Locating the Conventions

Pennsylvania State House (now Independence Hall), 1752

Article 7 of the Constitution provides that once nine state conventions ratified the Constitution it would be implemented among the ratifying states. This was controversial because it violated the provisions in Article 13 of the Articles of Confederation that specified that amendments to the Articles needed to be approved by Congress and then unanimously ratified by the state legislatures. Although the legitimacy of such an alteration was highly contested during the public debate over the Constitution, only one state legislature objected to using conventions to consider the Constitution. The obstreperous Rhode Island legislature repeatedly rejected proposals to call a convention, preferring instead to call a statewide referendum conducted in the state’s thirty towns, which overwhelmingly rejected the Constitution. In Pennsylvania, Antifederalists unsuccessfully attempted to delay its assembly’s call of a convention until after the ensuing state legislative elections, hoping that they might regain control of a majority of the assembly.

Massachusetts Statehouse

In calling state ratifying conventions, the legislatures considered both logistical and political factors. Logistically, any convention site had to have a building that could conveniently accommodate the delegates (over 350 in Massachusetts, 270 in North Carolina, 220 in South Carolina and about 170 in Virginia and Connecticut) in a facility that could be heated during the fall or winter and that had a gallery that could accommodate a large number of people who wanted to observe the debates. The town also had to have accommodations to house and feed the delegates and any family members and slaves as well as livery facilities to maintain the delegates’ horses for perhaps a month. Consideration was also given to the geographical location of the site within the state which might make it more or less convenient for some delegates to attend.

Newport, R.I., Colony House, dates from 1741.

Politically, most towns, especially the larger seacoast towns, were overwhelming Federalist. Interior towns surrounded by rural Antifederalist communities might be more conducive to opponents of the Constitution. Public opinion and potential intimidation from the partisan visitors in the galleries might affect the delegates.

The conventions of most states met in one town. In New Hampshire and Rhode Island, however, their conventions adjourned for a couple months and then re-convened in another town. North Carolina elected two different conventions in 1788 and 1789 that met in different towns. Several states assembled in one building, but then re-assembled in another more spacious building. A total of twenty-one different buildings hosted conventions—nine statehouses, six churches, two courthouses, two taverns, one city hall and one school academy.

  • Vermont
    Bennington, Congregational Meeting House (the Old Congregational House)
  • New Hampshire
    Exeter, Court House (first session)
    Concord, Old North Meeting House (second session)
  • Massachusetts
    Boston, State House, House of Representatives Chamber (9 January 1788)
    Brattle Street Congregational Church (10–11 January 1788)
    State House, House of Representatives Chambers (12–17 January 1788)
    Long Lane Congregational Church (later known as the Federal Street Meeting House) (17 January–7 February 1788)
  • Rhode Island
    South Kingstown, State House (first session)
    Newport, Colony House—then moved to Second Congregational Church (second session)
  • Connecticut
    Hartford, State House then moved to First Church (North Meeting House)
  • New York
    Poughkeepsie, Dutchess County Court House
  • New Jersey
    Trenton, Blazing Star Tavern (later known as the French Arms Tavern)
  • Pennsylvania
    Philadelphia, State House (later known as Independence Hall)
  • Delaware
    Dover, The Golden Fleece Tavern (Elizabeth Battell, Innkeeper)
  • Maryland
    Annapolis, State House
  • Virginia
    Richmond, State House then moved to the New Academy on Shockoe Hill
  • North Carolina
    Hillsborough, St. Matthew’s Church (first convention)
    Fayetteville, State House (second convention)
  • South Carolina
    Charleston, The Exchange (City Hall)
  • Georgia
    Augusta, State House