Alexander Hamilton: Portrait in Paradox

By John C. Miller | Go to book overview

9.
"More Power to Congress"

Among the causes of dissension and potential civil war in the United States, Hamilton had always given primacy to the rivalries among the states for land. If the West offered hope of a stronger union and financial relief for the general government through the sale of land, he perceived that it also contained the seeds of embroilments between the states--seeds that in 1786 produced in the Wyoming region of Pennsylvania a localized war between the rival claimants from Pennsylvania and Connecticut. New York was likewise engaged at this time in a dispute with Vermont that posed a serious threat to the peace of the confederacy. The Vermonters demanded independence from New York and, like other Americans of their generation, they were prepared to fight for their freedom when it was denied them. Since New York, no more than Great Britain, would not permit its lawful "subjects" to go in peace, a border war broke out in the North.

From a defense of their homes and lands, the Green Mountain Boys, under the command of Ethan Allen, went over to the offensive and began to encroach upon the territory of New York. This alarming development led New York to appeal to the Continental Congress to take the obstreperous Vermonters in hand. But this, Hamilton learned when he took his seat in Congress in 1782, was "a business in which nobody cares to act with decision" and which everyone was eager to foist upon someone else. It was soon made plain that the Yorkers and Yankees could not depend upon the Continental Congress to settle their quarrel.

From the beginning, Hamilton deprecated any attempt to coerce the Vermonters. As Burgoyne had learned to his sorrow, Vermont was not a healthy region for an invading army; and Hamilton was inclined to profit by the example of the British general. Nor did he overlook the fact that the independence of Vermont was warmly supported by the New England states and that an army sent against the mountaineers would have to reckon with the "whole tribe of Yankees." Even though New York's victory were certain, Hamilton would have opposed war, for, in that event, he pointed out, his

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