History of the 1787 Constitutional Convention as Presented in
1787 the Musical
We Wrote the Constitution
by Robert Picklesimer
CHAPTER 7, PART 1 (+ Parts 2-5 here for the time being)
The Other Two States with Grumbletonians: Massachusetts and New York
(continued from Chapter 6, Part 3)
Chapter 7, Part 1 The divided Massachusetts
Chapter 7, Part 2 The division of New York
Chapter 7, Part 3 Hamilton, before leaving the Convention
Chapter 7, Part 4 Hamilton returns
Chapter 7, Part 5 Robert Yates and John Lansing, Jr.
Chapter 7, Part 1 The divided Massachusetts
The four delegates from Massachusetts were for the most part evenly divided between federalists and anti-federalists, meaning at this stage of history (in 1787), those in favor of a central federated government were called “federalists” (in 1787) and those who wanted the states to remain supreme were called “anti-federalists.”
Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts was the chief anti-federalist and one of the chief Grumbletonians of the Convention. He had signed the Declaration of Independence, was part of the delegation from his state along with John Adams in 1776, and, besides being a good friend of Adams, is clearly an Old Patriot, but he was also a principled opponent of a central government. Gerry feared most that the tyranny of England was only being replaced by the tyranny of a central government. This would be a new oppressor to dictate to his home state of Massachusetts, and the standing army of redcoats would only be replaced with a standing army from Washington (or Philadelphia, New York, or wherever the central government was headquartered). Later in life, Gerry (whose name is pronounced “gear-ee” or “gary,” even though the political process named after him was pronounced with a j sound for the g, as in “gerrymandering”) still continued to participate politically. By 1800, he was a Jeffersonian Democrat-Republican, and even became Madison’s first Vice-President, a position he served until his death.
Ironically, at the Convention, Gerry was not necessarily in favor of the equality of the small states. He simply opposed the greater authority of a central government without a Bill of Rights to protect individual citizens from this newly expansive federal government. Many scholars consider Gerry’s various attitudes at various stages of his career to be inconsistent. He was a fervent supporter of the break with Great Britain, a fervent opponent of the 1787 Constitution, a fervent supporter of the Bill of Rights (an initial member elected to the House of Representatives, part of the faction along with James Madison, which pushed hard and successfully for the Bill of Rights in the very first Congress), eventually a supporter of the new government with its new Constitution and Bill of Rights, and eventually a fervent supporter of the new political party of Jefferson and Madison. After serving in Congress until 1793, Gerry was appointed by his friend John Adams to diplomatic duties in France, and he became involved in the infamous XYZ Scandal involving Talleyrand and illegal payoffs, to which Gerry objected and which he helped to expose. Gerry was ostracized by the elite class, and eventually sided with the Democratic Republicans of Jefferson and Madison. But all of that was much later.
In the Convention of 1787, Gerry found an ally, for the most part, in Caleb Strong, also of Massachusetts, although by the end of the Convention, Strong voted for the new Constitution in opposition to Gerry. The one other major participation by Caleb Strong was before the Convention when he defended Jason Parmenter during the Shays Rebellion. Because Strong’s usefulness was so limited and we felt we could demonstrate the usual divided nature of the Massachusetts delegation by letting the President of the Confederation Congress Nathan Gorham be a usually neutral, or at best a fluctuating, vote to keep the usual status of Massachusetts in most votes divided, and thus undecided until the end, Strong was not included in the musical, 1787.
Nathaniel Gorham on the other hand, was a regular participant in the Convention and was especially important because of his status as the President of the Confederation Congress who chooses to come to this Convention to revise that Confederation Congress. He wanted to revise the Articles of Confederation instead of attending the Confederation Congress created by those Articles. He is then able to enhance the status of this Assembly, as well as to tell the early joke that they “…never get anything done in Congress anyway.” Gorham is another of these Founding Fathers, such as James Wilson, Paterson, Roger Sherman, Alexander Hamilton, Luther Martin, Abraham Baldwin, and Benjamin Franklin who rose from very poor beginnings, and he also, like Robert Morris and James Wilson, died penniless speculating on the new western lands.
