by Gerald Boerner

  

JerryPhoto_8x8_P1010031 As we approach the celebration of the 4th of July American Independence Day festivities, we believe that this is a good time to reflect on how and why we became a new nation over two hundred years ago. To a great extent, it had to do with the abuses of the British colonial system AND the presence at that point in time of great men of vision — the Founding Fathers.

Last year we posted an extensive series on the American Revolution. We will draw upon some of those posts again this year, but with more emphasis on the specific roles selected Founding Fathers played in the quest for independence. Today we will examine the contributions of that crusader for the adoption of the Constitution and writer of the Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton.

We hope that you will follow us through this exploration and come out with a renewed respect for our great struggle in those years in the 18th century. GLB

[ This is Part 6 of 10. ]

[ 3392 Words ]

    

“Since its founding in 1854, Penn State has proven to be a leading institution of higher learning.”
— Tim Holden

“The fact is, almost every year since the founding of these United States, our government has lived beyond its means.”
— Paul Gillmor

“The Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to bare the secrets of government and inform the people.”
— Hugo Black

“The founding document of the United States of America acknowledges the Lordship of Jesus Christ because we are a Christian nation.”
— Pat Robertson

“The Founding Fathers in their wisdom decided that children were an unnatural strain on parents. So they provided jails called schools, equipped with tortures called an education.”
— John Updike

       

America’s Founding Fathers: Alexander Hamilton, Advocate for the Constitution

I want to start looking at some of the Founding Fathers of the American Revolutionary War. We will continue with that great orator of the colonies — Alexander Hamilton of New York. When the new constitution needed a voice in its defense, Hamilton was there to co-write the Federalist Papers with John Adams and John Jay. These documents helped win its ratification. GLB

(The following Alexander Hamilton: Thinking About the American Revolution to this blog on Thursday, July 2, 2009)

Alexander Hamilton:
Thinking About the American Revolution

Copyright©2009 Gerald L. Boerner
All Rights Reserved

“That he possessed intellectual powers of the first order, and the moral qualities of integrity and honor in a captivating degree, has been awarded him by a suffrage now universal. If his theory of government deviated from the republican standard he had the candour to avow it, and the greater merit of co-operating faithfully in maturing and supporting a system which was not his choice.”
— James Madison on Alexander Hamilton, 1831

image26 Alexander Hamilton was the first Secretary of the Treasury, an economist, and a political philosopher. Amongst the Founding Fathers, he was an outstanding constitutional lawyer and a co-author of the Federalist Papers, which were an exposition of the interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. He rose above his illegitimate birth in the West Indies and provided this young nation with a steady hand to true financial independence.

He served as a soldier and battlefield leader during the Revolutionary War in New York. For a period of time, he was General George Washington’s Chief of Staff. He served in the New York and Confederation Congress where he was an ardent supporter of a strong, centralized government for this new nation. His view of this centralized government was based on a monarchy and aristocratic legislature; a very anti-democratic view!

“The people are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge or determine right. Give therefore to the first class a distinct permanent share in the government… Can a democratic assembly who annually revolve in the mass of the people be supposed steadily to pursue the public good?”
— Alexander Hamilton

While many consider him as being out-of-step with the republican ideals of most of the Founding Fathers, he none the less gave voice to the goal of forming a new and independent nation. Let’s look at some of his ideas in more detail…

Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804)

“Let Americans disdain to be the instruments of European greatness! Let the thirteen States, bound together in a strict and indissoluble Union, concur in erecting one great American system, superior to the control of all transatlantic force or influence, and able to dictate the terms of the connection between the old and the new world!”
— Alexander Hamilton, Federalist Papers, No. 11

image27 Hamilton was an admirer of the British political system which was characterized by a strong, centralized government – the Parliament. He made efforts to move our federalist, republican government towards a stronger central structure, especially when he saw the many problems that arose from the strongly state-centered model that existed under the Articles of Confederation. The central government of the time was unable to directly raise taxes or field an army without the action of the individual states. This led to the country’s war debts not being replayed with many soldiers had not being paid for their service in the Continental Army.

