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Alexander Hamilton

Constitution and Federalism II: 1787–1788

Constitution and Federalism I: 1786–1787

Secretary of the Treasury I: 1788–1791

Hamilton wanted a new national government that had complete political authority. He disliked state governments and believed that they should be eliminated entirely. In fact, Hamilton believed that the perfect union would be one in which there were no states at all. At the same time, however, Hamilton realized that eliminating the states was impossible, at least at the Philadelphia Convention, because there were too many other Americans who favored the rights of the states over a strong national government.

Hamilton drafted a proposal for a new national government that would centralize power but still allow states to retain many of their rights and individuality. Hamilton devised his plan so that the new government would combine the best aspects of different governmental systems throughout the world. He strongly believed that the best form of government was the British system, which consisted of a strong monarch, an assembly of aristocrats called the House of Lords, and another assembly of commoners called the House of Commons. This system permitted the people to participate in government via representation in Parliament, but fostered national unity and centralized power under the king or queen. Hamilton's plan for a new United States government reflected this preference for the British system.

Hamilton believed that the new American government should be divided into three branches: the executive branch, the legislative congress, and the judiciary branch. Dividing the government into three segments would provide checks and balances to prevent any one branch from becoming too powerful, and Hamilton also believed that by working together, the three different branches could centralize their power over the states. The executive of the government would be the President of the United States, and would be elected by a system of electoral colleges to serve a life term. Hamilton thought that serving for life–or rather, during good behavior–would give stability to the executive office. He reasoned that if presidential terms were limited to a few years, the president would have difficulty achieving policy goals for the good of the country and would probably accomplish very little. Hamilton also thought that short service terms only encouraged politicians to focus on reelection, rather than ruling the nation. The Congress, Hamilton thought, should be bicameral: the upper chamber, called the Senate, would consist of the nation's elite aristocrats, while the lower chamber, known as the Assembly, would be the seat of democracy for the American people. Senators would be elected for life and Assemblyman would be elected for a term of three years. Finally, the judiciary system would consist of a Supreme Court and a series of smaller national courts. All national court justices would serve life terms.

Clearly, Hamilton's system closely mirrored the British system of government, but it also closely resembles the form of government that the delegates in Philadelphia eventually agreed upon. The United States Government under the Constitution is tripartite, with executive, legislative, and judiciary branches. The Congress consists of two houses, the upper designed as a distinguished body, while the lower is more populist and democratic. A Supreme Court and a series of smaller circuit courts exist as well, and the justices are appointed to serve life terms. In the end, the delegates chose to abandon the Articles of Confederation and draft a completely new document to outline the new government of the United States. The committee that drafted the Constitution presented the finished draft to the assembly on September 17, 1787. Although Hamilton held deep reservations about the new government, he signed the Constitution because he felt that it met his basic requirements for a central government. Hamilton also knew that in order for the fledgling United States to survive, this new government had to be approved. He therefore not only signed the document, but encouraged the other delegates to do so as well. The delegates at the Philadelphia Convention approved the new document and then presented the Constitution to the states. According to the laws in the Articles of Confederation, nine of the thirteen states had to ratify the Constitution in order for it to become law.

Hamilton rushed home to New York to begin his campaign to convince the people of New York to ratify the Constitution. This task was the most difficult of the entire process, because many state leaders and citizens feared that a strong national government would violate the freedom they had recently won from Great Britain. The campaign was particularly difficult for Hamilton in New York, where his former colleagues Robert Yates and John Lansing had been working with Governor George Clinton to campaign against ratification of the new Constitution. New Yorkers were essentially convinced that any new and stronger national government would eliminate their liberty.

To combat the Anti-Federalists in his home state, Hamilton decided to write a series of essays to convince the people that the Constitution was essential to their liberty. Hamilton enlisted John Jay and James Madison to assist him in writing the essays, which were eventually published as pamphlets and magazine articles throughout the United States. On the average, four essays were published each week, and these became collectively known as the Federalist Papers. All three authors used the pseudonym Publius to make it seem as if a single common man had written all the essays. Historians therefore do not know exactly how many essays Hamilton wrote, but from the tone of the essays, it is believed that he authored fifty-two on his own, and may have assisted in writing at least fifteen others.

The Federalist Papers were not meant to be an impartial analyses of the benefits and drawbacks of the new Constitution–rather, they were written as intellectual propaganda. The content of the Federalist Papers can be divided into five distinct sections. The first deals with the benefits the nation would receive from a strong national government. The second segment addresses the weakness of the Articles of Confederation. Hamilton wrote the third section entirely by himself to address the strengths of the Constitution. The fourth section defends the Constitution against claims that it violates "Republican principles." Finally, the last section explains the details of the new government and its different parts

Hamilton's plan worked. New Yorkers throughout the state voted for ratification of the Constitution, and became the eleventh state to do so. New York's ratification can be attributed almost solely to Hamilton's efforts as coordinating author of the Federalist Papers and as a speaker and debater.

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