3. Promoting the Constitution
The debate over ratification . . . took the form not of a Socratic dialogue or an academic symposium but of a cacophonous argument in which appeals to principle and common sense and close analyses of specific clauses accompanied wild predictions of the good and evil effects that ratification would bring.
Jack Rakove, Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas
in the Making of the Constitution, 19961
No sooner had the Constitutional Convention adjourned on September 17, 1787, than vigorous debate began on the merits of the document that the fifty-five delegates had created, adopted, and submitted to the states for final judgment. Early predictions of prompt ratification proved wistful as state after state dove into lengthy rancorous delegate campaigns for their ratifying conventions, with opponents filling the newspapers with essays and the public spaces with broadsides. As historian Jack Rakove reminds us, little of the debate mirrored the reasoned analysis of the Federalist Papers by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay, or the works collectively known as the Anti-Federalist Papers by George Mason, George Clinton, Mercy Otis Warren, and others. Much resembled the works presented here—written by Federalists in Pennsylvania and New York—which could supplement classroom study of the Federalist Papers. Directed to local audiences engaged in spirited campaigns, they exhibit the blend of "academic symposium" and "cacophonous argument" that defined the ratification process. (See Appeals for Calm in the Ratification Debates in the next section, Opposing the Constitution.)
Francis Hopkinson, "The New Roof," allegory and poem, 1787, 1788. Revered for his witty satiric poems published during the Revolution, Francis Hopkinson penned two works titled "The New Roof" to promote ratification of the Constitution. Widely read and reprinted, both works—an allegory and a poem— portrayed the Constitution as a "new roof" for the nation struggling under a roof "in very bad condition" (the Articles of Confederation) for which simple repairs would not suffice. Concerning Hopkinson's impact, his fellow Patriot Benjamin Rush concluded that "the various causes which contributed to the establishment of the Independence and federal government of the United States will not be fully traced unless much is ascribed to the irresistible influence of the ridicule which he poured forth, from time to time, upon the enemies of those great political events."2 Follow the ingenious ways in which Hopkinson applied the "new roof" controversy to the Pennsylvania ratification debate. (6 pp.)
Federal Committee of Albany, New York, The 35 Anti-Federal Objections Refuted, pamphlet, 1788, selections. On July 26, 1788, New York became the eleventh state to ratify the Constitution in a close 30-27 vote achieved only by the Federalists' agreement to promote a bill of rights in the first Congress. During the preceding spring as delegates were elected to the state ratifying convention, local Federalist and Anti-Federalist committees conducted wars of words in newspapers, pamphlets, and one-page broadsides—expounding and refuting back and forth in quickly published pieces, the eighteenth-century equivalent of blogging. And as occurs in the blogosphere, the tone was often less civil than the expository voice of political theorists who wrote the Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers. Here we sample the lively paper debate in Albany, New York, centering on a Q&A-style pamphlet subtitled The 35 Anti-Federal Objections Refuted, published by the Albany Federal Committee to refute arguments published a few days earlier by the city's Anti-Federal Committee. To discern the variety of tone in the pieces—formal or conversational, derisive or congenial—read the pieces aloud. Follow the blend of "impartial" and impassioned rhetoric. How did these pieces function as instruction and persuasion? (9 pp.)
- What are the primary arguments for and against the Constitution in these works? What does each side predict will happen to the new nation if the Constitution becomes the "supreme law of the land"?
- How do the authors portray their political opponents? To what do they ascribe the opposing positions?
- Compare the genres in these works—allegory, poetry, and a modified Q&A—with the political essay style used in more well-known and nationally published Federalist and Anti-Federalist writings. What are the strengths of each genre? How do they suit their intended audiences?
- Compare these works with those in the next section (#4: Opposing the Constitution). What styles of argument and rebuttal do you find in each? what forms of rhetoric and modes of persuasion?
- How do the Constitution debates of 1787-1788 compare with citizens' political debates in the U.S. today? What lessons, tactics, etc., could each period take from the other?
Francis Hopkinson, "The New Roof"_______
- To what issues in the ratification debate do these metaphors in "The New Roof" apply? Add and explain other metaphors in the allegory.
- – the mansion house "insufficient for the purpose of protection"
- – its faulty roof "put together whilst the timber was still green"
- – the flat roof that allowed people "to trample upon and abuse it"
- – its 13 rafters, some "thick and heavy, others very slight"
- – the "shrinking and swelling" wooden pegs
- – the "skillful architects" who designed the new roof
- – Margery's apartment that "would be considerably lessened" under a new roof
- – the six objections to the new roof, including its lack of three items: a "bill of scantling," a "trap door" and "12 pedestals"
- What six objections to the new roof were presented by "William, Jack, and Robert," as urged on by "Margery"?
- How did "James the architect" rebut Margery's objections?
- Why did Hopkinson conclude the allegory with a sample of a lunatic's "rhapsodies," alluding to the Anti-Federalist essays by "Philadelphiensis," Benjamin Workman?
