The Moral Liberal, Classics Library
Alexander Hamilton: The Works of Alexander Hamilton, Volume 1, 1774
Convention of New York 1788: Addresses* (after the Convention)
February 18, 1789.
To the Supervisors of the City of Albany, in the County of Albany.
Gentlemen:—The last Tuesday of April next being the day appointed by law for the election of a governor for the ensuing three years, the great importance of making a wise choice in the present peculiar situation of our local and national affairs appears to have made a deep impression on the minds of considerate men in the different parts of the State.
On the eleventh instant, a numerous meeting of respectable inhabitants was held in this city to consult on what was best to be done in relation to that object, and we have been advised that similar meetings have been held in some other counties.
The meeting in this city were unanimous in the result of their deliberations, and we, the subscribers, were appointed a committee to correspond with our fellow-citizens in the other counties upon the subject, in order that a mutual communication of sentiments might promote mutual confidence, and a happy concert in such a choice, as a dispassionate attention to the good of the community, divested of all particular attachments or dislikes, should be found to recommend.
The people of this State are the sovereigns of it, and being now called upon by their constitution to appoint a Chief Magistrate, it cannot but be useful that so high an act of sovereignty should be preceded by an interchange of ideas and sentiments, especially at so critical a juncture as the present; for at no period can it be more necessary to take care that our affairs be committed to the management of disinterested, discreet, and temperate rulers, than at a period when the heats of party are to be assuaged, discordant opinions reconciled, and all the inconveniences attending changes in national government provided against.
As this State is only part of a larger community, as its prosperity must therefore materially depend on its maintaining its due weight in the national scale, on its being charged with only its due proportion of public burdens, and on its deriving from the General Government its due share of favor and protection, it is evidently of the greatest moment that the people should be united and circumspect, and their rulers should be men who will neither be seduced by interest nor impelled by passion into designs or measures which may justly forfeit the confidence or friendship of the other members of the great national society.
On this ground it is highly necessary that the Chief Magistrate of the State should be free from all temptation wantonly to perplex or embarrass the National Government,—whether that temptation should arise from a preference of partial confederacies, from a spirit of competition with the national rulers for personal pre-eminence, from an impatience of the restraints of national authority, from the fear of a diminution of power and emoluments, from resentment or mortification proceeding from disappointment, or from any other cause whatsoever. For all attempts to perplex and embarrass, would not only tend to prevent the government from doing the good they may meditate, but would also expose this State to the distrust and ill-will of the others.
It is also of no inconsiderable consequence, in the same view, that the governor of the State should be of a disposition to pay those decent attentions, and practise that becoming republican hospitality, which the persons who administer the National Government, and distinguished strangers in public character, whom the affairs of the nation call to reside in our capital, have a right to expect. The dignity as well as the interests of the State require this, and ample provision is constantly made for it by the liberal salary and perquisites annexed to the office. A contrary conduct cannot fail to create disgust and contempt; and to draw not merely upon the magistrate himself, but, in some measure, upon the State, imputations not a little mortifying to a people long celebrated for their hospitality, and who uniformly enable their executive representative to maintain their character in this respect. For it can never be presumed to be their intention to attach such considerable emoluments to the office merely for the sake of enriching its possessor.**
Many considerations might be detailed to show the important light in which our political annexation as a member of the Union ought to be viewed, and to demonstrate how much the regulation of our trade, the repossession of our frontier posts, and various other important interests may be affected by our having much or little influence in the Confederacy. But this would lead to a discussion too long for the occasion, and, to reflecting men, would be unnecessary. Hence, however, this inference is to be drawn, that we cannot be too careful of keeping power and opportunity from those whom we have reason to believe may be predisposed to employ them in a manner calculated to alienate the friendship and confidence of our sister States.
