Hamilton: Letters of H.G., Letter XI

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

After the New York Ratifying Convention 1788: Letters of H.G. Letter XI


New York,
March 4, 1789.
Dear Sir:

Some time in the latter part of the year 1785, or beginning of 1786, the State of Virginia proposed the holding of a convention for the purpose of devising some system of commercial regulations for the United States. This State, among others, acceded to the proposition, and the deputies from the different States appointed pursuant, met at Annapolis in the fall of 1786. But the number actually assembled formed so incomplete a representation of the Union, that, if there had been no other reason, it would have been inexpedient for them to proceed in the execution of their mission. In addition to this, they were unanimously of opinion that some more radical reform was necessary; and that even to accomplish the immediate end for which they had been deputed, certain collateral changes in the federal system would be requisite, to which their powers in general could not be deemed competent. Under these impressions, they, with one voice, earnestly recommended it to the several States to appoint deputies to meet in convention, in the ensuing month of May, with power to revise the confederation at large, and to propose such alterations and amendments as should appear to them necessary to render it adequate to the exigencies of the Union.

The report of this convention was in course handed to the Governor, on the return of the deputies of this State from Annapolis.

I have ascertained it beyond a doubt that, in a conversation on the subject of this report, he expressed a strong dislike of its object, declaring that, in his opinion, no such reform as the report contemplated was necessary; that the confederation as it stood was equal to the purposes of the Union, or, with little alteration, could be made so; and that he thought the deputies assembled upon that occasion would have done better to have confined themselves to the purposes of their errand.

This was the first thing that gave me a decisive impression of the insincerity of his Excellency’s former conduct. The opponents of the impost system had, in their writings and conversation, held up the organization of Congress as a principal objection to the grant of power required by that system. The same sentiment had been conveyed by the Governor. The want of checks from the constitution of Congress, as a single body, seemed to be the bulwark of the opposition. But now that a proposal was made which evidently had in view a different construction of the Federal Government, the language was all at once changed. The old confederation as it stood, or with little alteration, was deemed to be competent to the ends of the Union.

This, then, seemed to be the true state of the business. On the one hand, Congress, as constituted, was not fit to be trusted with power; on the other, it was not expedient to constitute them differently. To me it appears impossible to reconcile all this to a sincere attachment to an efficient Federal Government. Thus, sir, have I explained to you my meaning in the assertion: that the Governor disapproved of the very first step taken toward the effectual amendment of the old confederation.

I remain with esteem, dear sir, Your very humble servant,

H. G.

To ———, Esq., Suffolk County.

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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 Self-Educated American.