Page images

ton's public character and conduct in this respect. It was because his future opportunities for personal distinction and usefulness were now evidently at stake in the success of a system that would admit of the exercise of his great powers in the service of the country, a system that would afford at once a field for their exercise and for the application of his political principles, and because he could neither seek nor find distinction in a line of politics which tended to disunion, that his position at this time is so interesting and important. As a citizen of New York, too, his position was personally critical. He had carried on a vigorous contest with the opponents of the Constitution in that State; he had encountered obloquy and misrepresentation and ranHe had perhaps he had provoked them. told the people of the State, for years, that they had listened to wrong counsels, when they had lent themselves to measures that retarded the growth of a national spirit and an efficient general government. The correctness of his judgment was now, therefore, openly and palpably in the issue. His public policy, with reference to the relations of the State to the Union, was now to stand, or to fall, with the Constitution proposed.


[ocr errors]

When he entered the convention of the State, he was convinced that the Anti-Federalists were determined that New York should not become a member of the new Union, whatever might be done by the other States.1 He had also received information,

1 See his correspondence with Madison, Works, I. pp. 450-469.

which led him to believe that the Governor, Clinton, had in conversation declared the Union unnecessary; but of this, if true, he could make no public use. His suspicions were certainly justified by the tendency of the arguments made use of by the opposition, during the few first days of the session; for it was the tendency of those arguments to maintain the idea that New York could very well stand alone, even if the Constitution should be established by nine States, she refusing to be one of them. With this view, they pressed the consideration under which they had all along acted, that the Confederation, if amended, would be sufficient for all the proper purposes of a general government; and their plan for such an amendment of the Confederation was, to provide that its requisitions for money should continue to be made as they had been, and that Congress should have the new power of compelling payment by force, when a State had refused to comply with a requisition.

Hamilton answered this suggestion with great energy. It is inseparable, he said, from the disposition of bodies which have a constitutional power of resistance, to inquire into the merits of a law. This had ever been the case with the federal requisitions. In this examination, the States, unfurnished with the lights which directed the deliberations of the general government, and incapable of embracing the general interests of the Union, had almost uniformly weighed the requisitions by their own local interests, and had only executed them so far as an

swered their particular convenience or advantage. But if we have national objects to pursue, we must have national revenues. If requisitions are made and are not complied with, what is to be done? To coerce the States would be one of the maddest projects ever devised. No State would ever suffer itself to be used as the instrument of coercing another. A federal standing army, then, must enforce the requisitions, or the federal treasury would be left without supplies and the government without support. There could be no cure for this great evil, but to enable the national laws to operate on individuals, like the laws of the States. To take the old Confederation as the basis of a new system, and to trust the sword and the purse to a single assembly organized upon principles so defective, giving it the full powers of taxation and the national forces, would be to establish a despotism. These considerations showed clearly that a totally different government, with proper powers and proper checks and balances, must be established.

[ocr errors]

The convention soon afterwards passed to an animated discussion on the system of representation proposed in the Constitution, and while an amendment relating to the Senate was pending, on the 24th of June, Hamilton received intelligence from the East, that on the 21st the convention of New Hampshire had ratified the Constitution. Up to this moment, the opposition, while disclaiming earnestly all wish to bring about a dissolution of the Union, or to prevent the establishment of some firm

and efficient government, had still continued, in every form, to press a line of argument which tended to produce the rejection of the Constitution proposed; and it was evident that their opponents could throw upon them the responsibility of a dissolution of the Union only by a deduction from the tendency of their reasoning. But now that the Constitution had been adopted by the number of States which its provisions required for its establishment, the Federalists determined that the opposition should publicly meet the issue raised by the new aspect of affairs, which was to determine whether the State of New York should or should not place itself out of the pale of the new confederacy, whether it should or should not stand in a hostile attitude towards the nine States which had thus signified their determination to institute a new government. Accordingly, on the next day, Chancellor Livingston formally announced in the convention the intelligence that had been received from New Hampshire, which, he said, had evidently changed the circumstances of the country and the ground of the present debate. He declared that the Confederation was now dissolved. Would they consider the situation of their country? However some might contemplate disunion without pain, or flatter themselves that some of the Southern States would form a league with them, he could not look without horror at the dangers to which any such confederacy would expose the State of New York.

This dilemma embarrassed, but did not subdue,

the opposition. They reiterated their denial of a purpose to produce a dissolution of the Union, doubtless with entire sincerity; but they continued the argument which was designed to show that the State ought not to adopt a system dangerous to liberty, under a fear of the situation in which it might be placed.

Here, then, the reader should pause for a moment, in order to form a just appreciation of the course pursued by Hamilton, in this altered aspect of affairs, when nothing remained to be done but to get the State of New York, if possible, into the new Union. We have now the means of knowing precisely how he estimated the chances of succeeding in this effort. On the 27th, while the discussion was still going on, he wrote to Madison as follows: "There are some slight symptoms of relaxation in some of the leaders, which authorizes a gleam of hope, if you do well; but certainly I think not otherwise." At the same time, we know that his latest news from Virginia was not encouraging.2

How easy, then, perhaps natural, it would have been for him to have abandoned this "gleam of hope,”—to have turned his back upon the State and all its cabals, to have left the Anti-Federalists to determine the fate of New York, and to have transferred himself to what was then the larger community, the great State of Pennsylvania, or to any of the other States which had adopted the Constitution!

1 Works, I. 462.

2 See the latest letter which he

had then received from Madison. Ibid. 461.

« EelmineJätka »