alexander hamilton and the constitution

What role Alexander Hamilton played in the Consitutional Convention?

Constitutional Reformer

The economy of the young nation in the years following the Revolution was in bad shape.

The United States had accrued millions of dollars in war debt; competitive tariffs between

states hampered economic growth while sowing political discord; American shipping

struggled to recover from the war; and the Continental Congress was unable to impose

taxes in order to drive the country forward out of its financial doldrums.

Against this background, the legislature of Virginia in 1786 called for a meeting of

the states in Annapolis, Maryland, to deliberate adjustments to the nation\'s commercial

regulations -- a relatively modest ambition. Hamilton, Receiver of Continental Revenue for

New York, attended the September Convention as his state\'s representative, only to find

that four states had not even bothered to send delegates. The only states represented were

Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and New York, and it became apparent that

any measures these five did adopt might not carry sufficient authority for implementation.

The whole project appeared headed for failure, and in fact, the only notable

success to come out of the episode was Hamilton\'s call for a constitutional convention of

all the states to meet in Philadelphia the next year. "While phrased blandly -- delegates

would have the power to make such changes as were "necessary to render the constitution

of the Federal Government adequate to the exigencies of the Union" -- the resolution

emphasized that everything relating to the government of the United States would be on

the table. Advocates of strong central government, as they themselves perceived, would

have the chance to overhaul the Articles of Confederation at one fell swoop, rather than

tinkering at the edges." ( Cooke, 53)

It was at this point that the Shays Rebellion in Massachusetts lent a vital urgency

to the call for a Constitutional Convention and strengthened the public belief that the

country needed a much stronger federal government than the one it had. The rioting

farmers and debtors, led by Daniel Shays, who closed courts of justice, demanded the

nullification of the Massachussets Senate, and insisted violently on financial reform

represented for many political leaders the dangers posed by unchecked public action, by

"the mob." The framers of the Constitution agreed that a republican society depended on

the democratic participation of the citizens, but they believed that such participation

needed to occur within recognized lawful limits.

The rebellion also highlighted the impotence of the Continental Congress, which

faced such a serious cash shortage that it couldn\'t raise the troops necessary to put down

the rebellion (which was eventually suppressed by a contingent of 4,000 Massachusetts

militiamen). Citing the weakness of the central government, Hamilton raised the familiar

but compelling spectre of a disintegrating republic: "Who can determine what might have

been the issue of the late convulsions, if the malcontents had been headed by a Caesar or a

Cromwell? Who can predict what effect a despotism, established in Massachusetts would

have upon the liberties of New Hampshire or Rhode Island, of Connecticut or New

York?" ( Cooke, 57)


As a New York delegate to the Constitutional Convention, Hamilton initially had

to compete with Roberts Yates and John Lansing, Jr., they were two fellow

representatives from his state who had been appointed by Governor George Clinton, a

staunch opponent of centralized federal power, in order to outweigh Hamilton\'s vote.

"Hamilton\'s role in the framing and ratification of the Constitution was a curious

one. He did not prove to be a particularly distinguished or influential delegate at the

Convention -- many members thought his proposals went too far in strengthening the

central government. Indeed, the ideas Hamilton presented on June 18, 1787, after

approximately a month of peripheral involvement, included some shockers: state

governors would be appointed by the President; the President and Senators would hold

office for life; and the Congress would retain exclusive authority to make all the laws of

the country." ( Goebl, 62)

The five-hour speech had little effect. Many delegates were already nervous about

a plan put forth by Virginia which, while less radical than Hamilton\'s vision, seemed to

retain too little power for the states. Since convention proceedings were kept secret from

the public, however, an atmosphere of free and open debate prevailed,