Not long after Hamilton began the practice of law, he was elected a member from New York to the Continental Congress. Here he did what he could.
But the old Continental Congress had served its purpose; it had done very well for war; it would not do for peace. There was no President; there was no Supreme Court. Even the Congress itself was without any real authority. The little states were jealous of the big states, and the delegates were going home, one by one. Everybody said there would soon be no Congress at all.
Now, just at this very time there was more need of a strong government than ever before.
The paper dollars which Congress had issued were refused in payment of debts. People said the dollars were "not worth a continental," which meant they were not worth anything at all.
Indeed, everything continental seemed worthless. The Continental Congress had borrowed money from France, Holland, and Spain, and these countries clamored in vain for their pay.
The continental flag could not protect American commerce; the pirates in the Mediterranean Sea plundered the American ships, and British sailors boarded them; and the Spaniards at New Orleans refused to allow the Mississippi River to be navigated by Americans.
The continental army was disbanded; and when Congress taxed the states to raise some money, there were riots everywhere.
The kings of Europe began to rejoice at the distress of the Americans. "See," they said to their subjects, "see what a ridiculous spectacle a republic makes of itself! A kingdom is a firm and stable government; a republic is the rule of a mob."
England said that if the republic were only let alone it would fall to pieces of its own weight, and soon one state after another would be knocking at the door of Parliament to ask protection against her neighbors. And so King George kept his troops in the forts along the St. Lawrence. He hoped to win his colonies back again.
Hamilton urged Congress to call a convention of delegates from all the states to agree upon a better plan of government.
Now, there was so much quarreling in Congress that Hamilton could get little attention, and he soon resigned his office to practice law. But he watched and waited for the time when he might again propose a convention.
At last he was sent as a delegate to a commercial meeting at Annapolis. Here he urged his plan for a more perfect union. James Madison, of Virginia, helped him, and it was decided to ask Congress to call a convention to revise the articles of confederation.
Congress agreed to do this; and so, in May, 1787, a convention met at Philadelphia to form a permanent union between the states.
It was a noted body of men. There was George Washington, the hero of the Revolution; Robert Morris, the great merchant prince, who had almost spent his fortune that the armies might be fed; Benjamin Franklin, who had just returned from the court of the French king; Edmund Randolph, who had refused to sail away in a Tory ship with his father; and James Madison, who would one day be President.
There were governors, lawyers, and merchants among these delegates at Philadelphia, but among them all none was more ready for work than Alexander Hamilton.
He had a plan of government already formed in his own mind, and wished to persuade the rest to adopt it.
George Washington was elected president of the convention, and then the debates began.
Now, all agreed that there should be a union of the states, but there were many different opinions about what this union should be.
Some wanted a government with each state independent, except in time of war. Others wanted a government with all the states firmly united. A few, who had been made timid by the riots, declared that only a king could keep peace.
The convention lasted four months, and the debates were loud and long. Many times the meeting was almost broken up, and the talk grew so bitter that Franklin moved prayer be said every morning.
Hamilton was kept very busy. Once he spoke five hours without stopping. He proposed a strong government, with a President, a Congress, and a Supreme Court, much as we have it now. Some day, in a larger book, you will read all about it.
In the end, the Constitution of the United States was written and signed. Washington's name was first on the list. The great general held his pen in his hand as he said: "Should the states reject this excellent Constitution, the probability is that an opportunity will never again offer to cancel another in peace. The next will be drawn in blood." Franklin said: "I consent, sir, to this Constitution because I expect no better, and because I am not sure it is not the best."
No one has told what Hamilton said, but we can see his name standing out, firm and clear, on the yellow parchment which lies under glass in the capitol at Washington.
After the Constitution was properly signed by the delegates, it was submitted to the old Continental Congress. The Congress agreed to let the states say whether they wished to adopt the new government.
If nine states adopted it, a union would be formed. All the states called conventions to consider the question.