What if only 9 States ratified the US Constitution?

Just idle thoughts while out and about. I think I remember the US Constitution stating it would come into force when nine States had ratified it.

Imagine if only nine, not all thirteen, had ratified it…what would have been like? Four States, say, the four with the thinnest margins for ratification in our timeline, stand aside. I presume they become independent republics? While the other nine carry on as the United States.

Recipe for chaos? Would the US have eventually gobbled them up, or would it have fatally weakened the USA from the outset, and promptly breaks up again?
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The Articles of Confederation would still remain since they would not have been replaced.

But the Articles likely wouldn’t remain in effect for much longer, with internal factional squabbles and European-power intrigues soon breaking it all up.

From Politico

The 10th and 11th States to ratify the Constitution were Virginia (89-79) and New York (30-27).

In September of 1788 the Congress of the Confederation certified that the Constitution had been ratified, and elections were held beginning in December. The new congress convened in March 1789.

The last two states did not ratify the Constitution until the Federal Government was up and running, North Carolina in November 1789 (194–77) and Rhode Island (34–32) not until May 1790, after it had been threatened to be treated like a foreign country.

The states with the thinnest margins for ratification were

Rhode Island 51%
New York 53%
Massachusetts 53%
Virginia 53%

The US could have been functional without Rhode Island and possibly Massachusetts, but not without New York and Virginia.

The OP’s scenario is exactly what happened. As soon as nine states ratified, the Constitution came into force and elections started to be held. North Carolina and Rhode Island did not ratify originally, and therefore did not get to cast electoral votes in the first presidential election:


As well, the House of Representatives began sitting in April, 1789, without any representatives from North Carolina and Rhode Island. It wasn’t until 1790 that those two states ratified and sent representatives.

The result would have been that the Constitution would have been modified until it did get support from the largest states including New York and Virginia. In fact, many states did request changes as part of the ratification process, which resulted in the inclusion of the Bill of Rights (first 10 amendments). If these had been included initially the ratification process would have had more support in many states.

As I noted, not exactly. The Constitution technically came into force as soon as nine states ratified, but the Congress did not certify ratification or schedule elections until several months after New York and Virginia had ratified.

It’s possible that the United States could have split into two countries. One with at least nine states where the Constitution was in effect. And another smaller country where the Articles of Confederation were still in effect.

People at the time recognized that they needed Virginia and New York in the country to make it viable. So if those two states hadn’t joined the Constitution country, it probably would have been accepted that the Constitution wasn’t going to work even if it had been ratified by nine other states. There most likely would have been another convention to write a new version of a constitution or a revision of the Articles of Confederation that Virginia and New York would agree to.

If it had been Rhode Island or Massachusetts, they probably would have decided to go on without them. The United States would have dropped down to eleven states and Massachusetts and Rhode Island would have been a separate country.

Most people would have seen the Constitutional United States as the future. Vermont, which was on the verge of statehood, most likely would have joined it rather than join up with Massachusetts and Rhode Island. And all other future states like Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, Alabama, and Maine would have been certain to join the big country which they bordered rather than the small Confederation of Two.

The Framers did roll the dice a bit with the nine-state ratification provision, and were lucky that eleven states, including the most important ones (MA, PA, NY, VA) ratified within a fairly tight time frame. Of the two holdouts, North Carolina’s objections centered almost exclusively around the lack of a Bill of Rights. It was understood by late 1788 that the First Congress would consider and almost certainly enact some form of a Bill of Rights, so that North Carolina was not likely to hold out for long. The only adamant negative was Rhode Island, and Rhode Island was small enough that it could eventually (1791) be coerced into joining by the threat of a trade embargo.

Trivia footnote: Rhode Island elected five members to the no longer existent Confederation Congress on May 6, 1789. There is no record that the men ever did anything. It might have been amusing if they had tried to meet as a one-state Congress.

Part of the reason for the delay was that it took the Confederation Congress a long time to do anything. The Articles of Confederation required seven affirmative votes to pass any motion whatsoever, and every divided state and every state lacking the minimum two delegates in attendance was counted as a negative on every question.

New Hampshire laid its instrument of ratification before Congress on July 2, 1788, and Congress on that very day appointed a committee to report a plan to put the Constitution into effect. (It was known on July 2 that Virginia had also ratified, although formal notification arrived a little later; the New York convention was sitting and ratified later in July.) The committee reported six days later. Then, for two and a half months, every attempt to pass or amend the committee report failed, stymied by the seven-vote requirement and disagreement over where to locate the capital. Finally, on September 28, Congress managed to pass a resolution setting the dates for the presidential election and voting for the capital to remain in New York.