Rufus King was important to the proceedings of 1787 the Musical for the very same reason that Gunning Bedford, Jr. of Maryland was important. Those two in their bitter squabble during the Convention represent the two factions, the smaller states under Bedford willing to join with other European powers if they cannot come to a satisfactory disposition with the larger states, and the larger states being spoken for by one of the youngest at the Convention, Rufus King of Massachusetts. The irony is that Gunning Bedford of Maryland, in speaking for the small states, was actually a very large man, and Rufus King , in speaking for the large states, was actually relatively small in stature, and one of the youngest who attended the Convention. King was most affected by the spectre of the potential mob rule with Shays Rebellion in Massachusetts, and yet was also suspicious of the aristocratic monied interests in his state, so we have him, rather than Caleb Strong, represent Jason Parmenter as his attorney in the play. Beyond that, the young Rufus King is allied with the young Madison and Hamilton, as well as the more mature James Wilson, throughout the play, as they all come from the most populous states, and they believe in the necessity of a stronger centralized government in order to save the Revolution.
Part 2 The division of New York
The New York delegation to the national Convention was always a divided faction. Governor George Clinton of New York did not favor the more centralized federal government that Hamilton would pursue, and so, based on the statute from New York that at least 3 would make a quorum, and with Governor Clinton appointing the other two (Yates and Lansing), Hamilton would effectively be blocked from any real action by his fellow delegates from New York.
We even make them comic elements of the play in their insistence that they oppose anything that Hamilton supports, then, once Hamilton has reduced his stature at the assembly, by arguing that “we ought to be more like the British,” Lansing and Yates perform a comic song-and-dance, excited to learn that Hamilton has left the assembly so, therefore, they may now do the same.
George Mason observes that these two are so silly during the song, “The Grumbletonians,” that he even questions the viability of his Grumbletonian allies.
The ultimate irony is that Hamilton comes back after they leave. Hamilton cannot vote for the state of New York under New York’s rules, as Washington reminds him, as Hamilton is now by himself, but he can help craft the writing of the final Constitutional document, which he does.
In the Ratification scene near the end of the play, it becomes apparent that Yates and Lansing are expected to argue against ratification at their state’s ratification convention, but that the older Yates, for whatever reasons (perhaps he had begun to suspect that this new Constitution would be an effective one after all), does not fight it as vociferously at his state’s Ratification as he might. And the Constitution passes.
Alexander Hamilton was a primary driver of the Convention. He had been arguing in the Continental Congress for a number of years that the Articles of Confederation needed revision. He felt the economic shortcomings of the squabbles between the various states, and their inability, or flat-out refusal to pay their debts to the Continental Congress and to pay their debts from the Revolutionary War, might lead to the failure of this new young country.
The year before, 1786, Hamilton, along with Dickinson, Madison, and Randolph, were among those who met in Annapolis to propose some renewed structure to address the deficiencies of the Articles of Confederation. To his credit, John Dickinson of Delaware, felt the same need for revision, even though he, Dickinson, had been one of the primary authors of the earlier Articles of Confederation, and a signatory thereto. The Annapolis meeting was probably modeled on other meetings then going on between numerous states to address disputed areas between states, such as the Potomac conference that Washington had attended the year before. The one major difference is that those attending the Annapolis Convention realized three things: 1) a national conference was needed, with all states participating, not just the five states at Annapolis; 2) that some sort of encouragement, such as the attendance of someone with the stature of George Washington, was needed to get nearly all of the states to attend; and 3) that the Articles may have needed more than just to be “amended and corrected” if this new young country was to survive. Of course the language of “amending and correcting” allows for replacement altogether. As happened.
And after already having served in the Continental Congress, Alexander Hamilton was not only vocally a prime driver of a newer more central government, but also was a prime mover in getting states to send delegates to the 1787 meeting, which was not generally called the Constitutional Convention until after the Convention was over and the new document was submitted to the state Conventions for ratification. Governor George Clinton of New York was not in favor of any new restructuring, as his state, and he himself, were benefiting greatly from tariffs on neighboring states. So Governor Clinton drafted the rules and expectations for his delegation, making sure to include two delegates to this national Assembly whose purpose was primarily to counter Hamilton in everything he did.
