In Hamilton's absence, the Convention came up with a first draft of the Constitution

 

 

Originally, I was just going to have George write simply “Get your whiny ass back here right now.” I loved it. It broke my heart to change it, but I went with this version instead, which is closer to the real letter, and more dad-like.

For those who can’t read my attempts at quill-pen handwriting, here’s what’s in my ersatz letters:

HAMILTON:

Dear Sir,

The delegates are all afraid we’ll go too far (and indeed that’s what the politicians out here are all saying). But the people are afraid we won’t go far enough!

This is a golden opportunity, please don’t waste it. I’d even consider rejoining the convention to help you out, if I wasn’t convinced I’d be wasting my time.

WASHINGTON:

Dear Sir,

To succeed against those narrow-minded politicians, we needed vigorous exertion.

Instead you abandoned us just when we needed you most.

This constitution is about to fail.

I’m not angry. Just… disappointed.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

I didn’t rewrite the real letters because they were too long and gummed up the narrative. But I’d be remiss not to quote them for you here. And anyway who doesn’t love reading this stuff? It makes these guys so much more human.

HAMILTON (from New York, July 3, 1787):

Dr. Sir,

In my passage through the Jerseys and since my arrival here I have taken particular pains to discover the public sentiment and I am more and more convinced that this is the critical opportunity for establishing the prosperity of this country on a solid foundation. I have conversed with men of information not only of this City but from different parts of the state; and they agree that there has been an astonishing revolution for the better in the minds of the people. The prevailing apprehension among thinking men is that the Convention, from a fear of shocking the popular opinion, will not go far enough. They seem to be convinced that a strong well mounted government will better suit the popular palate than one of a different complexion. Men in office are indeed taking all possible pains to give an unfavourable impression of the Convention; but the current seems to be running strongly the other way.

A plain but sensible man, in a conversation I had with him yesterday, expressed himself nearly in this manner. The people begin to be convinced that their “excellent form of government” as they have been used to call it, will not answer their purpose; and that they must substitute something not very remote from that which they have lately quitted.

These appearances though they will not warrant a conclusion that the people are yet ripe for such a plan as I advocate, yet serve to prove that there is no reason to despair of their adopting one equally energetic, if the Convention should think proper to propose it. They serve to prove that we ought not to allow too much weight to objections drawn from the supposed repugnancy of the people to an efficient constitution. I confess I am more and more inclined to believe that former habits of thinking are regaining their influence with more rapidity than is generally imagined.

Not having compared ideas with you, Sir, I cannot judge how far our sentiments agree; but as I persuade myself the genuineness of my representations will receive credit with you, my anxiety for the event of the deliberations of the Convention induces me to make this communication of what appears to be the tendency of the public mind. I own to you Sir that I am seriously and deeply distressed at the aspect of the Councils which prevailed when I left Philadelphia. I fear that we shall let slip the golden opportunity of rescuing the American empire from disunion anarchy and misery. No motley or feeble measure can answer the end or will finally receive the public support. Decision is true wisdom and will be not less reputable to the Convention than salutary to the community.

I shall of necessity remain here ten or twelve days; if I have reason to believe that my attendance at Philadelphia will not be mere waste of time, I shall after that period rejoin the Convention.

I remain with sincere esteem Dr Sir
Yr. Obed serv

A. Hamilton

July 3d. 87
General Washington

WASHINGTON (from Philadelphia, July 10, 1787):

Dear Sir,

I thank you for your communication of the 3d. When I refer you to the State of the Councils which prevailed at the period you left this City—and add, that they are now, if possible, in a worse train than ever; you will find that little ground on which the hope of a good establishment can be formed. In a word, I almost dispair of seeing a favourable issue to the proceedings of the Convention, and do therefore repent having had any agency in the business.

The Men who oppose a strong & energetic government are, in my opinion, narrow minded politicians, or are under the influence of local views. The apprehension expressed by them that the people will not accede to the form proposed is the ostensible, not the real cause of the opposition—but admitting that the present sentiment is as they prognosticate, the question ought nevertheless to be, is it or is it not, the best form? If the former, recommend it, and it will assuredly obtain mauger opposition.

I am sorry you went away. I wish you were back. The crisis is equally important and alarming, and no opposition under such circumstances should discourage exertions till the signature is fixed. I will not, at this time trouble you with more than my best wishes and sincere regards.

I am Dear Sir
Yr Obedt Servt

Go: Washinton

Alexr. Hamilton Esqr

(Hamilton said he’d be back by July 13 or so. He didn’t actually get back until the first week of August. And though he briefly spoke at the convention one day, as we see he didn’t stick around but went right back to New York. This time, it was probably to take care of some law cases he’d taken on. He did come back later, as we’ll see in an upcoming page, but that’s enough for now, no spoilers.)

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

PS – The rest stops on the Jersey Turnpike don’t look exactly like this any more…

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Join the conversation! There are now 14 comments on “What were they thinking? Pg 17
  1. Raen says

    “Almost as if he was the father I’d never known… and as the son Washington never had…”

    …no comment. *whistles innocently*

    (…this lack of comment brought to you by eighteenth-century ne’er-do-wells.)