“All communities divide themselves into the few and the many. The first are the rich and wellborn, the other the mass of the people…The people are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge or determine right. Give therefore to the first class a distinct, permanent share in the government. They will check the unsteadiness of the second, and as they cannot receive any advantage by a change, they therefore will ever maintain good government.”
— Alexander Hamilton

From his early days in the Confederation Congress, he saw the need for a major revision of the Articles of Confederation. He developed a proposal for this revision that would include a strong federal government which could levy taxes and raise an army. He also included Montesquieu’s concept of the separation of powers that would balance the executive, legislative and judicial branches with equal powers; each would have their sphere of influence. After leaving the Confederation Congress, he served in the New York legislature and became one of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention.

During the Constitutional Convention he delivered a set of powerful speeches in support for a major revision of the structure of the government. He wrote astute summaries of the discussions that eventually were structured into the new U.S. Constitution that was written by Thomas Jefferson. Due to politics within the New York delegation, in which two of the members withdrew from the Convention, Hamilton was deprived of a vote on the final form of the Constitution. He did, however, deliver several high-impact speeches in support and ratification of the adoption of the new Constitution.

“Men give me credit for some genius. All the genius I have is this. When I have a subject in mind. I study it profoundly. Day and night it is before me. My mind becomes pervaded with it… the effort which I have made is what people are pleased to call the fruit of genius. It is the fruit of labor and thought.”
— Alexander Hamilton

His vision of this new federal government differed from the other federalists and Founding Fathers. He believed that the President and elected Senators should serve for life contingent upon “good behavior” — essentially creating a monarchy and aristocracy, like the English. He also believed that the President should have an absolute veto power over all legislation. These points were not accepted by the rest of the Convention due to their dedication to the premise that all governmental and congressional officials should be elected by the people on a regular basis. All three branches were to have equal power with the checks and balances to keep any branch from becoming too powerful. This was the overwhelming belief of most of the Convention delegates.

“Why has government been instituted at all? Because the passions of man will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice without constraint.”
— Alexander Hamilton

So, why do we hold Hamilton in such high regard? For one thing, he was an eloquent advocate of ratification by the various state legislatures. In support of this process he undertook the writing of the Federalist Papers with James Madison and John Jay. Hamilton, however, was the author of fifty-one out of the eighty-five sections of the Papers. This was a ‘tour de force’ and helped assure the ratification of the new U.S. Constitution. He accomplished this feat by virtue of his personal dynamics and the force of his arguments.

“It has been observed that a pure democracy if it were practicable would be the most perfect government. Experience has proved that no position is more false than this. The ancient democracies in which the people themselves deliberated never possessed one good feature of government. Their very character was tyranny; their figure deformity.”
— Alexander Hamilton, Speech in New York, urging ratification of the U.S. Constitution

Another reason that we hold Hamilton in such a positive note relates to his performance within President Washington’s cabinet. Hamilton was Secretary of the Treasury and worked to put the new government on a firm financial footing both at home and abroad. He founded the U.S. Mint, the first national bank, and set up a system of tariffs, taxes, and excises. In essence, he gave this new nation a solid standing within the international community; we were on the road toward fiscal responsibility.

“Jefferson was not entirely wrong to fear Hamilton’s vision for the country, for we have always been in a constant balancing act between self-interest and community, market and democracy, the concentration of wealth and power and the opening up of opportunity.”
— About Hamilton. Quoted in The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama

“If the end be clearly comprehended within any of the specified powers, and if the measure have an obvious relation to that end, and is not forbidden by any particular provision of the Constitution, it may safely be deemed to come within the compass of the national authority.”
— Alexander Hamilton, Opinion on the Constitutionality of the Bank

On the downside, Hamilton was a manipulative and power broker behind the scenes. He was constantly interfering in the diplomatic activities of Jefferson’s State Department. He was given a wide-ranging freedom to act as Washington’s chief advisor; he even wrote the President’s “Farewell Address” the American people. He was also a divisive force within his political party, the Federalists. He harbored a extreme dislike for John Adams and Aaron Burr as well as for Thomas Jefferson of the Democratic-Republican party. During the 1794 Presidential Campaign, he tried to manipulate the voting in the Congress to prevent John Adams, Washington’s Vice President, from gaining the Presidency. It didn’t work. Later in the campaign of 1800, he again tried to prevent both Aaron Burr and Thomas Jefferson from gaining the Presidency; again he failed. His conflict with Aaron Burr eventually led to a confrontation that resulted in a duel between the two men: Hamilton was shot and killed as a result.

