A Great RefusalnbyM.E. BradfordnThe North CarolinanRatification Conventionnof 1788nAs I have previously observed innthese pages, eaeh of the ratificationnconventions with which the people ofnthe 13 original states passed judgmentnon the handiwork of the Great Conventionnhad its own distinctive drama—nstructural characteristics which in thenend colored the meaning of the Constitutionnin the communities by which itnwas originally approved. A focus on thenmultiplicity of complete ratification,nonce it had been finally achieved, hasnbeen a constant in my commentary onnthe process by which that compact acquirednthe force of law. However, suchnmultiplicity is nowhere more evidentnthan in the North Carolina Conventionnof July 1788 held in Hillsborough—notntoo far from Guilford Court Housenwhere, on March 14, 1781, GeneralnNathanael Greene had faced down thenbest Lord Cornwallis had to throw in hisndirection. This convention, dominatednby Antifederalists, voted 184-84 not tonratify the proposed bond of union as itnstood when presented to them. Thus itnsaid to the tide of history, “At least fornthe moment, no.” And then sat backnVITAL SIGNSnto watch the Federalist reaction to its refusalnto oblige.nIt was, of course, a foregone conclusionnthat the Hillsborough Conventionnwas not going to approve the Constitution.nWillie Jones and his friendsn(Thomas Person, James McDowell,nJudge Samuel Spencer, Timothy Bloodworth,nand the Reverend David Caldwell)nhad done their work too thoroughlynfor any possibility of a Federalistn”surprise” such as had occurred in NewnYork. But the form to be taken by Antifederalistnrejection was as yet undetermined,nas was the use that might benmade of the convention by the Federalistnminority, a group of substantial citizensnwho were obliged to keep theirnminds on opportunities that mightnemerge if they handled their inevitablendefeat in the most persuasive fashion.nThe principal mistake made by thenAntifederalists in connection with thenfirst North Carolina ratification conventionnwas that they delayed its meetingnso far down the calendar of the ratifyingnprocess as to limit what they couldnachieve with their overwhelming majority—andelay of their state’s approval untilnthe Bill of Rights was adopted; or thenscheduling of a second constitutionalnconvention to amend the Philadelphianinstrument, what had been suggested innNew York as a means of recruiting supportnfor ratification among equivocalnAntifederalists. Had the HillsboroughnConvention voted before Massachusettsnin January, before the first New HampshirenConvention adjourned on Februaryn22, 1787, it might have released a tideofnuneasiness and suspicion that wouldnhave brought Virginia, New York, andnNew Hampshire into the antifederal column:nthat would have sent Mr. Madisonnback to his drawing board and all ofnthe Framers back to Philadelphia for anmore certain clarification of the limitsnon what kinds of purposes might benachieved by the exercise of a proposednfederal power. But they forfeited thatnopportunity by attempting to be too certainnconcerning the margin of their supportnin the Old North State; and by tryingnto make the last play in the game,nonce everyone else’s cards were on thentable.nThe blunder of the Federalists was innnnthe opposite direction, in believing thatnNorth Carolina would agree withoutnfierce opposition to a powerful bond ofnunion such as its citizens had never contemplatednwhile they moved toward independence.nEven so, the envelopenwithin which North Carolina made itsnchoices favored the Federalists in thenlong run, in that the people of the statenwished to keep in place a connectionnwith their countrymen in other Americanncommonwealths; and because theynwere, therefore, sooner or later going tonvote for ratification since, in July ofn1788, no other means were available tonthat fraternal end. Therefore, the strategynof the Federalists in the HillsboroughnConvention was to make for thenrecord a good case for approving the proposednConstitution and then to publishnthe apologia/transcript of those proceedingsnfeaturing the arguments ofnArchibald Maclaine, Governor SamuelnJohnston, Richard Dobbs Spaight, GeneralnWilliam Richardson Davie, andnJudge James Iredell.nWe are sometimes told that the survivingntranscription of these proceedingsnunderplays the participation of the Antifederalistsnand that Federalists edited itnfor effect. In a time when men werencareful of their personal honor it isndoubtful that Thomas Lloyd, Federalistntranscriber, put words in the mouth ofnany Antifederalist. When the debatesnwere published, too many importantnCarolinians remembered precisely whatnhad been said. Hence I believe thatnthere could be no politically significantndistortion in the text as published—exceptnperhaps for a little polishing of Federalistnoratory to make it more attractivento Antifederalists they wished tonrecruit. For the historian of these eventsnand the student of American politicalnrhetoric it is enough to know that atnHillsborough the Federalists “wanted onlynto vote”: to know that the argumentsnmade by Federalist orators were aimednat folk “out of doors,” at those not presentnin the convention but that potentiallynas influence in any subsequent assemblynthat might reexamine thensubject of ratification.nNo sooner did the Hillsborough Conventionncome to order than it was invitednto adjourn. On the general subject ofnJULY 1992/47n