Connecticut Ratifies the Constitution

On January 9, 1788, Connecticut ratified the Constitution, becoming the fifth state to do so.

Light House Point, New Haven. [ca. 1900]. Detroit Publishing Company. Prints & Photographs Division

Connecticut suffered under the Articles of Confederation. While paying heavy import duties to New York State, Connecticut found it difficult to discharge its war debts and rebuild its economy. Delegates Oliver Ellsworth, William Samuel Johnson, and Roger Sherman were sent to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia with a directive to create a more workable government in accordance with republican principles. As the debate polarized between large and small states over the issue of legislative representation, these men proved invaluable.

Large states advocated representation based on population, while smaller states, such as New Jersey, urged that each state have a single vote. Although protective of Connecticut’s interests as a small state, the Connecticut delegation remained flexible and lobbied for the “Connecticut Compromise.” It created the current legislative framework of an upper house based on equal representation, the Senate, and a lower house based on proportional representation, the House of Representatives.

After finishing their work at the Convention on September 17, 1787, the delegates returned to Connecticut. With Federalists firmly in control of the convention, Oliver Ellsworth opened the debates by reminding fellow citizens of Connecticut’s disadvantage under the Articles of Confederation:

Our being tributaries to our sister states is in consequence of the want of a federal system. The state of New York raises 60 or £80,000 a year by impost. Connecticut consumes about one third of the goods upon which this impost is laid, and consequently pays one third of this sum to New York. If we import by the medium of Massachusetts, she has an impost, and to her we pay a tribute. If this is done when we have the shadow of a national government, what shall we not suffer when even that shadow is gone!

Speech of Oliver Ellsworth. Fragment of the Debates In the Convention of the State of Connecticut, January 4, 1788. Elliot’s Debates, Vol.II, p. 189. A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875

Ellsworth’s position prevailed. Connecticut’s ratifying convention approved the Constitution by an overwhelming majority less than a week after Ellsworth’s speech.

Park and Capitol Bldg, Hartford, Conn.. Haines Photo Co., cDec. 3, 1909. Panoramic Photographs. Prints & Photographs Division

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The Fisk School

The Fisk School, forerunner of Fisk UniversityExternal, convened classes for the first time on January 9, 1866, in former Union army barracks in Nashville, Tennessee. The school was named for General Clinton B. Fisk of the Tennessee Freedmen’s Bureau who provided the facility.

Fisk University, incorporated on August 22, 1867, is one of several historically black colleges founded with help from the American Missionary Association. The organization was formed in 1846 from three antislavery societies involved in the effort to colonize freed slaves overseas. Other schools founded by the AMA include Atlanta University, Hampton Institute (now Hampton University), and Howard University.

Portrait of Charles S. Johnson. [First Black President (1946-1956) Fisk University]. Carl Van Vechten, photographer, Jan. 21, 1948. Van Vechten Collection. Prints & Photographs Division

The Fisk Jubilee Singers, organized in 1867, began touring the United States and Europe in 1871 to raise money for the university. Renowned for their discipline and high standards of musical performance, they brought international attention to traditional African-American sacred music. Jubilee Hall, the first permanent structure built in the South for the education of African Americans, was constructed with proceeds from the Singers’ tours.

Oh, Rise and Shine! Cincinnati: John Church & Co., 1881. Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music, ca. 1870 to 1885. Music Division

During their first U.S. tour in 1871, the obscure Fisk Jubilee Singers followed the route of the old underground railroad and performed in churches and private homes. By 1873 the group, most of whom had been born into slavery, were presenting their artistry and a new body of music to the general public at venues such as Steinway Hall in Manhattan, to President Grant at the White house, and to Queen Victoria in England.

The collection Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music, ca. 1870 to 1885 contains a number of songs performed by the Fisk Jubilee Singers. Search on Jubilee Singers to see sheet music for spirituals including “The Gospel Train”, “Oh Rise and Shine!”, and “I’m Going to Sing All the Way”.

Famous graduates of Fisk University include sociologist and political activist W.E.B. DuBois and historian John Hope Franklin. Distinguished faculty include author James Weldon Johnson, poet Arna Bontemps, and educator, choral director, and ethnomusicologist John Wesley Work III.

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  • Carl Van Vechten whose work is featured online in the Van Vechten Collection left a collection of music and musical literature to Fisk University on his death in 1964. Search the Van Vechten Collection on Fisk to view pictures of members of Fisk’s music department. Browse the Subject Index and Occupational Index for more portraits by Van Vechten.
  • Learn more about the Fisk Jubilee Singers. Search across the collections such as Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers to find articles about their performances and history. Listen to recordings of their songs found in the National Jukebox.
  • Search across the collections on an historic institution of your choice, such as Atlanta University, to locate more material of interest, or view the Today in History features highlighting Howard University, Vassar College, Columbia University, Oberlin College, Georgetown University, Cornell University, the U.S. Naval Academy, or Dartmouth College.