New Hampshire’s Role at the Second Constitutional Convention

With the decision to hold a Second Continental Convention was made, word was sent to the states to elect and send representatives to Philadelphia.  The Convention was to begin in May 1787.  New Hampshire elected two representatives, Nicholas Gilman and John Langdon, but lacked the funds to send them.  Langdon, a wealthy merchant and ship builder, offered to paid the way for himself and Gilman.  Gathering the funds, however, took time.  They did not arrive until July 21, nearly two months into the Convention.

During the Constitutional Convention, Gilman and Langdon played very different roles.  Gilman made no speeches and was part of only one committee.  Langdon conducted over twenty speeches and was actively involved in several key topic debates, such as passing the Great Compromise and debates over taxation and commerce.


Who Were New Hampshire’s Representatives?

Nicholas Gilman was born and raised in Exeter, New Hampshire to a politically active family.  His father, Nicholas Gilman, Sr., was the State Treasurer for New Hampshire from 1775 to 1783 while his older brother John Taylor was governor of New Hampshire for 14 years.  After serving in the Revolutionary War as a Captain in the Continental Army, Nicholas served in the Continental Congress from 1786-1788.  Under the Constitution, he served in the House from 1789 to 1797 and at various time in the NH Legislature between 1795 to 1808.  In 1804 he was elected to the Senate in which he served until his death 1814.  Nicholas died unexpectedly on the way through Philadelphia at the age of 58.  He never married and much of his estate went to his younger brother Nathaniel.

John Langdon was born to a prosperous family in Portsmouth, New Hampshire in 1741.  At a young age he started his own mercantile business and eventually made his way into ship building.  During the Revolutionary War, Langdon was active moreso in politics.   He took part in the 1774 Raid at Fort William and Mary, organized Stark’s 1777 expedition and the Battle of Bennington, served in New Hampshire’s Congress as Speaker of the House, and was elected governor for a short term.  Nationally, Langdon served in both the first and second Continental Congress and on the Senate.  Langdon retired from politics in 1812, passing away in 1819.

New Hampshire and Ratifying the Constitution

Congress approved the Constitution on September 15, 1787.  Five hundred copies of the Constitution were printed and sent to the States for ratification.  Congress felt the Constitution, a document meant to be goverened for and by the people, should be approved by the states.  Delaware was the first state to approve and sign the Constitution in December of 1787.  New Hampshire, though, took its time, spending five months debating and discussing with their towns the pros and cons of ratifying the Constitution.

New Hampshire’s representatives met in Exeter on February 13, 1788.  Members quickly picked sides between Federalists (for the Constitution) and Anti Federalists (against the Constitution).  Both Nicholas Gilman and John Langdon were active participants, pushing to ratify the Constitution.  Anti Federalists in New Hampshire were wairy of a strong central government, wanted citizen rights addressed, and were unhappy slavery was not abolished.  Federalists in the state believed the country could not survive without a stronger central government.  A quote from Nicholas Gilman sums up the representatives feelings in New Hampshire:

“Notwithstanding its imperfections, on the adoption of it depends (in my feeble judgment) whether we shall become a respectable nation, or a people torn to pieces . . . and rendered contemptible for ages.”

After ten days of debate the Federalists feared the votes against ratification were growing.  They called to adjourn the meeting so representatives could discuss the Constitution with their towns.  During the break, however, the Federalists worked hard to sway Anti Federalists.

Agreeing to meet in Concord, New Hampshire’s representatives revived debates on June 18th 1788.  There was a good deal of pressure on New Hampshire as eight other states had approved the Constitution.  If the Federalists could swing enough Anti Federalists, New Hampshire could be the ninth state, officially ratifying the Constitution.  After four days of debate, the Federalists called for a vote.  For unknown reasons, five delegates did not show up while four refused to vote.  It is possible they were urged by Federalists if they could not go against their towns and approve the Constitution they should not show up or abstain from voting.  With a ten margin vote (57 to 47) New Hampshire ratified the Constitution, becoming the needed ninth state to officially ratify the  Constitution.