History Faculty Publications

Document Type

Book Chapter


In their 1788 popular referendum, Rhode Island voters overwhelmingly rejected ratification of the Federal Constitution: 92 percent against and 8 percent 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.

Publication Date


Publication Title

Joshua Hall and Marcus Witcher, (eds.), Public Choice Analyses of American Economic History: Volume 3. New York: Springer, 2019.