As to the domestic situation of the State, it appeared to the meeting to be such as to admonish us to use great circumspection in the choice of a Governor. The council of appointment is so powerful an engine in the hands of a governor, for perpetuating himself in office, that his conduct in it cannot be regarded with too watchful an eye; because it is evident, that an artful man may, in the course of ten or twelve years, so fasten himself to the office, by means of this engine, as to become too indifferent to the opinion and control of the people, and perhaps immovable by the efforts of the virtuous and independent. Extremely free from blame, therefore, and from all suspicion of undue attachment to place or to profit, and very satisfactory to the community at large, ought to be the administration of a governor, to render it prudent in the people to leave so powerful an engine in his hands for a long succession of years.
As, on the one hand, in this council of appointment, the governor will, for the most part, have a preponderating influence, so, on the other, that influence will generally be exerted according to the views and wishes of the man. If he wishes to promote the public good, and to acquire fame and popularity by acting as the governor of the State, and not as the governor of a party, then merit in every situation will be cherished and employed. If, on the contrary, offices are to be the price of obedience, and men are to enjoy his favor no longer than they consent to be his tools, merit will be neglected, and the State must suffer by having the public business, in too many instances, intrusted to improper hands.
In addition to the parties which have too long existed in the State, on personal and particular grounds, it must be lamented that the new Constitution for the government of the United States has divided the community on a more extensive scale, and has occasioned animosities which have not yet ceased to operate. On that great question very honest men took opposite sides; and those who were not honest assisted in “troubling the waters.”
But certainly it is now high time that those parties should subside; and should, for the sake of the public good, unite; agreeing in these two points, that all should join in supporting the Constitution established by the people of the United States, and that all should join in obtaining a reconsideration of the parts which have been the subject of objection, in order that every reasonable and safe endeavor may be used to give universal satisfaction, to remove the apprehensions entertained by the honest opponents of the system, and to provide, if upon cool and deliberate examination any be found requisite, such additional securities to the liberties of the people as shall be compatible with the salutary and necessary energy of an efficient National Government. To such a compromise, it is essential that the unhappy divisions which now exist among us should be buried. And to this end it is equally essential that our first magistrate should be a man of moderation, sincerely disposed to heal, not to widen, those divisions; to promote conciliation, not dissension; to allay, not to excite, the fermentations of party spirit; and to restore that cordial good-will and mutual confidence which ought to exist among a people bound to each other by all the ties which connect members of the same society.
It is seriously to be deplored that dissension reigns in the most important departments of the State, and as dissensions among brethren, so destructive to the happiness of families, are often appeased by parental influence and prudence, so there is good reason to flatter ourselves that a Chief Magistrate, sincerely desirous of re-establishing concord, may without much difficulty effect it, especially if he should owe his exaltation to the votes of both the contending parties.
Reflections of this nature had their full weight in forming the opinion of the meeting which appointed us, not only as to the necessity of choosing some other person than the present governor, but as to the man whom it would be desirable to substitute.
As we are aware that the warm partisans of men in office are apt to represent every attempt to change them as a species of personal injury, we think it necessary to remark in this place, that at the expiration of his three years the Constitution will return the present Chief Magistrate to the mass of the people. The question is not, therefore, whether he shall be put out, but whether he shall be put in. As no man has a right to office, or re-election, in virtue of long possession, no man, of course, can have a right to complain if the people do not think it proper to continue to be governed by him.
In the consideration of the character most proper to be held up at the ensuing election, some difficulties occurred. Our fellow-citizens in some parts of the State had proposed Judge Yates, others had been advocates of the Lieutenant-Governor, and others for Chief-Justice Morris. It is well known that the inhabitants of this city are, with few exceptions, strongly attached to the New Constitution, and have been remarkably unanimous and active in its support. It is also well known that Lieutenant-Governor Cortland, and Chief-Justice Morris, whom we respect and esteem, were zealous advocates for the same cause. Had it been agreed to support either of them for the office of governor, there would have been reason to fear that the measure would have been imputed to party, and not to a desire of relieving our country from the evils they experience from the heats of party. It appeared, therefore, most advisable to elect some man of the opposite party in whose integrity, patriotism, and temper confidence might be placed, however little his political opinions on the question lately agitated might be approved by those who were assembled upon the occasion.