For that reason, Lucinda Lawrence and I decided to make these other two delegates, Robert Yates and John Lansing, Jr., as comic characters in the play. Lucinda likes to call them Tweedledum and Tweedledee. I originally wanted some sort of comic song for them to exit, an Alphonse and Gustav number, and while we were working on that, Lucinda came up with using Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, which, ironically, premiered the very same year as the 1787 Convention, so the fit became too perfect not to be utilized. Also, it was decided to make them the deliberately comic characters in the early number, “The Grumbletonians.” In that musical number many of the Grumbletonians do not believe in any change to the current government. Except for George Mason, who has some valid philosophical reasons to resist this new Constitution, they all seem to be simply knee-jerk reactionaries, but Lansing and Yates are stuck echoing the other Grumbletonians in a silly fashion, and even Mason begins to wonder about these, his “…glorious allies….”
Two other interesting interactions of Lansing and Yates are, when the standing rules are first proposed and Yates wants to immediately disagree with Hamilton, Lansing has to remind Yates that they are not against him in this very first discussion; and, secondly, after the setup of Yates then offering “I object!” inappropriately a few more times during the Convention, he later, during the Ratification Convention in New York, “… said nothing,” to Lansing’s consternation that Yates was not as vocally against the Constitution as he could have been: it barely passes. Lansing it is, early on, who defines their assigned task – to amend and revise the Articles of Confederation – and he considers that to be a far less ambitious undertaking than Hamilton and Madison consider it.
Ironically only three delegates are sent from New York, and their own established rules necessitate that a majority of those delegates have to be present for New York to vote at the Convention. So Yates and Lansing are able to vote the Compromise necessary to allow the Constitution to succeed, but after they leave, giddy with their comic tune that Hamilton is gone, Hamilton later returns but cannot vote, but he does participate in the discussion, and helps to write the final document.
Part 3 Alexander Hamilton, before leaving the Convention
Now as for Hamilton himself. Except for Washington and Franklin, there is perhaps no more iconic American figure of this time period. There are multitudes of books written about Hamilton, both before and after this Convention. There is no doubt he is a ladies’ man, so we decided he had to be young and handsome. Additionally he is clearly intelligent and brave. He almost self-mockingly delivers some of his lines. He knows he is full of himself, and sometimes shows that he knows it, and he doesn’t even care.
He had achieved his status serving as an emergency artillery captain under Washington during some of the darkest days of the Revolutionary War. He was recognized by Washington, and served for a long time on Washington’s staff, taking care of his correspondence, among other things. By the final siege at Yorktown, Hamilton had again demanded that he be able to function as a military commander and not a staff functionary, and during the rest of his life he was often referred to as “Colonel” Hamilton. He served in the Continental Congress, and was able to witness firsthand how ineffective that body was. From the early 1780s he had pushed for revisions primarily to the economic system in the fledgling Confederated United States, trying hard to keep the separate states from preying upon each other and trying hard to get most of the states to pay their part of the debt for the Revolutionary War. The difficulty is that Hamilton was from New York, and New York was one of the states that benefited most from the separate conflicts between the separate sovereign states.
Hamilton had two major rivals out of his own state: Governor George Clinton who directly benefited from the high tariffs New York charged other states for shipping in and out of New York; and Aaron Burr, the second rivalry of which we’ll discuss in a moment.
Nearly everyone is familiar with Hamilton’s humble upbringing in Jamaica. Probably an illegitimate child of a dissolute English Lord (this is not even a definite fact), the young Hamilton is recognized for his literary and business skills, and is sent by an elder businessman (who some suppose may even have been Hamilton’s real father) to the bustling harbor and business center of New York to further his career and education. He distinguishes himself in the Revolutionary War, is recognized for his great abilities by George Washington, and, with a few fallings out, Hamilton is devoted to Washington throughout both of their careers.
