Hamilton’s influence permeates our nation to this day

Last in a series on Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow. Previously, we discussed these topics:

  • central government vs. states’ rights:

https://billcornishwordpresscom.wordpress.com/2017/07/18/hamilton-early-lessons-still-apply/

  • religion:

https://billcornishwordpresscom.wordpress.com/2017/07/24/hamilton-on-religion-belief-in-god-as-moral-authority/

  • politics:

https://billcornishwordpresscom.wordpress.com/2017/07/31/politics-continuing-what-hamilton-and-his-peers-started/

  • slavery, the judiciary:

https://billcornishwordpresscom.wordpress.com/2017/08/14/slavery-and-the-judiciary-hamiltons-far-reaching-views/

  • populism, journalism:

https://billcornishwordpresscom.wordpress.com/2017/08/29/the-pendulum-swings-a-little-left-and-a-little-right-returning-to-the-center-each-time/

  • military, Congress, personality:

https://billcornishwordpresscom.wordpress.com/2017/09/09/hamilton-a-strong-military-run-by-civilians/

 

Hamilton left a rich and varied legacy. As one of the most influential Founding Fathers, his thoughts and decisions continue to affect life in the United States to this day.

Make a good idea great

Hamilton was not the master builder of the Constitution: the laurels surely go to James Madison. He was, however, its foremost interpreter … (p. 355)

 

A prolific writer throughout his life, Hamilton’s most famous work is also probably his best: The Federalist Papers, a collection of 85 essays published in 1788 that promoted the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. Hamilton wrote most of the essays and edited the rest, overseeing the entire project.

http://www.let.rug.nl/usa/documents/1786-1800/the-federalist-papers/

 

In similar fashion, Hamilton did not create America’s market economy so much as foster the cultural and legal setting in which it flourished. (p. 345)

 

Like Benjamin Franklin, Hamilton saw America as the place for entrepreneurs and business success. “He believed that government ought to promote self-fulfillment, self-improvement and self-reliance.” (p. 345)

But a capitalist society requires laws that enforce contracts, respect private property, arbitrate legal disputes, and offer patents and other protections to promote invention. This was Hamilton’s genius, establishing a society to accomplish these goals.

“Hamilton had a storehouse of information that nobody else could match.” (p. 346)

Banking

Hamilton finely interwove his bank and public-debt plans, making it difficult to undo one and not the other. (p. 349)

hamilton book

His banking and public debt programs were so detailed, that once Congress approved them, it became impossible to undo them. Before they were accepted, Hamilton had to overcome fierce objections from Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and John Adams, who saw banks as little more than a way for rich people to exploit the poor. They favored an agrarian society based on farming and bartering prevalent in the South, as opposed to the urban lifestyles that required money to buy things in stores that were increasing in the North. “Jefferson and Adams detested people who earned a living shuffling financial paper …” (p. 346)

Hamilton, as our first treasury secretary, saw the need for a central bank and a uniform currency among all the states to “expand the money supply, extend credit to government and business, collect revenues, make debt payments, handle foreign exchange and provide a depository for government funds.” (p. 347)

He also saw the need for private banks and credit as part of the public money system, based on models in several European countries, which he researched extensively. “It was in the nature of Hamilton’s achievement as treasury secretary that each of his programs was designed to mesh with the others to form a single interlocking whole. His central bank was no exception.” (p. 349)

Foreign policy

… (Hamilton and President George Washingtron) had established forever the principle of executive-branch leadership in foreign policy. (p. 499)

 

This came about with the Jay Treaty, an unpopular agreement approved by the Senate in 1795 to avert war between the United States and Great Britain that gave Britain far too many advantages, opponents claimed. It did, however, prevent war and promote U.S. neutrality overseas. Hamilton was a behind-the-scenes negotiator for the treaty.

