The term “ratification” describes the act of making something officially valid by signing it or otherwise giving it formal consent. For example, ratification occurs when parties sign a contract. The signing of the contract makes it official, and it can then be enforced by law, should the need arise. To explore this concept, consider the following ratification definition.

Definition of Ratification


  1. The act of making something, like a treaty or contract, official by signing it or otherwise provided formal consent.


1400–1450       Late Middle English

Difference Between Signing and Ratification

The difference between signing and ratification is that signing signals the intent to comply with something. Ratification, on the other hand, seals the deal, and makes the document legally binding. Consider the following example of ratification: state representatives who are considering an amendment to the Constitution sign the amendment to show their support for it. Once the representatives sign the amendment, it is then ready for ratification.

When the amendment is ready for ratification, it goes before the governing body responsible for ratifying it. In the case of the United States, this would be Congress. If Congress approves the amendment, it is sent out to the states for ratification, which then confirms that the amendment is both valid and enforceable.


When a state agrees to become a party to a treaty that other states have already signed, this is known as accession. Legally, accession is the same as ratification. The only difference is that accession typically takes place after the enforcement of the treaty. Accession, and the procedures involved with it, vary based on the provisions of the individual treaty. For instance, a treaty may permit accession of all other states, or it may specify the exact states that can take advantage of it. If the treaty is silent on the issue, then accession can only occur if the states agree on the principle in general, or as it pertains to the specific state.

Ratification of U.S. Constitution

The ratification of the U.S. Constitution, as the American people know it today, began in 1787. After 3 months of debates headed up by George Washington, 38 of the 41 present delegates signed the newly-proposed Constitution. However, Article VII of the Constitution specified that, until 9 of the 13 states ratified it, the Constitution would not be official.

Five states were quick to ratify it: Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Massachusetts, on the other hand, opposed it. Among other reasons, Massachusetts was upset that the Constitution lacked protections of basic rights, like freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion.

In 1788, Massachusetts reached a compromise with the other states. They agreed to sign if the states would agree to add those rights in later as amendments – which they did. And so, in 1788, the ratification of the U.S. Constitution was complete, with New Hampshire rounding out the ninth entry.

Finalizing the Constitution

North Carolina became the 12th state to ratify the Constitution in 1789. Rhode Island resisted ratifying the Constitution until May 1790, after the government threatened to cut off all business dealings with the state. Rhode Island was upset about the government having control of the nation’s currency. They were also upset with how the government chose to handle the issue of slavery. However, once Rhode Island agreed to ratify the Constitution, they became the last of the 13 original colonies to do so. Today, the Constitution is the oldest written constitution in the world to still be in use.

Ratification of Constitutional Amendments

After the ratification of the Constitution came the ratification of the constitutional amendments. The new government assured people that its first move as a new government would be to adopt a bill of rights. They kept their promise.

In 1789, the ratification of constitutional amendments began. In September of that year, the first U.S. Congress adopted the first 12 amendments to the Constitution. We know these amendments today to be the Bill of Rights. Congress sent the Bill of Rights to the states for ratification, and ten of these amendments were ratified in 1791. North Carolina ratified the Constitution upon receiving word of the inclusion of the Bill of Rights. And Rhode Island’s hard-to-get, last of the 13 colonies’, vote ratified the Constitution by the narrowest margin: two votes.

Process of Ratification

The process of ratification is detailed right in Article V of the Constitution. First, Congress proposes an amendment to the Constitution. Then, Congress sends that proposed amendment to someone known as the Archivist of the United States. The Archivist oversees the NARA, or National Archives and Records Administration. This person then forwards the proposed amendment to the governors of each state. These governors then either submit the proposed amendment to the states, or the states each call for a convention.

If the state ratifies the proposed amendment, it notifies the Archivist. The Archivist then notifies the Director of the Federal Register. Once the Director’s office receives it, the office checks the ratification documents for the appropriate signatures, and to confirm it complies with the law. If the documents pass the test, the Director keeps them on file until the amendment either fails or goes into effect. The Director then transfers the documents to the National Archives for preservation, completing the process of ratification. A proposed amendment joins the Constitution once three-fourths of the states (38 of 50) have ratified it.

State Ratifying Conventions

State ratifying conventions are another method of ratification. They consist of average citizens, rather than government officials. The only amendment thus far that state ratifying conventions ratified is the 21st Amendment. The 21st Amendment is the amendment that authorized the prohibition of alcohol back in January of 1919. The best way to understand state ratifying conventions is to examine the activity of a specific state. Take, for example, Florida.

Florida’s convention is comprised of 67 members. Anyone can apply to become a member. After Congress proposes an amendment to the Constitution, Florida’s governor has 45 days to call for an election, with a date set for five to ten months after the proposal.

Candidates can become members of the state ratifying convention by either voting for or against the proposed amendment. They can also apply as “unannounced.” All candidates must pay an application fee of $25, and they must bring with them a 500-name petition. The top 67 vote-getters win the 67 available seats in the convention.

Ratification Example Involving the Child Labor Amendment

Perhaps the most famous example of ratification in a U.S. Supreme Court case concerns the matter of Coleman v. Miller. The Court decided the matter in 1939.

In June of 1924, Congress proposed the Child Labor Amendment as an amendment to the Constitution. Congress proposed the amendment to give themselves permission to regulate the working conditions of individuals under the age of 18. The amendment came on the heels of federal laws passed earlier, which held that regulating and taxing goods produced by individuals who were underage was unconstitutional.

Article V of the Constitution states that, when Congress passes an amendment, three-fourths of the states must ratify it before it can become part of the Constitution. However, in January of 1925, the state of Kansas rejected the proposed amendment. Eight years later, in January 1937, the Senate of Kansas proposed a resolution that ratified the proposed amendment. The Senate voted on it, but the vote ended in a 20-20 tie. The Lieutenant Governor then chose to break the tie in favor of the amendment’s ratification.

Supreme Court of Kansas

The state’s legislators decided to bring the matter before the Supreme Court of Kansas. The Court ruled in favor of the Lieutenant Governor, holding that he had the right to vote the way he did. The Court also noted that they considered the ratification valid. The state then appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case.

Supreme Court Decision

Ultimately, the Court ruled that two of the claims the plaintiffs posed were political issues that Congress should decide. The Court added that Congress alone should decide the validity of the ratification. Two of the justices dissented, arguing that the Child Labor Amendment expired by this point anyway. Said the Court in its Decision:

“The point, that the question—whether more than a reasonable time had elapsed—is not justiciable but one for Congress after attempted ratification by the requisite number of States, was not raised by the parties or by the United States appearing as amicus curiae; it was not suggested by us when ordering reargument. As the Court, in the Dillon case, did directly decide upon the reasonableness of the seven years fixed by the Congress, it ought not now, without hearing argument upon the point, hold itself to lack power to decide whether more than 13 years between proposal by Congress and attempted ratification by Kansas is reasonable.”

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Contract – An agreement between two or more parties in which they make a promise to do or provide something in return for a valuable benefit.
  • Plaintiff – A person who brings a legal action against another person or entity, such as in a civil lawsuit, or criminal proceedings.