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BRIEF OF SPEECH ON SUBMITTING HIS PLAN OF CONSTITUTION 1 - Alexander Hamilton, The Works of Alexander Hamilton, (Federal Edition), vol. 1 
The Works of Alexander Hamilton, ed. Henry Cabot Lodge (Federal Edition) (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904). In 12 vols. Vol. 1.
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BRIEF OF SPEECH ON SUBMITTING HIS PLAN OF CONSTITUTION1
Last seems to be the prevailing sentiment.
To ascertain the practicability of this, let us examine the principles of civil obedience.
Supports of Government
To effect any thing, passions must be turned toward the General Government.
Present Confederation cannot be amended, unless the most important powers be given to Congress, constituted as they are.
This would be liable to all (the) objections against any form of general government, with the addition of the want of checks.
Perpetual effort in each member.
Influence of individuals in office to excite jealousy and clamor—State leaders.
Demosthenes says—Athens seventy-three years—Lacedæmon twenty-seven—The bans after battle of Leuctra.
Phocians—consecrated ground—Philip, etc.
Charlemagne and his successors.
Electors now seven, excluding others.
To strengthen the Federal Government, powers too great must be given to a single hand.
League offensive and defensive, etc.
Particular governments must exert themselves, etc.
But liable to usual vicissi(tudes.)
Internal peace affected.
Proximity of situation—natural enemies.
Partial confederacies from unequal extent.
Power inspires ambition.
Weakness begets jealousy.
Objn.—Genius of republics pacific.
Answer. Jealousy of commerce as well as jealousy of power begets war.
England as many popular as royal wars.
Lewis the XIV.—Austria—Bourbons—William and Anne.
Wars depend upon trifling circumstances.
Where—Duchess of Marlborough's glove.
Distractions set afloat vicious humors.
Standing armies by dissensions.
Monarchy in Southern States.
[ww] Federal rights—Fisheries.
Loss of advantages.
Foreign nations would not respect our rights nor grant us reciprocity.
Would reduce us to a passive commerce.
Fisheries—navigation of the lakes—Mississippi—Fleet.
The General Government must, in this case, not only have a strong soul, but strong organs by which that soul is to operate.
Here I shall give my sentiments of the best form of government—not as a thing attainable by us, but as a model which we ought to approach as near as possible.
British constitution best form.
Society naturally divides itself into two political divisions—the few and the many, who have distinct interests.
If government in the hands of the few, they will tyrannize over the many.
If (in) the hands of the many, they will tyrannize over the few. It ought to be in the hands of both; and they should be separated.
This separation must be permanent.
Representation alone will not do.
Demagogues will generally prevail.
And if separated, they will need a mutual check.
This check is a monarch.
Each principle ought to exist in full force, or it will not answer its end.
The democracy must be derived immediately from the people.
The aristocracy ought to be entirely separated; their power should be permanent, and they should have the caritas liberorum.
They should be so circumstanced that they can have no interest in a change—as to have an effectual weight in the Constitution.
Their duration should be the earnest of wisdom and stability.
’T is essential there should be a permanent will in a community.
Vox populi, vox Dei.
Source of government—the unreasonableness of the people—separate interests—debtors and creditors, etc.
There ought to be a principle in government capable of resisting the popular current.
No periodical duration will come up to this.
This will always imply hopes and fears.
Creature and Creator.
Popular assemblies governed by a few individuals.
These individuals, seeing their dissolution approach, will sacrifice.
The principle of representation will influence.
The most popular branch will acquire an influence over the other.
The other may check in ordinary cases, in which there is no strong public passion; but it will not in cases where there is—the cases in which such a principle is most necessary.
A majority will look to a dissolution in four years by instalments.
The monarch must have proportional strength. He ought to be hereditary, and to have so much power, that it will not be his interest to risk much to acquire more.
The advantage of a monarch is this—he is above corruption—he must always intend, in respect to foreign nations, the true interest and glory of the people.
Republics liable to foreign corruption and intrigue—Holland—Athens.
Effect of the British government.
A vigorous execution of the laws, and a vigorous defence of the people, will result.
Better chance for a good administration.
It is said a republican government does not admit a vigorous execution.
It is therefore bad; for the goodness of a government consists in a vigorous execution.
The principle chiefly intended to be established is this—that there must be a permanent will.
Gentlemen say we need to be rescued from the democracy. But what the means proposed?
A democratic Assembly is to be checked by a democratic Senate, and both these by a democratic chief magistrate.
The end will not be answered—the means will not be equal to the object.
It will, therefore, be feeble and inefficient.
What is to be done?
Answer. Balance inconveniences and dangers, and choose that which seems to have the fewest objections.
Expense admits of this answer. The expense of the State governments will be proportionably diminished.
Interference of officers not so great, because the objects of the General Government and the particular ones will not be the same—Finance—Administration of private justice. Energy will not be wanting in essential points, because the administration of private justice will be carried home to men's doors by the particular governments.
And the revenues may be collected from imposts, excises, etc. If necessary to go further, the General Government may make use of the particular governments.
The attendance of members near the seat of government may be had in the lower branch.
And the upper branch may be so constructed as to induce the attendance of members from any part.
But this proves that the government must be so constituted as to offer strong motives.
In short, to interest all the passions of individuals.
And turn them into that channel.
SPEECHES IN THE FEDERAL CONVENTION
SPEECHES IN THE FEDERAL CONVENTION
Monday, June 18, 1787.
