On January 9, 1788, Connecticut became the fifth state to ratify the Constitution of the United States, which had been drafted the year prior at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. There, Connecticut’s delegates—Oliver Ellsworth, William Samuel Johnson, and Roger Sherman—had been instrumental in breaking a deadlock between larger states, which favored proportional legislative representation based on population size, and smaller ones, which advocated that all states have but one vote each. Their “Connecticut Compromise” led to the two-house legislative system still in place today.
The next step following the Philadelphia convention was to secure ratification from the state legislatures. This was no straightforward matter. Debates waged over how strong the national government should be in relation to state governments. In Connecticut, as elsewhere, the dividing line typically placed merchants and those of the wealthier, more urbane social strata in opposition to farmers and those from rural areas. The former, seeking stronger trade protections that a centralized government could bring, supported adoption of the Constitution; the latter, wary of federal taxation and the institution of a new merchant-aristocracy, viewed it with skepticism.
With such factors in mind, Oliver Ellsworth addressed Connecticut’s ratifying convention in Hartford on January 4, 1788. He opened the debates by arguing that the Union was necessary for mutual defense against outside aggressors, to maintain peace among the states themselves, and to promote more favorable trade and economic conditions at home as well as abroad. Days later, on January 9, by a vote of 128–40, Connecticut ratified the Constitution of the United States.