Alexander Hamilton Papers

New York Ratifying Convention. First Speech of July 24, [24 July 1788]

New York Ratifying Convention. First Speech of July 241

[Poughkeepsie, New York, July 24, 1788]

Ham[ilton]—Was in hopes this Morning of Unanimity when this Motion2 was first mentioned. Thot more favourably of it than the other one3 but since thinks otherwise. Has taken advice with men of character—they think it will not do. Proposed to read a Letter—4 reads it—supposes this adoption—conditional—and would viciate the business &ct. Himself wrote favourably for it. The terms of the constitution import a perpetual compact between the different states; this certainly is not. Treaties and engagements with foreign nations are perpetual—this cannot be under this adoption. The oath to be taken stands in the way. States & men are averse to inequality. They fully bound & we partially. Should we risk so much on so little? Motives of expediency too much relied on. If they do not accept us will they not sooner have a new convenn than accept us so. Is it worth the jeopardy by which it must be obtained? Is it not of importance that we join unanimously to procure a convenn? The obsern of Lans[in]g does not meet the objecn—5 as they will contemplate wheather this is a ratificn. If they have any doubt, they will apt Congs to meet on certain federal ground. Interest of some states against us. If they are driven away by us the people will be dissatisfied &ct. We have done everything which possibly can insure our wish—this we shall loose by a second state convention. We shall not be represented in Congress & this for no real end. Moves to have the question postponed & that a circular letter be wrote.6

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

1After debate on the proposed “Bill of Rights” and recommendatory amendments, the New York Convention on July 23 took up the crucial part of John Lansing, Jr.’s plan for ratification (see “New York Ratifying Convention. First Speech of July 19,” note 1. This was a section which followed the “Bill of Rights” and which made New York’s acceptance of the Constitution conditional on the acceptance of the proposed amendments by a general convention of the states. The first part reads:

“… and with a firm Reliance and on the express Condition that the Rights aforesaid will not & shall not be lost abridged or violated, and that the said Constitution shall in the Cases above particularized receive the Constructions herein before expressed, with a solemn Appeal to the Searcher of Hearts for the purity of our Intentions & in the Confidence that whatever Imperfections may exist in the Constitution will as soon as possible be submitted to the Consideration of a general Con⟨vention⟩.” (John McKesson Papers, New-York Historical Society, New York City.)

After the reading of this paragraph, Melancton Smith moved that it should be expunged and the following paragraph substituted for it:

“Under these impressions and in confidence that the Rights and explanations aforesaid are consistent with the Constitution and therefore cannot be abridged or violated, and with the farther confidence, that the Amendments which shall have been proposed to the said Constitution will receive an early and mature consideration and that such of them as may in any degree tend to the real security and permanent Advantage of the people will be adopted.” (John McKesson Papers, New-York Historical Society, New York City.) Smith’s paragraph was adopted by a vote of 39 to 19.

Smith’s decision to support ratification of the Constitution without making ratification dependent on the acceptance of amendments by a general convention broke the hitherto solid ranks of the Antifederalists. After Smith’s substitute paragraph had been adopted, the second part of Lansing’s “Draft of Ratification” was considered. It reads:

“W[e] the said Delegates, in the Name & in Behalf of the people of the State of New York do by these presents assent to & ratify the said Constitution (a Copy whereof is hereunto annexed) Upon Condition nevertheless that until the Amendments herein contained & herewith recommended shall have been submitted to and determined upon by a general Convention to be called in the Mode prescribed by the said Constitution.” (John McKesson Papers, New-York Historical Society, New York City.)

Samuel Jones moved “that the words Upon Condition should be obliterated, and the words in full Confidence should be substituted in their Stead” (ibid.). Jones’s motion was carried by a vote of 31 to 29; Smith was among those who voted in the affirmative. The adoption of the motions by Smith and Jones meant that New York would assent to the Constitution without conditions, but that, like Virginia, it would recommend amendments.

On July 24, Lansing, undaunted by the defeat of his plan of ratification, tried to secure a kind of conditional ratification which would leave New York free to secede if within a specified time the proposed amendments were not submitted to a general convention (see Gilbert Livingston MS Notes, MS Division, New York Public Library). H’s remarks were presumably provoked by this proposed amendment (see note 2).

2According to Gilbert Livingston this motion was made by Lansing:

“Lansing—a gent. from Dutchess promised to bring forward a Motion for an adoption—with right to withdraw in   years if the amends are not submitted to a convention in the mode prescribed &tc—as he has not done it—Lansing moves it.” (Gilbert Livingston MS Notes.)

The man “from Dutchess,” Melancton Smith, had written this motion.

3The “other one” was probably the paragraph of Lansing’s “Draft of a Ratification” quoted in note 1. None of the accounts of the debates shows any other motion that suggested ratifying the Constitution with reservations dependent upon the adoption of the proposed amendments.

5H is referring to an exchange of remarks between John Jay and Lansing concerning the effect on the other states if New York ratified the Constitution with reservations.

6Following H’s remarks, Jay expressed a wish to postpone consideration of Lansing’s amendment until the following day. H, according to Gilbert Livingston, then withdrew “his Motion—to let the question come in”—presumably the question of adjournment until the following day.

The [New York] Daily Advertiser on July 28, 1788, published the following account of the Convention debates on July 24:

“Yesterday [July 24] Mr. Lansing moved to annex Mr. Smith’s last proposition to the ratification [see note 2], or the one which proposes to adopt with a reservation of a right to withdraw; then Mr. Jay, and after him Mr. Hamilton, rose and declared that the reservation could answer no good purpose in itself—that it implied a distrust of the other States—that it would awaken their pride and other passions unfriendly to the object of amendments; but what was decisive against it, it was inconsistent with the Constitution, and was no ratification.

“Mr. Hamilton produced and read part of a letter from a gentleman of high public distinction, containing in explicit terms his opinion that the reservation would amount to a conditional ratification, and would not be received by Congress. Mr. [James] Duane and the Chancellor [Robert R. Livingston] both declared their opinion to the same effect, and they all concurred in expressing an anxious wish, that since the House had proceeded so far to an accomodation, they might now conclude the business with harmony and to the satisfaction of both parties. Mr. Smith remained silent all the day; the question was postponed till to-day.”

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