all in Commentaries on the Constitution; and Mfm:Pa. 278, 288,
430, 503. The "Dissent" circulated throughout the country in news-
paper, broadside, and pamphlet form (see CC:353).
617


Go up to Top of Page