Massachusetts Ratifying Convention
February 4, 1788
Building consensus is a challenge. In the United States Congress, consensus has always been difficult to build because of the diversity—geographic and otherwise—of its Representatives and Senators, given their assigned districts and states. But when the Constitution was being debated, the stakes were as high as they have been in American history: consensus was needed not for some legislation, small or large, but for reworking the structure of the states’ and federal government and putting the country on a new, bolder trajectory. At the Massachusetts Ratifying Convention, Charles Jarvis articulated his support for the draft Constitution—recognizing its merits—but only if the Constitution was passed with the amendments.
Jarvis argued that Massachusetts—being a leader in its approach to policy up to that point and having its Ratifying Convention earlier than a majority of other states—was obligated to take a stand and assert that the Constitution needed to have amendments included for it to be ratified. He said that “the remaining seven States will have our example before them, and there is a high probability that they, or at least some of them, will take our conduct as a precedent, and will perhaps assume the same mode of procedure.” If the effort failed, said Jarvis, “we must then acquiesce in the decision of the majority, and this is the known condition on which all free governments depend.” Jarvis’ approach, one of strongly advocating for a result and being prepared to accept disappointment if the majority decided otherwise, is emblematic of the Constitution and the political system it created.
Recognizing that the Constitution—with or without the proposed amendments—would be the foundation for a greater political system than was then in place, Jarvis said: “The Constitution is a great political experiment—The amendments have a tendency to remove many objections which have been made to it—and I hope, sir, when it is adopted, that they will be annexed to the ratification in the manner which your Excellency has proposed.”