Breaking news: newly uncovered Hamilton records – part 1

Newly uncovered Hamilton records relating to the Constitutional Convention and Annapolis Convention

Late breaking news (developing story)

This week, working with the New York State Archives, we uncovered journal entries evidencing payments to Alexander Hamilton for his attendance at the Annapolis Convention in 1786 and the Constitutional Convention in 1787. These newly revealed Hamilton records were found among 826 volumes of journals, ledgers and registers which have not yet been digitized.

These exciting journal entries help to piece together the gaps in the story of Hamilton’s important work in the framing of the Constitution. The first image below demonstrates that Hamilton and his co-delegate Egbert Benson were paid 113 pounds, 1 shilling and 4 pence on May 9, 1787 for their work in Annapolis the prior year.

We know that Hamilton attended the Philadelphia Convention beginning on May 25, 1787 (the first day that a quorum was present). Following his unprecedented all-day speech on June 18, he left Philadelphia to return to New York in late June. We know that he briefly reappeared in Philadelphia on August 13. Of course, he was appointed to the Convention’s final committee – the Committee on Style and Arrangement – on September 8. This committee of giants was responsible for drafting the final text of the Constitution, its Cover Letter, and the ratification resolutions. For a more detailed discussion of Hamilton’s role at the Convention click here: Hamilton’s Convention timeline.

The second newly discovered journal entry was made almost exactly a year later, on May 21, 1788. The image below evidences that Hamilton was paid 121 pounds and 12 shillings for his work in Philadelphia at the Constitutional Convention. 

These newly discovered records raise a host of questions:

  • How were the reimbursements calculated?
  • Who authorized the payments? Did Governor Clinton approve of the politically sensitive disbursements?
  • Do other records exist evidencing where Hamilton stayed in Philadelphia? Other sources suggest Hamilton stayed Ms. Dally’s boarding house in August/September or the Indian Queen in May/June.
  • Did New York pay a per diem or reimburse actual expenses incurred?
  • Did Hamilton’s co-delegates from New York, Yates and Lansing also get reimbursed?
  • Was the cash paid in New York pounds or English pounds? How did the New York reimbursements compare with other states which sent more delegates to Philadelphia?

According to Professor John Vile and Jack Rakove’s exhaustive encyclopedia of The Constitutional Convention of 1787, the Virginia delegates were paid 6 pounds per day. New Jersey paid 4 pounds per day. Delaware reimbursed 40 shillings per day. Maryland’s delegates were compensated “as delegates in Congress were paid.” New Hampshire’s two delegates did not arrive until July 23. Their costs were advanced by John Langdon out of his personal funds. 

Until these records were discovered this week, we had no knowledge of the reimbursement to Hamilton for attending the Philadelphia Convention. As is being explored by our pending documentary, the goal is to tell the untold story of the Constitution’s Cover Letter. As discussed in prior posts, the Cover Letter was potentially written by Hamiton and Gouverneur Morris at Ms. Dally’s boarding house between September 8 – 12.

For those who are curious, this discovery was made by cross-referencing the dates of a missing letter that Hamilton sent to the state of New York on May 21, 1788. Here is a link to the skeletal description of Hamilton’s May 21, 1788 letter on the Founders Online website. The only clues to the letter’s existence come from a November 1924 auction catalog by America’s oldest auction firm, Freeman’s (formerly known as Samuel T. Freeman and Co.). Here is a link to the Freeman auction catalog, which unfortunately is unannotated and does not identify the buyer of Hamilton’s 1788 letter. The quest continues…but a potential buyer may have been William Randoph Hearst purchasing through famous Philadelphia dealer Ephriam Wells.

With regard to reimbursement for attending the Annapolis Convention, the Hamilton Papers at the Library of Congress contain a May 8, 1787 “statement of expenses incurred by Alexnder Hamilton and Egbert Benson”. Click here for a link to the  May 8, 1787 statement of expenses on the Founders Online website. Interestingly, the Annapolis Convention disbursement was “sworn to” by Hamilton and Benson before Richard Varick. At the bottom of the page the State Treasurer (Gerard Bancker) and State Auditor (Peter Curtenius) certify that “I have examined the above account and allow to be due thereon” the sum of one hundred pounds, one shilling & four pence.

It is suspected that the missing May 21, 1788 letter regarding Hamilton’s attendance in Philadelphia may be similar to the May 8, 1787 statement of expenses regarding the Annapolis Convention. Yet, the Annapolis Convention only lasted a few days. It is hoped that the missing May 21, 1788 letter may contain more information. 

We know that Hamilton wrote the report of the Annapolis Convention in September of 1786 calling for the Philadelphia Convention in May of 1787. Only five states sent delegates to Annapolis. Nevertheless, Hamilton, Madison and the handful of other delegates were not deterred by the lack of a quorum.

Historian Joseph Ellis has described Hamilton’s Annapolis report as  “a display of almost preposterous audacity.” Rather than accepting defeat, Hamilton’s bold report manifested “out-front leadership in its most flamboyant form.” According to Ellis, “[a] convention called to address the modest matter of commercial reform had just failed to attract even a quorum, and now Hamilton was using the occasion to announce the date for another convention that would tackle all the problems affecting the confederation at once.”

Ultimately, the pending research hopes to fill in important remaining details of the seminal work of the summer of 1787. 

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