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But others were not so just. The Federalists of the New York convention were complained of by some of their friends for having assented to the circular letter, for the purpose of procuring a ratification at any price, in order to secure the establishment of the new government at the city of New York. It was said that the State had better have remained out of the Union, than to have taken a course which would prove more injurious than her rejection would have done.1
With respect to these complaints and the accompanying charge, it is only necessary to say, in the first place, that Hamilton and Jay and their associates believed that there was far less danger to be apprehended from a mere call for a second general convention, than from a rejection of the Constitution by the State of New York; and they had to choose between these alternatives. The result shows that they chose rightly; for the assembling of a general convention was superseded by the action of Congress upon the amendments proposed by the States. In the second place, the alleged motive did not exist. We now know that Hamilton certainly, and we may presume his friends also, did not expect or desire the new government to be more than temporarily placed at the city of New York. He himself saw the impolicy of establishing it permanently either at that place or at Philadelphia. He regarded its temporary establishment at the city of
1 Madison's letter to Washington, August 24, 1788, Works of Washington, IX. 549.
New York as the certain means of carrying it farther south, and of securing its final and permanent place somewhere upon the banks of the Delaware within the limits of New Jersey, or upon the banks of the Potomac within the limits of Virginia.1
The people of the city of New York had waited long for the decision of their State convention. They had postponed several times their intended celebration in honor of the Constitution, which, as it was to be the last, they determined should be the most imposing of these ceremonies. When the day at length came, on the 5th of August, 1788, it saw a population whose mutual confidence and joy had absorbed every narrow and bigoted distinction in that noblest of all the passions that a people can exhibit, love of country. It were a vain and invidious task to attempt to determine, from the contemporary descriptions, whether this display exceeded that of all the other cities in variety and extent. But there was one feature of it so striking, so creditable to the people of the city of New York, that it should not be passed over. It consisted in the honors they paid to Hamilton.
He must have experienced on that day the best reward that a statesman can ever find; for there is no purer, no higher pleasure for a conscientious statesman, than to know, by demonstrations of public gratitude, that the humblest of the people for whose welfare he has labored appreciate and are thankful
1 See his letter to Governor Livingston of New Jersey, August 29, 1788, Works, I. 471.
for his services. Public life is often represented, and often found, to be a thankless sphere, for men of the greatest capacity and the highest patriotism; and the accidents, the defeats, the changes, the party passions and obstructions of the political world, in a free government, frequently make it so. But mankind are neither deliberately heartless nor systematically unthankful; and it has sometimes happened, in popular governments, that statesmen of the first order of mind and character have, while living, received the most unequivocal proofs of feeling directly from the popular heart, while the sum total of their lives appears in history to be wanting in evidences of that personal success which is attained in a constant triumph over opponents. Such an expression of popular gratitude and sympathy it was now the fortune of Hamilton to receive.
The people of the city did not stop to consider, on this occasion, whether he was entitled, in comparison with all the other public men in the United States, to be regarded as the chief author of the blessings which they now anticipated from the Constitution. And why should they? He was their fellowcitizen,―their own. They remembered the day when they saw him, a mere boy, training his artillerymen in their public park, for the coming battles of the Revolution. They remembered the youthful eloquence and the more than youthful power with which he encountered the pestilent and slavish doctrines of their Tories. They thought of his career in the army, when the extraordinary maturity, depth,
and vigor of his genius, and his great accomplishments, supplied to Washington, in some of the most trying periods of his vast and prolonged responsibility, the assistance that Washington most needed. They recollected his career in Congress, when his comprehensive intellect was always alert, to bear the country forward to measures and ideas that would concentrate its powers and resources in some national system. They called to mind how he had kept their own State from wandering quite away into the paths of disunion, how he had enlightened, invigorated, and purified public opinion by his wise and energetic counsels, how he had led them to understand the true happiness and glory of their country, how he had labored to bring about those events which had now produced the Constitution, how he had shown to them the harmony and success that might be predicted of its operation, and had taught them to accept what was good, without petulantly demanding what individual opinion might claim as perfect.
What was it to them, therefore, on this day of public rejoicing, that there might be in his policy more of consolidation than in the policy of others, — that he was said to have in his politics too much that was national and too little that was local, — that some had done as much as he in the actual construction of the system which they were now to celebrate? Such controversies might be for history, or for the contests of administration that were soon to arise. On this day, they were driven out of men's thoughts by the glow of that public enthusiasm which banishes
the spirit of party, and touches and opens the inmost fountains of patriotism. Hamilton had rendered a series of great services to his country, which had culminated in the adoption of the Constitution by the State of New York; and they were now acknowledged from the very hearts of those who best knew his motives and best understood his character.
The people themselves, divided into their respective trades, evidently undertook the demonstrations in his honor, and gave them an emphasis which they could have derived from no other source. They bore his image aloft upon banners. They placed the Constitution in his right hand, and the Confederation in his left. They depicted Fame, with her trumpet, crowning him with laurels. They emblazoned his name upon the miniature frigate, the federal ship of state. They anticipated the administration of the first President, by uniting on the national flag the figure of Washington and the figure of Hamilton.' All that ingenuity, all that affection, that popular pride and gratitude could do, to honor a public benefactor, was repeated again and again through the long line of five thousand citizens, of all orders and conditions, which stretched away from the shores of that beautiful bay, where ocean ascends into river and river is lost in ocean, where Commerce then wore her holiday attire, to prefigure the magnificence and power which she was to derive from the Constitution of the United States.
1 Some of the most elaborate of these devices were borne by the
"Block and Pump Makers" and the "Tallow-Chandlers."