Hamilton, through his legal career in New York after the war, becomes affiliated with some of the prominent families of New York, and in fact, his wife, Eliza Schuyler is from one of those prominent families. From his early years in New York, though, there is an ongoing rivalry between Hamilton and Aaron Burr, whom Hamilton considers a crassly self-serving power monger. During this time after the Revolutionary War Hamilton also serves as a New York delegate to the Continental Congress, where he witnesses first-hand the ineffective nature of that body. Under the Articles of Confederation, written primarily by John Dickinson, there is almost no central government at all, the newly minted country is really just a loose affiliation of practically independent countries Under the Articles, no decision is made by the new Continental Congress without all thirteen of the new States agreeing. Any one state can veto any unified action proposed by other states. A suggestion is made for donations by the separate states to help pay the debts of the Revolution, including to their soldiers, but each state only pays what they want to, or what they feel they can, which is almost negligible in most cases. It is an increasingly ineffective government ripe for plucking by any foreign power. Each Continental Congress has a President, but that figure does little more than preside over the meetings of the various states, most of which many delegates don’t even bother to attend. Through this entire period, Hamilton argues for a more energetic government to cure, at the very least, some of the financial woes of this new loose affiliation of states.
In the Annapolis Convention of 1786, Hamilton gets his chance. Along with some like-minded delegates, including John Dickinson, George Read, James Madison, and Edmund Randolph, they propose a meeting the following summer (1787) “…to revise and amend” the Articles of Confederation. The only way this new Convention will be possible, however, is if the current Congress approves of this meeting, and If some of the Old Patriots are willing to lend their support to such an endeavor, the most prominent of whom is George Washington, who upon his retirement on 1783, had not planned on participating as a national figure again. But James Madison maneuvers to have General Washington’s name included in the list of delegates to this new Conference from Virginia, and Hamilton and George Mason encourage Washington to attend. With Washington’s name included, others agree to attend as well (our song introducing many of the delegates: “Will You Attend?”). The location is not only the central location for the country geographically, but central also for all that had transpired for the country in the previous fifteen years. They met in the grand city of Philadelphia, and in the building that would later be named Independence Hall, the same building in which the Declaration of Independence had been debated and passed. Because it is in Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin, newly returned from Europe, and in the last year of his life, can attend; Robert Morris, the richest man in America, can attend; delegates from the South can reach Philadelphia easily; it is not that far away from New England; Virginia, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland are right next door; and General Washington (who never wears a military uniform to this new endeavor) has agreed to attend. It is a perfect opportunity for Hamilton’s ideas to take fruit for this new country.
There are a few important, some may say crucial, moments for Hamilton at this Convention in 1787. First, he is one of the ones who helps to persuade Washington to attend. Which leads to nearly full delegations from almost all the states. Then, part way through the Convention, after rival plans are presented challenging Madison’s plans as too extreme, too experimental, other plans are suggesting doing merely minor revisions to the Articles, and that they would be better off to not have a government so democratic, or even along the lines of a representative republic, with the representatives being elected by the citizens. This idea that the conscience of the residents of these separate states can serve as the true authority for a new administration is completely alien to some of the attending delegates. Madison’s nearly radical plan to have the true authority for the new Government to lie with “We the People” seems absolutely impossible to pass muster with these fiercely independent leaders of the individual states. Many of them believe the leaders in each state or the state legislatures should continue to be the ultimate authorities.
Into this argument, Hamilton injects himself. In our play there are already some suggestions early that Hamilton is very full of himself. He suggests early on to his wife that he is the one who put this Convention together, and is shocked when he arrives to find that Madison has already done the groundwork for the Convention. There are even hints that Hamilton is even aware of his rakish arrogance and self-mockingly uses that quality. He never seems to apologize for it, though. Even later in the play, after he has left the Convention and wants to return, he sings that “They Need Me” to his wife, and he maintains that he wants to be there during this momentous period. He has indeed what we would call in modern terms an “ego,” and quite a substantial one, and he knows it.
Using this character to his advantage we come to the first crucial moment for Hamilton in this musical. In his later career, many of his political enemies contended that Hamilton was too fond of England through his entire political career. These accusations were based primarily on this incident in the Constitutional Convention. Madison had presented his plans for the new government through the Virginia Resolves at the very beginning of the Convention. These Resolves were moved onto the floor by the ultimate politician, Edmund Randolph of Virginia (our song “I Am a Politician”). Hamilton and most of the Virginia delegation, and especially Madison, figured the Virginia Resolves would just be universally accepted. But then, first Lansing of New York, and then the newly attending Paterson of New Jersey object to the Virginia Resolves, and Paterson is given a day to come up with what is called the New Jersey Plan, which basically keeps most of what they had under the Articles with only a few changes to make the central government just a little bit stronger. The New Jersey Plan, as well as a proposal by the young Pinckney of South Carolina, a plan that we do not deal with except tangentially in the play, are both presented as less offensive alternatives to Madison’s Resolves. Some of Charles Pinckney’s ideas are later incorporated into the final document, and Pinckney argued later in his life that he was a primary author of the Constitution, but Madison responded that most of what Pinckney proposed was only a slight variation from what Virginia had introduced.
