Delaware and the Bill of Rights

Constitution Day is September 17

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January 1790 Laws


Delaware ratified the Constitution on December 7, 1787 -- the first state to do so. By the summer of 1788, ten states had ratified the Constitution and the Constitution became the law of the land. Several states had voiced a desire for a declaration of individual liberties to amend the Constitution.

Debate and proposals began at the first session of Congress. At the adjournment of Congress in 1789, Congress sent articles of amendements to the President to be sent to the states for ratification.

The Constitution
Title: Constitution of the United States.
Series: America's Historical Documents.
Published: National Archives.
Description: This National Archives page offers a wealth of resources: facsimiles of the original constitution, transcription, and information about the constitution. Additionally, the National Archives and Records Administration building in Washington has a display copy and information about visiting the exhibit.

Title: Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation (CONAN).
Published: Washington: U.S. G.P.O.
Description: Coverage of court cases on constitional law. The "base edition" covers court cases through 2002. Kept up to date by supplements. Note: the base edition is a huge PDF file; the document is more than 2000 pages.

Title: The Constitution of the United States of America As Amended: Unratified Amendments, Analytical Index.
Series: House document (U. S. Congress. House); 110-50.
Published: Washington: U.S. G.P.O.: U.S. G.P.O., 2007.

Title: Delaware's Ratification of the Constitution: Transcription.
Published: National Archives.

Title: "An Introduction to Ratification in Delaware."
Published: In Ratification by the States (RCS) series, Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution. State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1976-.

Title: The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution.
Published: Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1976-.
Location: Morris Library KF4502 .D63

Title: Center for the Study of the American Constitution.
Published: University of Wisconsin.


Amending the Constitution

The Constitution is a living document. Article V describes the process for amending the Constitution:

The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.
The First Congress
1st Session: March 4, 1789 to September 29, 1789

At the time the first Federal Congress met in New York in March 1789, there were eleven states in the new union. Rhode Island and North Carolina were not part of United States at that time.

The House of Representatives met March 4, but not enough members had arrived to form a quorum. The House continued opening sessions and then adjourning until a quorum was finally achieved on Wednesday, April 1. Delaware's representative John Vining arrived and "took his seat" on Wednesday, May 6.

It was on June 8 that James Madison (Virginia) introduced the issue of amendments in the House of Representatives. The idea was not immediately pleasing to everyone and discussion ensued. Some Representatives felt that procedures had not been properly followed. Some felt that the young legislature had other, more pressing, business to attend to. John Vining, Representative at Large from Delaware, said that "the great amendment which the government wants is expedition in the despatch of business." (Annals of Congress, p. 446)

Remarks by Mr. Madision caption: Remarks by Mr. Madison, Annals of Congress, House of Representatives, 1st Congress, 1st Session, p. 449.

Many felt that amendments were unnecessary; some even thought they were dangerous. The Annals of Congress reports this about Mr. Vining's views:

Mr. Vining's views caption: Annals of Congress, House of Representatives, 1st Congress, 1st Session, p. 466.

At the end of the day, it was decided to bring the question of amendments to the House assembled as a committee of the whole. The matter proceeded through a committee and a report, and several days of discussion resulting in a list of seventeen articles sent to the Senate on August 24 for their concurrence. On September 19, the House received the Senate's proposed amendments to the Constitution. Differences between the versions necessitated a conference to discuss the amendments. On September 21, three members of the House were appointed as members of this conference: Mr. Madison of Virginia, Mr. Sherman, and Delaware's representative, John Vining. They submitted their report on September 24 and the House voted to concur. The House signed the enrolled articles of amendment on the evening of September 28, prior to the adjournment of Congress on September 29.

There is less information on the debates of the Senate because the Senate meet in closed session until the Third Congress.

The Senate met March 4, but not enough members had arrived to form a quorum. The Senate continued opening sessions and then adjourning until a quorum was finally achieved on Monday, April 6. Richard Bassett from Delaware arrived and "took his seat" on Saturday, March 21st. George Read from Delaware arrived and "took his seat" on Monday, April 13.

Senate resolved to concur with the House proposal on September 25.

Congress at its adjournment on September 29, 1789 sent twelve articles of amendment to the President to be sent to the legislatures of the several states and to North Carolina and Rhode Island.

Resolution by Congress
caption: Journal of the Senate of the United States of America, 1789-1793. APPENDIX. Proposed Amendments to the Constitution, p. 96-97.

Sent to the States

Delaware ratified eleven of the twelve amendments on January 28, 1790.

The proposed amendments to the Constitution were introduced into the Delaware House of Assembly on January 20, 1790, by Mr. Kean, a member of the Executive Council. The accompanying message from Council said that Council agreed to all of the amendments except the first article. This was signed by George Mitchell, Speaker of Council. (Delaware. General Assembly. House. Journal, p. 21) The House sent the articles to committee, received the committee's favorable report , and reported the House's agreement to the Council. Council presented the form of the ratification that would be attached to the engrossed amendments. The final reading was on January 28th and this was the first time the text of the proposed amendments was included in the Journal. At the bottom of the Amendments appeared the Great Seal of Delaware and in large writing the words "The General Assembly of Delaware." This was followed by the ratification statement and the signatures of George Mitchell, Speaker of Council, and Jehu Davis, Speaker of the House. (Delaware. House. Journal. p. 24, 37-40)

The news of Delaware's ratification was received in Congress on March 8, 1790. The message was transmitted by Joshua Clayton, the President of the Delaware State. (Annals of Congress, 1st Congress, Appendix p. 2037)

By December 15, 1791, three-fourths of the states had ratified 10 of the 12 amendments, which became the Bill of Rights.

