Rhode Island Ratification
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  • Colony Founded: 1636
  • Ratified Constitution: May 29, 1790
  • Total Population: 65,418 (1790 est.)
    • Free: 64,470
    • Slave: 948
  • Major Economic Institutions: Fishing, Shipbuilding
  • State Government: Rhode Island's government was based on their original charter from 1663, which was far more liberal than most state governments, giving a greater degree of power to the people. The executive, including the governor and a Deputy Council, as well as the General Assembly, were both elected by the people for short terms, requiring annual elections. Meanwhile, voting rights were extended to white male property holders.
  • Ratification Debate: Many Federalists considered Rhode Island a rogue state, as it rejected every call for a new constitution, going back to its total absence from the Constitutional Convention. When the drafted Constitution was presented to the state General Assembly in February 1788, the legislature rejected forming a ratification convention entirely, instead putting the document up for a public referendum the following month, which ended with a decisive rejection 2,708-237. Largely concerned with protecting their paper money policy from the Constitution's requirement of using gold and silver specie and upset at the provisions allowing slavery, Anti-Federalists dominated the state throughout the entire ratification period. As state after state ratified the Constitution, Rhode Island refused to even call a ratification convention. Even after the Constitution took effect and the first ten amendments were proposed, no convention was called, despite the fact that its operation pleased many Rhode Island citizens. Later still, when a hard-fought tie-breaking vote by the governor in January 1790 managed to get a convention formed, it adjourned in five days without ratifying the Constitution. Finally, it took a direct threat by the U.S. Senate of establishing a trade embargo with Rhode Island to compel the state, out of fear of economic ruin, to reconvene the convention and narrowly vote 34-32 to ratify the Constitution, making Rhode Island the last of the thirteen states to do so.1
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