After a long public debate in the media, the delegates for New York have arrived in Poughkeepsie to decided if New York will ratify the Constitution. While there is a STRONG Anti-Federalist contingent in the State, there is something else going on. Governor George Clinton is the leading opponent of ratification but even he is beginning to understand that the very purpose of the Constitution supersedes the arguments against its ratification. After Massachusetts and Virginia ratify, it is beginning to dawn on New York that going it alone is an untenable position.
At the convention, Melancton Smith will be the primary speaker for the Anti-Federalist position. He is most likely the author of numerous Anti-Federalist papers, including the “Letters from a Federal farmer.” He is a simple man, a country farmer, not as well polished as Hamilton but he is focused (unlike Hamilton), polite (unlike Hamilton) and he is of “a gentle, liberal, and amiable disposition” (unlike Hamilton). He is so persuasive that the issue in New York is never really in doubt.
The biggest problem now is that the ground has shifted. While the numbers are clearly in favor in the Anti-federalist position, the realization is dawning on the Delegates that New York may have waited too long to ratify. The realization that the only way to get what the amendments that they “require” for ratification, is to be able to send delegates to the new Congress. The realization is dawning that only way to keep New York together is to ratify.
Melancton Smith, the man who will try to broker an acceptable system of ratification, realizes that despite their numbers, Hamilton is right. Not Ratifying is no longer an option. Clinton is furious at him, but at the end of the day, even the future Vice President has to accept what Melancton Smith has accepted – the Ben Franklin cartoon drawn all those years ago still applies. Join or Die.
And on the verge of eternity, New York ratifies the Constitution…
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…