A Concise Guide to the Records of the State Ratifying Conventions as a Source of the Original Meaning of the U.S. Constitution

On September 17, 1787, the delegates to the Federal Constitutional Con-vention finished drafting the Constitution. Yet the Constitution could not go into effect until it was ratified in the states, as specified in Article VII. Starting in the fall of 1787, legislatures in the original thirteen states called for conventions for the purpose of deciding whether to ratify the Constitution. Many of the records of these state ratifying conventions have survived. The records reveal some of what the delegates at the state conventions said during their debates and discussions about the proposed Constitution. Accordingly, writers often cite these records as evidence of the original meaning of the Constitution.Thousands of articles and hundreds of cases have cited the records of the state ratifying conventions to support claims about the original meaning of the Constitution. This Article offers a concise guide to these records, providing the basic information that lawyers, judges, law clerks, and le-gal scholars ought to have before advancing, contesting, or evaluating claims about the original meaning of the Constitution based on the rec-ords of the state ratifying conventions. It explains theories of how the records might help to prove the original intent of the Framers, the origi-nal understanding of the ratifiers, and the original objective meaning of the Constitution’s text. The Article also considers eight possible grounds for impeaching assertions made about the original meaning, recommend-ing that anyone making or evaluating a claim about the original meaning take these eight arguments into account and that anyone using these arguments to impeach claims about the original meaning consider the possible counterarguments.

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