https://history.state.gov/milestones/1784-1800/jay-treaty

Coast Guard

(Hamilton) asked Congress in April 1790 to commission a fleet of single-masted vessels called revenue cutters that would patrol offshore waters and intercept contraband. By early August, Washington had signed a bill setting up this service, later known as the Coast Guard. (p. 340)

 

Earlier, Hamilton defended the new country by promoting an offshore fleet to protect U.S. commerce. But he feared overbearing ship captains, so he provided detailed instructions urging “firmness tempered with restraint …

“So masterly was Hamilton’s directive about boarding foreign vessels that it was still being applied during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.” (p 340)

Leader, not politician

Hamilton wanted to lead the electorate and provide expert opinion instead of consulting popular opinion. … Hamilton … regularly violated what became the first commandment of American politics: thou shalt always be optimistic when addressing the electorate. (p. 627)

 

As we’ve mentioned before, Hamilton was not the consummate politician. He offered his opinion, sometimes regardless of the consequences or who might be listening. “Alexander Hamilton triumphed as a doer and thinker, not as a leader of the average voter. He was simply too unashamedly brainy to appeal to the masses.” (p. 627)

He never even considered seeking the office of the President of the United States. He served as George Washington’s treasury secretary, a role where his primary passions of financing, banking, money and establishing a new government could flourish.

His death

… he achieved in death what had so often eluded him in life: an emotional outpouring of sympathy from all strata of New York society. (p. 710)

 

Because his public policies often were controversial, Hamilton had many enemies, including Jefferson and Madison at the time of his death. He defended his honor whenever he felt it was violated, even if it made his friends and family squirm.

One such dispute ended in a duel that cost Hamilton his life. Fifteen years of political clashes by Hamilton and Aaron Burr culminated in a duel on July 11, 1804, in New Jersey. Earlier that year Burr ran for governor of New York and lost the election, partly due to Hamilton’s ardent opposition. That was the last straw for Burr, who challenged Hamilton to a duel – not an unusual practice at the time as a way to protect a man’s honor. Hamilton felt he had to accept the duel challenge to protect his own honor.

https://www.gilderlehrman.org/history-by-era/hamilton/essays/understanding-burr-hamilton-duel

 

… death at forty-nine … The average life expectancy was then about fifty-five, so the dying Hamilton did not seem as young to his contemporaries as he does today, but many obituaries portrayed him as cut down by a bullet in his prime. (p. 713)

 

The first eight U.S. presidents lived an average of nearly 80 years. Even though Hamilton’s political career was waning at his death, he still had plenty of life and enthusiasm in him. Had he lived a longer life, “with his prolific pen and literary gifts, Hamilton would certainly have left voluminous and convincing memoirs.” (p. 713)

His wife

Eliza Hamilton was committed to one holy quest above all others: to rescue her husband’s historical reputation from the gross slanders that had tarnished it. (p. 2)

 

Eliza, Alexander’s wife, outlived her husband by 50 years and died in 1854 at age 97. Born in Albany, N.Y., to a wealthy landowner, she shunned the public spotlight throughout her husband’s life. She was co-founder and deputy director of the first private orphanage in New York City. Eliza had a strong Christian faith that never wavered.

“For many years after the duel, Jefferson, Adams and other political enemies had taken full advantage of their eloquence and longevity to spread defamatory anecdotes about Hamilton … Eliza enlisted as many as 30 assistants to sift through his tall stacks of papers.” (p. 2)

At his mother’s urging, their fourth son, John Church Hamilton, did publish a biography of his father – but not until after Eliza’s death.

Lasting impact

“Well, has justice been done? Few figures in American history have aroused such visceral love or loathing as Alexander Hamilton … He has tended to lack the glittering multi-volumed biographies that have burnished the fame of other founders … In all probability, Alexander Hamilton is the foremost political figure in American history who never attained the presidency, yet he probably had a much deeper and more lasting impact than many who did.” (p. 3-4)

The musical “Hamilton,” with music, lyrics and book by Lin-Manuel Miranda, is attempting to change that. Still popular more than two years after it debuted, the musical has brought to life Hamilton’s life and accomplishments, done with modern language and actors.

https://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/07/theater/review-hamilton-young-rebels-changing-history-and-theater.html?mcubz=0

Alexander Hamilton is worth the time to research. Read the book. See the show. You’ll learn plenty about how this country began, and why we are the way we are today.

