The only state that did not send a representative to the Constitutional Convention, which ratified the document on September 17, 1787, was Rhode Island. The legislature there had already elected representatives to attend the New York State Constitutional Convention, so they refused to send anyone further.
Rhode Island's refusal to send delegates to the Constitutional Convention was not a protest against the new government; instead, it was due to political divisions within the colony that prevented its election officials from agreeing on who should go. A special election was held in November to fill the two vacant seats, but neither candidate received enough votes to be declared elected.
In total, the Confederation Congress appointed: 54 delegates (including 2 officers) to the New York State Constitutional Convention; and 29 delegates (including 1 officer) to the Virginia Constitutional Convention.
These numbers do not include other conventions that wrote new state constitutions. For example, Pennsylvania's convention met in May 1790 and drafted a new constitution that was approved by voters in October. They sent 107 delegates to the Philadelphia Convention where they finished drafting the U.S. Constitution. Another 70 people were elected to various committees at the convention. In all, Pennsylvania's constitutional convention produced a total of 177 delegates to the Philadelphia Convention.
The Constitutional Convention was held in Philadelphia from May 25 to September 17, 1787, with 55 delegates from 12 states in attendance. Rhode Island was the only state that declined to send delegates to the conference, which was tasked with revising or replacing the Articles of Confederation. The main reason given by Rhode Island officials for their refusal to attend was that they believed the federal government under the proposed Constitution would not be a good thing for their state.
Other reasons included doubts about the legality of the convention and fears that their participation might be interpreted as recognizing the new government. In fact, several states refused to commit themselves to any particular side in debates over various proposals for constitutional amendments. These states felt that it was not their role to interfere with the business of others; instead, they wanted to let the convention resolve its own disputes.
Finally, three states withdrew because they did not want to appear to be favoring one side over another. They feared this would give the impression that their own governments were not independent enough to make an impartial decision.
In the end, only New Jersey's two representatives attended the convention but not a single delegate from Rhode Island. This shows that Rhode Island had quite a lot to fear from the new government that would be created by the terms of the convention agreement. It also demonstrates how committed many of these first-time voters were to creating a government that respected individual rights.
Rhode Island abstained from the Constitutional Convention. Rhode Island was the only one of the 13 original states to decline to send representatives to the Constitutional Convention, owing to its mistrust of a powerful federal government. The decision by the General Assembly to withhold its consent prevented the ratification of any proposed amendments to the Constitution.
Abstention allows a state to avoid taking a position on certain constitutional issues without being deemed to have rejected any part of the new charter. Abstaining from the debate over amendments preserved Rhode Island's right to participate in the discussion of future changes to the document but not its right to reject any specific proposal that might be advanced. As long as one state has abstained, the others can vote on any amendment that is presented to them for approval. If all the states approved all amendments proposed by Congress, however, it would be impossible for the country to remain united around one set of rules.
The final draft of the Constitution was completed on September 17, 1787, and adopted by the first Federal Congress on December 15, 1787. The new government went into effect the following March 3. All thirteen states had ratified the Constitution by January 10, 1992.
Delegates to the Constitutional Convention at the site of the Constitution's signing in 1787. Independence National Historical Park provided the image. Except for Rhode Island, the founding states appointed 70 people to the Constitutional Convention, although many of them did not accept or could not go. The remaining three were the commissioners who signed the document on July 4, 1787.
Rhode Island had no official representatives at the convention and so its delegate did not sign the final draft of the Constitution. However, one of his colleagues, William Samuel Johnson, as president of the Rhode Island Senate, did affix his signature to the document.
Virginia's delegation was led by George Mason and included John Blair Jr., James McClurg, and Nicholas Gilman. Maryland's delegation was headed by Charles Carroll and included Henry Lee III, Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer, and John Francis D'Angelo. The Congress of the Confederation elected Pennsylvania's Delegate, Robert Morris, to represent the state at the convention but he was unable to attend due to financial difficulties brought about by the war with Britain. His place at the convention was taken by Franklin Roosevelt, who is known for being president during most of World War II.
Connecticut's delegation was headed by Oliver Ellsworth and included William Samuel Johnson, Abraham Clark, and Jonathan Trumbull. Delaware's delegation was chaired by Caesar Rodney and included Matthew Clay, Richard Bassett, and John Dickinson.