Hamilton: NY Convention 1788, Brief on the Constitution

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.

The Moral Liberal, Classics Library

Alexander Hamilton: The Works of Alexander Hamilton, Volume 1, 1774

Convention of New York 1788: Brief of Argument on the Constitution of the United States


I. A republic, a word used in various senses. Has been applied to aristocracies and monarchies.

1. To Rome, under the kings.
2. To Sparta, though a Senate for life.
3. To Carthage, though the same.
4. To United Netherlands, though Stadtholder, hereditary nobles.
5. To Poland, though aristocracy and monarchy.
6. To Great Britain, though monarchy, etc.

II. Again, great confusion about the words democracy, aristocracy, monarchy.


a. Democracy defined by some, Rousseau, etc., a government exercised by the collective body of the people.
b. Delegation of their power has been made the criterion of aristocracy.

2. Aristocracy has been used to designate governments.

a. Where an independent few possessed sovereignty.
b. Where the representatives of the people possessed it.

3.Monarchy, where sovereignty in the hands of a single man.☞ General idea—Independent in his situation; in any other sense would apply to State of New York.

III. Democracy in my sense, where the whole power of the government in the people.

1. Whether exercised by themselves, or
2. By their representatives, chosen by them either mediately or immediately and legally accountable to them.

IV. Aristocracy, where whole sovereignty is permanently in the hands of a few for life or hereditary.

V. Monarchy, where the whole sovereignty is in the hands of one man for life or hereditary.

VI. Mixed government, where these three principles unite.


I.Consequence, the proposed government a representative democracy.

1. House of Representatives directly chosen by the people for two years.
2. Senate indirectly chosen by them for six years.
3. President indirectly chosen by them for four years.
☞ Thus legislative and executive representatives of the people.
4. Judicial power, representatives of the people indirectly chosen during good behavior.
5.All officers indirect choice of the people.Ⅾ Constitution revocable and alterable by the people.


I. This representative democracy as far as is consistent with its genius has all the features of good government. These features are:

1. An immediate and operative representation of the people, which is found in the House of Representatives.
2. Stability and wisdom, which is found in the Senate.
3. A vigorous executive, which is found in the President.
4.An independent judicial, which is found in the Supreme Court, etc.☞ A separation of the essential powers of government. Ascertain the sense of the maxim: One department must not wholly possess the powers of another. Montesquieu. = British Government.

II. Departments of power must be separated, yet so as to check each other.

1. Legislative.
2. Legislative executive.
3. Judicial legislative.
4.Legislative judicial.☞ All this done in the proposed Constitution.

1. Legislative in the Congress, yet checked by negative of the executive.
2. Executive in the President, yet checked by impeachment of Congress.
3. Judicial check upon legislative, or interpretation of laws.
4. And checked by legislative through impeachment.


I. Can such a government apply to so extensive a territory?

II. Despotic government for a large country to be examined.


I. Full House of Representatives chosen every second year, etc.

II. Senate for six years by Legislatures.

Rotation every two years.
Probable increase.

III. Executive manner of appointment.

Negotiation of treaties.
Nomination of officers.

IV. Judicial power. Constitution of judges.

Extent of powers.
Inferior courts.
Trial by jury.
Criminal cases.


I. To provide revenue for the common defence.
II. To regulate commerce.
III. To declare war.
IV. To raise and support armies.
V. Admission of new States.
VI. Disposal of property.

Miscellaneous Advantages

I. To prohibit importation of slaves prior to 1808.
II. Account to be rendered of expenditure of moneys.
III. No State shall emit bills of credit under ex-post-facto law, or law impairing the obligation of contracts, or grant title of nobility.
IV. Definition of treason.
V. Guaranty of republican governments.

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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.