Saturday, December 15, 2007

Conditional Ratification I

I thought I’d devote a few posts to examining the events leading up to New York’s ratification of the Constitution. Those events – and particularly the struggle that developed over conditional ratification – shed light on whether the delegates understood that a state, having ratified the Constitution, could later secede.

Let's begin by setting the stage.

By the second week of July 1788, the New York Convention was nearing conclusion. Although the Convention had received word that New Hampshire and Virginia had become the ninth and tenth states to ratify – meaning that the new Constitution would go into effect with or without New York – the chances that New York would ratify remained in doubt. New York Anti-Federalists, headed by Governor George Clinton, continued to wage a determined campaign. The Federalist contingent, led by Alexander Hamilton, desperately sought to rebut the numerous objections raised.

The Anti-Federalists seem to have signaled early on that were planning to suggest, among other things, that ratification be made conditional on the passage of amendments proposed by the New York Convention. As early as June 21, 1788, Hamilton had written to James Madison predicting that “[t]he object of the [anti-federalist] party at present is undoubtedly conditional amendments.”

On July 8, 1788, Hamilton reported to Madison that the clause-by-clause analysis of the proposed Constitution was concluded. The anti-federalists were about to make a move. Hamilton expected that the anti-federalists might propose, among other things, “conditions subsequent, or the proposition of amendments, upon condition that if they are not adopted within a limited time, the State shall be at liberty to withdraw from the Union:”
We yesterday passed through the Constitution. To-day some definitive proposition is to be brought forward, but what, we are at a loss to judge. We have good reason to believe that our opponents are not agreed, and this affords some ground of hope. Different things are thought of—conditions precedent, or previous amendments; conditions subsequent, or the proposition of amendments, upon condition that if they are not adopted within a limited time, the State shall be at liberty to withdraw from the Union; and, lastly, recommendatory amendments. In either case, constructive declarations will be carried as far as possible. We will go as far as we can in the latter without invalidating the act, and will concur in rational recommendations.

On Thursday July 10, 1788, anti-federalist John Lansing introduced precisely such a proposal: “Mr. LANSING submitted a plan of amendments, on a new arrangement, and with material alterations. They are divided into three — 1st, explanatory; 2d, conditional; 3d, recommendatory.”

The next day, Friday July 11, 1788, the federalists countered. Hamilton’s cohort John Jay proposed that the Constitution should be ratified; if the Convention wanted to propose amendments, that was fine, but they should be proposed as recommendations only, and ratification should not be conditioned on their enactment:
Mr. JAY moved the following resolutions: —

"Resolved, as the opinion of this committee, that the Constitution under consideration ought to be ratified by this Convention.

"Resolved, further, as the opinion of this committee, that such parts of the said Constitution as may be thought doubtful ought to be explained, and that whatever amendment may be deemed useful, or expedient, ought to be recommended."

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts with Thumbnails