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Hamilton: A strong military, run by civilians

One in a series on Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow. So far, we have discussed these topics:

  • central government vs. states’ rights:

https://billcornishwordpresscom.wordpress.com/2017/07/18/hamilton-early-lessons-still-apply/

  • religion:

https://billcornishwordpresscom.wordpress.com/2017/07/24/hamilton-on-religion-belief-in-god-as-moral-authority/

  • politics:

https://billcornishwordpresscom.wordpress.com/2017/07/31/politics-continuing-what-hamilton-and-his-peers-started/

  • slavery, the judiciary:

https://billcornishwordpresscom.wordpress.com/2017/08/14/slavery-and-the-judiciary-hamiltons-far-reaching-views/

  • populism, journalism:

https://billcornishwordpresscom.wordpress.com/2017/08/29/the-pendulum-swings-a-little-left-and-a-little-right-returning-to-the-center-each-time/

The military

With unerring foresight, (George) Washington perceived the importance of enshrining the principle that military power should be subordinated to civilian control. (p. 178)

 

Chernow made this statement in a section on financing the military during the Revolution. Hamilton wanted Congress to fund the entire war debt – specifically, officers’ pay. Many military leaders had missed paychecks, as much as six years owed, in some cases, (p. 176) and Hamilton feared mass desertions. He wrote a letter to Washington, the military leader, urging him to use the officers’ anger to push Congress to pay up.

The federal government had little taxing authority at the time. States were paying the bills, often unevenly or not at all, if they didn’t buy in to the federal vision.

Washington did not wish to push that button yet. He wouldn’t support allowing military decisions to control Congress. The elected civilians in Congress controlled the still-forming country’s purse strings, and Washington didn’t want to change that.

While military spending today captures the lion’s share of the federal budget, the civilian president and the elected Congress still set the military’s priorities and pay for whatever they feel is warranted. While military leaders offer crucial insights into national and international situations, civilians still call the shots. Literally.

We can thank George Washington for preserving this system.

 

When it came to law enforcement, Hamilton believed that an overwhelming show of force often obviated the need to employ it: “Whenever the government appears in arms, it ought to appear like a Hercules and inspire respect by the display of strength.” (p. 471)

… the show of force orchestrated by the federal government had made its use unnecessary, just as Hamilton had predicted. (p. 477)

 

Throughout his life, Hamilton defended a strong central government, including the authority to collect taxes and fund a national army and navy.

hamilton book

The Whiskey Rebellion of 1794 proved this out. In its effort to raise money, the federal government approved a liquor tax that proved extremely unpopular – yet it was lucrative. “Shortly after the whiskey tax was passed, federal collectors were shunned, tarred, feathered, blindfolded and whipped.” (p. 468) The worst offenders lived in western Pennsylvania.

Hamilton eventually convinced then-President Washington to deploy federal troops in massive numbers to put down the rebellion, fearing that open rejection of the tax could destroy the new federal government.

It worked. “The military expedition met little overt resistance in the mutinous regions.” (p. 476)

(While the show of force worked militarily, it likely hurt Washington’s Federalist Party politically. Thomas Jefferson in the election of 1800 pledged to repeal the whiskey tax. “So it may be said, with undoubted truth, that the whiskey drinkers made Mr. Jefferson the President of the United States.” p. 478)

Congress

In (Hamilton’s) view, representative bodies did not need to mirror exactly those they represented; men of substance, wisdom and experience could care for the common good. If they came more often from the wealthier, better-educated portion of the community, so be it. (p. 265)

 

Hamilton declared that the vices of the rich “are probably more favorable to the prosperity of the state than those of the indigent …” (p. 265) He saw the Senate “as a check on fickle popular will …”

Hamilton’s main argument was to support a central government, with states’ rights subservient to them. This discussion took place in an earlier post.

