This Day In History: Rhode Island Ratifies The Constitution

May 29, 2018

More than 200 years ago, on May 29, 1790, Rhode Island became the last state of the union to ratify the U.S. Constitution. 

The Rhode Island Constitutional Convention convened at the Second Baptist Church at the corner of Farewell and North Baptist streets in Newport. It had been nearly a year since North Carolina became the 12th state to ratify the constitution. The vote to ratfiy in Rhode Island was close, with 34 in favor and 32 against. 

Brian Sullivan, Director and founder of the Newportant Foundation, is the organizer of an annual event, named Hope Day, commemorating the historic vote.

Hope Day Showcase at the Newport Public Library where 13 historical document reproductions are on display.
Credit Brian Sullivan / Newportant Foundation

"So we delayed, yes. But, then we likewise fulfilled the legitimacy of all 13 exceeding to the union," Sullivan said. 

He said the reason for the delay was partly debt from the Revolutionary War that Rhode Island would have to pay, along with the state’s privilege to print its own money.

"So, that was contested. And then representation, whether we would get 2 senators for the number of people living here would also be very important. So, we waited for that as well," said Sullivan. 

According to the Articles of Confederation, all of the states had to say yes for the constitution to become a governing document. That’s why Sullivan sees May 29th as the true birthday of the nation.

"Because of its fulfillment, the Constitution was legitimatized when Rhode Island completed the process of ratification which requisite of unanimity was finally observed," Sullivan said. 

To honor that moment, Sullivan organizes Hope Day. He will be at the Newport Public Library along with 13 historical document reproductions on display to explain items such as the 1790 George Washington letter of accession.