|Alexander Hamilton 1792
was one of the founders that became the first Secretary of Treasury of the United States and by the end of the 18th
century represented an icon of the concept of capitalism. He also has been defamed more than any other founder has, when it came to be fashionable to do so by modern “historian” authors, those who are anti-capitalist and hypocritically denounce big money in politics and society.
Hamilton was the first person selected when a Hall of Fame was founded at New York University in 1900. Theodore Roosevelt described him as a
…sound thinker and constructive statesman, who sponsored a vigorous, positive, constructive national policy . . . that implied a faith in the powers of an efficient government to advance the national interest.
[Herbert Cooly, The Promise of American Life, pp. 29 & 38]
Hamilton was an advocate of big business, which was his primary attribute above his part in framing the Constitution. So much was he admired that despite never holding office as President of the United States, his likeness was affixed to the ten-dollar bill during the Coolidge administration, while Thomas Jefferson’s image was placed upon the $2 bill that is hardly used.
The Democrats of FDR era made Thomas Jefferson their iconic champion because he represented the people, while Hamilton represented big business; which demonstrated their political philosophy in the earliest stage of socialist development that coincided with the logic-defying social program called the “New Deal
”; America’s introduction to democratic socialism
Hamilton was an advocate of big government, and had suggested that the executive power of the new republic be a democratic monarchy – replicating in respect to the government system known as the founding of the United States. Hamilton was a nationalist who was known for his administrative genius, financial expertise, and realistic when it came to foreign affairs. He was skeptical when it came to people, in general, unlike Thomas Jefferson who had faith in the common good of people and the benefit of a well-educated citizenry.
In recent times, Jefferson’s slave ownership and racial philosophy has, especially for the political left, been an issue of disfavor that supersedes his genius as a statesman; which once again, favored Hamilton in reappraisal of the Founders by recent authors. Hamilton was opposed to slavery and being a northerner, he owned none. He was also the only founder that was not born in the United States, but in the British West Indies.
Hamilton is a founder that falls under the shadow of the fame of Jefferson, a celebrated statesman today; despite the inflammatory remarks regarding the slavery issue of the time period. Many visitors visit Mount Vernon annually, but few visit Hamilton’s home; and most op-ed tributes of Hamilton are at the Wall Street Journal
. Democrats find Hamilton’s view of a Leviathan state
appealing, despite being an icon of capitalism. Hamilton stated in 1804:
Democracy was poisoning the American Empire.
While modern Republicans hail Hamilton’s advocacy of a large standing military, they are against the concept of a Leviathan state. Before Hamilton’s death in a duel against Aaron Burr, which turned out to be murder because Hamilton refused to fire his firearm at Burr, he stated:
…this American world was not made for me
letter to Theodore Sedgwick
– July 10th
1804 and letter to Gouverneur Morris
– February 29th
1802; Hamilton Writings
, p. 1022.
As stated previously, Alexander Hamilton was born in the British West Indies in 1755. His father was a Scotsman who went to the Caribbean to make a fortune as a merchant. He and his mother, Rachel Luvien, were not legally married and Hamilton’s future political enemies would use his illegitimacy against him later in life. Even John Adams commented that he was …
The bastard brat of a Scotch peddler.
Alexander’s father abandoned the family in 1765 and his mother died in 1768, which forced 14-year-old Alexander to find work keeping books for a merchant in St. Croix, and who wished for war that would afford him opportunity to escape the groveling condition of a clerk . . . to which my fortune condemns me.
He did not escape, but instead rescued by patrons from the West Indies. It was something he wrote in a local newspaper in 1772 that got the notice of a Presbyterian clergyman and with the help of others, sent him to New York to attend a higher educational institution. In 1773 he was on his way to the American colonies, never returning to the West Indies.
Hamilton preferred Princeton to King’s College (now Columbia) because Princeton was more republican
. However, John Witherspoon
, president of Princeton, would not allow him to take the accelerated program, so he attended King’s College in the fall of 1773. He was still a teenager when he began writing on the side of the patriots, whose cause was growing in fervor and intensity. He wrote two impressive pamphlets, one in 1774 and another in 1775. By early 1776 he found himself captain of a New York artillery company, part of war which he dreamed of in his earlier years. He served with distinction and impressed his superiors, and was promoted in March of 1777 at the age of 22 to lieutenant colonel and appointed to the staff of General George Washington
as an aide-de-camp.
