In which Hamilton makes a six-hour speech at the Philadelphia Convention of 1787 and goes to battle in print with political foes.
There as a New York junior delegate
The meeting that convened in May 1787 in Philadelphia was not convoked as a “constitutional convention.” The Congress of the Confederation decreed in February 1787 that delegates were to meet
for the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation … [to] render the federal constitution adequate to the exigencies of Government & the preservation of the Union. (More here; and see the end of last week’s post)
Alexander Hamilton was the youngest of three delegates from New York, and the odd man out. Robert Yates, a judge on the state supreme court, and John Lansing, Jr., a lawyer, were both cronies of Governor George Clinton. Governor Clinton, the top man in one of the most populous states in the union, was vehemently opposed to transferring power from the state to the national government. Madison, summing up the delegates’ positions for Washington on March 18, 1787, said:
The deputation of N. York consists of Col. Hamilton, Judge Yates and a Mr. Lansing. The two last are said to be pretty much linked to the antifederal party here, and are likely of course to be a clog on their Colleague. (More here)
Hamilton’s activities in the convention started early. George Washington was elected president on May 25. That same day, he appointed Hamilton, George Wythe of Virginia, and Charles Pinckney of South Carolina (lawyers and politicians all) as the Committee on Standing Orders and Rules. We have the rules, paraphrased, in James Madison’s notes for May 28-29, 1787. They seem pretty straightforward, aimed at keeping an orderly discussion – but I suspect they’re based on the unpleasant experiences of all three committee members in national and state assemblies.
Among the rules:
- Every member who rises to speak shall address the president. While he speaks, no one will talk, or read books or manuscripts.
- If two members rise to speak at once, the president decides who has the floor.
- Questions of order shall be decided by the president without appeal or debate.
- A member may speak only twice on the same issue, and may not speak a second time until everyone else who wishes to speak has done so for the first time.
- When a debate arises upon a question, no motion shall be received except to amend, commit, or postpone the debate.
- A member may be called to order by any other member or by the president.
- Nothing said in the convention is to be printed or otherwise published or communicated without leave to outsiders.
The “secrecy rule” was intended to encourage open debate among delegates. The discussions did, in fact, remain unpublished until 1821, when the notes taken by New York delegate Robert Yates were printed. Madison’s notes, published in 1841 (after his death), remain our best source for day-to-day events at the Convention.
Talks for six hours, the Convention is listless
From Yates’s and Madison’s notes, we know that Hamilton occasionally contributed to debates, but that his only speech was delivered on June 18, 1787. The differences between Yates’s and Madison’s notes reveal a good deal about their sympathies and priorities (loose confederation vs. strong national government advocates, respectively).
In his June 18 speech, Hamilton stated that he disagreed with both the New Jersey and Virginia plans. He outlined what he saw as the essential principles necessary for the support of a government, and explained why the New Jersey plan in particular would be inadequate. He considered the options, and then said (in Madison’s words):
In his private opinion he had no scruple in declaring, supported as he was by the opinions of so many of the wise & good, that the British Govt. was the best in the world: and that he doubted much whether any thing short of it would do in America. He hoped Gentlemen of different opinions would bear with him in this, and begged them to recollect the change of opinion on this subject which had taken place and was still going on. It was once thought that the power of Congs. was amply sufficient to secure the end of their institution. The error was now seen by every one. The members most tenacious of republicanism, he observed, were as loud as any in declaiming agst. the vices of democracy. This progress of the public mind led him to anticipate the time, when others as well as himself would join in the praise bestowed by Mr. Neckar on the British Constitution, namely, that it is the only Govt. in the world “which unites public strength with individual security.” (More here)
Yates recorded this part of Hamilton’s speech as:
I believe the British government forms the best model the world ever produced, and such has been its progress in the minds of the many, that this truth gradually gains ground. This government has for its object public strength and individual security. It is said with us to be unattainable. If it was once formed it would maintain itself. (More here)
His own plan for a new form of government
Hamilton ended his marathon speech by outlining a plan of government. We have the outline in his hand. His main goal – not a surprise! – was strength and stability.