    • Not even neer-do-wells. That was some juicy gossip, whispered behind fans and lace cuffs ever since GW took AH on as aide-de-camp in the Revolution. And they really did come to treat each other as surrogates for the relative they needed.

      But of course the rumor wasn’t true. AH was born thousands of miles away in the West Indies to a deadbeat dad and a mom who was actually married to another man. When AH was 9, his dad James went out for cigarettes on a neighboring island and never came back. His mom died two years later, leaving 11 year old Alexander and his brother to fend for themselves.

      Alexander didn’t harbor ill will, actually. He was embarrassed by his estranged father, but still loved him and even looked up to him. He only ever knew him as a child, and so never outgrew the boy’s childlike admiration. For years, the man was supported by charity (kind people referred to him as “indolent”) but when that dried up Alexander provided for him until his death, and always spoke well of him to any who asked.

      Anyway, there were much more sinister rumors about Alex that began during this convention, and would dog him the rest of his short life.

        • On the contrary, it was Hamilton throwing shade against Burr. He’d been practically slandering him since 1791, when Burr defeated Hamilton’s father-in-law in a NY election. It got worse during the Presidential election of 1800. The last straw was after Burr lost a run for NY governor in 1804, and some of Hamilton’s slurs (I’m on my phone but off the top of my head I think it was along the lines of Burr was a “dangerous man” and “unfit for office”). Burr demanded an apology, Hamilton refused. Burr gave him another chance, Hamilton didn’t reply. That was grounds for a challenge.

          But that was just the pretext. The way it worked at the time, candidates who lost an election would fight a duel to restore their honor and repair their reputation among the voters. Seriously. I am not making this up. Almost all duels in America at the time were for that purpose.

          And neither Burr nor Hamilton expected it to be deadly, in all likelihood. They’d both been “out” many many times, even with each other. Killing the other guy wasn’t the point, but showing you were willing to stand up for your honor. Moreover, this wasn’t a duel over an insult but to restore a candidate’s qualifications. Hamilton stated he had no intention of wounding Burr. Burr especially knew that killing his opponent would have the exact opposite effect from what he was trying to accomplish.

          So why didn’t Burr just fire into the air? His bullet struck Hamilton center mass, lodging in his spine. It’s hard to call that an accidental hit.

          Historians debate it to this day. But Hamilton shot first, and not straight up into the air. (That was called “throwing away one’s shot,” and Hamilton repeatedly expressed reluctance to do that.) So Hamilton aimed high. His bullet whizzed above Burr’s head and struck a tree. Burr may very well have interpreted that as a legitimate attack, went into instant fight-or-flight fury, and unthinkingly retaliated.

          That is my own interpretation, but it fits. Burr seems to have been controlled more by his amygdala than his frontal cortex. Given his history, I’d bet he had the kind of anger management issues that mean his threat response went to 110% like microphone feedback, and his rational brain was no longer in the loop. This would explain his odd behavior afterwards, as well.

          If Burr had stopped to take a deep breath, that would have broken the feedback loop (though of course the adrenaline and other hormones would have left him agitated for a while), he’d have realized there was no actual threat, and above all his honor would have been restored. Instead he shot that fuck, and utterly destroyed his precious reputation.

          • Thank you for that. All I had ever learned was that Burr killed Hamilton in a duel, but not why.
            I’ll leave the gallows humor question for another time.

              • Okay.
                Do you think relationships in the Senate would improve if the practice of dueling, such as you described, were made legal and again popular?
                That is, after the various state special elections and gubernatorial appointments to fill the vacant seats?

                • We really don’t need another Preston Brooks attack on Charles Sumner. And in the Trump years, that would happen – including Brooks being backed up by a guy with a gun to keep everyone else from helping Sumner.

          • Wasn’t it more typical to delope downward? (cf. Barry Lyndon, common sense) For that reason, I understand a number of historians (although not Chernow, whose popular credence at this point rivals Ezra’s) think Hamilton committed suicide-by-veep, or, despite his will saying otherwise (and also, IINM, claiming authorship of ten essays nearly all historians ascribe to Madison and three that many do), intended to kill Burr.

            I’m also led to understand that, despite the low fatality rate of duels in those days, deloping was considered dishonorable, which may be another reason neither would want to give the appearance of doing so.

            Of course, all this is a driver’s license from the present action.

            • I think deloping was generally against the rules of dueling unless you allow your opponent to shoot first. If your opponent shoots at you and misses, then it was acceptable to end the duel by firing into the ground.

              It kind of makes sense. If dueling is supposed to be a show of bravery, what’s the point when you can easily settle things without taking a real risk?

          • Wow … I didn’t know that about US duels (that they were for election purposes).

            One thing I I think I do remember reading about the Hamilton-Burr duel was that the negative publicity following the death of Hamilton accelerated the end of dueling in America. Is that true?

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