Among the persons of this description, there were circumstances which led to a decision in favor of Judge Yates. And we flatter ourselves that this decision, to those who are acquainted with the situation of the State, will be most likely to appear well founded. It is certain that as a man and a judge he is generally esteemed. And though his opposition to the New Constitution was such as his friends cannot but disapprove, yet, since the period of its adoption, his conduct has been tempered with a degree of moderation, and regard to peace and decorum, which entitle him to credit; and seem to point him out as a man likely to compose the differences of the State, and to unite its citizens in the harmonious pursuit of their common and genuine interest.
Of this at least we feel confident, that he has no personal revenge to gratify, no opponents to oppress, no partisans to provide for, nor any promises for personal purposes to be performed at the public expense. On the contrary, we trust he will be found to be a man who looks with an equal eye on his fellow-citizens, and who will be more ambitious of leaving a good name than a good estate to his posterity.
For these, and for other reasons, which considerations of decorum induce us to pass over in silence, the meeting was unanimously of opinion that it would be advisable to try Judge Yates as our governor for the next three years. They were persuaded that the State could not lose by the experiment, and entertained strong hopes that much good would redound to it from his administration.
We shall be happy to find that the same reasons, and that regard for the public weal, which has at all times distinguished their conduct, may induce the Lieutenant-Governor and Chief-Justice Morris to forbear a competition which can evidently, under the existing circumstances, answer no good purpose; and that they, and their particular friends, do generously join with their fellow-citizens of every place and party, in promoting the election of Mr. Yates, as the only candidate likely to succeed, whose character affords a prospect that he will, under Providence, be instrumental in preserving and advancing the dignity and interests of the people, and in restoring to them the blessings of union and cordiality at home and respect abroad.
It will give us great pleasure to learn the sentiments of your county on this important subject, and to know that they coincide with those which we entertain, and which we have every reason to believe, correspond with the general sense of the people of this city and county. We acknowledge that we feel a very serious anxiety for the issue; and that, from the most mature reflection, we regard a change in the person of the Chief Magistrate, as a matter of high importance to the tranquillity and prosperity of the State. Nor can we forbear, as brethren and fellow-citizens, earnestly to exhort the inhabitants of your county to weigh well the importance of the opportunity which the approaching election presents to them, and to resolve to exercise their right of suffrage, in that unbiassed and independent manner, which becomes a free and enlightened people. We shall only add, that it is manifestly essential to ensure success to the attempt, that all those who concur in the expediency of a change should zealously unite in the support of the same candidate.
I have the honor to be,
Your obedient servant,
By order of the committee,
To the Independent and Patriotic Electors of the State of New York.***
In our last address we mentioned to you our intention of offering some remarks upon that which has been lately published by the committee appointed to promote the re-election of our present Governor. This we shall now do; and we flatter ourselves that what we shall say will meet with your candid and serious attention. Respect for ourselves, as well as for you, will prevent our imitating the spirit of invective and uncandid speculation which abounds in that performance. Acting, as we trust we do, from reason, not from passion, we shall continue to address ourselves to the reason, not to the passions, of our fellow-citizens.
The writers of the address in question set out with describing to us the long services of the present Governor—his meritorious administration during the late war, his good conduct in preserving peace and order within the southern district, after its evacuation by the British forces.
We feel no inclination to detract from the merit of the Governor’s services during the war, nor shall we examine whether they have been overrated or not. We are ready to acknowledge that they were considerable, and that they entitled him to the esteem of his country.
With regard to the credit given to him for the order preserved in this part of the State after the peace, we shall only observe that at the most critical period, the management of affairs was in the hands of the council appointed for the temporary government of the southern district, in which the Governor had no greater agency than any other individual member.
