Well, with ratification came reading, and with reading came the inevitable reaction. I suppose that a statement like that, in light of all the times I’ve blathered on about the Constitutional Convention, isn’t all that surprising. But let’s speak to it for a minute this evening.
On a September Monday in 1787, the Constitution was ratified by the delegates meeting on the first floor of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. On a September Tuesday (the next day), which happened to be September 18, 1787, Thomas Mifflin got to make the climb to the second floor. It was there that the Pennsylvania legislature had been meeting for the last couple of weeks. The first floor was normally their domain, but they had graciously allowed the Convention delegates to use the space. And with all the rumor swirling around about a new Constitution and a change in government structure, it’s pretty easy to imagine a bunch of legislators quietly listening with ears pressed against the floor, trying to catch snatches of what was being said one floor below.
One can almost see the “lookout”, standing outside the door, making sure no one is coming. And when Mifflin’s shoes are heard on the steps, the lookout quickly and quietly runs back to the room and half whispers, “Somebody’s on the way!”…at which point everyone jumps back to their spots and makes things look like normal business. I’m sure it didn’t happen that way, but it paints a humorous, children-in-the-classroom type of behavior with which we’re all familiar.
Anyways, Thomas Mifflin entered the room, Constitution in hand, and read it to those assembled. It was the first public disclosure of the document. If you’ve never read the Constitution, you might fear that the delegates were in for a many-hours-long discourse. But of course, we’ve all read our nation’s most important document, so we know that, assuming no interruptions, Mifflin likely completed his work in less than two hours. And once he was done, Pennsylvania’s governing body knew they were in for some dramatic changes. Pennsylvania’s constitution (in place for nearly a dozen years) called for a one-chambered legislature, yearly elections, and a leader chosen by the legislature. All this talk of electors and a bicameral legislature and checks and balances was a lot to process at one time.
And let’s be honest, even Pennsylvania’s own constitution was the subject of fighting among the citizens…there had much inkshed and some bloodshed over it. There were factions and fights, division and disruption aplenty. Now, to top it off, here was Mifflin telling them their national government was radically changing. There was something new about which to fight!!
Those against ratification would go to great lengths to prevent it, and those for ratification would go to greater lengths to get it. We’ll be back in 1787’s version of the Pennsylvania statehouse before too long, because it’s going to get a bit goofy…