The State of New York declares that the people may “reassume” their delegated powers at any time they choose (1788)

Jonathan Elliot

Found in The Debates in the Several State Conventions vol. 1

September 17th is Constitution Day in the United States and to celebrate this fact we have chosen a passage from the Ratification of the Constitution made by the State of New York on July 26, 1788. First, there is the opening statement and then clause 3. The full quote contains the first 12 clauses:

We, the delegates of the people of the state of New York, duly elected and met in Convention, having maturely considered the Constitution for the United States of America, agreed to on the 17th day of September, in the year 1787, by the Convention then assembled at Philadelphia, in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, (a copy whereof precedes these presents,) and having also seriously and deliberately considered the present situation of the United States, — Do declare and make known, —

… That the powers of government may be reassumed by the people whensoever it shall become necessary to their happiness; that every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by the said Constitution clearly delegated to the Congress of the United States, or the departments of the government thereof, remains to the people of the several states, or to their respective state governments, to whom they may have granted the same; and that those clauses in the said Constitution, which declare that Congress shall not have or exercise certain powers, do not imply that Congress is entitled to any powers not given by the said Constitution; but such clauses are to be construed either as exceptions to certain specified powers, or as inserted merely for greater caution…

Before the United States Constitution came into effect it had to be ratified individually by the states which made up the new federation. This was a long drawn out process that continued from 1788 to 1791. A number of the states ratified the new constitution on condition that certain amendments and clarifications be introduced. For example, both New York and Rhode Island wanted to clarify the voluntary and rescindable nature of the agreement to delegate certain powers to the national government, so in one of the early clauses (the 3rd) it is most clearly stated in the New York Ratification document that the powers delegated by the people to the Federal government could be “reassumed” at any any time, that is to say, that the agreement to join the federation could be rescinded at any time if the people thought that their “happiness” was no longer being furthered by such a political union.