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Constitutional FAQ Answer #55

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Q55. "I read that New Hampshire became the 9th state to adopt an approval resolution on June 21, 1788 but that the Constitution was not ratified until two years later. Why? And, what was the specific date upon which the Constitution was ratified and by what act what that accomplished?

A. The following is from The National Archives Web site:

Q. When did the United States government go into operation under the Constitution?
A. The Constitution became binding upon nine States by the ratification of the ninth State, New Hampshire, June 21, 1788. Notice of this ratification was received by Congress on July 2, 1788. On September 13, 1788, Congress adopted a resolution declaring that electors should be appointed in the ratifying States on the first Wednesday in January, 1789; that the electors vote for President on the first Wednesday in February, 1789; and that "the first Wednesday in March next [March 4, 1789] be the time and the present seat of Congress the place for commencing proceedings under the said constitution." The Convention had also suggested "that after such Publication the Electors should be appointed, and the Senators and Representatives elected." The Constitution left with the States the control over the election of congressmen, and Congress said nothing about this in its resolution; but the States proceeded to provide for it as well as for the appointment of electors. On March 3, 1789, the old Confederation went out of existence and on March 4 the new government of the United States began legally to function, according to a decision of the Supreme Court of the United States (Owings v. Speed, 5 Wheat. 420); however, it had no practical existence until April 6, when first the presence of quorums in both Houses permitted organization of Congress. On April 30, 1789, George Washington was inaugurated as President of the United States, so on that date the executive branch of the government under the Constitution became operative. But it was not until February 2, 1790, that the Supreme Court, as head of the third branch of the government, organized and, held its first session; so that is the date when our government under the Constitution became fully operative.

So, these dates are important: The Constitution was accepted by the Convention on September 17, 1787. It was officially ratified when New Hampshire ratified it on June 21, 1788. The first Congress under the Constitution popped into being on the 4th of March, 1789, and had its first quorum on April 6, 1789. The Executive was active on April 30, 1789. The Judiciary was active on February 2, 1790. Perhaps the years between June 21, 1788 and February 2, 1790 is what they mean by two years? If they said that the Constitution was "ratified" in 1790, that is definitely incorrect.


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