Alexander Hamilton: Portrait in Paradox

By John C. Miller | Go to book overview

12.
The Federalist

When Hamilton engaged himself in the last days of the Constitutional Convention to support the Constitution, he was making no idle promise. Indeed, even while the Constitution was in an embryonic stage, Hamilton had come to its defense. He was often accused of impetuosity and precipitancy, and the charge never seemed to be better founded than when he undertook to plead the cause of the Constitution before he or anyone else knew what form it would take. In fact, at the time Hamilton first spoke out, it seemed probable that the Convention would have nothing whatever to show for its labors.

In July, 1787, when Hamilton reported from New York that the tide of nationalism was running strong and that a "high toned" government was within the reach of the Convention, he was obliged to admit that Governor Clinton was still stubbornly breasting the current. After Yates and Lansing returned to New York with the news that a plot was afoot in Philadelphia to establish a consolidated government, Clinton was certain that his worst fears were about to be realized. Privately he told his friends that he expected that if the Convention produced a plan it would "only serve to throw the country into confusion." In that event, Clinton advised his followers to rally round the Articles of Confederation, which, with a few minor changes, offered the best hope of peace and freedom to the country.

When Clinton's remarks were reported to Hamilton--he never claimed that his information was anything more than hearsay--he was outraged that a mere "demagogue" like Clinton should presume to set his own judgment against that of the "collected wisdom" of America and attempt to prejudice the people against a Constitution that was still on the drafting table. In order to disqualify the governor as a critic of the finished product, Hamilton charged in the New York Daily Advertiser of June 21, 1787, that Clinton was guilty of prejudging the work of the Constitutional Convention. From such an inveterate enemy of nationalism, Hamilton asserted, the people of New York would never receive the dispassionate, unprejudiced, reasoned judgment that the occasion required.

-184-

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