Book IV. "Alexander the Great"
Chapter IX

On the following day every shop was closed in Poughkeepsie. The men, even many of the women, stood for hours in the streets, talking little, their eyes seldom wandering from the Court-house, many of them crowding close to the walls, that they might catch a ringing phrase now and again. By this time they all knew Hamilton's voice, and they confessed to a preference for his lucid precision. In front of the Court-house, under a tree, an express messenger sat beside his horse, saddled for a wild dash to New York with the tidings. The excitement seemed the more intense for the heat of the day, which half suppressed it, and all longed for the snap of the tension.

Within the upper room of the Court-house the very air vibrated. Clinton, who always grunted at intervals, and blew his nose stentoriously when fervescent, was unusually aggressive. Beyond the bar men and women stood; there was no room for chairs, nor for half that desired admittance. In the very front stood the only woman whose superb physique carried her through that trying day without smelling-salts or a friendly shoulder. She was a woman with the eyes of an angel, disdainful of men, the mouth of insatiety, the hair and skin of a Lorelei, and a patrician profile. Her figure was long, slender, and voluptuous. Every man within the bar offered her his chair, but she refused to sit while other women stood; and few were the regrets at the more ample display of her loveliness.

Hamilton and Lansing debated with a lively exchange of acrimonious wit. Smith spoke in behalf of the Constitution. Then Hamilton rose for what all felt was to be a grand final effort, and even his friends experienced an almost intolerable excitement. On the other side men trembled visibly with apprehension, not so much in fear of the result as of the assault upon their nervous systems. They hardly could have felt worse if on their way to execution, but not a man left his seat; the fascination was too strong to induce even a desire to avoid it.

Hamilton began dispassionately enough. He went over the whole Constitution rapidly, yet in so emphatic a manner as to accomplish the intelligent subservience of his audience. Then, with the unexaggerated eloquence of which he was so consummate a master, he pictured the beauty, the happiness, the wealth of the United States under the new Constitution; of the peace and prosperity of half a million homes; of the uninterrupted industry of her great cities, their ramifications to countless hamlets; of the good-will and honour of Europe; of a vast international trade; of a restored credit at home and abroad, which should lift the heavy clouds from the future of every ambitious man in the Republic; of a peace between the States which would tend to the elevation of the American character, as the bitter, petty, warring, and perpetual jealousies had incontestably lowered it; of, for the beginning of their experiment, at least eight years of harmony under George Washington.

He spoke for two hours in the glowing terms of a prophecy and an optimism so alluring, that load after load seemed to roll from the burdened minds opposite, although Clinton snorted as if about to thrust down his head and paw the earth. When Hamilton had made his hearers thoroughly drunk with dreams of an ecstatic future, he advanced upon them suddenly, and, without a word of warning transition, poured upon them so terrible a picture of the consequences of their refusal to enter the Union, that for the first few moments they were ready to leap upon him and wrench him apart. The assault was terrific, and he plunged on remorselessly. He sketched the miseries of the past eleven years, the poverty, the dangers, the dishonour, and then by the most precise and logical deduction presented a future which, by the commonest natural and social laws, must, without the protection of a high and central power, be the hideous finish. The twilight came; the evening breeze was rustling through the trees and across the sultry room. As Hamilton had calculated, the moment came when he had his grip on the very roots of the enemy's nerves. Chests were rising, handkerchiefs appearing. Women fainted. Clinton blew his nose with such terrific force that the messenger below scrambled to his feet. Hamilton waited during a breathless moment, then charged down upon them.

"Now listen, gentlemen," he said. "No one so much as I wishes that this Constitution be ratified to the honour of the State of New York; but upon this I have determined: that the enlightened and patriotic minority shall not suffer for the selfishness and obstinacy of the majority. I therefore announce to you plainly, gentlemen, that if you do not ratify this Constitution, with no further talk of impossible amendments and conditions, that Manhattan Island, Westchester, and Kings counties shall secede from the State of New York and form a State by themselves, leaving the rest of your State without a seaport, too contemptible to make treaties, with only a small and possibly rebellious militia to protect her northern boundaries from the certain rapacity of Great Britain, with the scorn and dislike of the Union, and with no hope of assistance from the Federal Government, which is assured, remember, no matter what her straits. That is all."

It was enough. He had won the day. The Constitution was ratified without further parley.