Whatever the direction of these three different proposals, it is clear that there is a great deal of challenge to Madison’s elegant initial ideas. Into this controversy comes Hamilton with his own proposal, “We Ought to Be More Like the British.” He is hooted down, and Pinckney actually spoke the line in history that becomes the centerpiece of the major anthem of the show, “We are like no other people that the world has ever seen….” Pinckney ought to be remembered for that one line at the Constitutional Convention, if for nothing else, but his line is in response to Hamilton.
The conventional view of Hamilton is that he overstepped in his arrogance that time. To try to convince these delegates who had just fought a brutal war with the British was the final straw. The delegates had to oppose him. In the conventional view, Hamilton leaves the Convention in disgrace, and only later slinks back to take advantage of his writing skills to help them write the final version of the document. That is the conventional view, and Hamilton’s later song that “They Need Me/ In Philadelphia” can play into that conventional opinion. However, we played that scene that Hamilton may have know darn well what he was doing, that they had started opposing Madison’s scheme, so Hamilton was deliberately presenting an extreme, going back to the British system, that would force the Assembly to legitimately consider Madison’s proposal. He may have encouraged them to listen to the more acceptable Madison by offering a scarier option that he knew they would surely oppose.
In this approach, Hamilton was deliberately sacrificing himself because he knew he would always be outvoted in New York anyway, in order to get them to seriously consider the middle ground – not the weak adjustments of the Articles, but a whole new Constitution; not a mirror of England as Hamilton proposed, but an entirely new composition for our new government. In this version, as we suggest in our presentation, Hamilton knew he had disgraced himself and that he had to leave the Convention. Part of his proposal to be like the British, included establishing an American King, expected to be George Washington, but Hamilton doesn’t actually leave until, at the Act Break when the Hamiltons, Madisons and Washington sing “Who are We?/Someday” and Washington ends the Act, turning to Hamilton and telling him, “They’re not my slaves or subjects./ These are my friends and neighbors,/ And we will have no kings agaaaaaaaain!” Hamilton has to leave.
PART 4 Hamilton returns
The irony being that once Hamilton leaves at the Act Break, the Great Compromise that Roger Sherman is wanting to cobble together is made possible. The other two delegates from New York, Robert Yates and John Lansing, are then able to vote with the minority at the Convention, causing a tie on the question of the second house, the Senate, the device of an equal legislative body in which the representation from all the States, even the Small ones, is equal. Immediately after the vote for a Compromise, Lansing and Yates ask where Hamilton is, and they are told that Hamilton has gone home, so they are then able to launch into one of the major comic songs of the musical, “He’s Gone!” and they then comically leave the stage not to return until the Ratification scene.
Later, though, Hamilton is able to return to help effect “…songs and praises about something as dry as the economy.” He helps write the final version of the Constitution, including the phrase that opens up the authority of the federal government to do what is “necessary and proper” to effect the other goals of the Constitution. This is known as the “necessary and proper” clause, and has been the subject of numerous court challenges in the intervening two centuries.
But he does even more in the play itself. He, John Jay, and James Madison write what later becomes called “The Federalist Papers,” one of the most authoritative documents of our finding fathers. These are broadsides and newspaper entries primarily designed to persuade the New York ratification Convention to vote in favor of this new Constitution. Some of these were used to persuade other state ratifying conventions. Then Hamilton himself becomes the major advocate at the NY state convention for this new Constitution. It is crucial that New York passes it. Without New York the new country would be divided in half. But the New York Convention passes it by a narrow three votes! There are even suggestions, which we include in the play, that the older Robert Yates is not nearly as vociferous against this new document when he realizes that the rest of the country is approving it, and that his less than enthusiastic opposition actually contributed to its final passage in New York.
