Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for July 10th, 2010

From beginning to end, the Federal Convention in Philadelphia had its share of detractors.  Some of them, like Rhode Island, were against even the formation of a convention.  The small state would send no delegates and, of the 13 Colonies, would be the very last to ratify the document that came from the three-month gathering.

Others became disenchanted after spending a little time in Independence Hall and getting a feel for how the “political winds” were blowing.  For numerous delegates, the Articles of Confederation were adequate, or maybe just needed some tweaking.  Furthermore, the Congress had allowed the meeting with the proviso that its sole purpose was to revise the Articles.

So when Edmund Randolph took the dais on May 29th and proposed what was essentially a clean break from the Articles, not a few delegates became clear opponents.  We’ve talked about Luther Martin and his ponderous diatribes against all aspects of the Convention.  He and fellow Marylander John Mercer would end up leaving the Convention as a show of protest to the proceedings.

There was Gunning Bedford, whose paranoia over large-state dominance led to his thinly-veiled threat that small states might resort to foreign governments to assist them.  This kind of talk was a direct assault on the very purpose of the Convention.  In fact, it was an attack on the Articles of Confederation already in place.  It was close to talking treason.  But such were the strong feelings.  As we have said before, change in the 18th century (often referred to as “innovation”) was charged with negative connotations.

New York’s delegation was deeply split on the Convention.  On the one side was Alexander Hamilton.  For years he had been saying that the Articles of Confederation were weak.  They were adequate for an American Revolution, but for the future, they simply didn’t cut it.  Numerous editorials and newspaper articles, authored by his pen, sought to build support for revision.  And while he might not have been preeminent at the Convention, no delegate present could say he had done more to push for the Convention than Hamilton.  On the other side were Robert Yates and John Lansing, Jr.  These two men, related by marriage, were close associates with George Clinton, New York’s governor.  Clinton’s strong opposition to changing the status-quo was passed on to his subordinates.

And by July, the divide in the New York delegation had reached the breaking point.  Hamilton, much chagrined for his proposals in June (which we’ve mentioned but will cover in greater detail down the line), had left the Convention to return to his law practice (but don’t worry, he would come back to Philadelphia and ultimately sign the Constitution).  But Yates and Lansing simply could not come to ideological terms with the road the Convention was taking, and both walked out in protest, the first delegates to do so.

The problem comes with establishing a firm date for their departures.  Catherine Bowen lists the date as July 10, 1787.  Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton lists July 6th.  Ralph Ketchum, in his biography of James Madison, doesn’t actually list a date, but the text lends itself to a “second week of July” timeframe.  Various sources on the Internet list July 5th, 6th, and 10th.  I don’t find a solid consensus.  But because I saw as many references to the 10th as any other date, I’m going with that.

And truthfully, in this particular case, I’m willing to let the date remain in limbo a bit, simply because 1) the 10th is as likely to be correct as any other date, and 2) the main idea is to convey that opposition was strong enough to cause delegates to leave.  Yates and Lansing were the first…they would not be the last.

Recommended Reading: Miracle at Philadelphia

Read Full Post »