 

“Congress met and adjourned from day to day without doing anything, the parties being too much out of temper to do business together.” (p. 326)

 

Even as far back as 1790, congressmen had trouble working together. This quote was attributed to Thomas Jefferson over the issue of where to locate the national capital. Eventually it was built in Washington, D.C., in the South, with Philadelphia as the temporary home while the Capitol was being built.

At the time New York City was our nation’s capital. “Should the capital be near the population or the geographic center of America? New York was scarcely equidistant from the northern and southern tips of the country …” (p. 326)

Hamilton’s other main issue at this time was federal assumption of states’ debts, which he saw as the most effective way to join the states together into a permanent union. It passed the House, barely, in July 1790, thanks to a back-room deal among Hamilton, Jefferson and James Madison.

Despite their differences, Congressmen eventually did act, and will continue to do so.

Personality

For all his charisma, Alexander Hamilton was essentially an intellectual loner who took perverse pride in standing against the crowd. (p. 251)

 

He was a thinker and a doer, a man with a big-picture vision of the future of the United States that few others saw so clearly. This is likely why he never became president, or even ran for the presidency; he did not care about populism, doing only what he felt was the right thing to do.

In fact, he often opposed populist thinking in support of a centralized federal government, in which a small group of elected representatives would make the decisions that the country needed to survive.

 

A man of irreproachable integrity, Hamilton severed all outside sources of income while in office, something that neither Washington nor Jefferson nor Madison dared to do. (p. 287)

 

Even as Hamilton’s family grew – he and his wife continued to have children while he was treasury secretary – he would not accept any income other than the paltry sum offered by a poor, struggling federal government.

When he finally resigned his federal post, he had debts to pay off. Returning to his private law practice, he took cases that helped pay the bills – but even still, he was most passionate about cases that established Constitutional law, even though many of the people he defended in those cases couldn’t afford to pay him much.

 

But if Jefferson was a man of fanatical principles, he had principles all the same – which Hamilton could forgive. (Aaron) Burr’s abiding sin was a total lack of principles, which Hamilton could not forgive. (p. 422)

 

Hamilton had strong feelings and viewpoints. His political opponents did as well. If they could defend themselves, Hamilton, could respect that, to a point.

Hamilton may have overstated his case against Burr, who eventually killed him in a duel.

In 1791, Burr defeated Philip Schuyler, Hamilton’s father-in-law, for a seat in the U.S. Senate. This marked the onset of an ongoing rivalry between Burr and Hamilton. After six years in the Senate, Burr lost re-election to Schuyler. Bitter about the loss, Burr blamed Hamilton for ruining his reputation and turning voters against him.

In 1800, Burr ran for the U.S. presidency with Jefferson. Because they each received the same number of electoral votes, members of the House of Representatives were left to determine the winner. When the House met to discuss the election, Burr’s rival, Hamilton, vocalized his support for Jefferson and his disapproval of Burr. In the end, Jefferson secured the presidency and Burr became vice president. Burr was incensed, believing that Hamilton had manipulated the vote in Jefferson’s favor.

Nearing the end of his term as vice president, Burr ran for the governorship of New York, but lost. Again, he blamed Hamilton for besmirching him as a candidate, and, eager to defend his honor, challenged Hamilton to a duel. Hamilton accepted, and the face-off took place on the morning of July 11, 1804; it ended when Burr shot Hamilton to death.

The public was outraged. Burr fled New York and New Jersey but eventually returned to Washington, D.C, where he completed his term safe from prosecution. The indictments in the case never reached trial.