But Hamilton is not done after the 1787 Convention. His later exploits can fill books. But some are the most obvious: Secretary of the Treasury, attempts to retire American debts, early leader of the Federalist Party, advocate for a central Bank, opponent to Thomas Jefferson, antagonist to Aaron Burr, advocate of Thomas Jefferson to win the tie vote for President over Aaron Burr, accused of betraying the country during an affair with a foreign dignitary’s wife – he testified before congress that it was not a traitorous act, merely an affair. His relationship with his wife, who seemingly adored him, was always interesting. There were rumors that he had had an affair with Eliza’s sister (another Schuyler of New York), and, of course, the affair that he admitted before Congress.
But the final act of his life is the most apocryphal. After his political activities under the Washington administration, and his opposition to John Adams as not his kind of Federalist, in 1800 the tradition for election of the President under the Electoral College was that the one receiving second highest votes became the Vice President. Every Elector chosen by the separate states had two votes at the Electoral College. Typically one single Elector for the winning party would withhold a vote so the candidate with one vote short would become the Vice President. In 1800, it was expected that Thomas Jefferson would be President, and Aaron Burr would be Vice President, but no one would withhold their vote for Burr, and Jefferson and Burr received the exact same number of Electoral votes. Burr would not concede, and the election was thrown to the House of Representatives, which held numerous ballots, unable to determine a President. In the end, it was Alexander Hamilton, who disagreed with both Jefferson and Burr on many issues, who persuaded Representatives to vote for Jefferson, whom Hamilton considered a misguided idealist, rather than for Burr, whom he knew well in New York as a crass opportunist. Jefferson became President. Aaron Burr became Vice President. But the poisoned relationship between Burr and Hamilton would not go away. In 1804, as Burr was campaigning for Governor of New York, Hamilton submitted numerous criticisms of Burr under a pseudonym to local papers. Everyone, including Burr, knew who the writer was. So he challenged Hamilton to a duel. Hamilton, fashioning himself a military hero as he was, could not refuse, but there are reports that Hamilton refused to fire at that duel, and even though some suggest that Aaron Burr had not intended to, he killed Alexander Hamilton. Burr’s reputation became so tarnished by that affair that he could no longer run for political position in the United States, and there was a plot he led later in life to secede a large portion of the South and western United States territories and to make himself the leader of an entirely new country. But that plot did not have enough backing to succeed either, probably due to the poor reputation Burr had after the shooting of Hamilton.
So, in some ways, Hamilton’s death prevented the opportunistic demagogue, Aaron Burr, from achieving his ambitions again. Burr was later tried for Treason, and any illusions he had of higher position were never realized, a result that Alexander Hamilton, regrettably, never would know. But we allude to that fact in our Act Break song, “Who Are We?/Someday.” In that song, which is sort of a dream imagining where these five historical figures – Alexander Hamilton, Eliza Hamilton, James Madison, Dolly Payne Madison, and George Washington – end up “some day,” Alexander Hamilton sings that he gives his life for the country, and, in preventing the aspirations of the unprincipled Aaron Burr, he actually achieves that purpose.
Notes on characterization made by Lucinda Lawrence in an appendix to the script of the musical describe him so – “high tenor; handsome, with bravura, considers himself most important, full of himself, brash, loud, except when deferring to his wife. For “More Like the British” and “They Need Me” his ‘I’m wonderful’ attitude must be laughable to the audience. His character – brash, bold, impulsive – contrasts that of Madison’s calm exterior. Historically, his push to be more like the British likely was made to maneuver the others toward a common goal, knowingly sacrificing himself in the process.”
Part 5 Robert Yates and John Lansing, Jr.
These two will be forever linked together as the “other two” delegates from New York, appointed by Governor Clinton to oppose Hamilton at every turn. The two were upstate representatives (New York City and its representative, Hamilton, whose appointment was a concession by the Governor, was always pro-centralized government); Yates’ family and Lansing’s family had members who had married each other, joining the families; and Lansing had initially studied law under Yates.
In our play, besides comically opposing Hamilton, and joining the Grumbletonians in a knee-jerk reaction, their most comic moment is leaving in a riotous scene after they had discovered Hamilton had already left.