MR. HAMILTON said that he had been hitherto silent on the business before the convention, partly from respect to others whose superior abilities, age, and experience rendered him unwilling to bring forward ideas dissimilar to theirs; and partly from his delicate situation with respect to his own State, to whose sentiments, as expressed by his colleagues, he could by no means accede. The crisis, however, which now marked our affairs, was too serious to permit any scruples whatever to prevail over the duty imposed on every man to contribute his efforts for the public safety and happiness. He was obliged, therefore, to declare himself unfriendly to both plans. He was particularly opposed to that from New Jersey, being fully convinced that no amendment of the Confederation, leaving the States in possession of their sovereignty, could possibly answer the purpose. On the other hand, he confessed he was much discouraged by the amazing extent of country in expecting the desired blessings from any general sovereignty that could be substituted. As to the powers of the convention, he thought the doubts started on that subject had arisen from distinctions and reasons too subtle. A Federal Government he conceived to mean an association of independent communities into one. Different confederacies have different powers, and exercise them in different ways. In some instances the powers are exercised over collective bodies, in others over individuals, as in the German Diet; and among ourselves, in cases of piracy. Great latitude, therefore, must be given to the signification of the term. The plan last proposed departs, itself, from the Federal idea, as understood by some, since it is to operate eventually on individuals. He agreed, moreover, with the honorable gentleman from Virginia (Mr. Randolph), that we owed it to our country to do, on this emergency, whatever we should deem essential to its happiness. The States sent us here to provide for the exigencies of the Union. To rely on and propose any plan not adequate to these exigencies, merely because it was not clearly within our powers, would be to sacrifice the means to the end. It may be said that the States cannot ratify a plan not within the purview of the Article of Confederation providing for alterations and amendments. But may not the States themselves, in which no constitutional authority equal to this purpose exists in the Legislatures, have had in view a reference to the people at large? In the Senate of New York a proviso was moved that no act of the convention should be binding until it should be referred to the people and ratified; and the motion was lost by a single voice only, the reason assigned against it being that it might possibly be found an inconvenient shackle.
The great question is: What provision shall we make for the happiness of our country? He would first make a comparative examination of the two plans—prove that there were essential defects in both—and point out such changes as might render a national one efficacious. The great and essential principles necessary for the support of government are:
Mr. Patterson's plan provides no remedy. If the powers proposed were adequate, the organization of Congress is such that they could never be properly and effectually exercised. The members of Congress being chosen by the States, and subject to recall, represent all the local prejudices. Should the powers be found effectual, they will from time to time be heaped on them, till a tyrannic sway shall be established. The general power, whatever be its form, if it preserves itself, must swallow up the State powers. Otherwise, it will be swallowed up by them. It is against all the principles of a good government, to vest the requisite powers in such a body as Congress. Two sovereignties cannot coexist within the same limits. Giving powers to Congress must eventuate in a bad government or in no government. The plan of New Jersey, therefore, will not do. What, then, is to be done? Here I am embarrassed. The extent of the country to be governed discourages me. The expense of a General Government was also formidable; unless there was such a diminution of expense on the side of the State Governments as the case would admit. If they were extinguished, I am persuaded that great economy might be obtained by substituting a General Government.
I do not mean, however, to shock the public opinion by proposing such a measure. On the other hand, I see no other necessity for declining it. They are not necessary for any of the great purposes of commerce, revenue, or agriculture. Subordinate authorities, I am aware, would be necessary. There must be district tribunals; corporations for local purposes. But cui bono the vast and expensive apparatus now appertaining to the States? The only difficulty of a serious nature which occurs to me is that of drawing Representatives from the extremes to the centre of the community. What inducements can be offered that will suffice? The moderate wages for the first branch could only be a bait to little demagogues. Three dollars or thereabouts, I suppose, would be the utmost. The Senate, I fear, from a similar cause, would be filled by certain undertakers who wish for particular offices under the government. This view of the subject almost leads me to despair that a republican government could be established over so great an extent. I am sensible, at the same time, that it would be unwise to propose one of any other form. In my private opinion, I have no scruple in declaring, supported as I am by the opinion of so many of the wise and good, that the British government is the best in the world; and that I doubt much whether anything short of it will do in America. I hope gentlemen of different opinions will bear with me in this, and beg them to recollect the change of opinion on this subject which has taken place, and is still going on. It was once thought that the power of Congress was amply sufficient to secure the end of their institution. The error was now seen by every one. The members most tenacious of republicanism are as loud as any in declaiming against the vices of democracy. This progress of the public mind leads me to anticipate the time when others as well as myself will join in the praise bestowed by Mr. Neckar on the British constitution, namely, that “it is the only government in the world which unites public strength with individual security.”