Among the provisions:
- In the bicameral legislature, members of the lower house (“Assembly”) are elected by the people and serve for three years. The upper house (“Senate”) is chosen by electors who are chosen by the people; members serve for life, on good behavior. The Senate has sole power of declaring war.
- The executive serves for life, on good behavior. He is chosen by electors who are chosen by electors who are chosen by the people. He has veto power over all laws, is commander-in-chief, can make treaties (with the advice and approbation of the Senate), chooses the secretaries of Treasury, War, and Foreign Affairs, nominates ambassadors &c. subject to Senate approval, and can pardon all offenses except treason. His power is a check on the legislature.
- The supreme judicial power is a court of 12 judges, who hold office for life during good behavior.
- The executive, senators, and all officers are liable to impeachment for misconduct.
- Laws of particular states contrary to the Constitution and laws of the U.S. are void.
- No state is to raise its own military or naval forces.
Monarchist! Monarchist!! MONARCHIST!!!!
Oh, did you miss that?
Hamilton’s praise of the British government (“the best in the world”) and his suggestion that senators and chief executive serve for life is the basis of charges for decades that Hamilton was a monarchist. The secrecy rule in the Convention played into the hands of Hamilton’s current (and future) political enemies: until long after Hamilton’s death, no published source existed in which one could confirm what he said on June 18, 1787. Notice that in Yates’s notes above, Hamilton’s praise of the British is flat and unqualified; and Yates’s notes are what Hamilton’s opponents in New York would have seen. (On Hamilton as a monarchist, see the end of this post.)
William Samuel Johnson of Connecticut said Hamilton’s speech “has been praised by everybody … supported by none.” (See More on the source for this.) On June 19, the day after Hamilton spoke, the Convention apparently went about its business, without further discussion of or reference to Hamilton’s remarks.
Hope of success
Hamilton attended the Convention from May 18 until June 29. On that day, when the delegates were debating whether state representation in the legislature should be equal or proportional, Madison recorded Hamilton saying that this Convention was the best, and perhaps the last, chance to create a workable government for the United States:
No Governmt. could give us tranquility & happiness at home, which did not possess sufficient stability and strength to make us respectable abroad. This was the critical moment for forming such a Government. We should run every risk in trusting to future amendments. As yet we retain the habits of union. We are weak & sensible of our weakness. Henceforward the motives will become feebler, and the difficulties greater. It is a miracle that we were now here exercising our tranquil & free deliberations on the subject. It would be madness to trust to future miracles. A thousand causes must obstruct a reproduction of them. (More here)
Back home in New York, Hamilton wrote to Washington that he was very disappointed in the direction the Convention was taking, because he thought Americans were finally ready for something better.
In my passage through the Jerseys and since my arrival here I have taken particular pains to discover the public sentiment and I am more and more convinced that this is the critical opportunity for establishing the prosperity of this country on a solid foundation—I have conversed with men of information not only of this City but from different parts of the state; and they agree that there has been an astonishing revolution for the better in the minds of the people. The prevailing apprehension among thinking men is that the Convention, from a fear of shocking the popular opinion, will not go far enough—They seem to be convinced that a strong well mounted government will better suit the popular palate than one of a different complexion. Men in office are indeed taking all possible pains to give an unfavourable impression of the Convention; but the current seems to be running strongly the other way. …
Not having compared ideas with you, Sir, I cannot judge how far our sentiments agree; but as I persuade myself the genuineness of my representations will receive credit with you, my anxiety for the event of the deliberations of the Convention induces me to make this communication of what appears to be the tendency of the public mind. I own to you Sir that I am seriously and deeply distressed at the aspect of the Councils which prevailed when I left Philadelphia—I fear that we shall let slip the golden opportunity of rescuing the American empire from disunion anarchy and misery—No motley or feeble measure can answer the end or will finally receive the public support. Decision is true wisdom and will be not less reputable to the Convention than salutary to the community.
