Sunday, December 16, 2007

Conditional Ratification III

It was Saturday July 19, 1788. Depending on the time of day, the antifederalists at the New York Convention had just passed, or were about to pass, a resolution recommending “a conditional ratification [of the Constitution], with a bill of rights prefixed, and amendments subjoined.” The next step was to consider precisely what proposed amendments were to be “subjoined.”

In those circumstances, Alexander Hamilton drafted a hasty letter to James Madison seeking advice. Hamilton’s letter indicates that that he thought he was running out of options. He was continuing to fight for unqualified ratification, but he clearly believed that conditional ratification was a distinct possibility. Sounding like a man unconvinced by his own arguments, he suggested that conditional ratification might be acceptable and asked for Madison’s opinion on the subject:
Saturday, July [19], 1788.

I thank you, my dear sir, for yours by the post. Yesterday I communicated to [William] Duer our situation, which I presume he will have communicated to you. It remains exactly the same. No further question having been taken, I fear the footing I mentioned to Duer is the best upon which it can be placed, but every thing possible will yet be attempted to bring the party from that stand to an unqualified ratification. Let me know your idea upon the possibility of our being received on that plan. You will understand that the only qualification will be the reservation of a right to recede in case our amendments have not been decided upon in one of the modes pointed out by the Constitution, within a certain number of years, perhaps five or seven. If this can, in the first instance, be admitted as a ratification, I do not fear any further consequences. Congress will, I presume, recommend certain amendments to render the structure of the government more secure. This will satisfy the more considerate and honest opposers of the Constitution, and with the aid of them will break up the party.

In the next post, we'll see Madison's reply.

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