Thursday, August 2, 2012

AFE Chapter 2: There is Compromise, and Then There is Rhode Island

Around July of 1787, supporters of the amendment began their campaign in earnest. They talked to many state government assemblies and to the citizens of the state to get them behind the plan for economic reform. Supporters pushed the amendment by telling people that the central government would no longer have to deal with chronic underfunding and that would make America much stronger without having to give the central government too much power. 


Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland and Deleware showed strong support early on. They felt like the states were far too separated and needed to be stronger. They also felt a stronger central government would make America more respected among world powers and be better equipped to defend themselves. 


Virginia, New York, and Massachusetts were on the edge about the proposed amendment. On one hand, the 75% minimum requirement clause put a lot of power into their hands since they were large states and had a lot of clout in the central government and in smaller states. On the other hand, a central government with more surplus funding means that states could be competing for tax revenue, which would make discontent citizens and potentially an underfunded state government. Patrick Henry came out against the amendment, saying that "we cannot allow the central government to become bloated and corrupt. The only people who Virginians can trust their money with is other Virginians!" 


States who had come out strongly against the amendment were Georgia, the Carolinas, and Rhode Island. The southern states who relied heavily on agriculture felt certain that the central government, based in a northern free state, would impose heavy tariffs on slave trading and cripple their economies. Rhode Island felt that it's voice would be heavily drowned out by the 75% minimum clause and that it would just be dragged along with the rest of the states. Most of all, they were afraid the state government would have no power left if it could not tax as it had been currently doing. However, they still felt secure in their veto power since every single state still had to vote for the amendment for it to be passed.


Many politicians in the country were frustrated by the fact that Rhode Island was so stubborn that not a single piece of legislation could not go through it. John Collins, the governor of Rhode Island even said that the more powerful states were in fact jealous that the smallest state could hold as much power as they did. He also said that their power to effectively veto anything is the true beauty of the Articles of Confederation, and they don't want it changed. 


When people in supporter states heard this, they were baffled by how Rhode Island just acted like they had all of the power. Alexander Hamilton called for a meeting between the initial writers sometime during late August to revise the amendment. They were in unanimous agreement that Rhode Island was blocking important legislation and that something needed to be done. To counter this, they changed the 75% clause from only applying to future amendments to the proposed amendment as well as all future ones. The revision also limited the government from fully banning slave trade in order to get the southern states more open to the amendment. After the release of the revised amendment, the Rhode Island state government released an official statement that the amendment was illegal according to the Articles of Confederation by claiming that the 75% clause was legally inapplicable to this amendment, and warned against any further ratifications by other states. This would turn into a major point of contention in American politics throughout the upcoming decade: if popular opinion goes strongly for something that is arguably against the law, then do you go along with the law or the opinion?


As of October 1, the ratification period began. Rhode Island, immediately and predictably gave a resounding nay. On October 3, 1787, a meeting between Pennsylvania and New Jersey state officials was held. They jointly decided to ratify the amendment, becoming the first two votes out of the now required 10. Five days later, Maryland ratified, and then Delaware ratified a week later. New York, Alexander Hamilton's home state, was swayed to his side and became the fifth ratifier on October 13. There was a gap of about two weeks before the sixth ratification: this one came from Massachusetts. Popular opinion appeared to be for the amendment as previously opposed states Georgia and South Carolina brought the ratification count to eight a week afterwards on November 2. They finally agreed with the compromises to slave trade, but Virginia and North Carolina did not. They both voted nay on ratification. It came down to New Hampshire and Connecticut, who after nearly a month after Georgia did so, voted to ratify on November 29, bringing vote count up to 10. According to the amendment, that made it an official piece of law. 


Alexander Hamilton gave a resounding victory speech to supporters in New York City which ended with a booming cheer from the crowd and a very happy central government. North Carolina and Virginia, who both voted nay, grudgingly accepted the new law. Rhode Island was especially unhappy about it. Some of the government was convinced enough that the amendment was not legally passed to carry on like it had never existed, and imposed all of their own taxes. Once Christmas had passed, the state government decided to challenge the central government over the amendment in a court of law in the case that would become the United States v. Rhode Island.

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