But, admitting all that can be asked in either of these respects, it surely will not follow that we ought therefore to consent to be perpetually governed by the same man, however exceptionable his subsequent conduct may have been. If he has departed from the principles by which he may have been once actuated; if he has quitted the pursuit of the public good for that of a selfish and interested policy; if he has betrayed a stronger attachment to his own power, influence, and advantage than to the dignity, respectability, and prosperity of the people; if, instead of being the impartial head of the State, he has become the zealous head of a party in it; if, instead of acting as the appeaser and calmer, he has in any instance acted as the fomenter, of dissension; if he has at any time contributed to sacrificing the interests of the State by encouraging the obstinacy and intemperance of party conflicts;—in either of these suppositions, the merit of his early administration will be a very insufficient recommendation to the future choice of the community.
How far imputations of this kind may be applicable to the conduct of the Governor for some years past, we forbear particularly to discuss. It is certain, however, that a very large proportion of the community are now, on different accounts, greatly dissatisfied with his administration, and that many more entertain serious doubts and apprehensions. The presumption is, that this has not happened without cause. Moderate and discreet men of all parties will at least agree that the existence of such a state of things, from whatever source it may proceed, is a real evil which calls for some effectual remedy. When discontents with the head of the State have taken possession of a large part of the people, and have been produced by causes which render them likely to last, they form in republican governments a powerful reason for a change, as perhaps the only means of securing or re-establishing confidence in the government. When those discontents are immediately connected with the party divisions which exist in the State, such a change will generally be found essential to the restoration of harmony among the citizens (a blessing which cannot be too highly prized nor too anxiously promoted).
That the spirit of party has attained an alarming and pernicious height in the State, must be apparent to all dispassionate observers. It has been conclusively witnessed in the last session of the Legislature. Which of the parties was right, which wrong, would be an endless discussion. But it cannot admit of a doubt that the interests of the State have suffered in the contest;1 and there is too much probability that they will continue to suffer from the same spirit, until there is at the head of the State a man who enjoys the good-will of both parties, and is disposed to temper and heal their mutual irritations.
On the subject of the parties which exist in the State, much is said in the address under consideration. Some of the observations contained in it are just, but we do not conceive apply to the case; others of them appear to us altogether fallacious.
It is just, for instance, that difference of opinion, on a great political question occasionally arising in a community, does not constitute what is understood by spirit of party. Men, in such cases, ought to take their sides according to their convictions, though they should be cautious not to suffer their zeal to hurry them into irrational extremes.
But when the Governor is objected to as the head of a party, we presume it is not on account of the side he took in the question concerning the new Constitution. It is true, indeed, that the friends of that Constitution are of opinion that circumstances have attended the Governor’s conduct in relation to it, before it appeared, after it appeared, and before its adoption, and even since its adoption, which savor of prejudice and intemperance, and subject him to suspicions derogatory to his prudence and patriotism. But the objection to him as the head of a party reaches much further back than the new Constitution. Discerning men, soon after the peace, perceived that he had formed a close connection with a particular set of characters, in whose public and private views he was continually embarked.
It is asked, What could have been his object in thus devoting himself to a party? The answer is plain: to keep himself in place—to perpetuate himself in the enjoyment of the power and profit of the office he holds.
But it is asked again, Why, if that was his wish, did he not connect himself with the wealthy and the great? These, it is pretended, would have been better instruments of a scheme of personal aggrandizement.
Such a suggestion has scarcely the merit of plausibility. It is well known that large property is an object of jealousy in republics, and that those who possess it seldom enjoy extensive popularity. The Governor was aware that he would have risked the loss rather than have promoted the continuance of that which he possessed, by connecting himself with men of that class; and that his purpose could be better answered by an opposite course. Besides, from men who would suppose their pretensions not inferior to his, he would be more likely to experience competition and contradiction. The history of republics affords more examples of individuals arriving at dangerous pre-eminence, by a policy similar to that which has been pursued by the Governor, than in any other mode.
It is asserted, in order to excite prejudice, that the opposition to the Governor arises from the wealthy and the great. We believe it to be true that the principal part of the men of the most considerable property in the State are of opinion that a change is necessary. But we believe it to be not less true that the same opinion embraces a large proportion of all other classes of the community. Will it follow that it must be wrong because men of property concur in it? Are they less interested than other people in good government? Do they advocate one of their number for his successor? Judge Yates certainly does not fall under that description. What motive, then, can they have, besides the public good, for giving him their support and suffrages?
