University of Wisconsin–Madison

Metaphors, Similes, and Analogies Used to Describe the Constitution during the Ratification Debate

We have selected some of the rhetorical flourishes that were used in describing the Constitution during the Ratification debates. Many were favorable assessments while others were used in an attempt to convince the public of the dangers associated with the Constitution. Many of these assume an audience that was well read since many of these metaphors reference Biblical passages, literature, mythology, and architecture. Both sides were prone to hyperbole.

There are two series of volumes that have been published by the Center for the Study of the American Constitution. We have designated the series in which the items below are found. Each entry is originally in the RCS or CC series. RCS (Ratification of the Constitution by the States) signifies that the entry is found in a specific state volume in the Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution volumes. The state abbreviation follows the RCS. If an entry has a CC designation, this indicates that it is in the Commentaries on the Constitution series. These are numbered 1 through 6. The page numbers are last in each type of entry.

Able advocate

“Conscious of the rectitude of his own intentions however, and trusting that ‘in searching after error truth will appear,’ he flatters himself he should be excused, were he to leave the merits of this cause to that more able ADVOCATE, the CONSTITUTION itself.”

The State Soldier I, Virginia Independent Chronicle, 16 January 1788 (RCS:Va., 303)


“If the Constitution should be finally accepted and established, it will complete the temple of American liberty: and like the key stone of a grand and magnificent arch, be the bond of union to keep all the parts firm, and compacted together.”

James Bowdoin Speech: Massachusetts Convention, Boston, 23 January 1788 (RCS:Mass., 1323; CC Vol. 5, p. 411)


“Whether the bantling would be black or white, was not to be a matter of free discussion with the people, but they, forsooth, must at all hazards adopt and foster the new-born ruler, in whatever garb it might come attired.”

Vir., Providence United States Chronicle, 13 December 1787 (RCS:R.I., 73)

Boon from heaven

“It is ardently to be wished, writes a correspondent, that the little nest of villains, who inhabit the petty territory of R. I. may not have the grace to accept of the CONSTITUTION—that boon from heaven.”

Massachusetts Centinel, 26 April 1788 (RCS:R.I., 257)


“the above mentioned letter, our correspondent asserts, is sufficient of itself, to stifle this brat in the moment of its birth.”

New York Morning Post, 11 October 1787 (RCS:N.Y., 83)

Child of fortune

“It is now a Child of fortune, to be fostered by some and buffited by others, what will be the General opinion on, or the reception of it, is not for me to, decide, nor shall I say any thing for or against it.”

George Washington to the Marquis de Lafayette, Philadelphia, 18 September 1787 (RCS:Va., 12, 80, 83n.)

Child of heaven

“Exert, yourself labor hard for without this child of Heaven our days in future will not be worth Counting.”

Henry Van Schaack to Theodore Sedgwick, Pittsfield, 8 January 1788 (RCS:Mass., 10; RCS: Mass., 644)

Child of mutual concessions

“I have no doubt but that you will discover some imperfections in it, but when it is considered that it is the child of mutual concessions between States different in Situation and Interest, and that without some Efficient Government we must shortly be involved in Anarchy that certain road to Despotism.”

Bushrod Washington to Robert Carter, Richmond, 4 November 1787 (RCS:Va., 143)

Colossus with a sword of tyranny

“exceeds the description of the wonderful Colossus at Rhodes . . . and instead of holding a light-house in its hand, holds forth to the people the sword of tyranny.”

Providence United States Chronicle, 27 March 1788 (RCS:R.I., 245-46)

Dazzling sun

“you will find its excellencies eclipsed, like the faint lustre of the moon, by the dazzling splendor of the sun.”

Virginia Independent Chronicle, 28 November 1787 (RCS:Va., 177)

Deadly serpent

“under this specious covering lurks a deadly serpent, which like Aaron’s, will swallow up the liberties of your country!”

Benjamin Russell to Eleazer Oswald, Philadelphia Independent Gazetteer, 4 December 1787 (RCS:Mass., 47)


“It thus appears that either Virginia or New Hampshire is to [have?] the honor of establishing an edifice.”

Antoine de la Forest to Comte de la Luzerne, New York, 9 June 1788 (CC Vol. 6, p.172)

Engine of destruction

“a pretty considerable band consists of those who hold it as the engine of distruction—& never think or speak of it but with detestation and abhorence.”

George Lee Turberville to Arthur Lee, Richmond, 28 October 1787 (RCS:Va., 127)


“We may now contemplate this Fabrick as erected, and permit me my dear Friend to congratulate you upon the event.”

Edward Carrington to William Short, New York, 26 July 1788 (CC Vol. 6, p. 293)

Family (Paraphrase)

“Let us be familiar, it is demonstrable by a family; although the father, or master, may prefer mildness in his family.”