“I have resolved, if our interview is conducted in the usual manner, and it pleases God to give me the opportunity, to reserve and throw away my first fire, and I have thoughts even of reserving my second fire.”
— Alexander Hamilton, Letter written the night before his duel with Aaron Burr

Where does this leave us? We can only conclude that Alexander Hamilton was a brilliant constitutional lawyer and crusader for the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. He was an accomplished banker who founded the U.S. Mint and set this new nation on a stable financial status. He helped to bring stability to government to bring it out of the chaos of the Confederation. He argued for a Constitution that was stated generally enough that it could be modified, as needed, by future generations. It has worked!

“Constitutions should consist only of general provisions; the reason is that they must necessarily be permanent and that they cannot calculate for the possible change of things.”
— Alexander Hamilton

He was a human… He had both positive and negative traits. I believe we benefited from his positive contributions and he suffered from his negative traits. He was prevented from becoming President because he was not a natural American citizen. He was a dedicated supporter and servant to this nation at its formation. For these actions, Alexander Hamilton, you will be remembered.

“This I can venture to advance from a thorough knowledge of him, that there are few men to be found, of his age, who has a more general knowledge than he possesses, and none whose Soul is more firmly engaged in the cause, or who exceeds him in probity and Sterling virtue.”
— George Washington on Alexander Hamilton (1781)

     

Adding Perspective on Alexander Hamilton

Hamiltontrumbull-crop Alexander Hamilton (January 11, 1755 or 1757 – July 12, 1804) was the first United States Secretary of the Treasury, a Founding Father, economist, and political philosopher. Aide-de-camp to General George Washington during the American Revolutionary War, he was a leader of nationalist forces calling for a new Constitution; he was one of America’s first Constitutional lawyers, and wrote most of the Federalist Papers, a primary source for Constitutional interpretation. He was the financial expert of Washington’s administration; the Federalist Party formed to support his policies.

Born and raised in the Caribbean, Hamilton attended King’s College (now Columbia University) in New York. At the start of the American Revolutionary War, he organized an artillery company and was chosen as its captain. Hamilton became the senior aide-de-camp and confidant to General George Washington, the American commander-in-chief. After the war, Hamilton was elected to the Continental Congress from New York, but he resigned to practice law and found the Bank of New York. He served in the New York Legislature, and he was the only New Yorker who signed the U.S. Constitution. He wrote about half the Federalist Papers, which secured its ratification by New York; they are still the most important unofficial interpretation of the Constitution. In the new government under President Washington he became Secretary of the Treasury. An admirer of British political systems, Hamilton was a nationalist who emphasized strong central government and successfully argued that the implied powers of the Constitution could be used to fund the national debt, assume state debts, and create the government-owned Bank of the United States. These programs were funded primarily by a tariff on imports and a highly controversial whiskey tax.

By 1792, the coalition led by Hamilton was opposed by a coalition led by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Hamilton’s Federalist Party now had to compete with Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican Party. The parties fought over Hamilton’s fiscal goals and national bank, as well as his foreign policy of extensive trade and friendly relations with Britain, especially the Jay Treaty which was ratified, by a single vote, after a lengthy struggle between the two coalitions. Embarrassed by a blackmail affair that became public, Hamilton resigned as the Secretary of the Treasury in 1795 and returned to the practice of law in New York. In 1798, the Quasi-War with France led Hamilton to be awarded the rank of Senior Officer of the United States Army and to argue for, and attempt to raise and organize, an army to fight the French (by invading the colonies of Spain, then a French ally).