In 1807, Burr was brought to trial on charges of conspiracy and high misdemeanor, for leading a military charge against Spanish territory and for trying to separate territories from the United States. Chief Justice John Marshall acquitted Burr on the treason charge and eventually revoked his misdemeanor indictment, but the conspiracy scandal left Burr’s political career in ruins.

https://www.biography.com/people/aaron-burr-9232241

 

Politics: Continuing what Hamilton and his peers started

With this series, I’m comparing life in Hamilton’s era – the late 1700s – to 21st century America. In today’s topic, we haven’t changed much during the past 200 years.

The current political landscape was formed in the timeframe experienced by Hamilton, the nation’s first treasury secretary.

 

… the rift between Hamilton and Madison precipitated the start of the two-party system in America. (p. 306)

 

Hamilton and James Madison at one time thought alike, to the point that they (along with John Jay, as a team called “Publius”) co-authored “The Federalist Papers,” a collection of 85 articles and essays promoting the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. While the project was Hamilton’s brainchild and he wrote most of the essays, “Madison, versed in the history of republics and confederacies, covered much of that ground … he also undertook to explain the general anatomy of the new government.” (p. 248)

hamilton book

Several years later, in early 1790, Hamilton wrote another extensive paper, “Report on Public Credit,” which outlined an extremely detailed financial system for the country, which included allowance for public debt – a system that continues today. Hamilton counted on Madison’s support to get his plan through Congress, but Madison surprised him by opposing it.

“Whereas the ‘Publius’ team of Hamilton, Madison and Jay had seen the supreme threat to liberty coming at the state level, Madison now began to direct his criticism at federal power lodged in the capable hands of the treasury secretary (Hamilton).” (p. 305) Congress eventually passed Hamilton’s plan, but not without plenty of effort, much of it by Hamilton himself.

Meanwhile, Hamilton and George Washington continued as leaders of the Federalist party, while Madison and Thomas Jefferson eventually helped form a Republican party.

 

Each side possessed a lurid, distorted view of the other, buttressed by an idealized sense of itself. (p. 392)

 

I sense that today’s Republican and Democratic parties feel the same. Perhaps we as Americans are more alike than we think we are, but you’d never know it if politics is your main line of thought. Perhaps those among us steeped in the political process should take a step back, breathe deeply and see “truth” from the other side. We might be surprised at what we’d see.

 

The tone of politics had rapidly grown very harsh. Some poison was released into the American political atmosphere that was not put back into the bottle for a generation. (p. 199)

 

Even before official political parties formed, differing opinions ran strong on how the new nation was to be set up and run. Here’s an example of a legal case that set precedents, but may have cost Hamilton major political points.

In Rutgers v. Waddington, a 1784 case, Hamilton defended Joshua Waddington, agent of Benjamin Waddington and Evelyn Pierrepont – two merchants who took control of a brewery owned by the widow Elizabeth Rutgers under the authority of the British Commissary General during the British occupation of New York. (Joshua Waddington was brewery supervisor.) The provisions of New York state’s Trespass Act (1873) provided Rutgers with the basis for a recovery of rent during that period.

http://www.nycourts.gov/history/legal-history-new-york/legal-history-eras-02/history-new-york-legal-eras-rutgers-waddington.html

The Trespass Act allowed patriots who had left properties behind enemy lines to sue anyone who had occupied, damaged or destroyed them. In this case Hamilton did not defend the patriot but those who occupied the brewery, claiming that the Trespass Act violated the law of nations, which allowed for the wartime use of property in occupied territory, and the 1783 peace treaty with England, which Congress had ratified. (p. 198) He saw Rutgers’ lawsuit as pure greed.

“Hamilton’s actions abruptly altered his image. He was accused of betraying the Revolution and tarnishing his bright promise, and it took courage for him to contest such frenzied emotion.” (p. 196)

The New York City Mayor’s Court gave a split verdict, awarding Rutgers much less – a negotiated 800 pounds – in back rent but not the 8,000 pounds Rutgers had sought.

