Hamilton, Adams, Jefferson: The Politics of Enlightenment and the American Founding

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Overview

Alexander Hamilton, the worldly New Yorker; John Adams, the curmudgeonly Yankee; Thomas Jefferson, the visionary Virginia squire—each steered their public lives under the guideposts and constraints of Enlightenment principles, and for each their relationship to the politics of Enlightenment was transformed by the struggle for American independence. Repeated humiliation on America's battlefields banished Hamilton's youthful idealism, leaving him a fervent disciple of enlightened realpolitik and the nation's ...

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Hamilton, Adams, Jefferson: The Politics of Enlightenment and the American Founding

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Overview

Alexander Hamilton, the worldly New Yorker; John Adams, the curmudgeonly Yankee; Thomas Jefferson, the visionary Virginia squire—each steered their public lives under the guideposts and constraints of Enlightenment principles, and for each their relationship to the politics of Enlightenment was transformed by the struggle for American independence. Repeated humiliation on America's battlefields banished Hamilton's youthful idealism, leaving him a fervent disciple of enlightened realpolitik and the nation's leading exponent of modern statecraft. After ten years in Europe's diplomatic trenches, Adams's embrace of the politics of Enlightenment became increasingly that of the gadfly of his country. And Jefferson's frustrations as a reformer and then Revolutionary governor in Virginia led him to go beyond his previous enlightened worldview and articulate a new and radical Romantic politics of principle.

Hamilton, Adams, Jefferson is a marvelous reminder that the world of ideas is inextricably bound up in the long trajectory of historical events.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A lucid argument, usefully extending the intellectual history of the American Revolution by interrogating three great revolutionaries." —Kirkus Reviews

"Thoughtful, infectious in its enthusiasm, and briskly argued." —Leslie Kitchen, History News Network

Publishers Weekly
By now it's commonplace to ascribe the principles of the American founding to the Enlightenment, and CUNY historian Staloff offers no startling new information or refreshingly original readings of this period. He contends that the epistemological turn to empiricism, the disenchantment with the metaphysical and the move toward urbanism provide the core of Enlightenment politics, and he uncritically uses these three principles as lenses through which to read the politics of three of America's founders: Hamilton, Adams and Jefferson. Hamilton "promoted rapid industrialization and urban growth fostered by a strong central government capable of projecting its interests and power in the world at large." While Adams shared with John Locke an optimism that scientific education could promote liberty, he knew too well that human nature was corrupt enough to need a political system with checks and balances. Staloff (The Making of an American Thinking Class) gives his most thoughtful readings to Jefferson, who he says fostered a Romantic sensibility in American politics. Jefferson, he says, most changed American politics by showing the need for those politics to be built on an idealistic vision. But among a continuing flood of books about these and other American founders, Staloff's provides little that is new or provocative. (July 4) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Responding to the continuing demand by the reading public for books about the Founding Fathers, Staloff (history, City Coll. of New York; The Making of an American Thinking Class) provides a biographical and intellectual comparison among three major early American statesmen. He shows how the personal experiences and regional cultural traditions of each man shaded his interpretation of the European Enlightenment. The austere, often arrogant Hamilton, born poor but manifestly upwardly mobile (he became the quintessential New Yorker), embraced a boldly realistic interpretation of the new nation's place in the world. The vain, short-tempered, but introspective and honest Adams, a New Englander from the middling farming class, held similar hardheaded views. The charming Jefferson, of the Southern landed gentry, was a Romantic visionary (and undoubtedly the most enduringly popular of this triumvirate) who opted for "enlightened compromises" in office. A scholar who has studied Northern intellectuals, Staloff here devotes most of his study to Jefferson. He prefers citing the papers of all three men to critiquing the work of those who have previously mined these same sources. Intended to be suggestive rather than conclusive, Staloff's is another, but not the definitive, contribution to the growing literature on America's original greatest generation. For a similar comparative treatment of these three (plus James Madison), see Andrew S. Trees's The Founding Fathers and the Politics of Character. Recommended for all collections.-Frederick J. Augustyn Jr., Library of Congress Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780809053568
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 2/6/2007
  • Series: American Portrait (Hill and Wang) Series
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 432
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.96 (d)

Meet the Author

Darren Staloff teaches history at the City College of New York and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He is the author of The Making of an American Thinking Class: Intellectuals and Intelligentsia in Puritan Massachusetts.

