On this day in 1788, James Madison, the “Father of the Constitution,” writes a letter to his father. New York had ratified the U.S. Constitution only one day earlier!
The New York ratifying convention had been in an interesting situation. On June 24, it received news that New Hampshire had ratified the Constitution. New Hampshire was the ninth state, so its vote meant that the Constitution would go into effect.
In other words, the United States of America would exist, with or without New York!
Thus, the question before the New York ratifying convention took on a new nuance. In a way, they were no longer helping to create the United States. They were simply deciding whether to join.
Interestingly, on that very same day, Alexander Hamilton gave a speech in which he argued that the federal government could not possibly become too powerful. The state governments, he thought, would keep the federal government in line.
“Gentlemen indulge too many unreasonable apprehensions of danger to the State governments,” he stated. “[T]hey seem to suppose that the moment you put men into a national council, they become corrupt and tyrannical and lose all their affection for their fellow citizens. But can we imagine that the Senators will ever be so insensible of their own advantage as to sacrifice the genuine interest of their constituents?”
To the contrary, he argued, the “State governments are essentially necessary to the form and spirit of the general system.” Congress, too, will know this and will act accordingly. He concludes: “This conviction can never leave them, unless they become madmen.”
How many New York delegates voted for the Constitution expecting (or at least hoping) that the federal government would not become too powerful? And what would they think if they saw how things have turned out?
- Alexander Hamilton, Speech delivered at the New York convention called to ratify the Constitution of the United States (June 24, 1788)
- Letter from James Madison to James Madison, Sr. (July 27, 1788)
- Pauline Maier, Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788 (2010)