Constitutional Journal

By

-Wednesday, Aug. 1, 1787

Yesterday General Washington made a solitary pilgrimage to his 1777 military camp at Valley Forge, reporting that he found it gone to ruin and reclaimed by the wilderness.

A CIVIL war of words exploded in the open today, foreshadowing a bitter public struggle, in print and among various political factions, over the proposed new Constitution.

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The Pennsylvania Herald in today's issue attacked Gov. George Clinton of New York for his criticism of the Convention and its goal of a new national government. The Herald said:

``A gentleman from New York informs us that the anti-foederal disposition of a great officer of that State has seriously alarmed the citizens. ... At this critical moment, men who have an influence upon society should be cautious what opinions they entertain and what sentiments they deliver....''

The ``gentleman from New York'' the Herald cited as its source is believed to be Col. Alexander Hamilton, a bitter political enemy of Governor Clinton's. Colonel Hamilton left the Convention as a delegate from New York over a month ago. One observer believes that, rather than return to the Convention, as he promised General Washington, he has stayed in New York to counter Governor Clinton's criticism of the Convention.

Such criticism began after New York delegates Robert Yates and John Lansing left Philadelphia on July 10 for good. Both reported to Governor Clinton that the Convention had gone beyond its original instructions to revise the Articles of Confederation and was planning a despotic government.

An unsigned letter in a New York newspaper, on July 21, attacked Governor Clinton for prejudicing the country against the work of the Convention before it was even complete. The letter, allegedly written by Colonel Hamilton, amounted to a declaration of war, and over the last 10 days supporters of Governor Clinton and of Colonel Hamilton have been drawn into a civil war of words waged in the New York and Philadelphia newspapers. The Philadelphia Herald's charges today are the latest, but probably not the last.

The French envoy to New York has apparently taken sides in this public battle. He is reported to have written to Paris in a July 25 secret diplomatic dispatch that there had not been ``the slightest provocation'' for the attack on Governor Clinton.

True or not, Colonel Hamilton's alleged letter, according to one observer, has shattered the atmosphere of approval in New York that had extended to the Philadelphia Convention. What had once been silent disapproval by Governor Clinton and his followers has now exploded into a bitter public partisan dispute over the Convention and the proposed new Constitution.

Colonel Hamilton's decision to provoke a public debate - and observers agree that the letter was his - before the Convention has even completed its work is baffling. Particularly since General Washington specifically wrote Colonel Hamilton, saying that he wished Colonel Hamilton had not left Philadelphia, and that he missed him.

There is an irony in Colonel Hamilton's actions. As a lawyer for Georgia delegate William Pierce, he managed to settle peacefully, after returning to New York, an affair of honor that nearly ended in a duel for Mr. Pierce. At the same time, within days of his successful role as a mediator, he has started a partisan political duel in the public arena that may go beyond the Convention.

These day-by-day reports on the Constitutional Convention will continue tomorrow.

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