I shall of necessity remain here ten or twelve days; if I have reason to believe that my attendance at Philadelphia will not be mere waste of time, I shall after that period rejoin the Convention. I remain with sincere esteem Dr Sir Yr Obed. serv.
A. Hamilton (7/3/1787; more here)
Washington replied on July 10, 1787, with resignation approaching despair, as the delegates continued to struggle with the issue of proportional vs. equal representation.
I thank you for your Communication of the 3d. When I refer you to the State of the Councils which prevailed at the period you left this City—and add, that they are now, if possible, in a worse train than ever; you will find but little ground on which the hope of a good establishment, can be formed. In a word, I almost dispair of seeing a favourable issue to the proceedings of the Convention, and do therefore repent having had any agency in the business.
The Men who oppose a strong & energetic government are, in my opinion, narrow minded politicians, or are under the influence of local views. The apprehension expressed by them that the people will not accede to the form proposed is the ostensible, not the real cause of the opposition—but admitting that the present sentiment is as they prognosticate, the question ought nevertheless to be, is it or is it not the best form? If the former, recommend it, and it will assuredly obtain mauger opposition.
I am sorry you went away—I wish you were back. The crisis is equally important and alarming, and no opposition under such circumstances should discourage exertions till the signature is fixed. I will not, at this time trouble you with more than my best wishes and sincere regards. I am Dear Sir Yr obedt Servt
Go: Washington (More here)
As long as he holds a pen …
Hamilton was not the only delegate to come and go over the course of the Philadelphia Convention: only 30 of the 55 delegates remained for the duration. But Hamilton had a better excuse than most to be absent. His fellow New York delegates, Yates and Lansing, left Philadelphia in early July 1787, because they (and their friend Governor George Clinton) vehemently opposed the Convention’s decision to write a whole new constitution that would give the national government more power. Since a state had to have at least two members present in order to vote, the absence of Yates and Lansing meant Hamilton could no longer cast a vote at the Convention.
That didn’t mean Hamilton was silent elsewhere. On July 21, 1787, New York’s Daily Advertiser published a scathing letter accusing Clinton of trying to undermine the results of the Philadelphia Convention even while it was still in progress. The letter was unsigned, but Hamilton confirmed in September that it was his work.
It is currently reported and believed, that his Excellency Governor CLINTON has, in public company, without reserve, reprobated the appointment of the Convention, and predicted a mischievous issue of that measure. His observations are said to be to this effect:—That the present confederation is, in itself, equal to the purposes of the union: That the appointment of a Convention is calculated to impress the people with an idea of evils which do not exist: That if either nothing should be proposed by the Convention, or if what they should propose should not be agreed to, the one or the other would tend to beget despair in the public mind; and that, in all probability, the result of their deliberations, whatever it might be, would only serve to throw the community into confusion.
Upon this conduct of his Excellency, if he is not misrepresented, the following reflections will naturally occur to every considerate and impartial man … (More here)
In another of his brilliantly logical and persuasive summaries, Hamilton argues that since nearly all the states concurred that a convention was necessary, most people (not a devious, secret minority) realize that changes are necessary. The evils that need fixing are “so obvious, that they do not seem to admit of doubt or equivocation.” Among them, says Hamilton, are the national government’s lack of operating funds and the dwindling reputation of the United States among nations. This situation needs to be remedied either by the Congress itself or by a convention called for the purpose, and a convention is better suited to such work. Now that a convention has been called, says Hamilton, the experiment ought to be tried: it is “unwarrantable and culpable in any man” to try to bias Americans against the convention’s outcome. Hamilton ends with a direct attack on Clinton:
[S]uch conduct in a man high in office, argues greater attachment to his own power than to the public good, and furnishes strong reason to suspect a dangerous predetermination to oppose whatever may tend to diminish the former, however it may promote the latter.
