George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Daniel Owen, 29 May 1790

From Daniel Owen

State of Rhode Island Newport May 29th 1790.


I have the pleasing satisfaction of informing your Excellency that the Constitution of the United States of America was this day ratified and adopted by the convention of the People of this State, agreeable to the recommendation of the general Convention, assembled at Philadelphia, and the consequent resolution of Congress thereon.1

The lower House of the general assembly of this State at their session the former part of this month past a resolution requesting His Excellency the Governor in case the Constitution should be adopted by the Convention to call the assembly together by warrant, as soon after the adoption as might be, for the special purpose of electing the Senators, and taking measures for a representation of this State in Congress—I can therefore assure Your Excellency that in the course of a few days, not to exceed sixteen, the Legislature will be assembled, either by special warrant, or pursuant to their adjournment on the second monday of June, when I have not the least doubt, the Senators will be immediately appointed, and the State represented in Congress, agreeable to the constitution, as soon as the elections can be accomplished.

The ratification of the Constitution will be made out and forwarded by way of the Post office with all possible expedition.2

Colonel William Barton, who was a Member of the Convention, will have the honor of delivering this letter.3 With the highest sentiments of esteem and respect, I have the honor of being your Excellency’s most obedient Servant

Daniel Owen Presidt

Copy, DNA: RG 46, First Congress, 1789–91, Records of Legislative Proceedings, President’s Messages.

Daniel Owen (1732–1812), a blacksmith and leader of the country party in Rhode Island, represented Gloucester in the Rhode Island general assembly in 1785 and served as deputy governor from 1786 to 1790. He also served as a justice of the Rhode Island Superior Court. An advocate of paper money and a leading Antifederalist, Owen was president of the Rhode Island Ratifying Convention (Representative Men of Rhode Island, description begins Representative Men and Old Families of Rhode Island: Genealogical Records and Historical Sketches of Prominent and Representative Citizens and of Many of the Old Families. 3 vols. Chicago, 1908. description ends 1983; Polishook, Rhode Island and the Union, description begins Irwin H. Polishook. Rhode Island and the Union, 1774–1795. Evanston, Ill., 1969. description ends 124–25, 152).

1The Rhode Island Ratifying Convention convened on 1 Mar. 1790 but on 6 Mar. members of the Antifederalist country party forced an adjournment until after the spring elections in order to preserve the dominance of their party in state office. The convention reconvened on 25 May and ratified the Constitution by a vote of 34 to 32 on 29 May (Polishook, Rhode Island and the Union, description begins Irwin H. Polishook. Rhode Island and the Union, 1774–1795. Evanston, Ill., 1969. description ends 207–230).

2Despite Owen’s assurances, GW did not receive a copy of the formal instrument of ratification until 15 June 1790 (see GW to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, 16 June 1790). Owen apparently delayed sending a copy of the formal instrument until a special session of the legislature, dominated by the country party, could convene to appoint senators who would go to New York to recommend the continuance of state officeholders under the federal government. Federalist Jeremiah Olney explained to Alexander Hamilton on 7 June that “The president of our late Convention, with the advise of the Governor, means to Keep back the Ratification untill about the time the Senators go forward, as they Wish to have all the Ante Revenue officers of the State reappointed & expect the Senators will Influence the President In the nomination of these Bitter & Uniform opposers of the Constitution” (Syrett, Hamilton Papers, description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends 6:458–59). Owen forwarded the formal instrument of ratification to GW with a letter of 9 June (see Rhode Island Constitutional Convention to GW, 9 June 1790).

3William Barton of Providence was one of the leading Federalists in the Rhode Island convention. He had applied for a position in the customs service in September 1789 (see William Barton to GW, 3 Sept. 1789, and Michael Jenifer Stone to GW, 9 June 1790).

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