Alexander Hamilton Papers

New York Ratifying Convention. Remarks (Gilbert Livingston’s Version), [14 July 1788]

New York Ratifying Convention. Remarks1
(Gilbert Livingston’s Version)2

[Poughkeepsie, New York, July 14, 1788]

Ham[ilton]   wishes the questin may not be put as it will now be a decision of the comparitive view betwn the two propositions.3 True it has been largely discussed; on saturday said he supposed it would amount to a rejection, yet would suggest same Ideas. Recappitulates the argts of saturday; is willing to agree that the constitution was Advisory; it has now become obligatory by the will of the people, especially by the States which have adopted. What is advised by the instrument? Could the people in the difft. states, which have agreed, admit of conditions? A condition on the one part requires a power on the other part to consent. Suppose 9 had not agreed to adopt, no power could assent, therefore the Legislature could not mean we should make condn. If all the states had made condns, they never could have been organized. Reflect on this & see wheather it is not conclusive. No questn. could ever have been taken on it. In the concurrent resolutions of this state, it is referred to have the papers submitted. If it is stated as the gent wishes, it must refer to adopt or reject. These acts are an evidence of the thing intended, & nothing else can determine. The people did vary, & believed the Northern countys did wish amendts, but can we be bound by this? In N.Y. they knew a Consn. was to be submitted, but not to be altered, for this we are not met, only to consider from the Acts. We have no binding power beyond these: we may recommend. New terms do not amount to our adoption. Congs. cannot abridge their powers nor extend a Legislative authority; cannot put it out of their power to alniate their power or suspend their Judgt.

Gent[lemen] have taken latitude, in stating cases. The Legislative power must be exercised uniformly tho particular cases may happen, as to particular cases, few exemptions.

The Legislature to produce the public good may pledge funds to borrow money, and thus lay aside genl. powers in this instance. Gent[lemen] state the questn. wrong, that congs only lay aside the power for a time, but to do this congs. must lay aside their powers and conclude to submit this right of Judging. It is not tenable to admit this right. Congs. have no authority to propose a Convention, but must wait for nine states to make the proposition to them.

This will lead every man who wishes an adoption into a snare, tho’ they do not intend it—congs cannot adopt it.

If these arguments are not sufficient to convince, must abandon the maxim, “that there is force in truth.”

Wishes gent[lemen] would not call for the questn, but retire & consider.

No pride of Opinion ought to weigh, genl good ought to influence. Would not for the world loose this glorious opportunity of establishing a free government; would not wish to put it to the risk of Arms. Must be cautious to listen to Jealousy. Liberty is put to the hazard.4

Gilbert Livingston MS Notes, MS Division, New York Public Library.

1After July 14, 1788, the most complete record of the debates in the New York Ratifying Convention is provided by the manuscript notes of Gilbert Livingston. (See “New York Ratifying Convention. Introductory Note,” June 17–July 26, 1788.)

Livingston, a grandson of the first lord of Livingston Manor, was a delegate to the Ratifying Convention from Dutchess County. Brother-in-law of George Clinton, Livingston had been elected as an Antifederalist.

2It has been the practice in this edition to present H’s speeches delivered in public forums without also printing those remarks that may have preceded or followed (see for example H’s speeches in the Continental Congress and the New York Assembly). Livingston’s notes of H’s remarks in the Ratifying Convention often do not lend themselves to this treatment. Because of the elliptical nature of Livingston’s notes, H’s remarks often are comprehensible only when the remarks to which he addressed himself are printed also. For this reason the remarks either preceding or succeeding H’s have been given when necessary.

3On July 11, John Jay had made a motion that the Constitution be ratified and that the amendments “deemed useful or expedient” be recommended (see “New York Ratifying Convention. Resolution by John Jay,” July 11, 1788). According to Childs (Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, 142), on July 15 Melancton Smith offered a motion as a substitute to Jay’s motion. Those who have described the debates in the New York Convention have accepted Childs’s date. On the other hand, according to Livingston’s notes of the debates of July 15, Smith said that “the motion he made [yesterday] was to substitute his for Mr. Jays—now moves to add his as an Amend.”

Smith’s motion of July 14 was as follows:

“Resolved, as the opinion of this committee, that the constitution under consideration ought to be ratified by this convention: Upon condition nevertheless, That until a convention shall be called and convened for proposing amendments to the said constitution, the militia of this state will not be continued in service out of this state for a longer term than six weeks, without the consent of the legislature thereof: That the Congress will not make or alter any regulation in this state respecting the times, places, and manner of holding elections for senators or representatives, unless the legislature of this state shall neglect or refuse to make laws or regulations for the purpose; or from any circumstance be incapable of making the same; and that in those cases, such power will only be exercised until the legislature of this state shall make provision in the premises: That no excise will be imposed on any article of the growth, production, or manufacture of the United States, or any of them, within this state, ardent spirits excepted: And that Congress will not lay direct taxes within this state, but when the monies arising from the impost and excise shall be insufficient for the public exigencies; nor then, until Congress shall first have made a requisition upon this state, to assess, levy and pay the amount of such requisition, made agreeably to the census fixed in the said constitution, in such way and manner as the legislature of this state judge best; but that in such case, if the state shall neglect or refuse to pay its proportion pursuant to such requisition, then the Congress may assess and levy this state’s proportion, together with interest at the rate of six per centum per annum, from the time at which the same was required to be paid.” (Childs, Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York description begins The Debates and Proceedings of the State of New-York, Assembled at Poughkeepsie, on the 17th June, 1788. To deliberate and decide on the Form of Federal Government recommended by the General Convention at Philadelphia, on the 17th September, 1787. Taken in Short Hand (New York: Printed and Sold by Francis Childs, 1788). description ends , 142.)

4H, according to Livingston, made one additional statement on this date. H said “propositions from Congress to the people, they give it force.” Because of the sketchy nature of Livingston’s notes, it is not possible to reconstruct either exactly what H said or the context in which this remark was made.

Index Entries