In every community where industry is encouraged, there will be a division of it into the few and the many. Hence, separate interests will arise. There will be debtors and creditors, etc. Give all power to the many, they will oppress the few. Give all power to the few, they will oppress the many. Both, therefore, ought to have the power, that each may defend itself against the other. To the want of this check we owe our paper-money instalment laws, etc. To the proper adjustment of it the British owe the excellence of their constitution. Their House of Lords is a most noble institution. Having nothing to hope for by a change, and a sufficient interest, by means of their property, in being faithful to the national interest, they form a permanent barrier against every pernicious innovation whether attempted on the part of the Crown or of the Commons. No temporary Senate will have firmness enough to answer the purpose. The Senate of Maryland, which seems to be so much appealed to, has not yet been sufficiently tried. Had the people been unanimous and eager in the late appeal to them on the subject of a paper emission, they would have yielded to the torrent. Their acquiescing in such an appeal is a proof of it. Gentlemen differ in their opinions concerning the necessary checks, from the different estimates they form of the human passions. They suppose seven years a sufficient period to give the Senate an adequate firmness, from not duly considering the amazing violence and turbulence of the democratic spirit. When a great object of government is pursued which seizes the popular passions, they spread like wildfire and become irresistible. I appeal to the gentlemen from the New England States whether experience has not there verified the remark. As to the Executive, it seemed to be admitted that no good one could be established on republican principles. Was not this giving up the merits of the question; for can there be a good government without a good Executive? The English model was the only good one on this subject. The hereditary interest of the king was so interwoven with that of the nation, and his personal emolument so great, that he was placed above the danger of being corrupted from abroad, and, at the same time, was both sufficiently independent and sufficiently controlled to answer the purpose of the institution at home. One of the weak sides of republics was their being liable to foreign influence and corruption. Men of little character, acquiring great power, become easily the tools of intermeddling neighbors. Sweden was a striking instance. The French and English had each their parties during the late revolution, which was effected by the predominant influence of the former. What is the inference from all these observations? That we ought to go as far, in order to attain stability and permanency, as republican principles will admit. Let one branch of Legislature hold their places for life, or, at least, during good behavior. Let the Executive, also, be for life. I appeal to the feelings of the members present whether a term of seven years would induce the sacrifice of private affairs, which an acceptance of public trust would require, so as to ensure the services of the best citizens. On this plan we should have in the Senate a permanent will, a weighty interest, which would answer essential purposes. But is this a republican government? it will be asked. Yes, if all the magistrates are appointed and vacancies are filled by the people, or by a process of election originating with the people. I am sensible that an Executive, constituted as I propose, would have, in fact, but little of the power and independence that might be necessary. On the other plan of appointing him for seven years, I think, the Executive ought to have but little power. He would be ambitious, with the means of making creatures, and as the object of his ambition would be to prolong his power, it is probable that in case of war he would avail himself of the emergency to evade or refuse a degradation from his place. An Executive for life has not this motive for forgetting his fidelity, and will therefore be a safer depository of power. It will be objected, probably, that such an Executive will be an elective monarch, and will give birth to the tumults which characterize that form of government. I reply that “monarch” is an indefinite term. It marks not either the degree or duration of power. If this executive magistrate would be a monarch for life, the other proposed by the Report from the Committee of the Whole would be a monarch for seven years. The circumstance of being elective was also applicable to both. It had been observed by judicious writers, that elective monarchies would be the best if they could be guarded against the tumults excited by the ambition and intrigues of competitors. I am not sure that tumults are an inseparable evil. I think this character of elective monarchies has been taken rather from particular cases than from general principles. The election of Roman emperors was made by the army. In Poland the election is made by great rival princes, with independent power, and ample means of raising commotions. In the German empire the appointment is made by the electors and princes, who have equal motives and means for exciting cabals and parties. Might not such a mode of election be devised among ourselves as will defend the community against these effects in any dangerous degree?
Having made these observations, I will read to the committee a sketch of a plan which I should prefer to either of those under consideration. I am aware that it goes beyond the ideas of most members. But will such a plan be adopted out of doors? In return I would ask, Will the people adopt the other plan? At present they will adopt neither. But I see the Union dissolving, or already dissolved. I see evils operating in the States which must soon cure the people of their fondness for democracies. I see that a great progress has been already made, and is still going on, in the public mind. I think, therefore, that the people will in time be unshackled from their prejudices; and whenever that happens, they will themselves not be satisfied at stopping where the plan of Mr. Randolph would place them, but be ready to go as far at least as he proposes. I do not mean to offer the paper I have sketched as a proposition to the committee. It is meant only to give a more correct view of my ideas, and to suggest the amendments which I should propose to the plan of Mr. Randolph, in the proper stages of its future discussion. [Col. Hamilton then read his sketch, which has already been given in the preceding propositions and plan.]—Madison Papers.
Monday, June 18th,1 Col. Hamilton said:
To deliver my sentiments on so important a subject, when the first characters in the Union have gone before me, inspires me with the greatest diffidence, especially when my own ideas are so materially dissimilar to the plans now before the committee. My situation is disagreeable, but it would be criminal not to come forward on a question of such magnitude. I have well considered the subject, and am convinced that no amendment of the Confederation can answer the purpose of a good government, so long as State sovereignties do, in any shape, exist; and I have great doubts whether a national government, on the Virginia plan, can be made effectual. What is federal? An association of several independent states as one. How or in what manner this association is formed is not so clearly distinguishable. We find the Diet of Germany has, in some instances, the power of legislation on individuals. We find the United States of America have it, in an extensive degree, in the cases of piracies. Let us now review the powers with which we are invested. We are appointed for the sole and express purpose of revising the Confederation, and to alter or amend it so as to render it effectual for the purposes of a good government. Those who suppose it must be federal lay great stress on the terms sole and express, as if these words intended a confinement to a federal government; when the manifest import is no more than that the institution of a good government must be the sole and express object of your deliberations. Nor can we suppose an annihilation of our powers by forming a national government, as many of the States have made, in their constitutions, no provisions for any alteration; and thus much I can say for the State I have the honor to represent, that, when our credentials were under consideration in the Senate, some members were for inserting a restriction in the powers, to prevent an encroachment on the constitution. It was answered by others; and thereupon the resolve carried on the credentials that it might abridge some of the constitutional powers of the State, and that, possibly, in the formation of a new Union, it would be found necessary. This appears reasonable, and therefore leaves us at liberty to form such a national government as we think best adapted for the good of the whole. I have, therefore, no difficulty as to the extent of our powers, nor do I feel myself restrained in the exercise of my judgment under them. We can only propose and recommend; the power of ratifying or rejecting is still in the States. But on this great question I am still greatly embarrassed. I have before observed my apprehension of the inefficacy of either plan; and I have great doubts whether a more energetic government can pervade this wide and extensive country. I shall now show that both plans are materially defective.
