Friday, December 21, 2007

Conditional Ratification VI

So how did Alexander Hamilton and his federalist allies defeat conditional ratification at the New York convention? As I noted in my previous post, Elliot’s Debates sheds no light.

The only contemporaneous primary source I have been able to find online – a July 22, 1788 letter from Hamilton to Madison – suggests that internal disagreements among New York antifederalists were weakening them:
I wrote to you by the last post [Hamilton’s July 19 letter?], since which nothing material has turned up here. We are debating on amendments without having decided what is to be done with them. There is so great a diversity in the views of our opponents that it is impossible to predict any thing. Upon the whole, however, our fears diminish.

The only secondary source I have run across that discusses the issue is Akhil Amar’s America’s Constitution: A Biography. There, Professor Amar tells a dramatic story.

Professor Amar asserts that Hamilton opposed John Lansing’s July 24 conditional ratification motion by reading James Madison’s July 19, 1788 “in toto and for ever” letter to the convention and arguing based on it that conditional ratification was no ratification at all:
In [his July 19] letter to Hamilton, Madison had emphasized that “the Constitution requires an adoption in toto and for ever . . ..” [In opposition to the Lansing conditional ratification motion,] Hamilton read the letter aloud to the Convention and then added his own words. The “terms of the constitution import a perpetual compact between the different states. . . . The [Article VI] oath to be taken stands in the way” of any subsequent right of unilateral secession. According to the contemporaneous account published in New York’s Daily Advertiser, both Hamilton and his fellow delegate John Jay insisted that “a reservation of right to withdraw . . . was inconsistent with the Constitution, and was no ratification.”

(A shortened version is available online here.)

It is frustrating that I have been unable to locate online the underlying primary sources that Professor Amar cites. For those of you who have access to a research library (or better online researching skills than I), here are the supporting references:

For Hamilton on the “perpetual compact:” “New York Ratifying Convention, First Speech of July 24,” in Hamilton, Papers, 5:193-95 (Harold C. Syrett, ed.). See also John P. Kaminsky, “New York: The Reluctant Pillar,” in Stephen L. Schechter, ed., The Reluctant Pillar: New York and the Adoption of the Federal Constitution (1985), 112; Kenneth M. Stampp, “The Concept of a Perpetual Union,” J. of Am. Hist. 65 (1978): 18 n. 51.

For Hamilton and Jay’s repudiation of a “right to withdraw:” Excerpt from The Daily Advertiser, July 28, 1788, in Hamilton, Papers, 5:194-95.

Searching around, I also see this article, which looks very interesting: Robin Brooks, “Alexander Hamilton, Melancton Smith, and the Ratification of the Constitution in New York,” The William & Mary Quarterly, 3rd Ser., Vol. 24, No. 3 (July 1967), pp. 339-58.

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