It has been said that Judge Yates is only made use of on account of his popularity, as an instrument to displace Governor Clinton, in order that at a future election some one of the great families may be introduced. Let this surmise be candidly considered. It is admitted that Judge Yates is now a popular character; and it will not be doubted that he is a man of sense and integrity. If he conducts himself with propriety, it is not to be imagined that, with the addition of the influence which will naturally flow from the possession of the office, he will be less able, at the end of three years, to maintain his ground against any partial combinations which may have been formed against him, than he now is to succeed against the accumulated weight of a twelve-years’ administration. Nothing, therefore, can be more far-fetched or strained than the supposition that such a design, as is mentioned, is entertained. It is evidently a mere artifice to destroy the effect of Judge Yates’ general good character on the minds of his fellow-citizens, and to divert his friends from exerting themselves in his behalf.
The cry against men of property has been carried to an extreme by the friends of the Governor, which ought to alarm the considerate of every class. There is no stronger sign of combinations unfriendly to the general good, than when the partisans of those in power raise an indiscriminate cry against men of property. It argues sinister designs, which it is feared may be counteracted, by those whose situation renders them most likely to be independent. Such a cry is neither just nor wise. Not just, because no man ought to be hated for being either rich or poor. Providence has distributed its bounties in the manner best adapted to the general order and happiness. Not wise, because it tends to alienate those who are endeavored to be made odious, from the government under which they live, and to incline them to favor changes in the hope of bettering their condition; and because, in the second place, by destroying the confidence of the body of the people in men of property, it makes a co-operation between them for the defence of their common privileges and interests more difficult, and consequently renders it more easy for aspiring men, in possession of power, to prosecute schemes of personal aggrandizement and usurpation. These observations, we are confident, will strike the good sense of our fellow citizens.
Many of our most considerate citizens have long been of opinion that the Governor has possessed an undue and dangerous influence. In our first address we intimated the means by which such an influence might be acquired, through the medium of the council of appointment.
To this it is answered that the council of appointment consists of four members of the Senate annually chosen by the Assembly, and that it is improbable the Governor should be able materially to influence appointments made by a council so constituted. This we take to be the substance of the answer. Let us see if it be a satisfactory one.
It is to be remembered that though the council is constituted as stated, the Governor is a standing member of it, and in case of equal division has a casting vote. It is likewise to be attended to that he has constantly claimed the right of previous nomination, and we are greatly misinformed if he has not extensively practised upon that pretension. The exercise of such a power places the choice essentially on the Governor. If he is first to name the man who may be appointed, none can be appointed who are not agreeable to him. It is true the council may negative his nomination, but even this will require a majority; for if equally divided he can turn the scale in favor of his own nomination. If the person proposed be rejected by a majority, still it is in his power to propose another of his own liking, and to repeat this as often as he pleases, till an appointment is made in some degree conformable to his wishes. We do not presume that the practice has been answerable to the full extent of the principle. The power of previous nomination has been long since called in question, and it is probable that it has been found expedient to exercise it with caution, and oftentimes even to forbear the use of it. But in the general course of things it is presumable that the operation of that pretension has given the Governor a prevailing influence in appointments.
But independent of the power of previous nomination, the mere circumstance of being a standing member of so small a council with a casting vote must give a man of tolerable address a preponderating weight in its arrangements, and consequently an extensive influence from the distribution of offices. Those who are in pursuit of them will naturally look up to him as one who must at all events have an agency in the business. Even the members of the council will be apt to gratify him to obtain his concurrence at the time and upon future occasions in appointments in which themselves personally or their friends are or may be interested. There are, besides, various expedients which an artful man may employ to carry his points in such a council. Times and places of meeting may be so managed as to exclude from attendance those whose presence may not be desired. There is room to suppose that the present Governor has not been inattentive to these advantages, and that he has even gone so far as to avoid making appointments, in the usual course, by a council disagreeable to him, in order to have them made by one more at his devotion.