If there be any man among us, who acts so unworthy a part, it becomes a free and enlightened people to observe him with a jealous eye, and when he sounds the alarm of danger from another quarter, to examine whether they have not more to apprehend from himself. (More here)
The Convention was adjourned from July 26 through August 5. Hamilton returned to Philadelphia sometime between the 6th and the 13th, but was back in New York again by August 20. He could not vote, after all. But he urgently requested Rufus King, delegate from Massachusetts, to let him know when the convention was winding up its business. By early September he was back in Philadelphia.
On September 8, five men were appointed to the Committee of Style and Arrangement: Alexander Hamilton, Gouverneur Morris (“the two great prose stylists in the hall,” says Charles Mee in The Genius of the People, p. 268), James Madison, Rufus King, and William S. Johnson. Their mission: work the preamble and 23 articles to which the delegates had agreed into a logical order and readable style. Writing in 1831, James Madison credited Gouverneur Morris with the draft.
The final version of the proposed Constitution was endorsed by the delegates on September 17, 1787. Hamilton was the only delegate from New York to sign.
Madison’s notes from that final day of the convention conclude:
The members then proceeded to sign the instrument.
Whilst the last members were signing it Doctr. FRANKLIN looking towards the Presidents Chair, at the back of which a rising sun happened to be painted, observed to a few members near him, that Painters had found it difficult to distinguish in their art a rising from a setting sun. I have said he, often and often in the course of the Session, and the vicisitudes of my hopes and fears as to its issue, looked at that behind the President without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting: But now at length I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting Sun.
The Constitution being signed by all the members except Mr. Randolph, Mr. Mason, and Mr. Gerry who declined giving it the sanction of their names, the Convention dissolved itself by an Adjournment sine die. (More here)
Louder than the crack in the bell
Meanwhile, Hamilton was still defending the Constitution – and now, his own reputation – against Governor Clinton and his cronies back in New York. On September 6, 1787, a letter by “A Republican” was published in the New York Journal. It accused Hamilton of trying to repress free discussion and of favoring aristocracy.
I deny that it is unwarrantable and culpable, in any citizen of a free state, (much less in a man, who is from office, one of the guardians of our liberties) freely and unreservedly to express his sentiments on public measures however serious the posture of our national affairs may be; on the contrary, it is his essential duty … Should ever this inherent right be destroyed, it is easy to foresee, that a tyranny must, sooner or later, be the inevitable consequence. – Every attempt then to call it in question, I consider as high treason against the majesty of the people. …
It cannot admit of a doubt, that a certain lordly faction exists in this state, composed of men, possesses of an insatiable thirst for dominion, and who, having forfeited the confidence of their fellow-citizens, and being defeated in their hopes of rising to power, have, for sometime past, employed themselves with unremitted industry, to embarrass every public measure; they reprobate our laws, censure our rules, and decry our government, thereby to induce the necessity of change, that they may establish a system more favorable to their aristocratic views, in which, honors and distinction shall not depend up on the opinion and suffrages of the people … (More here; The online PDF of this article cites The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution Digital Edition, ed. John P. Kaminski et al.)
Hamilton’s reply to “A Republican” was published on September 15. It must have been submitted somewhat earlier or by mail, since Hamilton remained in Philadelphia until at least September 17 to sign the Constitution.
Mr. Hamilton, in his absence from New York on public duty (with how much propriety and temper his fellow citizens must decide) has been attacked by name, as the Writer of a publication printed in Mr. Childs’ paper of the 21st of July last. In fixing that publication upon him, there is certainly no mistake; nor did he ever mean to be concealed. He left his name with the Printer, to be disclosed to any person who should apply for it on the part of the Governor; with instructions to make that circumstance known, which was accordingly done. The fairness of this conduct speaks for itself. The Citizens of the state have too much good sense to be deceived into an opinion, that it could have been dictated by a wanton disposition to calumniate a meritorious character. They must and will consider it as an honorable and open attempt to unmask, what appeared to the Writer, the pernicious intrigues of a man high in office, to preserve power and emolument to himself, at the expence of the Union, the Peace and the Happiness of America.
