Better Late Than Never: Connecticut Ratifies the U.S. Bill of Rights, 12–13 April 1939

Eighty-two years ago in March and April 1939, three states belatedly ratified the U.S. Bill of Rights symbolically commemorating Congress’ proposal of the amendments 150 years earlier in September 1789. In December 1789, Georgia was the only state that rejected all twelve of the amendments proposed by Congress, stating that the amendments were premature. Connecticut and Massachusetts also failed to ratify in 17891791 because their bicameral legislatures disagreed on how many of the twelve amendments should be ratified, and neither state submitted an exemplification of what amendments they had adopted.

On 27 October 1789, the Connecticut House of Representatives approved a bill ratifying eleven of Congress’ twelve amendments. It rejected only the second amendment dealing with compensation for members of Congress. Supporting all the amendments, Governor Samuel Huntington and the Council rejected the House bill. Both houses appointed members to a conference committee, but neither house changed its original position. The Council voted that further consideration of the amendments be referred to the legislature at its May 1790 session.

On 18 May 1790, the House approved another bill that rejected Congress’ first two amendments while ratifying the last ten. (The first amendment dealt with the size and apportionment of the U.S. House of Representatives.) Three days later, on 21 May, the Council rejected the House bill, preferring a bill that adopted all twelve of the amendments. The House rejected the Council’s draft bill. Again, both houses appointed members to a conference committee. On 24 May, the Council rejected the conference committee’s report sticking to its original position ratifying all of the amendments. The House considered the conference committee report on the morning of 25 May, but refused to alter its previous decision.

On 16 October 1790, the House agreed to a bill rejecting all of the amendments. The Council then voted to refer the amendments to the legislature’s May 1791 session. The House agreed to the postponement. No further consideration of the amendments is recorded until the legislature symbolically passed a joint resolution on 12–13 April 1939 adopting the first ten amendments to the Constitution. A copy of the joint resolution was sent by Connecticut Secretary of State Sara B. Crawford to President Franklin D. Roosevelt on 25 April 1939.

Massachusetts ratified the Bill of Rights on 2 March 1939 and Georgia on 24 March 1939. An interesting hour-long radio program produced by Norman Corwin commemorating the 150th anniversary of the adoption of the Bill of Rights on 15 December 1941 can be found on the internet. The production, which included a play starring several Hollywood celebrities and a speech by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was particularly poignant in that it aired only a week after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.