Washington became a fatherly figure to young Hamilton and they developed a close relationship, despite moments of tension when it came to Hamilton’s honor. Early in 1781, Washington was angry at Hamilton for being ten minutes late, and said:
I must tell you, Sir, that you treat me with disrespect.
Hamilton replied that he did not mean to be disrespectful and because he had a quick temper, resigned on the spot. Washington was remorseful over the incident and tried to make amends, but the prideful 26-year-old would not accept the offer of peace. His temperament and pride would later kill him.
Hamilton remained on Washington’s staff until a replacement arrived, pleading all the while to Washington to give him a field command. Washington finally agreed after Hamilton threatened to resign his commission and in July of 1781 gave him command of a New York light infantry battalion, just as the siege of Yorktown had begun. Hamilton did not fear death and wanted to earn military honor at Yorktown, so he paraded his battalion in the open and in front of the British lines, which caused one of his subordinate officers to say that he wantonly exposed the lives of his men.
[Robert Middlekauff, The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789; NY, 1982, p. 568]
On October 14th 1781, Hamilton led a successful bayonet night attack on a British position; and, of course, he was first over the parapet shouting for his men to follow.
Hamilton did not think of himself as a New Yorker, as those raised in colonial America because he was from the West Indies, so his loyalty was more national, and thus focused upon the government of the United States. As early as 1779, before the war was over, he was writing long letters to American leadership about ways to form the Confederation of States. He stated that Congress should have the power to tax, but the government required a proper executive. He also wrote:
It is impossible such a body, numerous as it is, constantly fluctuating, can ever act with sufficient decision or with system. Two thirds of the members, one half of the time, cannot know what has gone before.
[Alexander Hamilton letter to James Duane – September 3rd1780; Papers of Hamilton, p.404]
Hamilton published a series of essays concerning a strong central government in a series of essays entitled The Continentalist
in a New York newspaper.
In 1782, at the age of 27, the New York Assembly elected Hamilton as one of its representatives to the Confederation Congress. He met James Madison of Virginia there and developed a professional relationship – both intended to create a strong national government.
During the course of development in the Confederation, which led to the Annapolis Convention
in 1786, then to the Philadelphia Convention
in 1787, and finally to the production of The Federalist
. Today, called The Federalist Papers
, consists of 85 essays written in New York in 1787 and 1788 in support of the newly created Constitution. Hamilton created the concept of The Federalist
and talked James Madison
and John Jay
into participating. Jay only wrote five essays because he was ill at the time. Madison wrote 29 essays, and Hamilton wrote 51 essays. They were written under the pseudonym of Publius
During the Philadelphia Convention, Hamilton proposed a president and a senate elected for life and declared that:
The British government was the best in the world … doubted much whether any thing short of it would do in America.
[Max Farrand, The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, Yale, 1937; pp. 282-293]
Both Hamilton and Madison believed that the Constitution had developed so far from its original draft that it would fail, not realizing that long deliberations and discussions created a stronger, more wisely constructed Constitution.
At the age of 34, in 1789, Hamilton was on the peak of great accomplishment. He arisen at a fast pace and had married the daughter of an important family in New York, Elizabeth Schuyler. He impressed almost everyone he met, despite his slight build and only 5-foot, seven-inches tall. His energetic personality attracted men and women to him. Catherine Schuyler, youngest sister to his wife, stated that he:
Exhibited a natural, yet unassuming superiority, with a high expansive forehead, a nose of the Grecian mold, a dark bright eye, and the lines of a mouth expressing decision and courage, he had a face never to be forgotten.
[Robert Hendrickson, Hamilton (1757-1789), NY, 1976; p. 246]
In September of 1789, President Washington appointed Hamilton as Secretary of the Treasury. He was recommended to Washington by Robert Morris, financier of the Revolution; but it was primarily Washington who wanted him in that position because he knew Hamilton’s talents, and still regarded him as a surrogate son. Secretary of Treasury was the most critical job in the new administration. Hamilton believed most of the important measures of every government are connected with the treasury. Hamilton would meddle in the affairs of other departments in the task of organizing and administering the new government.
[Leonard D. White, The Federalists: A Study in Administrative History, NY, 1948; p. 117 & Jacob E. Cooke, Alexander Hamilton, NY, 1982; p. 73]
At the same time, Thomas Jefferson
was Secretary of State and Henry Knox
, Secretary of War – but Hamilton had an unusual degree of authority and independence. President Washington viewed Jefferson and Knox as only advisers and often personally took charge of foreign affairs and military matters. He treated Hamilton differently because he knew little about public finance and also believed that the Treasury Department was constitutionally different than other departments.
