Category Archives: Ratification Debates
By June of 1788, ten States have ratified the proposed Constitution. While the technicalities of Article IX have been met, most people understand that the reality is that for the Union to survive, it must be unanimous. Or at least everybody except Rhode Island, which we will deal with separately.
New York is next up on the clock, and already the sniping between the Federalists, led by Alexander Hamilton, and the longtime Governor of the State, George Clinton (a Revolutionary War General and close friend of Washington’s) has become both intense and deeply personal. Hamilton is deeply connected to the wealthy landowning elites, while Clinton is much more of an introspective “man of the people.” His policies have endeared him to the Middle Class, while the wealthy landowners (Hamilton) have been cut out of New York’s political spoils.
Of all of the States, New York is virtually the only one that – because of Clinton’s economic policies – emerged from the depression of 1780 in good shape. In fact, the State Treasury has over $3 Million (in 1788 dollars) in surplus. Clinton is wisely using this to improve New York’s economy and – of course – keep the votes of the middle and lower classes. Hamilton, who married the daughter of the man Clinton upset in the 1777 Gubernatorial election, opposes the policies that keep New York’s money in New York and not allowing Congress to take over the impost (tax) money that New York is collecting. In fact, at one point New York reluctantly agrees to hand it over to Congress, but petulant Rhode Island torpedoes the deal by refusing to agree. Of course.
More than anyone though, it is these two men, Hamilton and Clinton, who will face off in New York over the Constitution. Clinton will become the very embodiment – in fact, he is the man for whom the term is coined – of the Anti-Federalist. He is not an anti-nationalist. He believes strongly in the Union and in liberty. But he opposes ratification. Hamilton is co-writing the Federalist Papers. it doesn’t take long before the hotter-headed of the two begins to take shots -metaphorically – at the other in the media.
When everything is said and done, One of them will become a two time Vice-President, mostly forgotten despite his accomplishments. The other will become a controversial figure and the centerpiece of rewritten history…
As James Madison leaves New York City to stand for election to the Virginia Ratification Convention, he is troubled. Overall, the nation is moving towards Ratification, but major hurdles remain, including New York, Maryland and of course, his home State of Virginia. If Virginia and New York reject ratification, the entire enterprise could be placed in doubt.
In Virginia, he finds the distasteful process of just getting elected to the Convention an annoyance. And if he gets elected, he will face off against the man who many believe is the greatest orator of all time, Patrick Henry.
Henry has made it clear that he will not support ratification. Or maybe he will? This is the real issue in Virginia, the three positions taken by the various partisan sides.
First are the Federalists, led by Madison. They support ratification as is. Next come the slightly-anti-Federalists, led by such men as Randolph and Mason, who will support ratification IF, and that is a big IF, they can get amendments included which they believe will safeguard individual rights.
Thirdly, there is Kentucky. Currently, it is part of Virginia. Madison has been fighting a losing battle in Congress for the last two years to make her a State in her own right, but the inertial resistance has led many in Kentucky and around the South, in general, to believe that the proposed Constitution is little more than a Northern power grab.
And overarching it all is Patrick Henry. There are rumors that he has his own ideas about what Virginia should do. Nobody is certain, but the evidence seems to lead to the conclusion that he would not be displeased if Virginia fails to ratify. Where there is smoke, there is fire, and Madison has to find a way to extinguish Henry’s opposition…
As the debates rolled on, the nation considered many elements of the proposed Constitution. In Rhode Island, there was grave concern over the idea that the State would not be able to print its own paper currency. In Virginia, the Kentucky Counties worried about the navigational rights on the Mississippi River. But nearly everyone agreed on one issue – the idea that if the nation went to war, it would be stronger united than not.
On April 6, 1917, Congress gathered to vote on whether or not the United States should declare war on Imperial Germany. Four days earlier President Woodrow Wilson had made it clear that the United States was needed and ready for the fight against an evil and depraved monarchy that chose war over peace and threatened the entire world. But, he made he clear, that it would not be, it could not be, his decision alone to send the US into World War I.
Despite the changes in the world since 1787, one thing remained the same. It was that one thing that the Framers had in their prescience foreseen: that no one person should ever be allowed to take the US to war.