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conversations, declared the Union unnecessary.” “ As Clinton is truly the leader of his party, and is inflexibly obstinate, I count little in overcoming opposition by reason. The Anti-Federal party have a majority of twothirds in the Convention; and, according to the best estimate I can form, of about four-sevenths of the community. The views of the leaders in this city are pretty well ascertained to be turned towards a long adjournment; say, till next spring or summer. Their incautious ones observe, that this will give an opportunity to the State to see how the Government works, and to act according to circumstances.
“My reasonings on the fact are to this effect: The leaders of the party hostile to the Constitution, are equally hostile to the Union. They are, however, afraid to reject the Constitution, at once, because that step would bring matters to a crisis between this State and the States which had adopted the Constitution; and between the parties in the State. A separation of the southern district from the other parts of the State, it is perceived, would become the object of the Federalists, and of the neighboring States. They, therefore, resolve upon a long adjournment, as the safest and most artful course to effect their final purpose. They suppose, that, when the Government gets into operation, it will be obliged to take some steps in respect to revenue, etc., which will furnish topics of declamation to its enemies in the several States, and will strengthen the minorities. If, any considerable discontent should show itself, they will stand ready to head the opposition. If, on the contrary, the thing should go on smoothly, and the sentiments of our own people should change, they can elect to come into the Union. They, at all events, take the chances of time and the chapter of accidents.
“How far their friends in the country will go with them, I am not able to say ; but, as they have always been found very obsequious, we have little reason to calculate upon an uncompliant temper in the present instance. For my own part, the more I can penetrate the views of the Anti-Federal party in this State, the more I dread the consequences of the non-adoption of the Constitution by any of the other States—the more I fear an eventual disunion, and civil war. God grant that Virginia may accede. The example will have a vast inAuence on our politics. New Hampshire, all accounts give us to expect, will be an assenting State.”
The Convention met at Poughkeepsie, on the seventeenth of June. The thirteen counties of the State were represented by sixty-five delegates, of whom forty-six were elected by the party hostile to the Constitution ; nineteen by its friends. Governor Clinton, a deputy from Ulster, was unanimously chosen to preside. Of his party, Robert Yates, the Chief Justice of the State, Melancthon Smith, John Lansing, and Samuel Jones, were the more conspicuous. The leading advocates of the Constitution were Duane, Hamilton, Harrison, Jay, and Livingston, then Chancellor.
The debate was opened by Livingston, with an eloquent sketch of the advantages enjoyed by the American people in forming a national Union; of the effects of the confederation, showing the necessity of a change of government; and, of the peculiar importance of Union to New York, from the nature of her products, and her geographical position.
. Having lamented, that this superiority of position had excited an improper confidence, and produced an inflexibility, which had rendered her regardless of the wishes of other States; he described her exposed situation, stated at large the impracticability of preserving an efficient league, and urged the necessity of establishing a well ordered Government. A resolution was then offered, that no question should be taken on the Constitution, or on any part of it, or on any amendment to it, until each clause had been considered. It was the policy of the Governor to take the vote upon it in mass; that of its friends, to protract the debate, until intelligence should be received from New Hampshire. This resolution was discussed, and prevailed. *
Hamilton now † wrote to Madison : “ To-morrow, we go into a Committee of the whole on the Constitution.. There is every appearance, that a full discussion will take place, which will keep us together, at least, a fortnight. It is not easy to conjecture, what will be the result. Our adversaries greatly outnumber us. The leaders gave indications of a pretty desperate disposition in private conversations, previous to the meeting : but, I imagine the minor partisans have their scruples; and an air of moderation is now assumed. So far, the thing is not despaired of. A happy issue with you, must have considerable influence upon us.”
Clinton writes the same day, mentioning the formation of a Committee, “ opposed to the adoption of the new Constitution, without previous amendments;" and observes, “ It gives me and them sensible pleasure to learn, that the friends to the liberties of the country to the southward, are equally anxious, with those who are not ashamed of that unfashionable name here. The friends to the rights of mankind, outnumber the advo
* It is related by a person, then present, that this decision gave great unbrage to Clinton, who, imputing it to Melancthon Smith's confidence in his powers, remarked, with an oath, " that his vanity had lost the State."
† June 21st.
cates of despotism, nearly two to one.” He enclosed a letter to Mason, chairman of the Virginia Committee.* Lansing commenced the opposition. He declared, that essential powers might be more safely delegated to the State, than to the General Government; and contended for the practicability of sufficiently amending the Confederation, to enable it to afford defence against foreign aggression and to secure domestic tranquillity ; by vesting Congress with power to raise men and money ; and, in case its requisitions were disregarded, by permitting it to legislate upon individuals. He denied, that the embarrassments of the country were to be attributed to its political system ; but said, they were to be ascribed to other causes. The dangers of a dissolution of the Union, he thought, were less than those of the proposed system. If it should unfortunately ensue, “what,” he asked, “ have we to apprehend? We are connected both by interest and affection with the New England States. We harbor no animosities against each other—we have no interfering territorial claims--our manners are nearly similar, and are daily assimilating, and mutual advantages will probably prompt to mutual concessions. He, however, contemplated the idea of a possible disunion with pain.” Having avowed his conviction, that, a consolidated government could not preserve the essential rights and liberties of the people, he affirmed his purpose to insist upon amendments favorable to civil liberty; and denied, that the opposition sprang from the influence of State office.
The Legislative Department was first considered. Smith stated his objections to the rule of apportionment of the members—that there was no precise number defined, below which, the House could not be reduced, and its present inadequacy. He condemned the three
* Life of Lamb, 315.
fifths compromise, observing, that slaves had no will ; and that it was conferring a privilege on those, who, as their masters, violated morality. The number of the House was discretionary. So small a body was incompetent to take charge of the extensive objects of a National Government; would never possess the confidence of the people, and would raise the few above the many. He then moved, that every twenty thousand persons have one representative, until the whole number amounted to three hundred, after which they should be apportioned among the States according to their population; and that, in the commencement of the Government, double the number prescribed in the Constitution be chosen.
Hamilton then arose.* After alluding to the efforts to ridicule the apprehensions which had been expressed as to the condition of the country, he proceeded to urge the necessity of a National Government. “I trust that these observations are not intended to cast a light air on this important subject, or to give any personal bias on the great question before us. I cannot agree with gentlemen who trifle with the weaknesses of our country, and suppose that they are enumerated to answer a party purpose, and to terrify with ideal dangers. No, I believe, these weaknesses to be real, and pregnant with destruction. Yet,
* Chancellor Kent relates: "In his opening speech, Mr. H. preliminarily observed, that it was of the utmost importance that the Convention should be strongly impressed with a conviction of the necessity of the Union of the States. If, they could be entirely satisfied of that great truth, their minds would then be prepared to admit the necessity of a government of similar organization and powers with the scheme of the one before them, to uphold and preserve that Union. It was like the case of the doctrine of the IMMORTALITY OF THE Soul, and doubts on that subject were one great cause, he said, of modern infidelity; for, if men could be thoroughly convinced, that they had within them immaterial and immortal spirits, their minds would be prepared for the ready reception of the CHRISTIAN RELIGION."