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Kaminski, John P.; Schoenleber, Charles H.; Saladino, Gaspare J.; Leffler, Richard; Reid, Jonathan M.; Flamingo, Margaret R.; Lannér-Cusin, Johanna E.; Fields, David P.; Conley, Patrick T.; Moore, Timothy D. (ed.) / Ratification of the Constitution by the states: Rhode Island (3)
(2013)

VI. The debate over the Constitution in Rhode Island, 20 January-29 May 1790,   pp. 711-897


Page 711

VI.
THE DEBATE OVER THE
CONSTITUTION IN RHODE ISLAND
20 January-29 May 1790
Introduction
During the four months from the passage of the act calling a state
convention to the ratification of the Constitution by the second ses-
sion of the Convention on 29 May 1790, the Rhode Island debate over
the Constitution intensified. Some Rhode Islanders and out-of-state com-
mentators predicted that the state Convention, scheduled to meet in
South Kingstown on 1 March, would ratify the Constitution. Their op-
timism was soon dampened when, on 8 February, the Antifederalists
elected a majority of Convention delegates (RCS:R.I., 684-708). Rhode
Islanders were concerned about how the federal government would
treat them as the only state still outside of the Union. In late February
Rhode Island newspapers were filled with items appealing to the state
Convention delegates. All but one of the items were Federalist pieces
that stressed the dire consequences if the Convention did not ratify the
Constitution.
The first session of the Rhode Island Convention met from 1 to 6
March. It drafted and approved a bill of rights and amendments and
ordered them sent to the towns for their consideration before adjourn-
ing to 24 May (VII, below). The Convention's failure to ratify the Con-
stitution produced an outpouring of Federalist private letters and news-
paper items. Federalists disparaged Antifederalist motives for adjourning
the Convention, asked for federal aid in pressuring Antifederalists, and
enumerated the dangers of remaining outside the Union. Several Anti-
federalist newspaper pieces countered these arguments.
The decision to adjourn the Convention was made in hopes of fa-
cilitating a Country party victory in the annual spring election of state
officers, assistants, and deputies, all on 21 April. Antifederalists dropped
Governor John Collins and nominated Daniel Owen, who did not want
to run. Arthur Fenner replaced Owen at the head of the Antifederalist
ticket. Federalists knew they could not win a statewide election, but they
hoped to elect half of the assistants through a coalition prox. Anti-
federalists dismissed the Federalist plan. The entire Antifederalist ticket
was victorious. The town meetings of 21 April had also been enjoined
by the state Convention to deliberate on the Convention's bill of rights
and amendments and to instruct their Convention delegates accordingly.
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