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Poughkeepsie Convention Research Brief

Over the course of this spring semester here at the Hudson River Valley Institute, I will be synthesizing a research paper on the 1788 New York Constitutional Convention. It was at this convention that state ratification of the US Constitution was discussed and ultimately agreed upon. At the time, Poughkeepsie was the capital of the state so it was in this very area where the decision to ratify the Constitution took place. At the convention were several key figures of both the federalist and antifederalist movements including Alexander Hamilton (Federalist) as well as Governor of New York George Clinton (Anti-Federalist). Though ratification was originally out of favor, by the end of the convention, with a vote of 31 to 27, New York became the 11th state to ratify the Constitution.

This moment in Poughkeepsie’s history was monumental not just for the state of New York but for the newly founded United States as well. At this point, New York was one of the largest states in the union and had significant influence within the country. The consequences of not legitimizing the Constitution would be succession for the newly formed United States, an inconceivable notion considering the United States Federal Government was headquartered in New York City. Had New York not ratified the Constitution, perhaps remaining states would make a similar choice and choose to not ratify as well. The convention in Poughkeepsie represented a substantial compromise thus far in American history. The Anti-Federalists who had been so adamant about not signing the Constitution were ultimately swayed (for the most part as it was not a unanimous vote) in their decision on the grounds that certain amendments be added to the Constitution. These amendments would later be known as the Bill of Rights yet unfortunately for some Anti-Federalists, the promise of a future addition rather than a guarantee of an immediate insertion of these amendments resulted in the degradation of several political careers. The opposite was true for Alexander Hamilton as well as his fellow Federalists because not only had they turned a minority opinion into a majority vote but Constitutional ratification was soon a reality for not just New York but the entire nation.

As the vote in New York marked a pivotal point in the ratification of the Constitution, the main body of my research will be focused on the convention itself. However it is also pertinent to observe the circumstances leading up to the meeting in Poughkeepsie as well as the ramifications following that meeting. Perhaps there could be an argument suggesting that had certain states failed to ratify the Constitution leading up to, and during, the conference, then a different course of events would have transpired.

-Jackson Rockefeller


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