NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (NNS) -- As debates raged in taverns, halls and homes throughout the eastern seaboard in June 1788, only eight of 13 colonies had ratified a future United States Constitution. In order for the Constitution to be officially adopted as the ruling law of the land, it needed to be accepted by at least nine. The future of the fledgling United States government was in the hands of five holdout territories-New Hampshire, Virginia, New York, North Carolina and Rhode Island.
On June 21, 1788, nine months after the George Washington-led Constitutional Convention agreed on a system of government outlined in the Constitution, New Hampshire became the ninth colony to ratify the Constitution, heralding the change in government Washington and the convention members seeked.
The road to ratifying the Constitution began with the need for a stronger government. Before ratification, the citizens of the independent colonies were governed by the Articles of Confederation, a stop-gap measure designed to keep the victors of the American Revolution unified in uncertain times.
The Articles were a cautious attempt at creating a central government, keeping in mind the political issues colonists had with the British form of government, issues that were at the root of the independence movement to begin with. Because of this, the Articles of Confederation were weak at best, with most of the power of government placed on the individual colonies and Congress serving as the tentative big brother figure to settle disputes that could not be handled between colonies.
However, when national issues such as taxes and commerce surfaced, it became apparent that a stronger overall governing law was needed within the United States. Thus, on May 25, 1787, the Constitutional Convention, led by George Washington, the namesake of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73), and attended by representatives from every colony, convened.
The Constitution was signed at the end of the Constitutional Convention by 38 of the 41 delegates present at the convention.
The first five states to ratify the Constitution were Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, beginning Dec. 7, 1787. The rest of the states were still hesitant, disturbed by what they perceived as a lack of protection outlined for basic freedoms. In response to these worries, the Bill of Rights, amendments drafted for the Constitution specifically protecting certain basic rights, was introduced. After the proposition of the Bill of Rights, Massachusetts, Maryland and South Carolina all ratified the Constitution.
Only one more colony was needed to make the Constitution the official governing law of the United States. Months elapsed as the remaining colonies wavered over the decision for ratification. If a ninth colony did not ratify the Constitution, it would die before it had the chance to go into effect.
On June 21, 1788, New Hampshire ensured the success of the Constitution, becoming the ninth state to ratify it. This made the Constitution the official law of the United States and turned the colonies into states. Virginia and New York soon followed.
On March 4, 1789, the United States Constitution officially went into effect.
On Sept. 25, 1789, the Bill of Rights proposed to pacify the worries of states about the protection of freedoms was cut from 19 to 12 ammendments and sent to the states for ratification, where it eventually molded into the 10 known today. By May 29, 1790, all original 13 colonies were officially under the Constitution and part of the United States of America.
Because of the essential ratification of the Constitution by New Hampshire on June 21, 1788, the Constitution of the United States of America became official, and today still stands as the oldest written constitution still in effect worldwide.
If you would like to learn more about the ratification of the Constitution, visit https://constitutioncenter.org/blog/the-day-the-constitution-was-ratified.
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For more news from USS George Washington (CVN 73), visit www.navy.mil/local/cvn73/.