In 1782, Governor Clinton forwards to John Hancock Acts Announcing New York’s Desire to Convene the States.
During and for six years after the Revolutionary War, the United States government operated under the Articles of Confederation, a compact designed with the intent of maintaining a weak central government and thus making each state a mini-sovereignty. Congress had no power to collect taxes, regulate interstate commerce, enforce its laws,...
During and for six years after the Revolutionary War, the United States government operated under the Articles of Confederation, a compact designed with the intent of maintaining a weak central government and thus making each state a mini-sovereignty. Congress had no power to collect taxes, regulate interstate commerce, enforce its laws, or take any action that all of the states did not approve. This resulted in an ineffectual government, one hampered in its ability to fight the Revolutionary War, raise and supply its army, and deal with the post-war challenges.
Many of the nation’s leading statesmen felt that the Articles needed to be revised, first among them Alexander Hamilton. As aide to Washington he had observed the debilitating effect of what he called “an uncontrollable sovereignty in each state.” Elected a member of the Continental Congress in 1782, he at once became a leading proponent of a stronger national government than that provided for by the Articles of Confederation and called for a strengthened Congress and more efficient executive departments. He would in May 1787 be a New York delegate to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. In 1782, however, he was a newly appointed member of the New York bar and at the center of the nascent movement in that state to strengthen the revenue-collecting capacity of the federal apparatus. At that time, no state had yet made any formal movement for the general convention that would take place five years later and create the U.S. Constitution.
n July 1782, while the Revolutionary War was still being waged, members of the New York State House and Senate met to debate this issue, made more pressing by a lack of supplies and fears of a diminished state treasury. General Philip Schuyler, another aide to Washington during the war and member of the New York House, introduced an Act to call for a “Convention of the States” to address these problems. While it was Schuyler who introduced the resolution, many (among them George Bancroft in his History of the Formation of the Constitution) believe that Hamilton was the author of the resolution. Hamilton and Governor George Clinton both played an active role in these debates, Clinton cautioning against many of the proposals advanced by Schuyler and Hamilton, fearing the political implications of creating a link between an empty treasury and ineffective leadership.
Passage of the first act calling for a “Convention of the States”
On July 20 and 21, both Chambers passed concurrent resolutions stating that “the provisions made by the respective States for carrying on the war are not only inadequate to the end, but must continue to be so while there is an adherence to the principles which now direct the operation of public measures,” and calling for a “Convention of the States” to address the deficiencies. This was the first legislative action taken by any state to convene for the purpose of amending, rewriting or replacing the Articles of Confederation. It was also the first recognition that tinkering with the Articles would not suffice; a full-scale change would be required to install a functioning federal government. “Resolved…that it would be advisable for this purpose to propose to Congress to recommend, and to each State to adopt, the measure of assembling a GENERAL CONVENTION OF THE STATES, specially authorized to revise and amend the CONFEDERATION.
When this law was read, a reticent Clinton rose. “It appears to me, the design of producing these papers is something more than to show the sentiments of the state during the war; that it is to prove that there now exists an opposition to an energetic government…I am a friend to a strong and efficient government. But, sir, we may err in this extreme: we may erect a system that will destroy the liberties of the people…The people, when wearied with their distresses, will, in the moment of frenzy, be guilty of the most imprudent and desperate measures.”
In response, Hamilton responded in favor of the resolution he had likely authored and openly advocated. “The honorable gentleman from Ulster has given a turn to the introduction of those papers which was never in our contemplation. He seems to insinuate that they were brought forward with a view of showing an inconsistency in the conduct of some gentleman; perhaps of himself. Sir, the exhibition of them had a very different object. It was to prove that this state once experienced hardships and distresses to an astonishing degree, for want of the assistance of the other states. It was to show the evils we suffered since, as well as before, the establishment of the Confederation, from being compelled to support the burden of the war; that requisitions have been unable to call forth the resources of the country; that requisitions have been the cause of a principal part of our calamities; that the system is defective and rotten, and ought forever to be banished from our government.”
That day – July 21 – Governor Clinton received this legislation for a convention for the purpose of reforming the government and, despite his objections, soon thereafter signed it into law. He then informed the other states of this call by sending their governors copies of the act. Among these was the renowned Governor of Massachusetts, John Hancock.
Letter Signed, Poughkeepsie, New York, August 4, 1782, to Hancock. “Agreeable to the Request of the Legislature of this State, I have the Honor to enclose to your Excellency a copy of their concurrent resolution of the 20th and 21st ultimo; and am with the highest and respect & esteem, Your excellency, most obedient servant.” With a fine Free Frank and text of the act.
The Revolutionary War was in its final throes and a preliminary peace treaty would be signed on November 30. Several of the reasons cited by the New York Legislature in this act relate to the continual maintainence of the war effort, and with the coming of peace in 1783 the urgency for reformation of the Articles abated for a time. It would be 1786 before the clamor for change was renewed, leading to convening of the Constitutional Convention in May 1787.
As for Clinton, his trepidations continued through the decade, and he opposed the U.S. Constitution. Ironically, under that Constitution, he would twice serve as vice president of the United States.
Frame, Display, Preserve
Each frame is custom constructed, using only proper museum archival materials. This includes:The finest frames, tailored to match the document you have chosen. These can period style, antiqued, gilded, wood, etc. Fabric mats, including silk and satin, as well as museum mat board with hand painted bevels. Attachment of the document to the matting to ensure its protection. This "hinging" is done according to archival standards. Protective "glass," or Tru Vue Optium Acrylic glazing, which is shatter resistant, 99% UV protective, and anti-reflective. You benefit from our decades of experience in designing and creating beautiful, compelling, and protective framed historical documents.Learn more about our Framing Services