Map of Delaware

On December 7, 1787 the Delaware State Legislature, by a unanimous vote of 30 to 0, became the first state to ratify the newly proposed national Constitution.

When a new State Constitution was adopted in 1792, the office of State Executive, which had previously been called President and chosen by the Legislature, was changed to Governor, and became an elected position. The term of office was kept at three years.

Delaware with only three counties (New Castle, Kent and Sussex) had the fewest in the nation. They also had the smallest State Legislature, comprised of nine State Senators and twenty-one Representatives.

Each county had three Senators, serving for three years. Their terms were staggered, so that one Senator was elected every year from each county. The House of Representatives had twenty one members, seven from each county, and who were elected annually at large.

Congressional, State and County Elections were held simultaneously in early October. Delaware elected one Congressman from 1788 – 1810, two for 1812 – 1820, and then one again from 1822 onward. State offices elected by popular vote were Governor, State Senator and Representatives. County officials elected by popular vote were Levy Court Commissioners, Coroners and Sheriff.

The voting alignment of the three counties, with New Castle voting Republican and Sussex and Kent being Federalist, meant that the State Legislature was almost always controlled by Federalists. As a result, from 1792 to 1820 Delaware chose Federalist Presidential Electors, even in 1820 when all four electors gave their Vice Presidential votes to Daniel Rodney, a Federalist and former Governor.

The Legislature also selected United States Senators, and with the exception of Caesar A. Rodney, who was elected in 1822, all those chosen during this time period were Federalists.

Party competition began with the state elections of 1792 and continued virtually unabated until 1826, when the last Federalist Governor was elected. Despite the dominance of Federalists in the Legislature, the parties were fairly balanced in popular voting strength, with Republicans electing their candidate for Governor in 1801, 1810, 1820 and 1822 and Congressmen in 1792, 1794, 1802 and capturing one of their two seats in 1816, 1818 and 1820.

Delaware counties were broken down into Hundreds, which seem to be the equivalent of townships. By 1811 state election returns started to be reported by Hundreds, a procedure which began showing the tight cohesion in voting amongst Federalist and Republican tickets.

The Hundreds also elected local officials such as Assessors, Inspectors and Road Commissioners. These elections were held in September, before the state voted in October, and on occasion, if they were favorable to either party, these returns were reported in the newspapers.

Delaware, the first state in the Union was the last to elect a Federalist Governor.



The Anti-Federalists were never a political party as is thought of in modern times. It was a coalesced group of voting interests that were united in their opposition to the Constitution.

"The Antifederal objections to the Constitution fall into four categories. First, some attacked it for violations of the Whig theory. Such criticisms came particularly from merchants, lawyers and large landowners who believed in Whig ideology themselves, and represented a sort of right wing, non-agrarian Antifederalism. Second, almost all of the new plan's opponents accused it of excessive centralization: these were the localists. Third, some critics attacked the Constitution as leading toward monarchy or aristocracy rather than democracy: these comprised the left wing. Finally, the agrarians feared that the commerical, creditor, or large propertied interests would benefit at the expense of the farmers." (Jackson T. Main, History of U.S. Political Parties Volume I: 1789-1860: From Factions to Parties. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., ed. New York, 1973, Chelsea House Publisher. p. 153.)

"Strictly speaking, Antifederalism ended with the ratification of the Constitution in 1788, without ever producing a party in any modern sense. During the next few years the term continued as a word of opprobrium, employed by the Federalists to demean whoever opposed the men or policies of the new government. In some states, opposition nearly ceased. In others, however, former Antifederalists remained strong and even gained ground, especially where they had developed a local political organization: they composed a majority or a strong minority in such states as New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and North Carolina, and appeared elsewhere for the first time, as in New Jersey. Although they still lacked an inter-state organization and suffered a serious loss of strength during the election of 1788-1789, bitterly fought in certain areas. Presently, in Congress, they supported amendments and opposed various policies of the Federalists. The close relationship between the Anti-Federalists and the Jeffersonian Republicans may be traced through a continuity both of men and ideas. At least seven-eighths of those known to have opposed the Constitution in 1787-1788 became Republicans." (Main, p. 166)

"Despite the intensity of Anti-Federalist opposition to the Constitution, no Anti-Constitution party emerged after ratification. With the demise of the second-convention movement, Anti-Federalists turned their attention to seeking office under the new government. Federalist efforts to discredit Anti-Federalists turned their attention to seeking office under the new government. Federalist efforts to discredit Anti-Federalists only diminshed the likelihood of a distinctive Anti-Federalist party's emerging. Instead, Anti-Federalists set about becoming a loyal opposition. A number of other factors facilitated this transformation. The rapid adoption of the Bill of Rights, even if it failed to satisfy many Anti-Federalists, deprived them of an important rallying point. Reverence for the principles of constitutionalism and a belief that, when properly amended, the new frame of government would effectively protect liberty further weakened the chances of an Anti-Federal's party forming. The respect accorded George Washington, the new president, also worked against continued opposition. When coupled with renewed econimic prosperity, all of those factors helped promote the formal demise of Anti-Federalism. Yet, though Anti-Federalism did not generate an Anti-Constitution party, the term 'Anti-Federalist,' the various texts produced by the Anti-Federalists during ratification, and the alternative constitutional discourses that shaped Anti-Federalism did not simply disappear. The emergence of a court faction among Federalists caused many former supporters of the Constitution to rehtink the original Anti-Federalist critique. The efforts of former Federalists, most notable James Madison, and former Anti-Federalists, such as William Findley, were crucial to the creation of a Democratic-Republican opposition. That loyal opposition drew important ideas and rhetorical themes from Anti-Federalism and adapted them to the exigencies of political conflict in the 1790s." (p. 170-171)

Additional Sources:

  • History of U.S. Political Parties Volume I: 1789-1860: From Factions to Parties. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., ed. New York, 1973, Chelsea House Publisher.
  • The Other Founders: Anti-Federalism and the Dissenting Tradition in America, 1788-1828. Saul Cornell. Chapel Hill, 1999, University of North Carolina Press.