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Read an Excerpt

Hamilton, Adams, Jefferson

CHAPTER ONE

ALEXANDER HAMILTON: THE ENLIGHTENMENT FULFILLED

THE ENIGMA OF HAMILTON

AT A SLENDER five feet seven inches, Alexander Hamilton cast an immense shadow over his times. The famed French diplomat the Marquis de Talleyrand-Périgord considered "Napoleon, Pitt, and Hamilton" the three greatest political figures of the age. If forced "to choose among the three," the legendary master of real politique "would without hesitation give the first place to Hamilton." This was no empty compliment. Talleyrand was the resident French expert on American affairs and had met most of the leading statesmen of the United States during a two-year stay.1

Hamilton's varied public accomplishments are the stuff of legend. As a revolutionary soldier, he saw action in most of the major engagements of the war, acquitting himself with a gallantry that occasionally bordered on the suicidal. At the ripe old age of twenty, he joined George Washington's staff, where he quickly emerged as the commander in chief's most indispensable aide and most trusted adviser on military and political matters. As a lawyer, Hamilton was the leading member of the New York bar and the nation's foremost theorist of judicial supremacy and review; Supreme Court chief justice John Marshall considered himself a "mere schoolchild" in jurisprudence in comparison. As a legislator,Hamilton was a leading member of the New York Assembly and the Continental Congress. As a delegate to the Annapolis convention of 1786 from New York, Hamilton authored the call for the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention of the following year. In all posts, he was one of the most outspoken advocates of a strong national government. He was the single most important figure in securing the adoption of the Constitution in New York State and, with Washington and Madison, was one of the most critical figures in the national campaign for the new federal frame of government.

As secretary of the Treasury in Washington's administration, Hamilton not only headed the most important and largest cabinet office in the executive branch, he also formulated most of the administration's foreign and domestic policies. By Washington's second term he had become the president's de facto prime minister. Hamilton published well over 150 works and essays, including two-thirds of The Federalist Papers, drafted many of the most important state documents of his time (most famously his three Reports on Public Credit and Washington's Farewell Address), and founded the New York Post, the longest-running newspaper in the United States. In a more private capacity, Hamilton was one of the founders of the Bank of New York, the Society for Promoting Useful Manufactures, and the Society for Promoting the Manumission of Slaves, New York's premier abolitionist organization. An impressive resume for any founding father, much less a poor, orphaned bastard from the West Indies.

More than any other figure of the American founding, Alexander Hamilton evoked extreme passions. Friends and supporters admired him with a reverence bordering on hero worship. Adversaries loathed him with a hatred that was truly visceral. Thomas Jefferson saw him as a contagion of corruption, whose public career was "a tissue of machinations against the liberty of the country." John Adams dismissed him as "an insolent coxcomb" and the "bastard brat of a Scotch pedlar." Yet even his enemies acknowledged his greatness. "Hamilton is really a colossus," Jefferson confessed, "without numbers, he is an host within himself." Somewhat more begrudging, even Adams noted his remarkable"effervescence." More tellingly, he sought Hamilton's supervision of his son's legal training.2

Animus was no doubt fueled by jealousy, for Hamilton's meteoric success was exacerbated by his remarkable youth. A mere thirty-two years of age when he joined Washington's cabinet, Hamilton nonetheless dominated the administration. But it was more than jealousy that made him such a polarizing figure. His character, both public and private, sparked wildly divergent responses. Moreover, the political forces he represented and the vision of the new nation he pursued were both powerfully alluring and deeply troubling to his fellow Americans. They remain so to this day.