Public opinion, we apprehend, corresponds with this reasoning concerning the Governor’s influence in appointments. Those who are in quest of office generally think themselves sure of success, if they have reason to believe they have secured his co-operation.
The considerations which have been stated are, we think, sufficient to show that the council of appointment is such an engine as we have before represented it to be, and that the conclusions which have been drawn from it are natural and pertinent.
Whether an improper or excessive influence has in fact been derived from the use of that engine, those who have been attentive to the progress of public affairs must decide for themselves. Appearances must be carefully consulted, and if there are instances in which members of the Legislature have been seen to change one party or system disagreeable to the Governor, for another party or system agreeable to him, and if that change of conduct has been observed to be speedily followed by the reception of lucrative appointments, the conclusion from such a fact would be irresistible.
The argument which is used against the supposition of such an argument can have no weight. It is said that such a supposition is a reproach to our representatives which ought to excite indignation. This is one of those arguments—if it may be called an argument—which proves too much, and is capable of being used at all times and under all circumstances. If it amounts to any thing it amounts to this, that it ought never to be supposed that our representatives can be improperly influenced; a position contrary to experience and human nature, and calculated to destroy that watchfulness in the people over the conduct of their representatives, which is an indispensable security of republican government.
We have too good an opinion of the virtue of our countrymen to believe that any large proportion of those who may in any case have united in the views of the Governor have been under a sinister influence; but we think it very supposable that a few may have been in this situation, and that these few, by their advice and example, may have operated upon others so as to place a majority on the side where it might not otherwise have been.
In making these observations, our great object is to show that such an influence as is apprehended may be supposed consistently with probability and the usual progress of things. The reality of its existence, as we have already remarked, must be judged of from circumstances. If there are appearances which render it probable, the rules of republican caution will admonish us to seek a change. A very respectable part of the community are of opinion that the length of time for which the present Governor has been in office is alone a sufficient reason for his removal. This, however, is a sentiment which this committee have never expressed. The idea contained in our first address is, that considering the means of influence derived to our executive, from the nature of our council of appointment, the administration of a governor ought to be free from blame, and from all suspicion of undue attachment to place or to profit, and very satisfactory to the community at large, to render it prudent in the people to leave so powerful an engine in his hands for a long succession of years. In this sentiment, we doubt not, we shall be joined by every prudent and independent citizen.
How far, however, some of the gentlemen who combat the position that long continuance in office is of itself a sufficient reason, in republican governments, for a change of men are consistent with themselves, requires some explanation. Mr. Melancthon Smith, one of the committee in the convention of this State objected to the constitution of the President of the United States, on account of the want of the principle of rotation, or, in other words, because he, like the governor of this State, may be re-elected as often as the people think proper, and proposed or advocated an amendment to alter that circumstance, which was adopted by our State convention. The great argument was the danger in republics of trusting power too long in the same hands. It will be difficult to show that the spirit of this objection does not operate against the re-election of a man who in this State has held the reins of government for near twelve years. It might even, with great force, be urged that it is more wise to observe the principle of rotation in practice, than to make it one of the fundamentals of a constitution. For though it might be imprudent to deprive the people of the liberty of making use of a man, in particular emergencies, when his services might happen to be essential, it may be very prudent in them to make changes from time to time, when no public exigencies call for particular men, merely to guard against the danger of a too long continuance in office.
In our first address we intimated the ill effects of the want of decent republican hospitality towards the members of Congress, and other public characters whom the affairs of the government call to reside in this city. This has been answered by describing in strong terms the evils of extravagance and dissipation. It is asked whether it would be agreeable to the citizens of this State to see the principal magistrate constantly engaged in a scene of dissipation and luxury. We answer, most certainly not. We should be as ready to reprobate this conduct as the contrary extreme. But is there no medium between extravagance and parsimony? Cannot a chief magistrate observe the requisite attentions of hospitability without running into riot or intemperance, or exceeding the bounds of decent frugality and orderly living? Is it not even his duty to attend to the former as well as to the latter? Must not the supposition that it is so have been one of the inducements of the Legislature in annexing to the office the liberal emoluments which have been constantly annexed to it? Can we believe that our representatives would have been so lavish of the money of their constituents as they must have been if that was not a motive?