I hold it that different societies have all different views and interests to pursue, and always prefer local to general concerns. For example: New York Legislature made an external compliance lately to a requisition of Congress; but do they not, at the same time, counteract their compliance by gratifying the local objects of the State, so as to defeat their concession? And this will ever be the case. Men always love power, and States will prefer their particular concerns to the general welfare; and as States become larger and important, will they not be less attentive to the general government? What, in process of time, will Virginia be? She contains now half a million of inhabitants; in twenty-five years she will double the number. Feeling her own weight and importance, must she not become indifferent to the concerns of the Union? And where, in such a situation, will be found national attachment to the general government? By “force” I mean the coercion of law and the coercion of arms. Will this remark apply to the power intended to be vested in the government to be instituted by either plan? A delinquent must be compelled to obedience by force of arms. How is this to be done? If you are unsuccessful, a dissolution of your government must be the consequence; and in that case the individual Legislatures will reassume their powers; nay, will not the interests of the States be thrown into the State governments? By influence I mean the regular weight and support it will receive from those who will find it their interest to support a government intended to preserve the peace and happiness of the community of the whole. The State governments, by either plan, will exert the means to counteract it. They have their State judges and militia all combined to support their State interests; and these will be influenced to oppose a national government. Either plan is therefore precarious. The national government cannot long exist when opposed by such a weighty rival. The experience of ancient and modern confederacies evinces this point, and throws considerable light on the subject. The Amphictyonic Council of Greece had a right to require of its members troops, money, and the force of the country. Were they obeyed in the exercise of these powers? Could they preserve the peace of the greater states and republics? Or where were they obeyed? History shows that their decrees were disregarded, and that the stronger states, regardless of their power, gave law to the lesser. Let us examine the federal institution of Germany. It was instituted upon the laudable principle of securing the independency of the several states of which it was composed, and to protect them against foreign invasion. Has it answered these good intentions? Do we not see that their councils are weak and distracted, and that it cannot prevent the wars and confusions which the respective electors carry on against each other? The Swiss cantons, or the Helvetic union, are equally inefficient. Such are the lessons which the experience of others affords us, and from whence results the evident conclusion that all federal governments are weak and distracted. To avoid the evils deducible from these observations, we must establish a general and national government, completely sovereign, and annihilate the State distinctions and State operations; and, unless we do this, no good purpose can be answered. What does the Jersey plan propose? It surely has not this for an object. By this we grant the regulation of trade and a more effectual collection of revenue and some partial duties. These at five or ten per cent, would only perhaps amount to a fund to discharge the debt of the corporation. Let us take a review of the variety of important objects, which must necessarily engage the attention of a national government. You have to protect your rights against Canada on the north, Spain on the south, and your western frontier against savages. You have to adopt necessary plans for the settlement of your frontiers, and to institute the mode in which settlements and good government are to be made. How is the expense of supporting and regulating these important matters to be defrayed? By requisition on the States according to the Jersey plan? Will this do it? We have already found it ineffectual. Let one State prove delinquent, and it will encourage others to follow the example; and thus the whole will fail. And what is the standard to quota among the States their respective proportions? Can lands be the standard? How would that apply between Russia and Holland? Compare Pennsylvania with North Carolina; or Connecticut with New York. Does not commerce or industry in the one or other make a great disparity between these different countries, and may not the comparative value of the States from these circumstances make an unequal disproportion when the data is numbers? I therefore conclude that either system would ultimately destroy the Confederation or any other government which is established on such fallacious principles. Perhaps imposts, taxes on specific articles, would produce a more equal system of drawing a revenue. Another objection to the Jersey plan is the unequal representation. Can the great States consent to this? If they did, it would eventually work its own destruction. How are forces to be raised by the Jersey plan? By quotas? Will the States comply with the requisition? As much as they will with the taxes. Examine the present Confederation and it is evident they can raise no troops, nor equip vessels, before war is actually declared. They cannot, therefore, take any preparatory measure before an enemy is at your door. How unwise and inadequate their powers! And this must ever be the case when they attempt to define powers. Something will always be wanting. Congress, by being annually elected, and subject to recall, will ever come with the prejudices of their States, rather than the good of the Union. Add, therefore, additional powers to a body thus organized, and you establish a sovereignty of the worst kind, consisting of a single body. Where are the checks? None. They must either prevail over the State governments, or the prevalence of the State governments must end in their dissolution. This is a conclusive objection to the Jersey plan. Such are the insuperable objections to both plans; and what is to be done on this occasion? I confess I am at a loss. I foresee the difficulty, on a consolidated plan, of drawing a representation from so extensive a continent to one place. What can be the inducements for gentlemen to come six hundred miles to a national Legislature? The expense would at least amount to £100,000. This, however, can be no conclusive objection, if it eventuates in an extinction of State governments. The burden of the latter would be saved, and the expense then would not be great. State distinctions would be found unnecessary; and yet, I confess, to carry government to extremities, the State governments, reduced to corporations and with very limited powers, might be necessary, and the expense of the national government become less burdensome. Yet, I confess, I see great difficulty of drawing forth a good representation. What, for example, will be the inducements for gentlemen of fortune and abilities to leave their houses and business to attend annually and long? It cannot be the wages; for these, I presume, must be small. Will not the power, therefore, be thrown into the hands of the demagogue or middling politician, who, for the sake of a small stipend and hopes of advancement, will offer himself as a candidate, and the real men of weight and influence, by remaining at home, add strength to the State governments? I am at a loss to know what must be done; I despair that a republican form of government can remove the difficulties. Whatever may be my opinion, I would hold it, however, unwise to change that form of government. I believe the British government forms the best model the world ever produced, and such has been its progress in the minds of many, that this truth gradually gains ground. This government has for its object public strength and individual security. It is said with us to be unattainable. If it was once formed it would maintain itself.
