Alexander Hamilton Papers

New York Assembly. Remarks on an Act Concerning Murder, [8 February 1787]

New York Assembly. Remarks on an
Act Concerning Murder1

[New York, February 8, 1787]

On that part of the bill, which required that women who clandestinely were delivered of children and the same die, or be born dead, that the mother within one month thereafter, should before a magistrate be obliged to produce one witness at least, to prove that the child was not murdered; and in default of concealing the same, to be deemed guilty of murder.

Mr. Hamilton observed, that the clause was neither politic or just, he wished it obliterated from the bill; to shew the propriety of this, he expatiated feelingly on the delicate situation it placed an unfortunate woman in, who might by accident be delivered stillborn; from the concealment of the loss of honor, her punishment might be mitigated; and the misfortune end here. She might reform and be again admitted into virtuous society. The operation of this law compelled her to publish her shame to the world. It was to be expected therefore that she would prefer the danger of punishment from concealment, to the avowal of her guilt. He thought it would involve courts in a delicate dilemma; the law would have no good effect as it would generally be evaded; such circumstances would be viewed leniently.2

The [New York] Daily Advertiser, February 10, 1787.

1On February 8, a committee of the whole reported on “AN ACT concerning murder.” The section of the bill under dispute is given in the paragraph preceding H’s remarks.

2Following H’s remarks, Samuel Jones argued in favor of the clause. H, in turn, replied, according to The Daily Advertiser, “in terms of great cogency: The former reasoning in some measure repeated and explained.”

H’s motion that the clause be “obliterated from the bill” was adopted by the Assembly. “AN ACT concerning murder” was passed on February 14. See Laws of the State of New York, I description begins Laws of the State of New York Passed at the Sessions of the Legislature Held in the Years 1777, 1778, 1779, 1780, 1781, 1782, 1783 and 1784 Inclusive, being the First Seven Sessions (Albany, 1886). description ends I, 391–93.

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