Governor Clinton and other elements of New York state were early precursors of the Tammany Hall political ring in New York City, and we suggest that Yates and Lansing are part of that group. But whereas they favored New York being left to its own devices, they may not have been as fully corrupt as those later New York elements. In 1804, Hamilton favored Lansing over Aaron Burr as the Federalist candidate for Governor, but Lansing withdrew when Governor Clinton insisted that Lansing appoint some of his cronies in order to gain his support. This was the same gubernatorial election that led to the dispute between Hamilton and Burr leading to the duel which took Hamilton’s life.
In 1829, Lansing left a New York City hotel to mail a letter and was never heard from again. We make a brief allusion to that in their song “He’s Gone.” Was Lansing too involved or too resistant toward criminal elements? Was it a random incident? If so, why did he disappear completely? Was Lansing the Jimmy Hoffa of his day? He had served as judge for many years, including the State Supreme court, after the Constitutional Convention. Although he was not a judge in 1829, he still had a great deal of influence, handling later land disputes between various states, including New York and Massachusetts. I like to suppose he might be like a Western character in a Louis L’Amour novel, who, though rich, goes West where everyone escaped their pasts with impunity, because others in his life are out to get him, and he is tired of all the business infighting. Of course we will never know, but L’Amour probably modeled his character on Lansing.
Yates is another matter. In our musical Yates and Lansing leave to a comical song using a parody on a well-known tune. While most of the songs in 1787 the Musical are original music – and Lucinda’s ballads and comical tunes are dead on for our purposes as well as some of the inspiring pieces are just that – inspiring – she did borrow some music in a kind of parody of some of the music of period. “Yankee Doodle” was originally a demeaning song sung by the British at the Colonists’ expense, for instance, yet the rebels changed the words and took it on as their own. Many of the political discussions around Ratification also had them changing the words to “Yankee Doodle” to argue for Ratification. Similarly, our “Three-Fifths of a Man” is an adaptation of the spiritual “Deep River.” I had wanted the tune of “Old Man River,” but that was still under copyright, written for Showboat about riding the River, and – better for our purpose – Lucinda suggested for our version of the song about letting slaves cross the River Jordan into the promised land. It proved to be a showstopper.
So when we took on the matter of Yates and Lansing, I wanted a comical sing-song tune to get them off stage after they learn that Hamilton had left the Convention. A back and forth patter of comical elation was what was needed. Lucinda suggested Mozart’s instrumental tune of Eine Kleine Nacht Musik, written in the very same year of the Constitutional Convention, 1787, and it was perfect, so we used it. Even though our Yates was a little older, he did a great job with both the music and dance. He was far more athletic than we would have ever guessed he could be. Taxing though it was, it was a fun frolic all the way around.
But the biggest question of Yates is the last one in the musical. He later served on the New York State Supreme Court, and had a later respectable career. In 1789 he ran as the Federalist Candidate for Governor of New York, and in 1795 as the Anti-Federalist Candidate for Governor of New York, which shows the strange fluctuation of meaning of that word during that time period. But at the ratification convention for the new Constitution, even though Lansing spoke vociferously against this new Constitution, even though Yates had written against this new document earlier in 1788, and even though Robert Yates’ brother Abraham also argued greatly against this new Constitution at the New York State ratification Convention, Robert Yates himself was noticeably quiet at the New York Convention. After that Convention, when the new Constitution had passed, he argued, though, for acceptance of this new government.
We show this in the musical. In New York, the very last state to ratify in our play, Lansing wants Yates to speak more, and in Hamilton’s words, “…Yates said nothing. It passed by three votes.” The pair may not have been so comical after all, even though we used them for that purpose. (to be continued)
CHAPTER 1, PART 1 How the Whole Thing Got Started
CHAPTER 1, PART 2 How the Whole Thing Got Started
CHAPTER 1, PART 3 How the Whole Thing Got Started
CHAPTER 2, PART 1 Who Didn’t Make the Cut of 55 Delegates
CHAPTER 2, PART 2 Who Didn’t Make the Cut of 55 Delegates
CHAPTER 3 Who Made the Cut
CHAPTER 4 Virginia Delegation
CHAPTER 5, PART 1 The Strong Delegation from Pennsylvania
CHAPTER 5, PART 2 The Strong Delegation from Pennsylvania
CHAPTER 6, PART 1 Small States
CHAPTER 6, PART 2 Small States
CHAPTER 6, PART 3 Small States
to be released:
CHAPTER 8 Delegations from the South
1787 THE MUSICAL