Coups take planning. Successful coups are best planned in secret.
In the early days of the American Republic, insurrections and coups were more common than we may realize today; every month or so, another group rose up against the government and the states had to take action against its own citizens to put down the rebellion. One such insurrection, Shays’ Rebellion, in 1786, lasted several months and almost succeeded in a major disruption of trade and governmental power in the fledgling United States. At that point in American History, the states thought of themselves as mini nations that united first for defense (against Great Britain, for starters) and then for mutual aid and, hopefully, trade. Think of that early system of government to be more like the European Union today—a much looser association of nation-states.
So, yes; it was a time of uncertainty and insecurity, this time that was ripe for rebellion and plots. One such plotter was a man named Jimmy. Jimmy was no dummy, and he recognized that this new nation had a government that was extremely weak in some areas. Like the rebels in Shays’ uprising in Massachusetts, Jimmy thought the people must have more say in such matters as taxes (one of the key issues during the recent American Revolution, in fact) and trade between the states. He hatched a plan to secretly meet with some others who felt the same way to think of ways to overthrow the current government of the US and start a different one.
As quietly as possible, word went out to like-minded souls in other states for the plotters to meet in Maryland in September of 1786. For four days, 12 men from only four of the United States met to discuss what would be the best course of action for them to take to ensure that the current government of the United States would be quickly overthrown and how they could win the people’s support. Even though their numbers were small, these men were united in their desire to fix the “important defects in the system” of the American government.
One of Jimmy’s co-conspirators, a man named Al, suggested that they reach out to people who had been associated with the Continental Army during the recent war. After all, the coup might need a strong military showing if they were to succeed. Al had connections to General George Washington, and he suggested that they include him in on the plot. Others in the group doubted whether Washington would have the stomach for such rebellious talk. They reminded Al of the sentiment of Washington at the end of the war, when he had been urged by some of his officers to assume the role of a de facto King of America. Washington quickly and vehemently squashed such talk, and some at the meeting felt that he would do the same now. Jimmy, also with avenues to the great man, promised to talk to him about the issues at a later opportunity.
The fear of those assembled was that, since people from only a few of the states were at the meeting, whatever plan they hatched would not have widespread support. Nevertheless, again the need to something was recognized by all. Jimmy, realizing that his plan would not be enacted at this point, decided to retreat, to live to fight another day. He asked Al if he would write a letter to send to the other states who had not sent anyone to the meeting to see if they might meet again soonest. The sooner, the better.
At this point, you might be thinking that you have never heard of this plot to change the government of the United States. However, you have certainly heard of it. Today, we call it the Annapolis Convention. And, we might ask ourselves at this juncture, what is the definition of a patriot? Is it not someone who wishes for a better life for all citizens of the nation? That is what these men saw themselves as being: Patriots.
You see, the letter that Al—Alexander Hamilton—wrote at the insistence of his compatriot, Jimmy—James Madison—asking the other states to meet to discuss changing the United States government led to the writing of the United States Constitution the next year in Philadelphia in order to form a more perfect union.