All communities divide themselves into the few and the many. The first are the rich and well-born, the other the mass of the people. The voice of the people has been said to be the voice of God; and, however generally this maxim has been quoted and believed, it is not true in fact. The people are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge or determine right. Give, therefore, to the first class a distinct, permanent share in the government. They will check the unsteadiness of the second, and, as they cannot receive any advantage by a change, they therefore will ever maintain good government. Can a democratic Assembly, who annually revolve in the mass of the people, be supposed steadily to pursue the public good? Nothing but a permanent body can check the imprudence of democracy. Their turbulent and uncontrolling disposition requires checks. The Senate of New York, although chosen for four years, we have found to be inefficient. Will, on the Virginia plan, a continuance of seven years do it? It is admitted that you cannot have a good Executive upon a democratic plan. See the excellency of the British Executive. He is placed above temptation. He can have no distinct interests from the public welfare. Nothing short of such an executive can be efficient. The weak side of a republican government is the danger of foreign influence. This is unavoidable, unless it is so constructed as to bring forward its first characters in its support. I am, therefore, for a general government, yet would wish to go the full length of republican principles. Let one body of the Legislature be constituted during good behavior or life. Let one Executive be appointed who dares execute his powers. It may be asked: Is this a republican system? It is strictly so, as long as they remain elective. And let me observe, that an Executive is less dangerous to the liberties of the people when in office during life, than for seven years. It may be said, this constitutes an elective monarchy. Pray, what is a monarchy? May not the governors of the respective States be considered in that light? But, by making the Executive subject to impeachment, the term monarchy cannot apply. These elective monarchs have produced tumults in Rome, and are equally dangerous to peace in Poland; but this cannot apply to the mode in which I would propose the election. Let electors be appointed in each of the States to elect the Executive, [here Mr. H. produced his plan, a copy whereof is hereunto annexed,] to consist of two branches; and I would give them the unlimited power of passing all laws, without exception. The Assembly to be elected for three years, by the people in districts. The Senate to be elected by electors to be chosen for that purpose by the people, and to remain in office during life. The Executive to have the power of negativing all laws; to make war or peace, with their advice, but to have the sole direction of all military operations, and to send ambassadors, and appoint all military officers; and to pardon all offenders, treason excepted, unless by advice of the Senate. On his death or removal, the President of the Senate to officiate, with the same powers, until another is elected. Supreme judicial officers to be appointed by the Executive and the Senate. The Legislature to appoint courts in each State, so as to make the State governments unnecessary to it. All State laws which contravene the general laws to be absolutely void. An officer to be appointed in each State, to have a negative on all State laws. All the militia, and the appointment of officers, to be under the national government. I confess that this plan and that from Virginia are very remote from the idea of the people. Perhaps the Jersey plan is nearest their expectation. But the people are gradually ripening in their opinions of government; they begin to be tired of an excess of democracy; and what even is the Virginia plan, but “pork still, with a little change of sauce.”—Yates, “Secret Proceedings,” etc.
June 19th, Colonel Hamilton said: I agree to the proposition. I did not intend, yesterday, a total extinguishment of State governments; but my meaning was, that a national government ought to be able to support itself without aid or interference of the State governments, and that therefore it was necessary to have full sovereignty. Even with corporate rights, the States will be dangerous to the national government, and ought to be extinguished, new modified, or reduced to a smaller scale.—Yates.
June 19th, Colonel Hamilton said: That he coincided with the proposition as it stood in the report. He had not been understood yesterday. By an abolition of the States, he meant that no boundary could be drawn between the National and State Legislatures; that the former must therefore have indefinite authority. If it were limited at all the rivalship of the States would gradually subvert it. Even as corporations, the extent of some of them, as Virginia, Massachusetts, etc., would be formidable. As States, he thought they ought to be abolished. But he admitted the necessity, of leaving in them subordinate jurisdictions. The examples of Persia and the Roman empire, cited by Mr. Wilson, were, he thought, in favor of his doctrine, the great powers delegated to the satraps and proconsuls having frequently produced revolts and schemes of independence.—Madison Papers.
June 19th, Colonel Hamilton said: I agree to Mr. Wilson's remark. Establish a weak government and you must at times overleap the bounds. Rome was obliged to create dictators. Cannot you make propositions to the people because we before confederated on other principles? The people can yield to them if they will. The three great objects of government—agriculture, commerce, and revenue—can only be secured by a general government.—Yates.
June 19th, Colonel Hamilton said: That he assented to the doctrine of Mr. Wilson. He denied the doctrine that the States were thrown into a state of nature. He was not yet prepared to admit the doctrine that the Confederacy could be dissolved by partial infractions of it. He admitted that the States met now on an equal footing, but could see no inference from that against concerting a change of the system in this particular. He took this occasion of observing, for the purpose of appeasing the fear of the small States, that two circumstances would render them secure under a national government in which they might lose the equality of rank which they now held: one was the local situation of the three largest States, Virginia, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania. They were separated from each other by distance of place, and equally so by all the peculiarities which distinguish the interests of one State from those of another. No combination, therefore, could be dreaded. In the second place, as there was a gradation in the States, from Virginia, the largest, down to Delaware, the smallest, it would always happen that ambitious combinations among a few States might and would be counteracted by defensive combinations of greater extent among the rest. No combination has been seen among the large counties, merely as such, against lesser counties. The more close the union of the States, and the more complete the authority of the whole, the less opportunity will be allowed to the stronger States to injure the weaker.—Madison Papers.
