On this day in 1787, Delaware becomes the first state to ratify the Constitution, doing so by a unanimous vote.
This momentous event occurred exactly one year after the Hampshire Herald published a statement by Thomas Grover listing the demands made by the participants in Shays’ Rebellion. The post-war economy left farmers of western Massachusetts and throughout the 13 states in distress. Many were unable to pay debts with the worthless paper money issued by state governments. Captain Daniel Shays, a Continental Army veteran, led an attack on the federal arsenal in Springfield, Massachusetts, as part of an effort to close the courts where debt lawyers sued debtors. Volunteers put down the rebellion, but wealthy men throughout the new states were terrified that such a revolt might be repeated. To further their fears, Shays-ite candidates swept the Massachusetts legislature in the next election.
Debtors’ uprisings like Shays’ Rebellion were a significant impetus for the Philadelphia convention to strengthen the American union. Alexander Hamilton first called for discussions on revising the Articles of Confederation based on improving economic relations in the new republic. The process began in a hurried and extra-legal manner. The Constitutional Convention’s dictate that the new Constitution would come into effect after merely nine states ratified was strictly illegal under the Articles, which demanded unanimity among the states for amendments to take effect. The drafters wanted to take action quickly before the nation was irreversibly fractured.
Delaware’s ratification indicated that the states were indeed willing to consider an extra-legal document drafted behind closed doors. In many ways, the ratification process was a sort of second American revolution and Delaware’s unanimous vote accurately foretold that it would take place without bloodshed.