Constitutional Convention. Remarks on the
Necessity for a National Government1
[Philadelphia, June 19, 1787]
Col. Hamilton, assented to the doctrine of Mr. Wilson.2 He denied the doctrine that the States were thrown into a State of Nature. He was not yet prepared to admit the doctrine that the Confederacy, could be dissolved by partial infractions of it. He admitted that the States met now on an equal footing but could see no inference from that against concerting a change of the system in this particular. He took this occasion of observing for the purpose of appeasing the fears of the small States, that two circumstances would render them secure under a National Govt. in which they might lose the equality of rank they now held: one was the local situation of the 3 largest States Virga. Masts. & Pa. They were separated from each other by distance of place, and equally so, by all the peculiarities which distinguish the interests of one State from those of another. No combination therefore could be dreaded. In the second place, as there was a gradation in the States from Va. the largest down to Delaware the smallest, it would always happen that ambitious combinations among a few States might & wd. be counteracted by defensive combinations of greater extent among the rest. No combination has been seen among large Counties merely as such, agst. lesser Counties. The more close the Union of the States, and the more compleat the authority of the whole: the less opportunity will be allowed the stronger States to injure the weaker.
Hunt and Scott, Debates description begins Gaillard Hunt and James Brown Scott, eds., The Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787 Which Framed the Constitution of the United States of America. Reported by James Madison (New York, 1920). description ends , 131.
1. The version of H’s second remarks on June 19 reported by Robert Yates and John Lansing, Jr., differed in minor particulars from that given by Madison. Yates’s version reads:
“I agree to Mr. Wilson’s remark. Establish a weak government and you must at times overleap the bounds. Rome was obliged to create dictators. Cannot you make propositions to the people because we before confederated on other principles? The people can yield to them, if they will. The three great objects of government, agriculture, commerce and revenue, can only be secured by a general government.” (Yates, Secret Proceedings and Debates description begins Robert Yates, Secret Proceedings and Debates of the Convention Assembled at Philadelphia, in the Year 1787, For the Purpose of Forming the Constitution of The United States of America (Albany, 1821). description ends , 142.)
Lansing’s version reads:
“Hamilton—agrees with Wilson—this is calculated to destroy many Heresies in Politics—How is general Government to affect Interests of smaller States? In Agriculture, Commerce and Revenue—large States are remote from each other—Commercial Interests are not the same—on what Principle can they combine to affect agricultural Interest?” (Notes of John Lansing description begins Joseph R. Strayer, ed., The Delegate from New York or Proceedings of the Federal Convention of 1787 from the Notes of John Lansing, Jr. (Princeton, 1939). description ends , 70.)
2. The Convention debated a resolution of the Virginia Plan which provided “that a Natl. Govt. ought to be established” (See H’s first remarks on June 19). To Luther Martin’s argument that “the separation from G. B. placed the 13 States in a state of Nature towards each other; that they would have remained in that state till this time, but for the confederation; that they entered into the confederation on the footing of equality.” James Wilson replied that, according to the Declaration of Independence, the states “were independent, not individually, but Unitedly” (Hunt and Scott, Debates description begins Gaillard Hunt and James Brown Scott, eds., The Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787 Which Framed the Constitution of the United States of America. Reported by James Madison (New York, 1920). description ends , 130–31).