It didn’t take long for the leadership in the newly-freed 13 Colonies to realize that the current charter, the Articles of Confederation, were seriously lacking. A meeting was planned in September of 1786 in Annapolis, Maryland to address the issues, but only five Colonies were represented. So they decided to shelve the meeting and try again in May of the following year.
That meeting, which became known as the Constitutional Convention, lasted nearly four months and didn’t just amend the Articles, it wadded them up in a little ball and chucked them from the window into the Philadelphia heat and humidity.
An entirely new government had been created, and those present at the meetings now had to go to their respective homes and sell their constituents on the idea. In some states, that proved to be a most tedious process, and it didn’t take long to realize that 13 Colonies, united just a few years before under the push for independence, could just as quickly become ugly and divisive over the Constitution. Those that supported the new government were labeled Federalists, those against it, Antifederalists.
Nowhere was that better seen than in New York. When Alexander Hamilton (shown above) returned there from Philadelphia, the fight was waiting for him. Governor George Clinton, no friend of Hamilton’s and a staunch Antifederalist, campaigned hard against ratification. Marinus Willett, formerly one of the Sons of Liberty, called the document “a monster with open mouth and monstrous teeth ready to devour all before it.”
Hamilton, for his part, responded by taking on the secret identity of Publius and writing The Federalist Papers (with some help from James Madison and John Jay), a series of newspaper articles defending each piece of the Constitution to the New York public.
As the winter of 1787 turned into the spring of 1788, Colonies began achieving statehood by ratifying the Constitution. And in New York’s legislature, the battle continued. The Federalist Papers were bound and published, and James Madison distributed hundreds of copies in Virginia to aid with ratification.
But the tone of the argument changed radically when New Hampshire ratified the Constitution as the 9th state in June of 1788. The new government was now activated, and the debate was not over forming such a union, but rather joining it. Four days after New Hampshire, the Madison-led delegation passed ratification in Virginia.
Back in New York, Hamilton and his entourage put the screws to the Antifederalists. With tireless energy, he pushed and prodded the delegation. And finally, on July 26, 1788, a group of Antifederalists led by Melancton Smith (the leading voice of Gov. Clinton’s opposition) changed their votes. Ratification in New York had passed, and the Colony had become the 11st State in the Union.
Recommended Reading: Alexander Hamilton – Chernow’s work is all-engrossing and 100% worth the effort.