June 21st, Col. Hamilton said: It is essential to the democratic rights of the community, that this branch1 be directly elected by the people. Let us look forward to probable events. There may be a time when State legislation will cease, and such an event ought not to embarrass the national government.—Yates.
June 21st: Col. Hamilton considered the motion1 as intended manifestly to transfer the election from the people to the State Legislatures, which would essentially vitiate the plan. It would increase that State influence which could not be too watchfully guarded against. All, too, must admit the possibility, in case the general government should maintain itself, that the State governments might gradually dwindle into nothing. The system, therefore, should not be engrafted on what might possibly fail.—Madison Papers.
June 21st, Col. Hamilton said: There is a medium in every thing. I confess three years is not too long. A representative ought to have full freedom of deliberation and ought to exert an opinion of his own. I am convinced the public mind will adopt a solid plan. In the government of New York, although higher-toned than that of any other State, still we find great listlessness and indifference in the electors; nor do they, in general, bring forward the first characters to the Legislature. The public mind is perhaps not now ready to receive the best plan of government, but certain circumstances are now progressing which will give a different complexion to it.—Yates.
June 21st: Col. Hamilton urged the necessity of three years.1 . There ought to be neither too much nor too little dependence on the popular sentiments. The checks in the other branches of the government would be but feeble, and would need every auxiliary principle that could be interwoven. The British House of Commons were elected septennially, yet the democratic spirit of the constitution had not ceased. Frequency of elections tended to make the people listless to them, and to facilitate the success of little cabals. This evil was complained of in all the States. In Virginia it had been lately found necessary to force the attendance and voting of the people by severe regulations.—Madison Papers.
June 22d, Col. Hamilton said: I do not think the States ought to pay the members, nor am I for a fixed sum. It is a general remark, that he who pays is the master. If each State pays its own members, the burden would be disproportionate, according to the distance of the States from the seat of government. If a national government can exist, members will make it a desirable object to attend, without accepting any stipend; and it ought to be so organized as to be efficient.
It has been often asserted, that the interests of the general and of the State Legislatures are precisely the same. This cannot be true. The views of the governed are often materially different from those who govern. The science of policy is the knowledge of human nature. A State government will ever be the rival power of the general government. It is therefore highly improper that the State Legislatures should be the paymasters of the members of the national government. All political bodies love power, and it will often be improperly attained.—Yates.
June 22d, Col. Hamilton said; In all general questions which become the subjects of discussion, there are always some truths mixed with falsehoods. I confess, there is danger where men are capable of holding two offices. Take mankind in general, they are vicious, their passions may be operated upon. We have been taught to reprobate the danger of influence in the British government, without duly reflecting how far it was necessary to support a good government. We have taken up many ideas upon trust, and at last, pleased with our own opinions, establish them as undoubted truths. Hume's opinion of the British constitution confirms the remark, that there is always a body of firm patriots, who often shake a corrupt administration. Take mankind as they are, and what are they governed by? Their passions. There may be in every government a few choice spirits, who may act from more worthy motives. One great error is that we suppose mankind more honest than they are. Our prevailing passions are ambition and interest; and it will ever be the duty of a wise government to avail itself of the passions, in order to make them subservient to the public good; for these ever induce us to action. Perhaps a few men in a State may, from patriotic motives, or to display their talents, or to reap the advantage of public applause, step forward; but, if we adopt the clause,1 we destroy the motive. I am, therefore, against all exclusions and refinements, except only in this case: that, when a member takes his seat, he should vacate every other office. It is difficult to put any exclusive regulation into effect. We must, in some degree, submit to the inconvenience.—Yates.
On the question of ineligibility of members of Congress to office, Colonel Hamilton said, June 22d: There are inconveniences on both sides. We must take man as we find him; and if we expect him to serve the public, must interest his passions in doing so. A reliance on pure patriotism had been the source of many of our errors. He thought the remark of Mr. Gorham a just one. It was impossible to say what would be the effect in Great Britain of such a reform as had been urged. It was known that one of the ablest politicians (Mr. Hume) had pronounced that all that influence on the side of the Crown which went under the name of corruption, was an essential part of the weight which maintained the equilibrium of the constitution.—Madison Papers.
On tenure of Senate, Col. Hamilton said, June 22d: That he did not mean to enter particularly into the subject. He concurred with Mr. Madison in thinking we were now to decide for ever the fate of republican government; and that if we did not give to that form due stability and wisdom, it would be disgraced and lost among ourselves, disgraced and lost to mankind for ever. He acknowledged himself not to think favorably of republican government; but addressed his remarks to those who did think favorably of it, in order to prevail on them to tone their government as high as possible. He professed himself to be as zealous an advocate for liberty as any man whatever; and trusted he should be as willing a martyr to it, though he differed as to the form in which it was most eligible. He concurred, also, in the general observations of Mr. Madison on the subject, which might be supported by others if it were necessary. It was certainly true, that nothing like an equality of property existed; that an inequality would exist as long as liberty existed, and that it would unavoidably result from that very liberty itself. This inequality of property constituted the great and fundamental distinction in society. When the tribunitial power had levelled the boundary between the particians and plebeians, what followed? The distinction between rich and poor was substituted. He meant not, however, to enlarge on the subject. He arose principally to remark that Mr. Sherman seemed not to recollect that one branch of the proposed government was so formed as to render it particularly the guardians of the poorer orders of citizens; nor to have adverted to the true causes of the stability which had been exemplified in Connecticut. Under the British system, as well as the Federal, many of the great powers appertaining to government, particularly all those relating to foreign nations, were not in the hands of the government there. Their internal affairs, also, were extremely simple, owing to sundry causes, many of which were peculiar to that country. Of late the government had entirely given way to the people, and had, in fact, suspended many of its ordinary functions, in order to prevent those turbulent scenes which had appeared elsewhere. He asks Mr. Sherman whether the State, at this time, dare impose and collect a tax on the people? To these causes, and not to the frequency of elections, the effect, as far as it existed, ought to be chiefly ascribed.—Madison Papers.