Newport Herald, 17 April 1788 (RCS:R.I., 253)

Federal building

“the Federal Building goes on rapidly, considering its extent and magnitude; and we doubt not, but in a short time we shall have the pleasure of announcing its entire completion.”

New Hampshire Spy, 10 May 1788 (CC Vol. 6, p. 363)

Federal chariot

“whenever the aristocratick wheels of the federal chariot shall be set in motion.”

The Yeomanry of Massachusetts, Boston Massachusetts Gazette, 25 January 1788 (RCS:Mass., 803)

Federal edifice

“Virginia will shortly become one of the brightest pillars of the federal edifice.”

Philadelphia Federal Gazette, 12 April 1788 (RCS:Va., 737; RCS:Va., 885)

Federal fabric

“That citizen who feels and avows such a maxim, need not apologize for collecting the following observations on the fœderal fabric.”

Tamony, Virginia Independent Chronicle, 9 January 1788 (RCS:Va., 287)

Federal pillars

“The Fed’ral pillars firmly stand.”

A Federal Song, Albany Journal, 4 August 1787 (CC Vol. 6, p. 321)

Federal temple

“I cannot avoid hoping, and believing, to use the fashionable phraze that Virginia will make the ninth column in the fœderal Temple.”

George Washington to Jonathan Trumbull Jr., Mount Vernon, 8 June 1788 (RCS:Va., 1589,1784)

Fiery high-blooded steed

“I really at this time think there is a decided majority for anterior amendments that is, who do not think it prudent to mount a fiery high-blooded Steed without a bridle.”

Theodorick Bland to Arthur Lee, Richmond, 13 June 1788 (RCS:Va., 1617)


“Tis not a birth, my dear Sir, ’tis a foetus only.”

Samuel Henshaw to Henry Van Schaack, Northampton, 18 October 1787 (RCS:Mass., 100)

Gilded pill

“When the gilded Pill was swallowed by a Majority of Ten out of one hundred and four Members present.”

Joshua Atherton to John Lamb, Amherst, N.H., 23 June 1788 (CC Vol. 6, p. 52)

Gilded trap

“they have insidiously attempted to confine and cramp by palming this “gilded trap” the new breeches on me.”

Peter Prejudice: The New Breeches, Philadelphia Federal Gazette, 15 April 1788 (RCS:Va., 183; CC Vol. 5, 128)

Great national dome

“and to give it a place as one of the noble PILLARS of the GREAT NATIONAL DOME.”

Massachusetts Centinel, 25 June 1788 (CC Vol. 6, p. 383)

Harbor attainable

“Our situation is like that of a ship at sea, the harbour attainable, but the crew divided by a rediculous feud.”

A Citizen, Hudson Weekly Gazette, 3 April 1788 (RCS:N.Y., 892)

Heavenly manna

“On the other hand should she accept the heavenly manna, her decision will be enstamped on the page of time.”

Norfolk and Portsmouth Journal, 21 May 1788 (RCS:Va., 831)

Home-bred monster

“…now tamely submit to the home bread Monster of a form equally detestable if viewed when striped of its disguise.”

Thomas Wilson to Archibald Stuart, 4 November 1787 (RCS:Va., 145)

Legs of nebuchadnezzar’s image

“I look upon the new system as a most ridiculous piece of business—something (entre nouz) like the legs of Nebuchadnezar’s image.”

William Grayson to William Short, New York, 10 November 1787 (RCS:Va., 151)

Magna carta

“The Constitution therefore defines those powers which in the grants for regulating trade were indefinate; thereby it secures and perpetuates the liberty of the people, and becomes the Magna Charta of the Union to check any encroachments of our rights.”

Newport Herald, 25 October 1787 (RCS:R.I.,40)

Many-headed leviathan

“the new leviathan or proposed constitution for the United States, has exhibited the talents of the Americans in a most exalted point of view.”

Philadelphia Independent Gazetteer, 9 May 1788 (CC Vol. 5, p. 91; p. 398)

Master-piece of political wisdom

“and there is no doubt but that a few revolving months will set this master-piece of political wisdom in motion.”

A Patriotic Citizen, Pennsylvania Mercury, 10 May 1788 (CC Vol. 6, p. 7)

Menstruous cloth

“The new constitution therefore is cast out of that state (to use the strong expression of the prophet) as a menstruous cloth.”

Philadelphia Independent Gazetteer, 1 May 1788 (RCS:R.I., 237)


“Truly sir, I do not see in it those features of a monster.”

