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Hamilton Explains the Compromises of the Constitution

hamiltonNew York was the eleventh state to ratify the Constitution. Its ratifying convention met between June 17 and July 26, 1788, at roughly the same time that Virginia and New Hampshire were holding conventions. When these three conventions began, the approval of at least one more state was needed to make the Constitution the law of the entire country. In his detailed discussion of the nationwide ratification debate, Gordon Lloyd notes that “New York, in many ways, was at the center of the ratification controversy.”  It was there that the most vigorous newspaper debates took place, and it was Alexander Hamilton of New York who originated the idea of writing The Federalist to explain and defend the provisions of the new constitution. Although Hamilton had left the Constitutional Convention early due to frustration over objections to a strong central government, once a final document was approved, he threw his support behind it. His advocacy was critical to New York’s decision to ratify. One of the most notable speeches made in the course of the nationwide ratification debate was made by Hamilton on the second day of argument in the New York Convention, June 20. Answering criticisms made by John Lansing and Melancthon Smith, Hamilton insisted on the inadequacy of the existing Articles of Confederation. He then went on to explain how the document written in the Philadelphia convention was the product of necessary and reasonable compromises between large and small states and between Northern, commercial states and Southern states whose economy was based on slave-labor agriculture. As he explained to his fellow delegates,

The natural situation of this country seems to divide its interests into different classes. There are navigating and non-navigating States. The Northern are properly the navigating States; the Southern appear to possess neither the means nor the spirit of navigation. This difference in situation naturally produces a dissimilarity of interests and views respecting foreign commerce. It was the interest of the Northern States, that there should be no restraints on their navigation, and that they should have full power, by a majority in Congress, to make commercial regulations in favor of their own, and in restraint of the navigation of foreigners. The Southern States wished to impose a restraint on the Northern, by requiring that two thirds in Congress should be requisite to pass an act in regulation of commerce. They were apprehensive that the restraints of a navigation law would discourage foreigners; and, by obliging them to employ the shipping of the Northern States, would probably enhance their freight. This being the case, they insisted strenuously on having this provision ingrafted in the Constitution; and the Northern States were as anxious in opposing it. On the other hand, the small States, seeing themselves embraced by the Confederation upon equal terms, wished to retain the advantages which they already possessed. The large States, on the contrary, thought it improper that Rhode Island and Delaware should enjoy an equal suffrage with themselves. From these sources a delicate and difficult contest arose. It became necessary, therefore, to compromise, or the convention must have dissolved without effecting any thing.


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