When Congress created the departments of state and war in 1789, it declared that the secretaries were to perform duties as the president dictated; however, in creating the Treasury Department, Congress did not mention the president and required the secretary to report directly to Congress. Washington did not wish to encroach upon the authority of Congress, so he gave more freedom to Hamilton.
[Freeman W. Meyer, A Note on the Origins of the Hamiltonian System, WMQ, 1964; pp. 579-588]
Hamilton began interfering with legislative business of Congress and it is one of the reasons why the House of Representatives in early congressional sessions did away with standing committees, instead relying upon the heads of the executive departments, especially the Secretary of the Treasury, to draft most of its bills. At the end of July of 1789, the House of Representatives set up a Committee of Ways and Means
to advise it on financial matters, but in September of 1789 the Treasury Department was created.
After Alexander Hamilton was appointed Secretary of the Treasury, September 11th 1789, six days later the House dissolved the Committee of Ways and Means, relying solely upon Hamilton. The House reestablished its Ways and Means Committee after Hamilton resigned in 1795.
Hamilton patterned his actions upon the British constitution and Parliament, and in effect he “corrupted” the society in order to establish a stable government. Using government influence like a monarchy, he tied commerce with government and created hierarchies of dependency. Hamilton was a hardline, big-government advocate. He knew that American businessmen were eager to make money off the government because the new government needed their support and the support of all influential people in society.
Hamilton and other Federalists wanted to form rings of local interests that were loyal to government. He also promoted the idea of direct appointment of departmental officials like custom agents, revenue agents, and postmaster. He used English government models of what worked to use to administer his office.
Hamilton proposed an economic program in a series of four reports to Congress in 1790 and 1791. He proposed that the US government pay federal government debts that occurred during the Revolutionary War that included state debts because the states had formed a union under a republican central government. He also proposed that a national bank be created that would stabilize credit of the United States and create currency.
Hamilton’s funding program and state debt assumption was opposed by the Congress of1790, led by James Madison of Virginia. During that time, Congress was deliberating the permanent location of the federal capital. The southern states wanted the capital on the Potomac River. New England states and New York wanted the capital to remain in New York City, and the middle states wanted it in Philadelphia where the Continental Congress met during the Revolutionary War. A deal was finally made between Hamilton and Madison where southerners accepted the assumption of state debts and the permanent capital would be built on the Potomac River.
Jefferson and Madison believed that a federal bank was an unconstitutional abuse of power, so Washington requested that Hamilton write a rebuttal. After one week, Hamilton produced a state paper refuting the arguments of those who were against the centralized bank. He stated that Congress had the power to charter a bank because it had the right to make laws necessary and proper to carry out its powers.
[Alexander Hamilton, Opinion on the Constitutionality of a National Bank, February 23rd 1791; Hamilton Writings; pp. 613-646]
Banking was new to Americans and undeveloped compared to England. Few in the American government understood Hamilton’s plan. For example, Jefferson thought that paper money issued by banks was a scam and did not represent solid wealth, despite being backed by an equal amount of specie, like gold or silver.
John Adams agreed:
Every dollar of a bank bill that is issued beyond the quantity of gold and silver in the vaults represent nothing and is therefore a cheat upon somebody.
[Thomas Jefferson letter to Colonel Charles Yancey – January 6th1816; Writings of Jefferson; p. 2]
Hamilton wanted the national bank to eventually absorb all the state banks and monopolize banking. But farmers and entrepreneurs needed long-term credit and too many state banks were chartered which issued millions of dollars of paper money.
Hamilton and Madison became bitter rivalries over the banking issue, as well as Hamilton’s vision of centralized bureaucracy and a professional standing army that would equal that of other nations, Hamilton was against the Jeffersonian Republic view that the best government was the least government.
[Alexander Hamilton, The Continentalist No. V, April 18th1782; Papers of Hamilton; p. 76]
Hamilton was against the Jeffersonian belief that republics were naturally pacific and that economic sanctions could replace military might in international affairs.
Jefferson, Madison and the Republican party set out to stop Hamilton and his Federalists from becoming a warmongering monarchy. Politics became an intense and passionate debate.
Hamilton left the Cabinet in 1795 and returned to Wall Street to make money for his family, but continued to try to control events in the capital.
