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Federalists now resolved that these documents be formally laid before the convention, and Hamilton undertook to bring them forward.
On the 27th of June, he commenced the most elaborate and important of the speeches which he made in this assembly, for the purpose of showing that in the construction of a government the great objects to be attained are a free and pure representation, and a proper balance between the different branches of administration; and that when these are obtained, all the powers necessary to answer, in the most ample manner, the purposes of government, may be bestowed with entire safety. He proceeded to argue, not only that a general power of taxation was essential, but that, under a system so complex as that of the Constitution, so skilfully endowed with the requisite forms of representation and division of executive and legislative power, - it was next to impossible that this authority should be abused. In the course of this speech, and for the purpose of showing that the State had suffered great distresses during the war from the mode of raising revenues by requisitions, he called for the reading at the clerk's table of a series of documents exhibiting this fact. Governor Clinton resisted their introduction, but they were read; and Hamilton and his friends. then contended, that they proved beyond dispute that the State had once been in great peril for want of an energetic general government.
This movement produced a warm altercation between the leading gentlemen on the opposite sides
of the house. But while it threw a grave responsibility upon the opposition, it did not conquer them; and by the day on which the intelligence from Virginia arrived, they had heaped amendments upon the table on almost every clause and feature of the Constitution, some one or more of which it was highly probable they would succeed in making a condition of its acceptance.
This critical situation of affairs led Hamilton to consider, for a short time, whether it might not be necessary to accede to a plan, by which the State should reserve the right to recede from the Union, in case its amendments should not have been decided upon, in one of the modes pointed out by the Constitution, within five or six years. He saw the . objections to this course; and he was determined to leave no effort untried to bring the opposition to an unqualified ratification. But the danger of a rejection of the Constitution was extreme; and as a choice of evils, he thought that, if the State could in the first instance be received into the Union under such a reserved right to withdraw, succeeding events, by the adoption of all proper and necessary amendments, would make the reservation unimportant, because such amendments would satisfy the more reasonable part of the opposition, and would thus break up their party. But he determined not to incur the hazard of this step upon his own judgment alone, or that of any one else having a personal interest in the question; and accordingly, on the 12th of July, he despatched a letter to Madison, who was then
attending in Congress at the city of New York, asking his opinion upon the possibility of receiving the State into the Union in this form.1
Madison instantly replied, that, in his opinion, this would be a conditional ratification, and would not make the State of New York a member of the new Union; that the Constitution required an adoption in toto and for ever; and that any condition must vitiate the ratification of any State.2
Before this reply could have been received at Poughkeepsie, the Federalists had introduced their proposition for an unconditional ratification, and this was followed by that of the Anti-Federalists for a conditional one. The former was rejected by the convention on the 16th of July. The opposition then brought forward a new form of conditional ratification, with a Bill of Rights prefixed, and with amendments subjoined. After a long debate, the Federalists succeeded, on the 23d of July, in procuring a vote to change this proposition, so that, in place of the words "on condition," the people of the State would be made to declare that they assented to and ratified the Constitution "in full confidence" that, until a general convention should be called for proposing amendments, Congress would not exercise certain powers which the Constitution conferred upon them. This alteration was carried by thirty-one votes against twenty-seven. A list of amendments was then agreed upon, and a circular letter was adopted, to be sent to all the States, recommending a general
1 Letter to Madison, Works of Hamilton, I. 464.
2 Ibid. 465.
convention; and on Saturday, the 26th of July, the ratification, as thus framed, with the Bill of Rights and the amendments, was carried by thirty affirmative against twenty-seven negative votes.1
By this slender majority of her delegates, and under circumstances of extreme peril of an opposite decision, did the State of New York accept the Constitution of the United States, and become a member of the new government. The facts of the case, and the importance of her being brought into the new Union, afford a sufficient vindication of the course pursued by the Federalists in her convention. But it is necessary, before closing the history of these events, to consider a complaint that was made at the time, by some of the most zealous of their political associates in other quarters, and which touched the correctness of their motives in assenting to the circular letter demanding a general convention for the amendment of the Constitution.
That there was danger lest another general convention might result in serious injury to the Constitution, perhaps in its overthrow, was a point on which there was probably no difference of opinion among the Federalists of that day. Washington regarded it in this light; and there is no reason to
1 It was reported in the newspapers of that period that the Constitution was adopted in this convention by 30 yeas against 25 nays. But the official record gives the several votes as they are stated in the text; from which it appears
that, on the critical question of a conditional or unconditional ratification, the majority was only 2. In truth, the ratification of New York barely escapes the objection of being a qualified one, if it does in fact escape it.
doubt that Hamilton and Jay, and many others of the friends of the Constitution, would have felt great anxiety about its result. But there were some members of the Federal party, in several of the States, who do not seem to have fully appreciated the importance of conceding to the opposition, at the time of the adoption of the Constitution, the use of any and every form of obtaining amendments which the Constitution itself recognized. This was true everywhere, where serious dissatisfaction existed, and it was especially true in the State of New York. It was impossible to procure a ratification in that State, without an equivalent concession; and if the Federal leaders in that convention assented to the proposal of a course of amending the Constitution for which the instrument itself provided, however ineligible it might be, their justification is to be found in the circumstances of their situation. Washington himself, when all was over, wrote to Mr. Jay as follows:-"Although I could scarcely conceive it possible, after ten States had adopted the Constitution, that New York, separated as it is from the others, and peculiarly divided in sentiments as it is, would withdraw from the Union, yet, considering the great majority which appeared to cling together in the convention, and the decided temper of the leaders, I did not, I confess, see how it was to be avoided. The exertion of those who were able to effect this great work must have been equally arduous and meritorious."1
1 Works of Washington, IX. 408.