An Economic Interpretation of Rhode Island’s 1788 Referendum on the Constitution

  • Ruth Wallis HerndonEmail author
  • John E. Murray
Part of the Studies in Public Choice book series (SIPC, volume 39)


In their 1788 popular referendum, Rhode Island voters overwhelmingly rejected ratification of the Federal Constitution: 92% against and 8% for adoption. The town-by-town voter lists, correlated with tax and estate records, show that “yea” voters were significantly wealthier than “nay” voters. Available data also indicates that yea wealth was concentrated in personal estate rather than real estate. Both these findings support Charles Beard’s original economic interpretation of the Constitution. Our detailed data provides new evidence about town-level voters, supplementing the usual data Beard’s supporters and critics have used from state ratifying conventions and the Philadelphia constitutional convention. We trace the outlines of the scholarly debate, provide political and economic context for the Rhode Island referendum, report on our initial findings, and suggest further avenues of research and analysis.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.History DepartmentBowling Green State UniversityBowling GreenUSA
  2. 2.Rhodes CollegeMemphisUSA

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