Today in History: Rhode Island Becomes the 13th State to Ratify the Constitution

On May 29, 1790, Rhode Island ratified the Constitution of the United States, becoming the last of the original founding colonies to enter the Union.

Rhode Island was the only state that failed to send a representative to the Philadelphia Convention, which had approved the final draft on Sept. 17, 1787. The state acted slowly and quite reluctantly, not just after the new federal government had opened for business on April 1, 1789 but also after the First Congress had already voted for 12 proposed amendments, ten of which became the Bill of Rights.

Residents of the former British colony rejected the first effort to approve the Constitution by a margin of 10-to-1. Similar efforts to follow were rejected one after the other. All in all, 11 attempts to ratify or even hold conventions failed, along with several unsuccessful referenda.

The final push was successful, many believe, because on May 18, 1790, the United States Senate passed a bill that would ban all trade with Rhode Island if enacted, effectively treating the state as a hostile foreign nation and isolating it from the outside world.

In the United States House, Rhode Island’s lone defender was John Page of Virginia, who compared the bill to the Boston Port Act, an embargo enforced by the British prior to the American Revolution.

Threatened and divided, Rhode Island finally ratified the Constitution on May 29, 1790, by a vote of 34 to 32.

Rhode Island’s ratification message is lengthy, with a list similar to that of New York’s, listing a bill of rights and listing several proposed amendments.

Three months later, in August of 1790, Rhode Island’s only representative in Congress arrived late.

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