- Compare the "The New Roof," with Hopkinson's 1774 allegory "A Pretty Story," in which he defended the Patriot cause of separation from Britain. Which allegory do you find more effective? Why?
- Using a glossary of architectural terms, and a glossary of carpentry terms, analyze Hopkinson's metaphorical use of roof building to celebrate the creation of the U.S. Constitution.
- How does the poem "The New Roof" differ from the allegory as a political document? For what audience and purpose did Hopkins address each piece?
- Follow the final couplets in the eleven stanzas of "The New Roof," noting especially the last lines (below). How did Hopkinson vary the couplets to drive forward the message of his poem? (Read the poem aloud to hear the cumulative effect of the changing couplets.)
- – Our government firm, and our citizens free.
- – A government firm, over citizens free.
- – Laws equal and just, for a people that's free.
- – Combined in strength, yet as citizens free.
- – United as states, but as citizens free.
- – A federal head, o'er a people still free.
Albany Federalist & Anti-Federalist Committees_______
- Overall, what are the major Anti-Federalist objections to the proposed Constitution? Do they relate most to power, money, taxes, economic status, defense, slavery, voting, individual rights, or another factor?
- How did the Federalists answer the Anti-Federalist objections? What answers were definitive and specific to the Constitution, and which were vague and evasive? Why?
- How did the Federalists answer the Anti-Federalists' concern about the lack of a bill of rights?
- To what extent did The 35 Anti-Federal Objections Refuted reflect the dispassionate and reasoned discussion of an "academic symposium" (to quote historian Jack Rakove)?
- To what extent did they reflect partisan divisiveness and "cacophonous argument"?
- What logical fallacies do you find in their discourse? See Logical Fallacies: List 1 and/or List 2.
- Choose one Objection/Answer item that you deem accurate and impartial; explain your selection.
- Choose one Objection/Answer item that you find partial or evasive; rewrite it to improve its validity and impartiality.
- How might the Federalist rewording of the Anti-Federalist objections have influenced readers' judgments of the Anti-Federalist concerns?
- What local and immediate concerns were significant in the Albany debates that did not receive similar attention in the nationally reprinted Federalist Papers and Anti-Federalist writings?
- Despite partisan distortions in the publications, what value did they offer citizens in evaluating the proposed Constitution?
- How did Americans' concept of self-governance change from 1776 to 1789? Why?
- How did their emerging national identity affect this process?
- What divisions of political ideology coalesced in this process?
- How did the process lead to the final Constitution and Bill of Rights?
- How do the Constitution and the Bill of Rights reflect the ideals of the American Revolution?
Hopkinson, "The New Roof," allegory & poem
Albany Federalist & Anti-Federalist Committees, publications
, biography and works (Pennsylvania State University)
Nation at the Crossroads: The Great New York Debate over the Constitution, 1787-1788
(New-York Historical Society)
New York Ratification
(Center for the Study of the American Constitution, University of Wisconsin-Madison)
Ratification of the U.S. Constitution
, by Gordon Lloyd (Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs, Ashland University)
Creating the U.S. Constitution
(Library of Congress)
The Federalist Papers
, 1787-1788 (Library of Congress)
The Federalist 10 & 51
, images, text, and discussion (National Archives)
The Anti-Federalists: The Other Founders of the American Constitutional Tradition?
by Saul Cornell, Ohio State University (History Now
, September 2007, Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History)
Pamphlets (15) on the Constitution of the United States, Published during Its Discussion by the People, 1787-1788
, ed. Paul Leicester Ford, 1888 (Online Library of Liberty)
"Was the American Revolution Inevitable?
," not-to-miss teachable essay by Prof. Francis D. Cogliano, University of Edinburgh (BBC)
Teaching the Revolution
, valuable overview essay by Prof. Carol Berkin, Baruch College (CUNY)
General Online Resources
1Jack N. Rakove, Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution (New York: Knopf, 1996), p. 132.
2Charles R. Hildeburn, "Francis Hopkinson," The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. II (1878), p. 320.
Images courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society; accessed in America's Historical Newspapers, American Antiquarian Society with Readex/NewsBank.
– "The New Roof," allegory by Francis Hopkinson, The Pennsylvania Packet, 29 December 1787, as published in the Connecticut Courant, 25 February 1788 (detail).
– Federal Committee of the City of Albany, An Impartial Address, to the Citizens of the City and County of Albany: Or, The 35 Anti-Federal Objections Refuted, 1788, title page.
Banner image: Amos Doolittle, The Looking Glass for 1787, engraving, cartoon on the Connecticut ratification debates, 1787 (detail). Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-USZC4-1722.
*PDF file - You will need software on your computer that allows you to read and print Portable Document Format (PDF) files, such as Adobe Acrobat Reader. If you do not have this software, you may download it FREE
from Adobe's Web site.