Hamilton’s success in carrying his measures through Congress, by sheer dexterity of management when numbers were against him, added intense bitterness to the natural chagrin felt by the defeated faction. Men like Jefferson and Madison were subject to traditions of behavior that required them to maintain a certain style of public decorum no matter how they might rage in private. But new men with new manners were coming on the scene, and among them the opposition to Hamilton had found a new leader— William Branch Giles of Virginia. He was a Princeton graduate of the class of 1781, had studied for the bar, and had been admitted to practice in 1786. To the full legal equipment of the period he added an energy and an audacity that speedily brought him legal and political distinction. He was active and outspoken in advocating the adoption of the new Constitution, at a time when popular sentiment in Virginia was strongly inclined to be adverse. He had no hesitation about undertaking unpopular causes, and hence British debt cases became a marked feature of his practice. Virginia State law had suspended the recovery of debts due British subjects until reparation had been made for the loss of negro slaves taken away by the British during the war, and until the western posts had been surrendered. But the peace treaty of 1783 stipulated that creditors on neither side should meet with lawful impediment in the recovery of debts, and by the new Constitution treaties had become part of the law of the land. On the basis of a national jurisdiction in conflict with the Virginia statutes, Giles acted so energetically, that he himself related that by 1792 he had been employed in at least one hundred British debt cases, and was “as successful in collecting monies under judgments as is usually the case with citizens.”
Comprehension of the true nature of the struggle in which Giles became conspicuous must start with the fact that the Constitution was reluctantly accepted and with great uneasiness as to possible consequences. In the Virginia convention of 1788, it was declared that the new Constitution was essentially a scheme of the military men to subject the people to their rule. This argument was not so much met as avoided by the declaration that there could be no tyranny while Washington lived. The rejoinder was obvious: what if he should not be able to withstand military influence? What if, in spite of him, the government should be given a dangerous character that would develop after he passed away? Jefferson had felt misgivings on this score from the first, and Madison experienced them as soon as differences on practical measures arose between himself and Hamilton. Jefferson and Madison wanted the government to be made respectable but not strong. Hamilton saw what they could not see—and indeed what few at that time could see—that a government cannot be made respectable without being made strong.