Agricola’s Opinion, Poughkeepsie Country Journal, 1 April 1788 (RCS:N.Y., 885)

New born ruler

“Whether the bantling would be black or white, was not to be a matter of free discussion with the people, but they, forsooth, must at all hazards adopt and foster the new-born ruler.”

Vir., Providence United States Chronicle, 13 December 1787 (RCS:R.I. 73)

New breeches

“these cursed new breeches would utterly ruin me; they are calculated to enslave my thighs, to confine my waist, and totally to destroy the liberty of my knees, by buttoning tightly around them.”

Peter Prejudice: The New Breeches, Philadelphia Federal Gazette, 15 April 1788 (CC Vol. 5, p. 126)

New leviathan

“to cajole and betray the honest yeomanry of our country into the horrid fangs of the new leviathan of power.”

New York Journal, 20 June 1788 (RCS:Va., 1658)

New machine

“advocates for the requisite measures for setting the new machine at work may be needed as much in Congress as in this State.”

James Madison to George Nicholas, Orange County, Va., 8 April 1788 (CC Vol. 5, p. 35; CC Vol. 6, p. 324n)

New roof

“This proposal of a new roof, it may well be supposed, became the principal subject of conversation in the family, and the opinions upon it were various according to the judgment, interest, or ignorance of the disputants.”

The New Roof, Pennsylvania Packet, 29 December 1787 (CC Vol. 6, p. 243; CC Vol. 6, p. 247 n)

New ship

“I tell you, my friend, the Politicians in general blame the Carpenters for not launching the Hull of the new Ship.”

Jeremiah Hill to George Thatcher, Biddeford, Maine, 9–11 September 1788 (CC Vol. 6, p. 363)

New system of slavery

“Not a single newspaper that contains essays or intelligence against the new system of slavery.”

Philadelphia Freeman’s Journal, 16 April 1788 (CC Vol. 4, p. 584)

New wheel

“I find it is the general opinion that the New wheel will revolve.”

Samuel A. Otis to George Thatcher, New York, 18 May 1788 (CC Vol. 6, p. 31)

Noble edifice

“…and in all probability this state will very soon be called on to raise a Pillar to the Noble Edifice.”

Vermont Journal, 11 August 1788 (CC Vol. 6, p. 400)

One great Colossus

“one great Collosus erected in the Room thereof which shall stand astride of all the States.”

Joshua Atherton to John Lamb, Amherst, N.H., 23 June 1788 (CC Vol. 6, p. 52)


“It goes forth among us in the unprotected situation of an orphan, with a modest request to all, entreating, that it may be heard, before it is abused, and examined, before it is condemned.”

Valerius, Virginia Independent Chronicle, 23 January 1788 (RCS:Va., 319)

Our holy religion

“The Fœderal Constitution, like our holy religion, knows no invidious distinctions.”

Americanus II, Virginia Independent Chronicle, 19 December 1787 (RCS:Va., 247)

Our intended

“I have received your welcome favor giving a partial account of the Procession in your City on the 4th. inst. in honor of our Intended.”

William Stuart to Griffith Evans, New York, 11 July 1788 (CC Vol. 6, p. 258n)

Pandora’s box

“like Pandora’s box, pregnant with every evil, full of design, a fatal tendency, and diametrically repugnant to the true interests, happiness, and safety of the United States.”

A Slave, New York Journal, 25 October 1787 (RCS:N.Y., 134)

Patient sick of prejudice and misrepresentation but getting better

“The Constitution thrives—it has been Extremely sick of prejudice and misrepresentation, but it is daily growing better and better.”

Francis Corbin to Edmund Randolph, Buckingham Lodge, Middlesex County, 21 February 1788 (RCS:Va., 397)

Pearl from heaven (Paraphrase)

“Of what consequence is it to us, where, or how this JEWEL is discovered? if it descends from above, or if men inspired from above, produce for our acceptance, this inestimable Pearl, shall we cavil about the medium through which it is presented to us? We have “sold all that we had,” that is, we are as men destitute of every blessing attendant on good Government; but as a compensation for all our toils, losses, sacrifices, wars and bloodshed, behold the PEARL OF GREAT PRICE put into our hands.”

Boston Gazette, 29 October 1787 (RCS:Mass., 166)


“but I hope, Phœnix like, a better will soon rise out of its ashes.”

New Jersey Journal, 25 June 1788 (CC Vol. 6, p. 383)

Political monster

“it is a political monster of absurdity.”

Patrick Henry Speech: Virginia Convention, 16 June 1788 (RCS:Va., 1310; CC Vol. 5, p. 29)


“It rises to view like a pyramid, whose broad foundation is the people.”

William Pierce Oration, Savannah, 4 July1788 (CC Vol. 6, p. 251)

Rising fabric

“and give stability to the rising fabric with the greatest rapidity and least difficulty.”

