John Nicholson, comptroller general of Pennsylvania, inaugurated a campaign against the ratification of the Constitution. Nicholson’s petition requested (1) that the Assembly censure the Pennsylvania delegates to the Constitutional Convention for exceeding their authority; (2) that ratification of the Constitution by the state Convention “not be confirmed”; and (3) that the Pennsylvania delegates in the Confederation Congress be instructed that the Constitution not be “adopted in the said United States.…” Nicholson drafted the petition in late December 1787 or early January 1788, since a copy reached Lancaster County by 14 January.
Nicholson sent copies to opponents of the Constitution in at least nine counties. It is possible that the petition was circulated as a printed broadside, but no copy has been found. The first printed version located is in the Carlisle Gazette on 30 January 1787.
Between 17 and 29 March petitions signed by 6,005 people in Northampton, Dauphin, Bedford, Franklin, Cumberland, and Westmoreland counties were presented to the Assembly. In addition, at least seven other petitions were signed in Northumberland County but evidently did not reach the Assembly in time for them to be “tabled” with the other petitions before the Assembly adjourned on 29 March. Petitions were signed in Huntingdon County but were destroyed by supporters of the Constitution. Only one petition opposing the petition campaign is recorded. It was signed by thirty-one men in Wayne Township, Cumberland County, and was presented to the Assembly on 1 March.
Opponents of the Constitution did not give up after the legislature adjourned. On 3 July, after news of ratification by the ninth and tenth states reached Carlisle, Cumberland County Antifederalists sent out a circular letter calling a convention to meet at Harrisburg in September to nominate candidates for the United States House of Representatives in the first federal elections and to draft amendments to the Constitution.
- Freeman’s Journal, 2 January 1788 (pdf)
- Petition Against Confirmation of the Ratification of the Constitution, January 1788 (pdf)
- Richard Bard to John Nicholson, Franklin County, 1 February 1788 (pdf)
- Benjamin Blyth, Sr. to John Nicholson, Near Shippensburg, 11 February 1788 (pdf)
- Thomas FitzSimons to William Irvine, Philadelphia, 22 February 1788 (pdf)
- Assembly Proceedings, Wayne Township Petition, 1 March 1788 (pdf)
- Assembly Proceedings on the Petitions Against the Adoption of the New Constitution, 17–29 March 1788 (pdf)