Speeches Debating the Constitution from the New York Ratification Convention
This assignment consists of speeches from New York politicians in the process of debating whether or not to ratify the new Constitution in 1788. By reading the speeches of Melancton Smith, Alexander Hamilton, and Robert Livingston, we have a chance to see how both Federalists and Anti-Federalists tried to convince other politicians at the ratification convention that their perspective on the Constitution was best for New York. There were three main issues of debate between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists at the New York ratification convention: sources of corruption, representation in Congress, and the Constitution’s effect on the states.
Read the speeches of Melancton Smith, Alexander Hamilton, and Robert Livingston and summarize how the Federalists and Anti-Federalists differed on each issue.
- How did the Anti-Federalists envision the future of the nation if the Constitution were ratified?
- What did the Anti-Federalists object to? How did the Federalists answer those objections?
- Can you see any hidden bias or motives—perhaps related to social class differences between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists—in the language used by the speaker?
Melancton Smith, Alexander Hamilton, and Robert Livingston Speeches And The Ratification Of The New York Constitution
The change of the Articles of Confederation to the Constitution of the United States was not smooth one, and addressing the issues in the articles of confederation needed a series of lengthy discussions. It was clear that something needed to be altered before the articles were accepted as constitution. The debate had two sides that included the Anti-Federalists who opposed constitution ratification and the Federalists who supported it. The three main issues of discussion included congress representation, sources of corruption, and the effect of constitution on the states. This paper is based on speeches of the three individuals; Alexander Hamilton, Melancton Smith and Robert Livingston, who played a great role in fueling this debate. During this time Alexander Hamilton and Robert Livingston sided with federalists and spoke in favor of ratification while Melancton Smith sided with anti-federalists and spoke against it.
Analysis of the Three Speeches
Effect of Constitution on State
The issue of effect of constitution on the state presented a number of arguments. According to the anti-federalists, the constitution had provided so much power to the central government and very little to the state, a situation that needed to be changed. According to Melancton, the articles provided so much power to the central government compared to the power given to the states. The stronger central government was perceived to threaten the states sovereignty. Smith highly insisted on the limited government power and increase in the representation. According to Smith, it was much better to give less power to the government than excess power. In his speech smith argued that if the change is not employed to reduce the power of the central government, tome will fix some of the articles issues where by it will clearly demonstrates the lack of the need to have a simple state government and a powerful central government. He thought that as time moved, the federal government and states governments would be involved in a constant shuddering of interests and claims. He claimed that the new idea of congress having unlimited powers which included taxes would ultimately result to state governments abolition (Melancton 1).
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To counter the argument of effect of constitution on states, Hamilton lectured the anti-federalists claiming that with mutual checks and free representation. He therefor faulted arguments on high central government power as imaginary and unjust. According to him, a perfect system must be characterized by provision of power. The true government principle focus on making the system structure complete, provide a perfect balance and proportion to its parts. When this is done, the power given to the government never impacts the security. He also claimed that the question of power division between the two governments was based on convenience since the general government objects are known by everyone to be many, important and extensive. He thus considered the argument that there is no government other than a despotism which can exist in an extra intensive nation as a melancholy deliberation. He equated human affection to solar heat where the heat intensity decline as one moves away from the center as a way of demonstrating the importance of the central government (American History Center 1). Livingston on the other hand claimed that Smith’s arguments were shallow and not based on experience. He also claimed that Smith was more focused on the future rather than focusing on solving the current problems. To him, the government was still young and everyone needed experience to be able to form perfect laws, and thus, no one could lecture others on the future since no one had enough experience on that (Livingston 1).
Representation in congress
With regard to representation in congress, Melancton Smith found the appointment rule unjust, where he argued that based in the third and fifth clause of article 1 section 2, there was no specific number below the house cannot be reduced. According to Smith, the constitution did not provide enough presentation of the states. One vote for every state was such a small presentation which did not necessary stand for the needs and wishes of the state. To him the ration was about 1 to 30000 which was considerably too little for the population. He proposed for the reduction of this ration to 1 to 20000. He also argued that the states were not equally divided and hence the representation should highly consider that aspect (Melancton, 1).