Enos Hitchcock Oration, Providence, 4 July 1788 (RCS:R.I., 292)

Rising pillar of government

“Various towns in this state have also shewn the same friendly disposition, on the great jubilee of America, the fourth of July, towards the rising pillar of government.”

Little Compton Celebrates Ratification of the Constitution by Nine States, 4 July 1788 (RCS:R.I., 345)

Rising sun

“the NEW FEDERAL CONSTITUTION as the rising SUN of the western world.”

The State Soldier V, Virginia Independent Chronicle, 2 April 1788 (RCS:Va., 652)

Rock of our political salvation

“he [George Washington] looks up to it as the rock of our political salvation.”

Tobias Lear to William Prescott, Jr., Mount Vernon, 4 March 1788 (RCS:Va., 456)

Rock of our salvation

“Should it however fail in the first instance I hope it will prove a Rock of Salvation on which we may rest in our career to that fatal extreme.”

Archibald Stuart to James Madison, Richmond, 9 November 1787 (RCS:Va., 148)


“Columbia’s standard on her roof display.”

Francis Hopkinson: An Ode, Philadelphia, 4 July1788 (CC Vol. 6, p. 247)

Sacred palladium

“this sacred palladium that can effectually secure us and our posterity from the odious tyranny of an aristocratic government.”

A Delegate Who Has Catched Cold, Virginia Independent Chronicle, 25 June 1788 (RCS:Va., 1684)

Stately palace

“they built a stately palace after their own fancies, and in every convenient part of the floor, and of the foundation, securely planted the seeds of monarchy.”

Denatus, Virginia Independent Chronicle, 11 June 1788 (RCS:Va., 1600)


“a temple built by men equally mortal.”

Tamony, Virginia Independent Chronicle, 9 January 1788 (RCS:Va., 287)

Thirteen pillars

“permit the thirteen Pillars to be bent down, in Stead of being supported.”

Joshua Atherton to John Lamb, Amherst, N.H., 23 June 1788 (CC Vol. 6, p. 52)

Tottering pile

“for the present generation have too strong a sense of the rights of nature, of the sufferings experienced for their re-establishment, to set down passively under a tottering pile.”

Helvidius Priscus II, Boston Independent Chronicle, 10 January 1788 (RCS:Mass., 684)


“I shall rely on the good sense of the public to keep themselves out of the trap.”

A Newport Man, Newport Mercury, 17 March 1788 (RCS:R.I., 118)

Tree of life

“that it is the Tree of Life, whose Fruit will enthrone this western Empire high among the Nations, and raise the firmest and fairest Temple to LIBERTY, that has ever yet dignified this Globe.”

Virginia Independent Chronicle, 26 September 1787 (RCS:Va., 19)

Triumphant arch of freedom’s temple

“And when once the triumphant arch is erected.”

Pennsylvania Packet, 3 June 1788 (CC Vol. 6, p. 150)

Ungovernable monster

“an ungovernable monster, without constitutional checks, deplorable and to be deplored, dangerous and destructive.” A Citizen of the State of Maryland, “Remarks Relative to a Bill of Rights,” in Luther Martin:

Pamphlet Edition of Genuine Information, Philadelphia, 12 April 1788 (CC Vol. 5, p. 92)

Violent dose

“the case is sufficiently desperate when we consider that violent as the dose is, the best thing we can do is to swallow it.”

William Short to William Grayson, Paris, 31 January 1788 (RCS:Va., 342)

Violent remedy

“We all know however the more desperate any disease has become, so much more violent must be the remedy.”

The State Soldier I, Virginia Independent Chronicle, 16 January 1788 (RCS:Va., 304)

Wedding suit

“I am daily making Calculations for the United States to be adorned with her new wedding Suit.”

Jeremiah Hill to George Thatcher, Biddeford, Maine, c. 26 February 1788 (CC Vol. 4, p. 209)

Wife and people as husband (Paraphrase)

“the great Body of the People in every Free Government, must always be considered as the Husband of the Constitution thereof, and consequently that as long as such Constitution performs the duties of Love Honor and Obedience to Her great Constituent Body, or Political Husband, She is entitled to be Kept both in sickness and in Health, with all possible Love and Fidelity by such her said Husband and that on a breach of her Duty she must expect to incur the Pains and Penalties of Divorce.”

William Stuart to Griffith Evans, New York, 11 July 1788 (CC Vol. 6, p. 258)

Young lion

“To you perhaps our America must owe the indelible Honour of chaining and reducing within proper Bounds this young Lion.”

Joshua Atherton to John Lamb, Amherst, N.H., 23 June 1788 (CC Vol. 6, p. 52)