To say, that it would have been derogatory to the first Magistrate of the state to enter the lists in a news paper with an “anonymous scribbler” is a miserable subterfuge. Though Mr. Hamilton, to avoid the appearance of ostentation, did not put his name to the piece; yet, having left it with the Printers to be communicated to the party concerned, there is no pretence to consider it in the light of an anonymous publication. …
The apologists for the Governor, in the intemperate ardor of their zeal for his character, seem to forget another right, very precious to the citizens of a free country, that of examining the conduct of their rulers. These have an undoubted right, within the limits of the constitution, to speak and to act their sentiments; but the citizen has an equal right to discuss the propriety of those sentiments, or of the manner of advancing, or supporting them. …
And my behavior has been honorable:
Mr. Hamilton can however defy all their malevolent ingenuity to produce a single instance of his conduct public, or private, inconsistent with the strictest rules of integrity and honor—a single instance, that may even denominate him selfish, or interested—a single instance in which he has either “forfieted” the confidence of the people or failed in obtaining any proof of their favour for which he has been a candidate.5 It would be ingratitude in him not to acknowlege that the marks of their confidence have greatly exceeded his deserts. (More here)
You call me immoral, a dangerous disgrace
Five days later (9/20/1787), under the name “Inspector,” one of Clinton’s allies ignored the Constitution entirely and attacked Hamilton instead. This particular piece fills me with a weird sense of glee: it includes so many of the accusations that Hamilton’s enemies made later. See how many you can count. (This is the entire piece.)
Mr. Greenleaf, I have in general observed, that the most sensible men are usually modest and reserved, and that a man of consummate impudence, with but a moderate share of understanding, moves in the world with the greatest eclat; but although the world may some times over-rate a shallow capacity, it is often-times undeceived by a man’s vanity leading him a step too far in his ridiculous sallies.
A man’s knowledge is frequently over-rated in vulgar estimation in consequence of his having a memory good enough to retain a number of harmonious words which he can retail out at pleasure.—I know a negro who cannot read, and yet can deliver an extempore rhapsody that will captivate weak minds, and give not offence, even to the ears of intelligent men.
I have also known an upstart attorney, palm himself upon a great and good man, for a youth of extraordinary genius, and under the shadow of such a patronage, make himself at once known and respected; but being sifted and bolted to the brann, he was at length found to be a superficial, self-conceited coxcomb, and was of course turned off, and disregarded by his patron.
I have known a blockhead publish pamphlets with borrowed phrases and arguments, by which he acquired a reputation he never was entitled to.
I have also known a man publish pieces of his own composition, which, on examination, I have found to be mere froth, calculated only to bewilder the understanding.
I have a son, who is a lad of tolerable capacity, and great shrewdness. This boy who is about 12 years old, reads the Newspapers to me every morning; I have taught this young shaver to turn all the frothy publications he meets with into plain English, and, as a specimen of his improvement I shall give you his interpretation of a piece which appeared a few days ago in the Daily Advertiser, written in the Creolian taste, by Tom S**t, a mustee [i.e., of mixed race], viz.
“Mungo here, Mungo there, Mungo every where
What a terrible life am I led.”
“My dear masters, I am indeed leading a very hard life in your service; you are driving me from post to pillar, without paying me for my trouble, and I could earn ten times as much by working at home. Consider the great sacrifices I have made for you; by birth a subject of his Danish Majesty; I quitted my native soil in the Torrid Zone, and called myself a North American for your sakes.—I have since, not only ranted for you, and jockeyed for you, but even vouchsafed to give my august name to Phocion, a patriotic essay, manufactured by W. S. Esquire, and sent from England just after the evacuation, under cover to Chrononhotontologos, the king’s printer: you have therefore scarcely done me justice, in simply giving me your suffrages, when I stood in need of them, to pave the way for my future agrandizement. I must however remember with gratitude, that when my ambition led me to become an honorary member of the whig Society I was not disappointed. My daddy [Philip Schuyler], who was present to make interest for me, can evidence with how much chearfulness I was voted in.
