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Melancton Smith (May 7, 1744 – July 29, 1798) was a New York delegate to the Continental Congress. His first name is sometimes spelled "Melancthon"; it derives from Philipp Melancthon, the leader in the Reformation.
He was born in Jamaica, Long Island in New York and homeschooled by his parents. When his family moved to Poughkeepsie, New York, he became involved in the mercantile business. In 1769 he helped organize the Washington Hollow Presbyterian Church.
He became a delegate to the first New York Provincial Congress in New York on May 22, 1775. He served in the Continental Line Regiment on June 30, 1775, which he organized as the Dutchess County Rangers. On Feb. 11, 1777, he became one of three members of a Dutchess County, New York commission for "inquiring into, detecting and defeating all conspiracies ... against the liberties of America;" he served for the next six months administering oaths of allegiance, arresting suspects, informing upon and examining Loyalists. While wielding this powerful civil and military authority, he was also serving as sheriff of Dutchess County. He extended his land holdings by purchasing some of the forfeited Loyalist estates.
Smith moved to New York City in 1785 where he was a prominent merchant. He helped found the New York Manumission Society in opposition to slavery and served in the Continental Congress from 1785 to 1787. He was the most important Anti-federalist member of the State ratification convention at Poughkeepsie in 1788, where he made many of the same arguments as the Federal Farmer. Following the ratification of the Constitution by New Hampshire and Virginia, and a letter he received from Nathan Dane, Smith became convinced that New York had no choice but to accept the ratification of the Constitution and could not afford to wait until it had been amended. His vote for the Constitution, with the recommendation of amendments, broke Anti-Federalist ranks and brought down Governor George Clinton's wrath. He was one of the few important landowners and merchants among the Anti-Federalists, and Smith continued in the Clintonian party. He was elected to the Assembly in 1791 and canvassed the state for Clinton in 1792 against John Jay. He died during the yellow fever epidemic in New York City in 1798 and is buried in Jamaica Cemetery, Jamaica, Queens, New York.
Smith has been cited as the likely author of some of the more prominent Antifederalist essays written to encourage voters to reject ratification of the Constitution: the essays of Brutus and The Federal Farmer. While many believed Robert Yates to have been the author of the Brutus essays and Richard Henry Lee to have written the Federal Farmer, scholars have recently cast doubt on those attributions. In a computational analysis of the known writings of Smith, Yates, Lee, and other prominent Antifederalists, John Burrows concluded that Smith was the most likely author of both sets of essays. He found that "Brutus is consistently unlike... Yates's other writings." However, "the resemblance to Smith is strong and unfaltering." Furthermore, "[a]ll of the tests employed upheld Smith's authorship of Federal Farmer's papers, while the claim for Richard Henry Lee found no support at all." Michael Zuckert and Derek Webb, noting that it would be odd for one person to write two separate sets of essays covering similar topics and publishing at the same time, suggest that Smith instead collaborated closely with other Antifederalists. They find it more probable that he wrote one of the sets of essays, while another person or persons close to him wrote the other.
- "Melancton Smith Papers, 1767-1795". New York State Library Website. New York State Library. Retrieved 28 January 2016.
- Boyd, Julian P. (1935). "Smith, Melancton, 1744–1798, (May 7, 1744 – July 29, 1798)". Dictionary of American Biography, Volume 9.
- Zuckert and Webb. The Anti-Federalist Writings of the Melancton Smith Circle p. 418-419
- Zuckert and Webb. The Anti-Federalist Writings of the Melancton Smith Circle p.xxix
- Debates in the Convention of the State of New York.
- Robert H. Webking. "Melancton Smith and the Letters from the Federal Farmer," William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Ser., Vol. 44, No. 3, (Jul., 1987), pp. 510–528 online in JSTOR