June 26th, Col. Hamilton said: This question has already been considered in several points of view. We are now forming a republican government. Real liberty is never found in despotism or the extremes of democracy, but in moderate governments. Those who mean to form a solid republican government ought to proceed to the confines of another government. As long as offices are open to all men, and no constitutional rank is established, it is pure republicanism. But if we incline too much to democracy, we shall soon shoot into a monarchy. The difference of property is already great among us. Commerce and industry will still increase the disparity. Your government must meet this state of things, or combinations will in process of time undermine your system. What was the tribunitial power of Rome? It was instituted by the plebeians as a guard against the patricians. But was this a sufficient check? No! The only distinction which remained at Rome was, at last, between the rich and the poor. The gentleman from Connecticut forgets that the democratic body is already secure in a representation. As to Connecticut, what were the little objects of their government before the Revolution? Colonial concerns merely. They ought now to act on a more extended scale; and dare they do this? Dare they collect the taxes and requisitions of Congress? Such a government may do well if they do not tax, and this is precisely their situation.—Yates.
June 29th, Col. Hamilton said: The course of my experience in human affairs might, perhaps, restrain me from saying much on this subject. I shall, however, give utterance to some of the observations I have made during the course of this debate. The gentleman from Maryland has been at great pains to establish positions which are not denied. Many of them, as drawn from the best writers on government, are become self-evident principles. But I doubt the propriety of his application of those principles in the present discussion. He deduces from them the necessity that States entering into a confederacy must retain the equality of votes. This position cannot be correct. Facts contradict it. The Parliament of Great Britain asserted a supremacy over the whole empire, and the celebrated Judge Blackstone labors for the legality of it, although many parts were not represented. This parliamentary power we opposed as contrary to our colonial rights. With that exception, throughout that whole empire it is submitted to.
May not the smaller and greater States so modify their respective rights as to establish the general interest of the whole without adhering to the right of equality? Strict representation is not observed in any of the State governments. The Senate of New York are chosen by persons of certain qualifications to the exclusion of others.
The question after all is—Is it our interest, in modifying this general government, to sacrifice individual rights to the preservation of the rights of an artificial being, called States? There can be no truer principle than this—That every individual of the community at large has an equal right to the protection of government. If, therefore, three States contain a majority of the inhabitants of America, ought they to be governed by a minority? Would the inhabitants of the great States ever submit to this? If the smaller States maintain this principle through a love of power, will not the larger, from the same motives, be equally tenacious to preserve their power? They are to surrender their rights—for what? For the preservation of an artificial being. We propose a free government. Can it be so, if partial distinctions are maintained?
I agree with the gentleman from Delaware, that if the State governments are to act in the general government, it affords the strongest reason for exclusion. In the State of New York five counties form a majority of representatives, and yet the government is in no danger, because the laws have a general operation. The small States exaggerate their danger, and on this ground contend for an undue proportion of power. But their danger is increased if the larger States will not submit to it. Where will they form new alliances for their support? Will they do this with foreign powers? Foreigners are jealous of our increasing greatness, and would rejoice in our distractions. Those who have had opportunities of conversing with foreigners respecting sovereigns in Europe, have discovered in them an anxiety for the preservation of our democratic governments, probably for no other reason but to keep us weak. Unless your government is respectable, foreigners will invade your rights, and to maintain tranquillity it must be respectable. Even to observe neutrality you must have a strong government.
I confess our present situation is critical. We have just finished a war which has established our independence and loaded us with a heavy debt. We have still every motive to unite for our common defence. Our people are disposed to have a good government, but this disposition may not always prevail. It is difficult to amend confederations; it has been attempted in vain, and it is perhaps a miracle that we are now met. We must therefore improve the opportunity and render the present system as perfect as possible. Their good-sense and, above all, the necessity of their affairs will induce the people to adopt it.—Yates.
June 29th, Mr. Hamilton observed: That individuals forming political societies modify their rights differently, with regard to suffrage. Examples of it are found in all the States. In all of them, some individuals are deprived of the right altogether, not having the requisite qualification of property. In some of the States, the right of suffrage is allowed in some cases, and refused in others. To vote for a member in one branch a certain quantum of property, to vote for a member in another branch of the Legislature a higher quantum of property, is required. In like manner, States may modify their right of suffrage differently, the larger exercising a larger, the smaller a smaller, share of it. But as States are collections of individual men, which ought we to respect most, the rights of the people composing them, or of the artificial beings resulting from the composition? Nothing could be more preposterous or absurd than to sacrifice the former to the latter. It has been said that if the smaller States renounce their equality, they renounce at the same time their liberty. The truth is, it is a contest for power, not for liberty. Will the men composing the small States be less free than those composing the larger? The State of Delaware, having forty thousand souls, will lose power if she has one tenth only of the votes allowed to Pennsylvania, having four hundred thousand; but will the people of Delaware be less free, if each citizen has an equal vote with each citizen of Pennsylvania? He admitted that common residence within the same State would produce a certain degree of attachment, and that this principle might have a certain influence on public affairs. He thought, however, that this might, by some precautions, be in a great measure excluded; and that no material inconvenience could result from it, as there could not be any ground for combination among the States whose influence was most dreaded. The only considerable distinction of interests lay between the carrying and non-carrying States, which divides, instead of uniting, the largest States. No considerable inconvenience had been found from the division of the State of New York into different districts of different sizes. Some of the consequences of a dissolution of the Union and the establishment of partial confederacies had been pointed out. He would add another of a most serious nature. Alliances will immediately be formed with different rival and hostile nations of Europe, who will foment disturbances among ourselves, and make us parties to all their own quarrels. Foreign nations having no American dominion are, and must be, jealous of us. Their representatives betray the utmost anxiety for our fate, and for the result of this meeting, which must have an essential influence on it. It had been said that respectability in the eyes of foreign nations was not the object at which we aimed; that the proper object of republican government was domestic tranquillity and happiness. This was an ideal distinction. No government could give us tranquillity and happiness at home which did not possess sufficient stability and strength to make us respectable abroad. This was the critical moment for forming such a government. We should run every risk in trusting to future amendments. As yet we retain the habits of union. We are weak, and sensible of our weakness. Henceforward the motives will become feebler and the difficulties greater. It is a miracle that we are now here, exercising our tranquil and free deliberations on the subject. It would be madness to trust to future miracles. A thousand causes must obstruct a reproduction of them.—Madison Papers.
