University of Wisconsin–Madison

Documentary Resources

For nearly a half century historians and researchers associated with the Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution project have compiled and edited the world’s foremost collection of primary source materials relating to the ratification process. Scholars such as Leonard Levy have noted that this project stands as the “most significant editorial project in the nation.” When completed it will be the definitive work on the ratification period.

Below you will find three sets of materials that we believe to be among the most significant items which we have selected from our published volumes. Items in the Confederation Period section are primarily taken from our very first volume, Constitutional Documents and Records, 1776-1787 (CDR). Items found in the second grouping, The States and Ratification, are selected from the The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution (RCS), The RCS series is devoted to documenting each state’s ratification process. The last set of materials in section labeled Themes in the Ratification Period are items from the Commentaries on the Constitution (CC) which, is a six-volume set containing materials that were regional and national in scope. A fourth set of materials are primary sources highlighting the evolution of the ideas of the American Constitutional system. These selections feature documents including items from the British, American Colonial, Revolutionary and Ratification Periods.

  • The Confederation Period

    In this section we have selected primary source materials from our CDR (Constitutional Documents and Records, 1776-1787). We have organized them into eight topics that were prominent during the 1780s. Several of the themes here deal with the challenges facing the United States after the Revolutionary War.

  • The Philadelphia Convention

    Materials in this section are taken from our CDR (Constitutional Documents and Records, 1776-1787). Topics include the calling of the convention, instructions to the delegates, various plans of government, transmittal of the Constitution to Congress, and general assessments of the convention and its delegates.

  • The States and the Ratification Process

    This section of our website contains primary sources taken primarily from our RCS (Ratification of the Constitution by the States) series which feature the documentary history of each state and their unique ratification process. Listed in order of ratification, you will find speeches, newspaper editorials and letters from both the Federalist and Antifederalist perspectives as well as the recommendatory amendments many of the states submitted in their forms of ratification. We also have included chronologies, biographies, office holders and a map illustrating the voting patterns for each of the thirteen states.

  • Themes in the Ratification Period

    The topics we have selected feature concepts that were prominent in the ratification period; topics that were not limited to a specific state, but were prominent in many places throughout the United States during the ratification process. Most of the materials found here are items taken from our CC (Commentaries on the Constitution) series. Selections in this section include primary sources relating to foreign assessments of the Constitution, celebrations of ratification, the role of newspapers and religion in ratification, the evolution of the federal pillar illustration, and the idea of a second convention. We have also included essays that explain how two historians view the sequence of events and stages of the ratification process.

  •  Foundational Documents of American Constitutionalism

    These documents are what many consider to be he essential primary sources of the ideas informing and under girding the American Constitutional system. The selections range from as early as Magna Charta up to the Early National Period of American History.