Sunday, December 16, 2007

Conditional Ratification II

When we last visited the New York Convention, federalists were desperately trying to beat back antifederalist attempts to condition ratification of the Constitution on the passage of amendments. On Friday July 11, 1788, John Jay had introduced a resolution proposing ratification with recommended – not conditional – amendments. According to the skeletal outline of events set forth in Elliot’s Debates, battle raged for several days. Chancellor Robert R. Livingston and Chief Justice Lewis Morris provided support for Jay, while the wily Melancton Smith headed the antifederalist forces.

Then, on Tuesday July 15, 1788, Smith counterattacked by proposing an amendment to Jay’s motion. As set forth in Elliot’s debates, the wording of the amendment is ambiguous, but at the very least it seems to have provided that, although the Constitution would be ratified, New York would not concede federal supremacy until a convention was called and convened to consider specified amendments:
Mr. SMITH moved, as an amendment, to add to the first resolution proposed by Mr. JAY, so that the same, when amended, should read 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 should 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 shall not lay direct taxes within this state, but when the moneys 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 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."

Argument continued for the rest of the week, but the tide seemed to be flowing against the federalists. A motion by federalist James Duane for “a plan of ratification, with certain explanations, and with a list of amendments to be recommended” – but not as conditions – was rejected. Debate on Melancton Smith’s resolution continued until Saturday July 19.

On Saturday, the antifederalists apparently smelled victory. John Lansing moved to substitute a new proposal that clearly set forth a plan of conditional ratification:
[On] SATURDAY, July 19, 1788 . . . Mr. LANSING moved to postpone the several propositions before the house, in order to take into consideration a draft of a conditional ratification, with a bill of rights prefixed, and amendments subjoined.

Lansing’s motion prevailed, apparently that very day:
Debates arose on the motion, and it was carried. The committee then proceeded to consider separately the amendments proposed in this plan of ratification.

In short, by Saturday July 19, 1788, the federalists were on the ropes. The Convention, sitting as a Committee of the Whole, had approved a conditional ratification.

In the next post, I will look at Alexander Hamilton’s reaction and James Madison’s critical advice.

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