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To address the representation issue, Livingston claimed that the decision on how much representation should be adequate in the future cannot be done today. He also claimed that the representative government does not need to represent feeling but interests of the people. He faulted Smith’s perception of the great and rich as the only folks that are intemparate and vicious. Livingston argued that there is always space for natural artistoccracy (Livingston 1). To counter Smith’s representation argument, Hamilton defended the clause 3/5 as an essential compromise. Hamilton also claimed that the representatives number was seriously bad since based on his argument, it was safely computed upon a developing representation, based on population advance and the country circumstances. Hamilton argued that the individual trusting their opinions and interest will be the suitable scrutiny on a legislature insensitive to growing in representation. He also stated that pure democracy does not possess single good aspect of good government. According to him, people confidence will be gained easily by a good administration. He regarded this as the true benchmark where the interests of all sections of the community have to be represented. He considered warning of aristocracy among the poor as ridiculous claiming that the main issue was not representation but observing the factual republic principle that people need to elect a person who they would love to govern them. He also claimed that the representatives’ number will be augmented with population growth (American History Center 1).
Sources of Corruption
In his speech, Smith found the constitution to encourage corruption and inequality in the sharing and utilization of national resources. Smith in particular felt that the constitution did not consider the life of middle class people by highly favored the wealthy people. To defend the corruption claim, Hamilton argued that the legislatures of the state will be standing bodies or agencies of observation, holding people’s confidence, armed with all power to check the initial essays of treachery and envious of the federal encroachments. These bodies will establish regular forms of inquiry. This meant that the state legislature would keep congress on check to ensure they do not get involved in any deals that would result to corruption or oppression of some in the society, based on their class (American History Center 1).
How did the Anti-Federalists envision the future of the nation if the Constitution were ratified?
Anti-federalists used the articles of confederation to forecast on the future of the country, determining the impact ratification would cause to the country. Their forecast demonstrated possibility of a chaotic situation where the national government conflicted with the state government as the state governments try to execute its duties. They also thought that the central government may in the future use its excess power to abolish the state government. According to anti-federalists, the ratification of the constitution would initiate corruption within the government and misrepresentation of the people, particularly the middle class people. To them, this constitution would be more in favor of the rich and oppressive to the poor.
What did the Anti-Federalists object to? How did the Federalists answer those objections?
The anti-federalists main objective was to change various clauses that did not align with what they would have considered fair to all. They wanted the power of the central government to be changed to less power and that of the state to be increase. This was meant to reduce the dominance of the central government on the state government. Anti-federalist wanted the state government to be more powerful and independent to be able to cater for the needs of their citizens. They also wanted the congress representation of the state changed to reduce the population that a single congress member represented. The proposed representation seemed too big for a single person and hence, they felt that they may not be efficient in addressing the needs of these people. They also wanted to seal all loopholes related to corruption. They felt that the proposed constitution safeguarded the rich while neglecting the middle class people. This was especially perceived in the taxation clauses.
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To counter this, federalist claimed that the articles have proposed a mechanism to keep the central government on check by the states legislatures and thus, there was no chance that the government would misuse its power. With regard to representation, federalist claimed that the ratio will be changed as the population of the state changes. They also faulted the federalist for basing most of their objections on future rather than the present situation. With regard to corruption, federalist claimed that there was already an existence of natural aristocracy that creates a gap between rich and poor. In this regard, there would never be any law that would bridge that. With the matter of government involvement with corruption, federalists claimed that the constant check of the national government by the states governments would not permit that to happen.
Can you see any hidden bias or motives—perhaps related to social class differences between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists—in the language used by the speaker?
Most federalists were part of the government. They therefore seemed to be protecting some personal interest gained by being in that position. Anti-federalists on the other hand focused more on the interest of the public, federalists seemed to protect the national government. Moreover, there was some sense of arrogance in federalists tone. They seemed to define a constitution to only cater for the current affairs and not the future. They accepted that changes may be needed in the future, especially on representation issuesbut seemed to consider the proposed system perfect for the present operations. This seemed hypocritical. They also seemed to define natural aristocracy meaning they were not out to work to reduce the gap between the poor and the rich since it was naturally defined.
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