Constitution Sunday: David Ramsay to Benjamin Lincoln

Charleston, South Carolina

January 29, 1788

A letter from a South Carolinian to a Massachusettsan—and from a budding historian to a Revolutionary War hero—captured the spirit of the moment as South Carolina was preparing to assemble its convention to consider the Constitution. David Ramsay, who would soon publish a two-volume book about the American Revolution, wrote to Benjamin Lincoln of the recent happenings in South Carolina’s legislature and the tenor of the time as states were analyzing the potential for coexisting with a federal government.

Ramsay noted that he had seen a turn in his fellow statesmen: “[t]he sentiments of our leading men are of late much more federal than formerly.” With states recently having shown that they could put aside regional interests and pursue those common to other states—for example, when Massachusetts came to support South Carolina at a time when Virginia did not—”a revolution highly favorable to union has taken place. Federalism & liberality of sentiment has gained great ground.”

These developments were not inevitable. At a time when one would rank state above nation, Ramsay observed that there now appeared potential for a broad acceptance of a federal entity—which would open the door to fostering a sense of nationhood in the then-twelve-year-old United States. Not only would this increase the likelihood of ratifying the Constitution; it would enhance the Constitution’s chance for bonding the states together with a federal government and prolonging their union.

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