“The important services I have rendered you, deserve much more than you will ever be able to pay me. I shall however be satisfied, with your compliance with one moderate request, which is, that you will be kind enough to discharge your old faithful steward George [Governor Clinton] (who is grown so saucy, as to speak his mind without fearing any body) and put me, or my immaculate daddy, in his place.
“I am sorry you oblige me to speak so plainly, but I am constrained to do it, since your contempt and little notice taken of any late anonymous advertisement, convinces me, that you will not take a broad hint.” TOM S**T.
I have not leisure, at present, sir, to animadvert on the above curious performance, but shall conclude with a maxim of a great Philosopher which you will know how to apply.
Those actions which are denominated virtuous, have not any absolute and independent, but a relative beauty; and the source from which they derive their lustre, is the intention which guided them: if well intended, whether they produce good, or evil, they are equally virtuous: the producing good or evil are the accidents; the intention to produce good, is the essence of virtue. (The online PDF of this article cites The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution Digital Edition, ed. John P. Kaminski et al., quoted here; see also here, n. 2)
The accusations: Hamilton is arrogant. He talks a lot, using high-falutin’ words to impress people. His writings are not original. He’s of dubious birth. He married into wealth. He wormed his way into Washington’s good graces and was cast out when Washington learned how useless he was.
Add “Inspector’s” comments (aristocratic, elitist) to those of “A Republican” a couple weeks earlier, and you’ve got nearly everything Hamilton’s enemies ever accused him of.
Hamilton sought Washington’s help in quashing such statements (ca. 10/11/1787):
You probably saw some time since some animadversions on certain expressions of Governor Clinton respecting the Convention …
It is however, of some importance to [Clinton’s] party to diminish whatever credit or influence I may possess; and to effect this they stick at nothing. Among many contemptible artifices practiced by them, they have had recourse to an insinuation that I palmed myself upon you and that you dismissed me from your family—This I confess hurts my feelings, and if it obtains credit, will require a contradiction.
You Sir will undoubtedly recollect the manner in which I came into your family and went out of it; and know how destitute of foundation such insinuations are. My confidence in your justice will not permit me to doubt your readiness to put the matter in its true light in your answer to this letter. It cannot be my wish to give any complexion to the affair which might excite the least scruple in you; but I confess it would mortify me to be under the imputation either of having obtruded myself into the family of a General or of having been turned out of it. (More here)
Hamilton also tells Washington that he anticipates Clinton’s party will soon ramp up their opposition to the Constitution:
The New Constitution is as popular in this City as it is possible for any thing to be—and the prospect thus far is favourable to it throughout the state. But there is no saying what turn things may take when the full flood of official influence is let loose against it. This is to be expected, for, though the Governor has not publicly declared himself, his particular connections and confidential friends are loud against it. (More here)
Washington responded to Hamilton’s letter within a week – lightning fast, by 1787 standards.
It is with unfeigned concern I perceive that a political dispute has arisen between Governor Clinton and yourself. For both of you I have the highest esteem and regard. But as you say it is insinuated by some of your political adversaries, and may obtain credit, “that you palmed yourself upon me, and was dismissed from my family;” and call upon me to do you justice by a recital of the fact. I do therefore, explicitly declare, that both charges are entirely unfounded. With respect to the first, I have no cause to believe that you took a single step to accomplish, or had the most distant idea of receiving, an appointment in my family ’till you were envited thereto. And with respect to the second, that your quitting it was altogether the effect of your own choice.
When the situation of this country calls loudly for unanimity & vigor, it is to be lamented that Gentlemen of talents and character should disagree in their sentiments for promoting the public weal; but unfortunately, this ever has been, and more than probable, ever will be the case, in the affairs of man. (ca. 10/18/1787; more here)
Hamilton thanked Washington warmly on October 30, 1787:
I am much obliged to Your Excellency for the explicit manner in which you contradict the insinuations mentioned in my last letter. The only use I shall make of your answer will be to put it into the hands of a few friends.