Aug. 13th, Col. Hamilton said: That he was, in general, against embarrassing the government with minute restrictions.1 There was, on one side, the possible danger that had been suggested. On the other side, the advantage of encouraging foreigners was obvious and admitted. Persons in Europe of moderate fortunes will be fond of coming here, where they will be on a level with the first citizens. He moved that the section be so altered as to require merely “citizenship and inhabitancy.” The right of determining the rule of naturalization will then leave a discretion to the Legislature on this subject, which will answer every purpose.—Madison Papers.
Sept. 5th, Mr. Hamilton said: That he had been restrained from entering into the discussions by his dislike of the scheme of government in general; but as he meant to support the plan to be recommended as better than nothing, he wished in this place to offer a few remarks. He liked the new modification, on the whole, better than that in the printed report. In this the President was a monster, elected for seven years, and ineligible afterward; having great powers in appointments to office; and continually tempted, by this constitutional disqualification, to abuse them in order to subvert the government. Although he should be made re-eligible, still, if appointed by the Legislature, he would be tempted to make use of corrupt influence to be continued in office. It seemed particularly desirable, therefore, that some other mode of election should be devised. Considering the different views of different States, and the different districts, Northern, Middle, and Southern, he concurred with those who thought that the votes would not be concentred, and that the appointment would, consequently, in the present mode, devolve on the Senate. The nomination to offices will give great weight to the President. Here, then, is a mutual connection and influence, that will perpetuate the President, and aggrandize both him and the Senate. What is to be the remedy? He saw none better than to let the highest number of ballots, whether a majority or not, appoint the President. What was the objection to this? Merely that too small a number might appoint. But, as the plan stands, the Senate may take the candidate having the smallest number of votes, and make him President.—Madison Papers.
Sept. 8th, Col. Hamilton expressed himself with great earnestness and anxiety in favor of the motion.1 He avowed himself a friend to a vigorous government, but would declare, at the same time, he held it essential that the popular branch of it should be on a broad foundation. He was seriously of opinion that the House of Representatives was on so narrow a scale as to be really dangerous, and to warrant a jealousy in the people for their liberties. He remarked that the connection between the President and Senate would tend to perpetuate him, by corrupt influence. It was the more necessary on this account that a numerous representation in the other branch of the Legislature should be established.—Madison Papers.
Sept. 10th, Mr. Hamilton seconded the motion,1 but, he said, with a different view from Mr. Gerry. He did not object to the consequences stated by Mr. Gerry. There was no greater evil in subjecting the people of the United States to the major voice, than the people of a particular State. It had been wished by many, and was much to have been desired, that an easier mode of introducing amendments had been provided by the Articles of the Confederation. It was equally desirable now, that an easy mode should be established for supplying defects which will probably appear in the new system. The mode proposed was not adequate. The State Legislatures will not apply for alterations but with a view to increase their own powers. The National Legislature will be the first to perceive, and will be most sensible to, the necessity of amendments; and ought also to be empowered, whenever two thirds of each branch should concur, to call a convention. There could be no danger in giving this power, as the people would finally decide in the case.—Madison Papers.
Sept. 17th, Mr. Hamilton expressed his anxiety that every member should sign. A few characters of consequence, by opposing, or even refusing to sign the Constitution, might do infinite mischief by kindling the latent sparks that lurk under an enthusiasm in favor of the convention, which may soon subside. No man's ideas were more remote from the plan than his own were known to be; but is it possible to deliberate between anarchy and convulsion on one side, and the chance of good to be expected from the plan on the other?—Madison Papers.
This brief comes from the Hamilton papers, and taken in conjunction with the minutes of Madison and Yates, which follow, gives us the best idea we can now obtain of this memorable speech. The two versions of Yates and Hamilton well deserve study.
This is Yates's report of the preceding speech. It is a little more life-like and vigorous than Madison's. Judge Yates, however, was Hamilton's colleague, and in utter opposition to him on all points, so that personal prejudices probably make this version less fair and authentic than that of Madison. Madison's report, moreover, has the advantage of having been examined and approved by Hamilton himself.
Motion by Pinckney to have upper branch appointed in such manner as State Legislatures may direct.
For the lower branch.
Forbidding representatives to hold any other office.
Just after this speech, Hamilton, crippled in all his efforts by the departure of his colleagues, Yates and Lansing, left the convention, and did not return until September. Yates and Lansing had withdrawn July 5th, and did not return at all. The State of New York had, therefore, no representation, and Hamilton could only cast his individual vote, which was, of course, utterly without effect.
By Mr. Williamson, to increase the number of the House of Representatives.
Motion by Mr. Gerry to reconsider Article 19, providing for amendments to the Constitution, because it gave too much power to the majority of the States.