Hamilton took plenty of heat for defending the British merchants.

“For radicals of the day, revolutionary purity meant a strong legislature that would overshadow a weak executive and judiciary. For Hamilton, this could only invite legislative tyranny. Rutgers v. Waddington represented his first major chance to expound the principle that the judiciary should enjoy coequal status with the other two branches of government.” (p. 199)

 

The intellectual caliber of the leading figures surpassed that of any future political leadership in American history. On the other hand, their animosity toward one another has seldom been exceeded either. (p. 405)

 

Our Founding Fathers were establishing a new type of country, a democracy trying to combine British and French models (which were very different), writing a new Constitution, setting up a federal judiciary (how much power should it have?) and establishing a monetary system that would earn respect across the world. None of this came easily.

The difficult political clashes of the late 1700s are being repeated today, over different issues of course. When the Founding Fathers established laws, the laws were respected – or changed. Plenty of protests took place in the early days, as they have in every time period since, but the rule of law has won out eventually every time. That will continue today as well.

 

These men wanted to modify the social order, not overturn it – a fair description of Hamilton’s future politics. (p. 46)

 

In the early days of Hamilton’s public life, in the early 1770s, George Washington and other leaders were not trying to form a new nation. That came later when they realized they couldn’t co-exist with England’s oppressive policies, including on trade and taxes.

Hamilton saw the big picture. He wanted the new nation to succeed, as all the Founding Fathers did, of course. But unlike most of them, Hamilton had a plan. He was a prolific writer and an unsurpassed orator, so he knew how to communicate his plan.

I don’t see much big-picture thinking in 2017. We’re focusing more on individual freedoms than we are on the common good. We’re seeking a proper balance there, and eventually, I hope, we’ll find it.

Hamilton: Early lessons still apply

I just finished reading Alexander Hamilton, the 731-page opus that the current Broadway play is based on. Author Ron Chernow claims, with extensive research, that Hamilton was one of the nation’s most influential founders. He was George Washington’s right-hand man, among many other things.

I underlined various phrases, sentences and quotes throughout the book, published in 2004, that seem applicable even today. I haven’t seen the play, but if it’s anything like the book, it’s easy to relate to, as well as a wonderful history lesson.

I’ve divided the applicable parts of Hamilton into nearly a dozen themes, which should give me plenty of fodder for this post and several upcoming ones. Perhaps we as Americans can understand a little of who we are today based on how we began as a nation.

Here’s the first theme I’ll discuss:

The authority of central government

… (Hamilton’s) encounters with the two obdurate (American) generals (in 1877, at age 22) strengthened his preference for strict hierarchy and centralized command as the only way to accomplish things – a view that was to find its political equivalent in his preference for concentrated federal power instead of authority dispersed among the states. (p. 103)

hamilton book

Hamilton, as a top aide to General George Washington in battles against the invading British, ran into two American generals who didn’t respect Washington’s leadership. Washington supported his youthful aide’s admonishment of the “obdurate generals,” both of whom refused Washington’s requests to send some of their troops to help him in New Jersey.

The future of the nascent nation was in serious doubt at this point, and Washington hadn’t yet earned the respect that would eventually propel him to become our first president. The British – and the French – had strongholds on our soil, and Washington needed all the help he could get to establish the Union.

 

… the Constitution transcended state governments and directly expressed the will of the American people. Hence, the Constitution began “We the People of the United States” and was ratified by special conventions, not state legislatures. (p. 574)

 

The division between federal and states’ rights provided one of the first debates in our country. It wasn’t a simple discussion then, and it still isn’t today. Immigration, same-sex marriage, legalization of marijuana: Are these federal or state issues?

How about standards for public education? Road repairs? Police issues?

Who gets the final say?

In 2017 on illegal immigration, the federal government gets the final say. Here’s stories of two undocumented immigrants, one of whom in Willard, Ohio, was deported to Mexico this morning (July 18, 2017) and the other in Ann Arbor, Mich., who faces deportation, also to Mexico, on Aug. 2.