The constitution proposed has in this state warm friends and warm enemies. The first impressions every where are in its favour; but the artillery of its opponents makes some impression. The event cannot yet be foreseen. The inclosed is the first number of a series of papers to be written in its defence. (More here)
“First number of a series of papers”: that’s Federalist no. 1, published October 27, 1787.
- My favorite book on the writing of the Constitution is Charles L. Mee, Jr., The Genius of the People (1987). The Teaching American History site has a useful chronology of the Convention’s events. For more details on Hamilton’s role at Philadelphia, see Chernow, Hamilton, Chapter 12 (“August and Respectable Assembly”).
- Hamilton mentioned the rule of secrecy at the Philadelphia Convention in an essay published under the name “Amicus” on September 11, 1792 – a response to an accusation by Jeffersonians that he had spoken in favor of a monarchy at the Convention.
- The accuracy of Yates’s notes on the Convention, or at least the published version of his notes, is debated. See James H. Hutson, “Robert Yates’s Notes on the Constitutional Convention of 1787: Citizen Genet’s Edition,” The Quarterly Journal of the Library of Congress XXXV: 3 (July 1978), pp. 173-182.
- Re the Convention’s rules of procedure, co-authored by Hamilton: I wondered why they didn’t just use Robert’s Rules of Order. Turns out Robert’s Rules of Order, a.k.a. Pocket Manual of Rules of Order for Deliberative Assemblies, was first published in 1876. According to Wikipedia, Henry Martyn Robert loosely modeled the rules on those used in the United States House of Representatives. It would be interesting to know how far back the procedural rules for the House of Representatives go … And what the rules for the British Parliament were … Tangential (she says, firmly turning back to Philadelphia and New York City).
- William Samuel Johnson of Connecticut said Hamilton’s speech “has been praised by everybody … supported by none.” I can’t find the source of this quote: it’s mentioned by Chernow, p. 233, with a footnote citing Mitchell, Alexander Hamilton: Youth to Maturity, p. 391. It also turns up in Williams & Knott, Washington & Hamilton, The Alliance That Forged America, n. 92, which cites “Proceedings, 18 June 1787, Max Farrand’s The Records of the Federal Convention” I:293 and I:323. The main page for Ferrand is here, but I can’t find Johnson quote within the text.
- On Hamilton as a monarchist, see Newton, Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years, end of Chapter 7. Hamilton did say he favored a limited monarchy … in February 1775, before the war broke out, when everyone was a monarchist. And context always matters. “I earnestly lament the unnatural quarrel, between the parent state and the colonies; and most ardently wish for a speedy reconciliation, a perpetual and mutually beneficial union, that I am a warm advocate for limitted monarchy, and an unfeigned well-wisher to the present Royal Family. But on the other hand, I am inviolably attached to the essential rights of mankind, and the true interests of society. I consider civil liberty, in a genuine unadulterated sense, as the greatest of terrestrial blessings. I am convinced, that the whole human race is intitled to it; and, that it can be wrested from no part of them, without the blackest and most aggravated guilt” (The Farmer Refuted, more here). According to Chernow (p. 232), “Nowhere else in Hamilton’s vast body of work does he support a hereditary executive.”
- Thomas Jefferson sent his opinion of the Constitution to James Madison on 12/20/1787. He objected to the lack of a bill of rights and the lack of a restriction on the president’s term of office; he thought that people had been overly alarmed by Shays’s Rebellion; but he believed the Constitution should be tried if approved by a majority, and that it would work so long as America remains “chiefly agricultural.” More here.
- I’ve started adding comments based on these blog posts to the Genius.com pages on the Hamilton Musical. Follow me @DianneDurante.
- The usual disclaimer: This is the fifty-second in a series of posts on Hamilton: An American Musical. My intro to this series is here. Other posts are available via the tag cloud at lower right. The ongoing “index” to these posts is my Kindle book, Alexander Hamilton: A Brief Biography. Bottom line: these are unofficial musings, and you do not need them to enjoy the musical or the soundtrack.
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