It is with reluctance we dwell upon this subject, but the friends of the Governor, by pressing his apology too far, have made it necessary. The charge against him in this respect is not, that he has been frugal, but that he has been penurious; not that he has paid a reasonable regard to a comfortable provision for his family, but that he has applied the greatest part of his public allowance to the accumulation of a large fortune, neglecting what was due to the decorum and dignity of his station.
It is, we conceive, impossible to join with his friends in ascribing his conduct, in this respect, to the laudable motive they assign, the desire of setting an example of moderation and frugality. If he had been actuated by such a motive, why has he been always ready to accept such liberal allowances of the public money? Why did he never say to the Legislature: “I wish to ease the burthens of the people. I find by experience that you have been more bountiful than is requisite to the decent and proper support of the office. Let my salary be retrenched.”**** Such we think would have been the language and conduct of patriotic moderation; but the disposition to receive much and spend little, be-speaks the predominancy of a passion which certainly is no ornament in a public character.
As to the quantity of the property which may have been amassed by the Governor, during his administration, this is a subject which we should have left untouched, were it not for some observations in the address which seem to require notice. Whether the intimations, of fraudulent or indirect practices in that gentleman, which have appeared in the public prints, have really been serious accusations of imprudent adversaries, or fictitious charges brought by the friends of the Governor, for the sake of refuting them, and having it believed that he has been ill treated, we will not undertake to decide. But thus much we shall say, that the supposition of such practices has no share in the motives which, in our estimation, render his re-election inadvisable. And though we do not agree in the opinion that the idea of his being possessed of a large fortune is groundless, yet we should not impute blame to him on that account, in any other view than as he may be justly chargeable with penury in the manner of acquiring it, and with disingenuity in the attempts to conceal it. It is undeniable, that he has received from the State what may be deemed a handsome fortune, in a few accumulated payments,***** and that he has made several profitable speculations in land. Some of these are publicly known, and others of them, we have good grounds to believe, are covered under the names of third persons.
The address under consideration contains many observations on the Governor’s conduct and views in relation to the Constitution of the United States. To examine the justice or propriety of them would involve a discussion into which we cannot think it expedient to enter. After all that could be said, the judgment of every man would be regulated very much by previous opinions, and by a recurrence to facts. These are the only satisfactory standard to which we can resort. Professions or assertions will never countervail, in any reasonable mind, the evidence which arises from them.
We must, however, observe that, in our opinion, the friends to amendments, of whatever party, will do well to join in support of Judge Yates. That gentleman, by having the confidence of both parties in this State, will be more likely to have the confidence of the United States, than one who is supposed by many of the most intelligent friends of the Constitution among us to desire its entire subversion. And it must be evident, that as far as the governor of a State can contribute to the attainment of amendments in the National Constitution, the man who is most likely to have the confidence and good-will of the Union will be the most likely to effect it.
In our first address we advanced the sentiment, that all should join “in the support of the Constitution established by the people of the United States, and that all should join in the reconsideration of the parts which have been the subject of objection.” On this point we are charged with inconsistency, and it is asserted, that there is every reason to believe that the principal opponents of the Governor do not wish to see any amendments to the Constitution, and are averse to a reconsideration of it. As far as we are concerned, we affirm that the charge is destitute of truth, and we defy those who make it, to produce any thing like proof of its being well founded.