John Adams succeeded George Washington as president in 1797 and kept most of the original members of Washington’s Cabinet who were more loyal to Hamilton than President Adams.
In 1789, when it appeared that France might invade the United States, Adams called Washington out of retirement to command and army of tens of thousands. Washington agreed but only if Hamilton would be commissioned as a major general and organizer of the military force. Hamilton believed that the crisis of 1789 provided the opportunity to create a permanent military force and had big plans. He thought a war with France would allow the United States, by cooperating with Britain, to seize Florida and Louisiana in order to keep the territories out of the hands of the French. At the same time, he considered helping Venezuelan patriot Francisco de Miranda to liberate South America from Spain.
Hamilton’s big government dreams would become reality two centuries later with a large federal bureaucracy, powerful Pentagon, Central Intelligence Agency, huge public debt, and taxes beyond what he imagined; as well as a professional permanent military force of over one million men and women spread out in dozens of countries that makes more enemies than friends.
Thus, the modern Democrats honor Hamilton more than they honor Jefferson.
Amnesty of Loyalists after the Revolutionary War
Before and during the American Revolution there were American colonists who had recognized that there was a just grievance against the King of England and the English Parliament; just as there were English in Britain who were sympathetic to the grievances of the American colonists.
The treaty that ended the war with England provided that no revenge would be taken on those Americans who had remained loyal with the Tories and England.
Alexander Hamilton saw the dangers of Americans who fought for freedom who would create a public policy that would make those former loyalists second-class citizens without voting or property rights. It was not the type of society that would be good for a new nation and Hamilton intended to prevent that from happening. Unknown to many today, Hamilton wrote a series of articles in newspapers in 1784 under the pseudo Phoicion and wrote a treatise about fair treatment of loyalists –
…in the present moment, we see the most industrious efforts made to violate the Constitution of this state, to trample upon the rights of the subject, and to chicane or infringe the most solemn obligations of the treaty; while dispassionate and upright men almost totally neglect the means of counteracting these dangerous attempts. A sense of duty alone calls forth the observations which will be submitted to the good sense of the people in this paper, from one who has more inclination than leisure to serve them; and who has had too deep a share in the common exertions in this Revolution, to be willing to see its fruits blasted by the violence of rash or unprincipled men, without, at least, protesting against their designs.
The persons alluded to pretend to appeal to the spirit of Whiggism; while they endeavor to put in motion all the furious and dark passions of the human mind. . . . These men inculcate revenge, cruelty, persecution, and perfidy. The spirit of Whiggism cherishes legal liberty, holds the rights of every individual sacred, condemns or punishes no men without regular trial and conviction of some crime declared by antecedent laws; reprobates equally the punishment of the citizen by arbitrary acts of legislation as by the lawless combinations of unauthorized individuals; while these men are advocates for expelling a large number of their fellow citizens unheard, untried; or if they cannot effect this, are for disenfranchising them, in the face of the Constitution, without judgment of their peers, and contrary to the law of the land.
The 13th Article of the Constitution declares, “that no member of the state shall be disenfranchised, or defrauded of any of the rights or privileges sacred to the subjects of the state by the constitution, unless by the law of the land, or the judgment of his peers.”… It is true that in England, on extraordinary occasions, attainders for high treason, by act of Parliament, have been practiced; but many of the ablest advocates for civil liberty have condemned this practice; . . . The sense of our Constitution on this practice we may gather from the 41st Article, where all attainders, other than for crimes committed during the late war, are forbidden. . . . independent of the Treaty, it could not, and cannot, without tyranny, disenfranchise or punish whole classes of citizens by general descriptions, without trial and conviction of offenses known by laws previously established, declaring the offense and prescribing the penalty. . . .
If the legislative can disenfranchise any number of citizens at pleasure by general descriptions, it may soon confine all the votes to a small number of partisans, and establish an aristocracy or an oligarchy. . . . The name of liberty applied to such a government would be a mockery of common sense.
The English Whigs . . . have been trying, ever since, to undo this false step in vain, and repenting the effects of their folly in the overgrown power of the new family. . . . But let any man of sense and candor read the Treaty, and it will speak for itself. The 5thArticle is indeed recommendatory; but the 6th is as positive as words can make it. “There shall be no future confiscations made, nor prosecutions commenced against any person or persons, for or by reason of the part which he or they may have taken in the present war; and no person shall, on that account, suffer any future loss or damage, either in his person, liberty, or property. . . .