Alexander Hamilton: The Making of an American
"Give all the power to the many, they will oppress the few. Give all the power to the few, they will oppress the many." - Alexander Hamilton
In recent years many progressives have tried to claim Alexander Hamilton as a part of their own political heritage. What amazes me is how many conservatives seem to agree with their point of view. This rewriting of our national history and the heritage of our founders seems to me to be more insidious than tearing down statues, after all, if you change the meaning of a monument there is no need to tear it down anymore. So let's set the record straight!
Born in the British West Indies in either 1755 or 1757 on the Caribbean island of Nevis, Hamilton was one of the only founding fathers to be a first-generation immigrant to America. His father and mother were scandalously unmarried at the time of his birth. His mother Rachel Faucette Lavine was still married to another man who had spent much of her family’s fortune and imprisoned her for adultery. His father, James Hamilton, abandoned the family when he was about 11 or 12 years old and Rachel died two years later. Working as a clerk for a trading company he became known as an eloquent writer and gained great accounting experience that would come in handy as the director of the economic fate of his nation years later. The locals raised money for him to be sent to America for a proper education in 1772.
"By 1776, there were nine colleges in the colonies, all with essentially the same entry requirements, namely, the ability to read Cicero and Virgil in Latin and the New Testament in Greek. When he applied to King’s College (now Columbia), John Jay had to translate three orations from Cicero. John Adams, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton faced similar requirements for their entrance exams to Harvard, the College of New Jersey (now Princeton), and King’s College, respectively." (https://www.heritage.org/conservatism/commentary/cicero-republic-if-you-can-keep-it)
As a student at King’s College in 1773, he got involved in the Colonial cause, writing pamphlets to persuade and defend the position of the Continental Congress as well as the Boston Tea Party. This early involvement in the Revolution is remarkable when you consider that later in life Hamilton was often accused of being a monarchist.
The Advancing War Hero
When the Revolutionary War began he served heroically drawing the attention of General George Washington who gave Hamilton a position on his staff. Incidentally, Hamilton was one of the main officers in command at the Battle of Yorktown where the Revolutionary War would finally come to an end with their decisive victory and the surrender of British General Cornwallis.
In Hamilton's day, if you were a nobody, there were very few ways to gain fortune, influence, and position in society. One of those ways was through great military achievement. Through hard work and a brilliant mind for strategy, he was able to advance far beyond what any other orphan immigrant of his day would have been able to.
He married Elizabeth Schuyler, a wealthy merchant's daughter, in 1780 and together they had eight children.
After the war, he finished his education and passed the New York Bar setting up his practice there. He spent his time defending British loyalists who had remained in New York and were now experiencing persecution from the victorious revolutionaries.
Hamilton had seen firsthand how a divided government among the colonies under the Articles of Confederation had made it difficult if not entirely impossible to raise a sufficient military and supply them for the common defense. Living in the infant nation, new problems became apparent, especially regarding the difficulty of trade between colonies who now each had their own currency and laws as well as the wartime debt that seemed to be squeezing the life out of economic development. Observing all of these challenges, Hamilton became a loud advocate for a stronger central government and played a key role in gathering the Continental Congress together to overhaul the dysfunctional Articles of Confederation in 1787.
He was chosen as one of three delegates from New York to attend this meeting. However, his beliefs in a strong central government were so strong that he was often accused of wanting to return to a monarchy, and ultimately he had little influence over the resulting document we now call the Constitution. By then, New York had decided not to participate in the support of this drastic reworking of government, leaving Hamilton with no authority to ratify the new Constitution for his state, but he chose to sign it as an individual.
While he ended up having much less influence over the formation of the Constitution, he played a central role in its final ratification. He wrote 51 of the Federalist Papers, a series of persuasive essays published in the newspapers in defense of this radically new form of government. Often accused, in his own day, of being a monarchist, Hamilton's personal politics rested upon a sincere belief in the tried and true institutions of government that had made Europe great. Like most of the founding fathers, he gives the impression that he never desired a revolution that would take the colonies from the British, but one that would assert their rights as British subjects. That point of view informed his desire to guide the infant nation into a more secure union with respect to the institutions of the past, nothing could be less progressive than that!
President George Washington made Alexander Hamilton the first Secretary of the U.S. Treasury, to the chagrin of James Madison and Thomas Jefferson. Hamilton argued for a strong national banking system that would assume the debts of the states and provide for lasting financial stability. He modeled this system off of the National Bank of London.
