Today in 1787, New Jersey ratified the United States Constitution in Trenton, making it the third state to do so.

Although ratification of the Constitution was a controversial subject in many states, it was not particularly so in New Jersey. The state’s 38 electors were all Federalist supporters of the framework, selected just prior to the state convention. New Jersey seemingly viewed the Constitution’s ratification as a necessity, because under the new plan, the state would mostly preserve its stature in the general government and would benefit from the protection of the militia in cases of upheaval.

William Paterson, who attended the Philadelphia Convention as a delegate from the state, was instrumental to the document’s eventual adoption. The architect of the New Jersey Plan, Paterson’s proposed form of government featured a unicameral legislature and an executive branch wherein multiple people shared executive authority. Even though Paterson was not one of the delegates elected to New Jersey’s ratification convention, he campaigned for its adoption.

After the Connecticut Compromise destroyed Virginia’s hopes of a bicameral Congress in which both houses would be apportioned by state population, and a federal veto over state law, New Jersey’s delegation believed that the resulting framework would be palatable enough. Most appealing to the state was the Senate, which would allow the state to retain equal suffrage in that body with larger, populous, more powerful states.

Through ratification, New Jersey also stood to gain important economic protections under the new Constitution. Under the Articles of Confederation, New Jersey imported most of its goods through the harbors in New York and Philadelphia. Consequently, both New York and Pennsylvania preyed upon the state for tariff revenue. During this time, the state was compared to “a cask tapped at both ends.” Under the Constitution, they would no longer subject to the same penalties.

Although the notes from New Jersey’s ratification convention do not survive, it was clear that the Constitution received overwhelming support in the state. After nine days, the Constitution was ratified in the state on December 18, 1787.

Dave Benner

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