Hamilton’s opposition to his fellow Federalist John Adams hurt the party in the 1800 elections. When Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr tied in the electoral college, Hamilton helped defeat his bitter personal enemy Burr and elect Jefferson as president. With his party’s defeat, Hamilton’s nationalist and industrialization ideas lost their former national prominence. Hamilton’s intense rivalry with Burr resulted in a duel, in which Hamilton was mortally wounded.

Hamilton was always denounced by the Jeffersonians and later the Jacksonians, but his economic ideas, especially support for a protective tariff and a national bank, were promoted by the Whig Party and after the 1850s by the newly created Republican Party, which hailed him as the nation’s greatest Secretary of the Treasury.

Legacy

US10dollarbill-Series_2004A Alexander Hamilton on the Series 2004A $10 Federal Reserve Note,
based on an 1805 portrait by John Trumbull

From the start, Hamilton set a precedent as a Cabinet member by formulating federal programs, writing them in the form of reports, pushing for their approval by appearing in person to argue them on the floor of the United States Congress, and then implementing them. Hamilton and the other Cabinet members were vital to Washington, as there was no president before him (under the Constitution) to set precedents for him to follow in national situations such as seditions and foreign affairs.

Another of Hamilton’s legacies was his pro-federal interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. Though the Constitution was drafted in a way that was somewhat ambiguous as to the balance of power between national and state governments, Hamilton consistently took the side of greater federal power at the expense of states. As Secretary of the Treasury, he established—against the intense opposition of Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson—the country’s first national bank. Hamilton justified the creation of this bank, and other increased federal powers, with Congress’s constitutional powers to issue currency, to regulate interstate commerce, and anything else that would be "necessary and proper". Jefferson, on the other hand, took a stricter view of the Constitution: parsing the text carefully, he found no specific authorization for a national bank. This controversy was eventually settled by the Supreme Court of the United States in McCulloch v. Maryland, which in essence adopted Hamilton’s view, granting the federal government broad freedom to select the best means to execute its constitutionally enumerated powers, specifically the doctrine of implied powers.

Hamilton’s policies as Secretary of the Treasury have had an immeasurable effect on the United States Government and still continue to influence it. In 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the United States Navy was still using intership communication protocols written by Hamilton for the Revenue Cutter Service. His constitutional interpretation, specifically of the Necessary and Proper Clause, set precedents for federal authority that are still used by the courts and are considered an authority on constitutional interpretation. The prominent French diplomat Charles Maurice de Talleyrand, who spent 1794 in the United States, wrote "I consider Napoleon, Fox, and Hamilton the three greatest men of our epoch, and if I were forced to decide between the three, I would give without hesitation the first place to Hamilton", adding that Hamilton had intuited the problems of European conservatives. Talleyrand, who helped demolish the First French Republic, would have preferred to have a coalition of European monarchies curtail the solitary republicanism of the United States, which would permit the peaceful recreation of the French colonial empire of Louis XIV; he believed himself and Hamilton in general agreement.

Opinions of Hamilton have run the gamut: both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson viewed him as unprincipled and dangerously aristocratic. Herbert Croly, Henry Cabot Lodge, and Theodore Roosevelt directed attention to him at the end of the 19th century in the interest of an active federal government, whether or not supported by tariffs. Several nineteenth and twentieth century Republicans entered politics by writing laudatory biographies of Hamilton.

He was sufficiently admired by the time of the American Civil War that his portrait began to appear on U.S. currency, including the $2, $5, $10, and $50 notes, however he did not appear on the face of U.S. Postage until 1870, 23 years after the U.S. Post Office issued its first postage stamps in 1847. His portrait has continued to appear on U.S. Postage, though rarely compared to Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, etc. Hamilton continued also to appear on the $10 bill; after the Civil War, a time of high tariffs, he was highly praised. Hamilton also appears on the $500 Series EE Savings Bond. The source of the face on the $10 bill is John Trumbull’s 1805 portrait of Hamilton, in the portrait collection of New York City Hall.[84] On the south side of the Treasury Building in Washington, D.C. is a statue of Hamilton.

     

Background and biographical information is from Wikipedia articles on:

Wikipedia: American Revolution…
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Revolution

Wikipedia: Alexander Hamilton…
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Hamilton

Brainy Quote: Founding Quotes…
http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/founding_2.html