Hamilton: Address of the Annapolis Convention, 1786


Alexander Hamilton was a Founding Father, soldier, economist, political philosopher, one of America’s first constitutional lawyers and the first United States Secretary of the Treasury.

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Alexander Hamilton: The Works of Alexander Hamilton, Volume 1, 1774: Address of the Annapolis Convention, 1786


To the Honorable the Legislatures of Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New York. 1

The commissioners from the said States, respectively, assembled at Annapolis, humbly beg leave to report: That pursuant to their several appointments they met at Annapolis, in the State of Maryland, on the eleventh day of September, instant, and having proceeded to a communication of their powers, they found that the States of New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia had, in substance, and nearly in the same terms, authorized their respective commissioners to meet such commissioners as were or might be appointed by the other States in the Union, at such time and place as should be agreed upon by the said commissioners, to take into consideration the trade and commerce of the United States, to consider how far a uniform system in their commercial intercourse and regulations might be necessary to their common interest and permanent harmony, and to report to the several States such an act relative to this great object as, when unanimously ratified by them, would enable the United States in Congress assembled effectually to provide for the same.

That the State of Delaware had given similar powers to their commissioners; with this difference only, that the act to be framed in virtue of these powers is required to be reported “to the United States in Congress assembled, to be agreed to by them, and confirmed by the Legislature of every State.”

That the State of New Jersey had enlarged the object of their appointment, empowering their commissioners “to consider how far a uniform system in their commercial regulations, and other important matters, might be necessary to the common interest and permanent harmony of the several States; and to report such an act on the subject as, when ratified by them, would enable the United States in Congress assembled effectually to provide for the exigencies of the Union.”

That appointments of commissioners have also been made by the States of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and North Carolina, none of whom, however, have attended. But that no information has been received by your commissioners of any appointment having been made by the States of Connecticut, Maryland, South Carolina, or Georgia. That the express terms of the powers to your commissioners supposing a deputation from all the States, and having for their object the trade and commerce of the United States, your commissioners did not conceive it advisable to proceed to the business of their mission under the circumstances of so partial and defective a representation.

Deeply impressed, however, with the magnitude and importance of the object confided to them on this occasion, your commissioners cannot forbear to indulge an expression of their earnest and unanimous wish that speedy measures may be taken to effect a general meeting of the States in a future convention for the same, and such other purposes as the situation of public affairs may be found to require.

If in expressing this wish, or intimating any further sentiment, your commissioners should seem to exceed the strict bounds of their appointment, they entertain a full confidence that a conduct dictated by an anxiety for the welfare of the United States will not fail to receive a favorable construction. In this persuasion, your commissioners submit an opinion that the idea of extending the powers of their deputies to other subjects than those of commerce, which had been adopted by the State of New Jersey, was an improvement on the original plan, and will deserve to be incorporated into that of a future convention. They are the more naturally led to this conclusion, as, in the course of their reflections on the subject, they have been induced to think that the power of regulating trade is of such comprehensive extent, and will enter so far into the general system of the Federal Government, that to give it efficacy, and to obviate questions and doubts concerning its precise nature and limits, may require a correspondent adjustment of other parts of the Federal system. That there are important defects in the system of the Federal Government is acknowledged by the acts of all those States which have concurred in the present meeting; that the defects upon a closer examination may be found greater and more numerous than even these acts imply, is at least so far probable, from the embarrassments which characterize the present state of our national affairs, foreign and domestic, as may reasonably be supposed to merit a deliberate and candid discussion in some mode which will unite the sentiments and councils of all the States.

In the choice of the mode, your commissioners are of the opinion that a convention of deputies from the different States for the special and sole purpose of entering into this investigation, and digesting a plan of supplying such defects as may be discovered to exist, will be entitled to a preference, from considerations which will occur without being particularized. Your commissioners decline an enumeration of those national circumstances on which their opinion respecting the propriety of a future convention with those enlarged powers is founded, as it would be an intrusion of facts and observations, most of which have been frequently the subject of public discussion, and none of which can have escaped the penetration of those to whom they would in this instance be addressed.

They are, however, of a nature so serious as, in the view of your commissioners, to render the situation of the United States delicate and critical, calling for an exertion of the united virtue and wisdom of all the members of the Confederacy. Under this impression your commissioners, with the most respectful deference, beg leave to suggest their unanimous conviction, that it may effectually tend to advance the interests of the Union, if the States by which they have been respectively delegated would concur themselves and use their endeavors to procure the concurrence of the other States in the appointment of commissioners to meet at Philadelphia on the second Monday in May next, to take into consideration the situation of the United States, to devise such further provisions as shall appear to them necessary to render the Constitution of the Federal Government adequate to the exigencies of the Union, and to report such an act for that purpose to the United States in Congress assembled as, when agreed to by them and afterwards confirmed by the Legislature of every State, will effectually provide for the same.

Though your commissioners could not with propriety address these observations and sentiments to any but the States they have the honor to represent, they have nevertheless concluded, from motives of respect, to transmit copies of this report to the United States in Congress assembled, and to the Executives of the other States.

Notes

1 The Annapolis Convention was a meeting in 1786 at Annapolis, Maryland, of 12 delegates from five states (New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Virginia) that unanimously called for a constitutional convention. The formal title of the meeting was “A Meeting of Commissioners to Remedy Defects of the Federal Government.” Long dissatisfied with the weak Articles of Confederation, Alexander Hamilton of New York played a major leadership role. He drafted its resolution for a constitutional convention, and in doing so brought his longtime desire to have a more powerful, more financially independent federal government one step closer to reality.



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The Works of Alexander Hamilton, ed. Henry Cabot Lodge (Federal Edition) (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904). In 12 vols. The copyright for the original of this document is held in the Public Domain. Font, formatting, spelling modernizations, typo/transcription corrections, and explanatory footnotes for this version of  ”The Works of Alexander Hamilton” Copyright © 2011 Steve Farrell and The Moral Liberal.