An interesting sidelight to the federal Bill of Rights is that Delaware had its own bill of rights, passed along with the state constitution of 1776. The Delaware Bill of Rights is online in the Delaware Code Online and is included in the Delaware Code Annotated, on the pages following the state Constitution.

The "Lost" Amendment

The "lost" amendment of the eleven that Delaware ratified was on the subject of pay raises for Congress. It read: No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of representatives shall have intervened. This amendment received ratifications from only six states; not enough to fully ratify it. Then the amendment was fully ratified as the 27th Amendment to the Constitution in 1992. (Federal Register 57 FR 21188, 1992; National Archives, Bill of Rights, 27th Amendment; Constitution of the United States: Analysis and Interpretation...1992, p. 1997.)


Title: Encyclopedia of the American Constitution.
Published: New York: Macmillan Reference USA, c2000.
Location: Morris Library - Reference KF4548 .E53 2000

Title: The Founders’ Constitution.
Published: Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987-.
Location: Morris Library - Reference KF4502 .F68 1987

Title: The Oxford Guide to the United States Government.
Published: Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.
Location: Morris Library - Reference JK 9 .P384 2001

Title: CQ's Guide to the U.S. Constitution.
Published: Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly, c1994.
Location: Morris Library KF4528.5 .M567 1994

Author: John A. Munroe.
Title: History of Delaware. 4th ed.
Published: Newark, DE : University of Delaware Press, 2001.
Location: Morris Library - Reference F 164 .M83 2001

Bill of Rights

Author: National Archives.
Title: Bill of Rights.
Description: Part of National Archives Charters of Freedom. Has an image of the manuscript and a transcription.

Title: Bill of Rights.
Description: The bill originally sent to Delaware; ratified and sent to Congress. National Archives loaned this documents to Delaware from 2003 to July 4, 2006.

Title: Journal of the Senate of the United States of America, 1789-1793: Appendix. Proposed Amendments to the Constitution.
Published: Washington: Gales and Seaton, 1820.
Description: Text of the twelve Amendments from the Appendix of the Senate journal. On the Century of Lawmaking website. Has a link to page images.

Title: Delaware Code Annotated.
Location: Morris Library - Reference KFD30 1953 .A24
Morris Library KFD30 1953 .A24
Location: Delaware Code Online
Description: Contains text of the state constitution and the state Bill of Rights.

Legislative Proceedings

Title: Annals of Congress (The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States), vol. 1, 1789.
Published: Washington: Gales and Seaton, 1834-1856.
Location: Library Annex - Special Collections (X) in Century of Lawmaking
Citations: 1789. House. p. 441-469, 685-691, 699-700,730-792, 795-809, 938, 948, 963. 1789. Senate. p. 16, 18.

Title: Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, 1st Congress.
Published: Washington: Gales and Seaton, 1826.
Location: in Century of Lawmaking
LibraryAnnex - U.S. Documents Z 3.5: 1
Citations: 1789, p. 6, 29, 121.

Title: Journal of the Senate of the United States, 1st Congress.
Published: Washington: Gales and Seaton, 1820.
Location: in Century of Lawmaking
Citations: 1789, p. 7, 11, 63, 69-77, 84, 86, 88, 90, 93-94, 96-97.

Author: Delaware. General Assembly. House.
Title: Journal, 1790, January. Full title: Votes and Proceedings of the House of Assembly of the Delaware State, at a Session Commenced at Dover, on Monday the Fourth Day of January, In the Year of our Lord, One Thousand and Seven Hundred and Ninety.
Published: Wilmington, DE: James Adams in High-Street, 1790.
Location: Library Database: via Early American Imprints [restricted to UD]
Description: Information about Delaware's ratification appears in the January 1790 issue.

Information About the Sources

House and Senate Journals — the journals contain the proceedings, rules, motions, actions taken, and voting information of each house. The Constitution (Article I, Section 5, Clause 3) directs that a journal be kept and published for each house.

Annals of Congress — the Annals contain information about what happened in Congress from 1789 to 1824 but are not an official record. The Annals were compiled and published retrospectively using information from newspaper accounts and other sources. The information on the Senate was sketchy in the early years; the Senate did not allow reporters in the gallery until 1802. The volumes took more than twenty years to publish. Published by Joseph Gales and William Seaton.

Delaware's Delegation (1st Congress)

Richard Bassett
George Read

John Vining

List of Delaware's Ratifications (1787-1790)

Bill of Rights
January 28, 1790

December 7, 1787

Delaware's President

Delaware used the term President instead of Governor until 1792.

Joshua Clayton was the first President of the Delaware State under the Constitution. He was also the last President and the first Governor. The state Constitution of 1792 changed the title to Governor and dropped the usage of "the Delaware State" in favor of "the State of Delaware."

Delaware's Presidents

Under the the State constitution of 1776 and the Articles of Confederation:

John McKinly
Thomas McKean
George Read, Sr.
Caesar Rodney
John Dickinson
John Cook
Nicholas Van Dyke, Sr.
Thomas Collins


This page is maintained by Rebecca Knight, Reference Department.
Created for Constitution Day 2006. Last modified: 06/27/14