A Biography of Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804)

Constitutional Convention (May-September 1787)

In 1787, a group of armed farmers, some 800 in number, marched on the state supreme court in Springfield, Massachusetts after a lengthy rampage across the western part of the state. The farmers were protesting heavy land taxes and other fiscal policies which threatened to bankrupt them, many of whom were revolutionary war veterans like their leader, Daniel Shays. Although the protest was eventually quelled by military force, it sent shockwaves throughout the nation. Shays' Rebellion prompted fears of similar uprisings in other states, and citizens and congress alike warmed up to the Annapolis proposal. Though the idea of a closed-door convention to decide the fate of the nation was cause for widespread unease, vehement opposition was tempered by the fact that it would be attended by the country's most beloved political luminaries. The presences of Franklin and Washington alone gave the project legitimacy; add to that a host of local political giants, men who assuredly would not sell the good of the people down the river.

And then there was the delegation from New York.

Hamilton had quite deftly painted himself into a corner. George Clinton, the perpetual governor and proud patriarch of the state, was becoming increasingly alarmed by the nationalist tendencies of his erstwhile protegee. A stronger federal union promised to encroach upon his kingdom, and he was reluctant to relinquish any of it. Hamilton, who enjoyed a warm relationship with Clinton since the early days of the war, had corresponded regularly and candidly with him, baring his federalist soul, and never dreaming that he would one day end up at loggerheads with the state's supreme power broker. When that day came, few knew Hamilton's political mindset better than governor Clinton; and Hamilton must have realized with chagrin the advantage he had so freely given his enemy.

The state assembly granted Hamilton the five man delegation he requested, which he had planned to fill out with other federally-minded men. The Clinton faction in the senate foiled the plan by appointing a delegation of three: Hamilton, and two ardent Clintonians handpicked to keep the young firebrand in check, John Lansing and Robert Yates.

The convention opened with three major presentations: The Virginia Plan, which favored larger states by calling for representation by population; the New Jersey Plan, containing provisions for smaller states; and the Hamilton Plan, presented by its thirty-two year old author in a five hour speech, the longest of the convention.