It is true that on the occasion of the election of a representative of this district in Congress, we most of us contended for the propriety of choosing a person attached to the Constitution; but this certainly has nothing to do with a disinclination to amendments or to a reconsideration of the system; nor will it in any candid mind appear to militate against the sincerity of the desire, which we profess to have, of reconciliation and union between the different parties in the State. It was not to be doubted, that in other parts of this State every effort would be made by those who opposed the Constitution, to choose for representatives men of sentiments similar to their own, and it could not reasonably be expected, under such circumstances, that its friends in a friendly district would not be equally strenuous for representatives of their own sentiments. Could it be expected that we should abandon the distinctions which actually exist, previous to a foundation being laid for a reciprocal renunciation of them? This is the desirable object at which we and our fellow-citizens now aim.
Nor can a better proof be given of it than in the disposition manifested to support a man of political opinions different from those generally entertained by them and by us. And we strongly flatter ourselves that the desirable end in contemplation will be attained by the co-operation of all those throughout the State who wish to see the spirit of faction and dissension extinguished.
We forbear any further comment on the address of our opponents. We trust that nothing they have offered, which has the semblance of argument, remains unattended to, and we do not choose to pursue them into any other field. We trust that all the considerate, disinterested, and independent, all the sincere lovers of peace and harmony, all those who are unwilling to sacrifice the good of the State to the aggrandizement or advantage of an individual, will heartily unite in the endeavor to appease the distractions of the community. It is evident that a large proportion of it is, in all probability, irreconcilably dissatisfied with the administration of the present Chief Magistrate. There can, therefore, be no rational hope of future union or concord under his auspices. And we boldly appeal to the breast of every good citizen, and ask what inducement there can be to support the re-election of Governor Clinton, which ought to stand, even for an instant, in competition with the blessings of union and concord.
By order of the Committee,
[*]The Constitution having been ratified by the necessary number of States, the Federalists everywhere made the utmost efforts to elect Senators and Congressmen who were favorable to the new scheme. Nowhere was their task more difficult than in New York. The contest in the Convention had been very severe, and the ratification had been carried only by sheer force of argument and outside pressure. The head and front of the opposition was Governor Clinton, a man with a very great personal following, of strong will and much ability. Hamilton threw himself into the conflict with his usual zeal. He travelled through the State, and published the address given above; and, not content with this, he sought to break down Clinton and defeat his re-election. With this object he published a second address and the letters of “H. G.,” which follow, and which are a sustained attack upon the Governor’s whole course and attitude. Clinton was re-elected by a majority of less than 500, but his power was fatally crippled, and the opposition was demoralized as Hamilton desired. The Federalists on their side obtained four out of the six Congressmen, and subsequently the two Senators. These addresses and the letters of “H. G.” are not of course constitutional arguments, but they are an important part of the work which Hamilton did for the Constitution, and complete his labors for a new system of national government, which began under the tents of the revolutionary army, and ended with the inauguration of Washington.
[**]In allusion to Clinton’s wealth and parismony.
[***]This address, which has never before been included in any edition of Hamilton’s works, I owe to the kindness of Mr. Henry A. Homes, State Librarian of New York. The Clintonian Committee published an address on March 9, 1789, and this, as will be seen from the opening sentences, is in answer to the attacks of the Governor’s friends. This second address, unknown until discovered by Mr. Homes, is reprinted from a probably unique copy of the original broadside or pamphlet in the State Library at Albany.
[****]Our representatives in congress are not yet ascertained, and we have no senators appointed.
[*****]His friends give him credit for the reduction of his salary the last session; but if he had any share in the business, it cannot be considered as very meritorious at the eve of an election at which he knew he would be strongly opposed.
[******]On a settlement of his accounts some time in the year 1782, there was a balance in his favor of upwards of 8,000 pounds. This sum he retained out of monies borrowed by him on the public account about that period, or some time in the year subsequent. His salary since that period has amounted to about 9,000 pounds, and there can be no doubt, from the manner of his living, that considerably more than one half of this has been saved. The mere interest of 8,000 pounds, for six years, is 3,920 pounds, so that taking it for granted the Governor has not left his money idle, and excluding the idea of extraordinary increase in land speculations, we have here data for supposing a fortune of not much short of 20,000 pounds.
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.