Today in History

Today in History: January 9

Connecticut Ratifies the Constitution

Light House Point, New Haven
Light House Point,
New Haven, Connecticut,
circa 1901-1906.
Touring Turn-of-the-Century America, 1880-1920

On January 9, 1788, Connecticut ratified the Constitution, becoming the fifth state in the Union.

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 of 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!

Oliver Ellsworth
"Fragment of the Debates In the Convention of the State of Connecticut,"
January 4, 1788,
Elliot's Debates, Vol.II, page 189.
A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation, 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 building, hartford
Park and Capitol Building,
Hartford, Connecticut,
December 3, 1909.
Taking the Long View, 1851-1991

The Fisk School

Portrait of Charles S. Johnson
Charles S. Johnson,
[First African-American President (1946-1956) Fisk University],
Carl Van Vechten, photographer,
January 21, 1948.
Creative Americans: Portraits Van Vechten, 1932-1964

The Fisk School, forerunner of Fisk University (external link), 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.

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.

Songs of the Jubilee Singers
Songs of the Jubilee Singers
from Fisk University, [detail]
Cincinnati: John Church & Co., 1881.
Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music, 1870-1885

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 Manhatten, to President Grant at the White house, and to Queen Victoria in England.

The collection Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music, 1870-1885 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 and poet Arna Bontemps.