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…
At long last, the Virginia Delegates to the States Ratification Convention arrive in Richmond. Unlike other States, the Virginia Convention will be open to the public. It will be raucous and passionate and it will feature some of the biggest names in American history.
The Federalists initially outnumber the Anti-federalists by a slim margin with at least four delegates undecided. Everybody already knows what everybody’s position is on the matter of Ratification. But the debates must go on, and those who oppose ratification, led by the greatest orator in America, Patrick Henry, will state their position with clarity and firmness.
And when it is all over and done, Virginia will become the 10th State to ratify the Constitution. It’s what happens after that which makes Jay Leno’s lament all the more poignant…
My pattern bias is hard at work again.
I was doing my Show Prep for Thursday and Friday, and I came across a post by a friend who wants to break up California because it is “too liberal” for his tastes. The problem is, of course, that solution will not result in one “Liberal California and one “Conservative” California, but in two Blue California’s. The dynamics should be apparent, but in case they are not, it a matter of relativity. What is “conservative” in the Central Valley of California is considered “liberal” in the heartland of Texas. Admitting a new State at this point in our political journey would become an exercise in balancing the power of two political forces which are more allied than divided and yet like to draw lines of distinction. Any new State that changes that balance is going to face a quick death in the operational details of Article IV.
We’ve been here before, as a Nation. In the mid-19th Century, things were a bit different, in that there were great swaths of land vying to become the next State. Unlike today where – for the most part – any new State would have to be carved out of an existing State – but the same concerns about balancing the political power existed then as now. Theoretically, the motivation behind it has changed. In the 1800’s everything was about slavery. The Slave States believed that if the Free states got too much of the power they would take actions to end Slavery. The Free States feared that the Slave States were trying to add ever more Slave States to perpetuate the peculiar institution of slavery.
So whenever a Slave State was about to be added, a Free State had to join as well. And when a Free State was proposed, a Slave State had to be proposed at the same time. It maintained the balance of power, but it had devastating effects on politics and the State of the Union. The same people who exhaustively explain to me that they would have solved it had they been there back in the day, have no idea how to solve it today. The more things change, the more they stay the same. An uneasy balance of power remains, with the threat of Mutual Assured Destruction hanging in the air. Each side pretends that it wants to destroy the other completely – and in a fantasy world they probably do – but they also understand that would end the detente. Conquest is easy, control is not. A complete win by one side or the other simply opens them up for a counter attack with similar scorched Earth destruction coming at themselves this time.
Where does that leave us?
First, the dividing lines are not as clear as they once were. In the 19th Century, you lived in a Slave State or a Free State. With few exceptions, your State determined your politics and moral positions.* The destruction of Federalism and the natural after-effects of the Civil War have created a more homogenous nation. No longer are there clear and absolute dividing lines. You can no longer cross from one State to another and find the entire state population disagreeing with you to the point where shooting at you is a reasonable solution.
There is no “peculiar institution” in today’s nation. Sure, there are sharp divides, but none that are undecided by law and legislation. You may not like something politically, but it’s highly unlikely that you are willing to shoot at your next door neighbor over it. And if you are, you’re not going to find much support for your actions, even among the like-minded. That said, we are starting to see a singular issue that is dividing States – abortion. While some states are passing laws to expand abortion protection, others are passing lass to restrict it out of legal existence. but how likely is it that the people of a given State are as clearly divided as the Legislatures?