Hamilton’s Treasury program consisted of three main initiatives. First, he proposed and Congress enacted a plan for servicing America’s Revolutionary War debt that called on the national government to take responsibility for the war debts of the state governments. The plan was unpopular in some quarters, especially with states that had already paid much of their war debt, although it did not spark widespread complaints that it pushed the federal power beyond the bounds of the Constitution. Second—and more controversially—Hamilton proposed and Congress enacted in 1791 a national bank. Such an institution, he contended, would facilitate the government’s borrowing of money and foster national economic development by circulating a paper currency. Third—and also more controversially—in his celebrated 1791 Report on Manufactures, Hamilton contended that the federal government should encourage the development of an American manufacturing sector by paying “bounties,” or what are today called subsidies, to domestic manufacturers. To become a prosperous, powerful, and secure nation, Hamilton argued, instead of depending on its agricultural trade to purchase manufactured goods overseas, America needed to develop an economy capable of producing such goods for itself. Because of more advanced foreign competition, however, and because foreign governments also maintained policies of support for their own manufacturers, Hamilton believed that American manufacturing would not develop fully or quickly enough without the aid of the national government. He therefore proposed that the national government should assist domestic manufacturers through a system of bounties, which would lower the price of American-made goods and make them more competitive in the marketplace. (https://www.heritage.org/political-process/report/alexander-hamilton-and-american-progressivism)
The Democratic-Republicans (though they weren’t called that yet) feared this would put far too much power in the hands of the federal government. What surprised me about Hamilton's plan amongst all these accusations was that he intended the National Bank to be managed by private ownership allowing for private interest to keep the bank from corruption. The only other thing that may need clarification about Hamilton's plan as we look at Progressive's constant desire to federally control the growth and death of industries today is that Hamilton's support of the manufacturers was more in line with free-market investment over a temporary period of time. He wanted the states to invest in the manufacturing industry to give it a boost but did not desire to continue paying these industries to survive indefinitely if the market showed they would not thrive on their own.
The First National Bank was established in 1791 and succeeded in fueling economic growth, but two years later the divides in Washington’s cabinet would grow as Britain went to war with France.
The Federalists, led by Hamilton and supported by Washington although he did not affiliate himself with the party set a policy of neutrality toward the war between Britain and France. Hamilton argued that the young nation was in no position to be joining another nation's war so soon after their own had ended and their government was not fully established. He also argued this because his Treasury policies relied on open channels of trade with Britain. The Jeffersonian Republicans or Democratic-Republicans argued that they owed a debt to France for helping them in their own Revolution and that America had the moral duty to support the people's bid for freedom from tyranny in France.
For the duration of Washington's Administration and Adams following him this policy of neutrality would hold, but many in America agreed with Mr. Jefferson's party if only because they loathed supporting anything that seemed to favor the enemy they had just defeated at such great cost.
Hamilton left his position as Secretary of Treasury in 1795 to return to his law practice in New York. When Washington decided to pass the torch of the executive branch after only two terms, it was Hamilton who drafted the majority of Washington’s farewell address warning the nation about the dangers of excessive rivalry between political parties and foreign influence.
Unfortunately, he was also finding opposition in his own party dividing the Federalists and ensuring that Jefferson took the executive seat in 1800. Like father, like son, he was involved in the nation’s first notorious sex scandal having gone public with his affair with Maria Reynolds in order to clear his name from suspicion of financial speculation with her husband James. The Reynolds Pamphlet would ensure that Hamilton himself would never have a bid for the highest office in the land.
Through his influence in Adams' cabinet and political influence in New York, Hamilton continued for the rest of his life to play his part in attempting to direct the affairs of the young nation. Those he supported were sure to have a strong advocate, but those he rejected would face perhaps the greatest opponent of their personal and political careers!
In 1801, his son Phillip died in a duel defending his father’s honor against another lawyer, George I. Eaker who had called Hamilton a monarchist. Hamilton himself frequently found himself in these “affairs of honor” having participated in no less than 10 before the final duel that would take his life.
“He was ambitious, purposeful, a hard worker, and one of America’s administrative geniuses. In foreign policy he was a realist, believing that self-interest should be the nation’s polestar; questions of gratitude, benevolence, and moral principle, he held, were irrelevant.” (https://www.britannica.com/biography/Alexander-Hamilton-United-States-statesman)
For the generations to come, he has embodied the American Dream of coming from humble roots through adversity to a place of near-legendary status in our national story.
Mortally wounded in a duel on July 11, 1804, by political rival Aaron Burr, Jefferson’s Vice President. Alexander Hamilton died the next day.
*All opinions expressed by WYO Conservative guests are theirs alone and may not represent the views of WYO Conservative’s Founder and Owner, Donna K. Rice, or any WYO Conservative affiliates.