Alexander Hamilton: Portrait in Paradox

By John C. Miller | Go to book overview

11.
The Constitutional Convention (2)

Although Hamilton spoke on June 18 with such magisterial and provocative assurance that some delegates felt that no young man had a right to imagine himself to be as right as Hamilton obviously did, his oratorical effort was generally well received. The longest speech delivered in the Constitutional Convention, it established his reputation as the Orator of Nationalism. "This American Cicero," later remarked an admirer, "is indeed one of the most remarkable geniuses of the Age. His Political knowledge exceeds, I believe, any Man in our Country, and his Oratorical abilities has pleased his friends and surprized his Enemies." For advanced ideas trenchantly and lucidly expressed, it was admitted, Hamilton was the man to listen to.

Of Hamilton's speech, one of the delegates observed that although the delegate from New York was praised by everyone, he was supported by none. In truth, however, Hamilton was not praised by everyone and he was supported by some.

By no means all the delegates approved of Hamilton's ideas even as pure theory. Such stanch supporters of the sovereign rights of the states as Luther Martin, Elbridge Gerry, George Mason, John Lansing and William Yates were horrified by Hamilton's suggestion that the states he reduced to administrative districts of the general government. Some of these same delegates felt that the gentleman from New York also deferred too much to the people. For, in general, the champions of the states wished to debar the people from directly electing any branch of the legislature: Roger Sherman of Connecticut, for example, wished that "the people should have as little to do as may be about the government. They want information and are constantly liable to be misled." After all, it was the people who had brought pressure upon the state legislatures to emit paper money and enact laws in favor of debtors. With these "crimes" against property fresh in their minds, few members of the Convention were inclined to give the people an unqualified vote of confidence; Hamilton's proposal that one branch be turned over to the people therefore seemed to be equivalent to admitting the enemy within the gates. 1

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