 

http://www.cleveland.com/metro/index.ssf/2017/07/willard_father_says_goodbye_to.html

http://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/index.ssf/2017/07/ann_arbor_council_takes_stand.html

 

Both have families in the United States, and have lived here for well over a decade. The stories are gut-wrenching, and that’s the media’s point. Policies affect specific people.

But officials of the federal government, in the form of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), see the bigger picture. In the Ohio case, as reported by Cleveland.com:

 

According to ICE, “Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly has made it clear that ICE will no longer exempt any class of individuals from removal proceedings if they are found to be in the country illegally.”

 

That’s two sides of the same coin: Living in the U.S. illegally while at the same time contributing to society here.

Which side should prevail?

Hamilton most likely would have sided with the Trump administration on this issue:

 

Hamilton probably had the gravest doubts about the wisdom of the masses and wanted elected leaders who would guide them. This was the great paradox of his career: his optimistic view of America’s potential coexisted with an essentially pessimistic view of human nature. His faith in Americans never quite matched his faith in America itself. (p. 232)

 

In the same vein is this quote later on in the book:

 

“… it is long since I have learnt to hold popular opinion of no value.” (p. 476)

 

Why did Hamilton have this paradox? He felt that he knew how best to run the new country, which angered his opponents. (Hamilton was a federalist and his opponents, led by Thomas Jefferson and others, were republicans, by the way.) He studied European models extensively, even though he never visited Europe, and read voraciously about numerous topics – finance, politics, government, military force, the judiciary and many others.

 

If politics is preeminently the art of compromise, then Hamilton was in some ways poorly suited for his job. He wanted to be a statesman who led courageously, not a politician who made compromises. Instead of proceeding with small, piecemeal measures, he had presented a gigantic package of fiscal measures that he wanted accepted all at once. (p. 324)

 

Hamilton had proposed an extensive, detailed system of banking, finance and public debt that intertwined with each other, that once established became impossible to overturn or replace. This might be Hamilton’s greatest legacy today. (More on that in a future post.) His economic system required federal oversight since its scope was so broad, and states’ rights advocates opposed it on those grounds.

Jefferson was one of Hamilton’s primary antagonists throughout his political career.

 

“I own I am not a friend to a very energetic government,” (Jefferson) told (James) Madison. “It is always oppressive.” (p. 311)

 

One of those oppressive acts was enacted during John Adams’ presidency at the end of the 18th century. Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts that did four things:

  • They lengthened from five to 14 years the period necessary to become a naturalized citizen with full voting rights.
  • The president was given the power to deport, without a hearing or even a reasonable explanation, any foreign-born residents deemed dangerous to the peace.
  • The president was given the power to label as enemy aliens any residents who were citizens of a country at war with America, prompting an outflow of French emigres.
  • It became a crime to speak or publish “any false, scandalous or malicious” writings against the U.S. government or Congress “with intent to defame … or to bring them … into contempt or disrepute,” with the guilty facing a stiff fine and a prison sentence. (p. 570)

Sound familiar?

Less than a month ago, the U.S. Supreme Court enacted a temporary travel ban for certain people from six primarily Muslim countries, which President Donald Trump has declared as terrorism hot-spots. The court is to take up the issue again in October.

In 1798, Hamilton supported the Alien and Sedition Acts – even though he himself was an immigrant, born in the British West Indies. He was upset with the writings of certain foreign-born journalists, to the point that he was willing to support radical measures to silence them.

Jefferson took the high road.

 

Jefferson professed a serene faith that the common sense of the people would rectify such errors. (p. 572)

 

Eventually, Jefferson’s faith prevailed.

Whether Hamilton’s harsh view of public opinion or “the common sense of the people,” in Jefferson’s words, will prevail in today’s political climate remains to be seen.