"A Singular Character"—The Contradictions of Hamilton

The character of Alexander Hamilton was a jumble of contradictions. Witty and earnest, affable and distant, and alternately animated by a tender-hearted concern for the sufferings of the disadvantaged and an aristocratic contempt for the common herd, Hamilton has always been a bit of an enigma. Arguably the most impressive of the founding fathers, Hamilton was also, in the words of one of his biographers, "by far the most psychologically troubled." This is not to say that Hamilton was a villain. Quite the contrary, he was a deeply principled and essentially decent man, one blessed with remarkable talents. Yet even his greatest virtues and most remarkable abilities were complicated by contradictory flaws.3

On the one hand, Hamilton's intellectual abilities were indisputable. The most brilliant political figure of his age, he was endowed with a mind that was quick, agile, and perceptive. Throughout his life Hamilton dazzled those around him with truly prodigious feats of acuity. To cite just one example, without any formal education except a brief stint in a Hebrew school, he crammed several years' worth of college preparation in Greek and Latin into about six months of intensive study, gaining him admission to King's (now Columbia) College in the fall of 1773. Allowed to study at his own accelerated pace, roughly two years later he had, to his own satisfaction at least, completed his higher education. On the other hand, he was capable of incredibly bad judgment. As a memberof the Continental Congress in early 1783, he sought to extract nationalist concessions from his colleagues through the threat of a military coup by the unpaid and disgruntled Continental Army camped at Newburgh, New York. It took an angry and pointed letter from George Washington to remind him that "the Army ... is a dangerous instrument to play with." Most famously, when James Thompson Callender, the most notoriously scurrilous journalistic "hack" of his day, charged the former secretary of the Treasury with financial malfeasance with one James Reynolds during his tenure in office, Hamilton published the complete correspondence with Reynolds in a pamphlet. In so doing, he cleared himself of a totally unsubstantiated charge and convicted himself of having an adulterous relationship with Reynolds's wife. Hamilton's friends were mortified; his foes cackled with glee.4

Just as poor judgment marred his brilliance, his remarkable diligence was shadowed by his frailty. Hamilton was undeniably capable of astounding, almost Herculean feats of industry. In the little more than six months between mid-October 1787 and May 1788, he penned fifty-one of those Federalist papers whose attribution is exclusive and fixed, averaging roughly two essays per week. The comparable number for Madison was fourteen, and a mere five for Jay. Indeed, on more than one occasion Hamilton's feats of industry foiled his political foes. In early 1793 Republican partisans in the House and Senate passed resolutions questioning his management of the Treasury Department. The resolutions were introduced just over a month before Congress was to adjourn, and since the House had previously acknowledged that the thorough accounting necessary to clear Hamilton would entail at least nine months of work, the plan was clearly to have Congress adjourn with an unanswered charge of malfeasance hanging over his head. Much to their amazement and chagrin, Hamilton submitted seven separate reports to Congress in the following three weeks detailing every financial transaction the government had made over the previous two years. The resolutions were resoundingly defeated. Hamilton was vindicated.5

Yet for all his industry, Hamilton was remarkably frail. In an age when men tended to be rather portly, he was strikingly slender, almostgaunt in appearance, with long, spindly legs. Beginning in his youth, he suffered from bouts of rheumatic fever that left him bedridden for weeks at a time. In the autumn of 1777 Washington sent Hamilton on an arduous and delicate mission to extract soldiers from General Horatio Gates, the recently victorious hero of the battle of Saratoga. Gates was part of a cabal within the army and Congress that sought to replace Washington as commander in chief with himself. As such, he was none too eager to send any of his own troops to relieve his rival. Hamilton's dogged persistence ultimately bore fruit—but left the twenty-year-old lieutenant colonel physically spent. In mid-November he collapsed, writing to Washington of his incapacity from "a fever and rheumatic pains throughout my body." This was to be a pattern in Hamilton's career, great exertions followed by physical collapse. Eventual recuperation would then give way to fresh efforts, beginning the cycle anew.6

Hamilton was acutely aware of his own frailty, an awareness his foes took as hypochondria. Jefferson was filled with contempt for Hamilton's "excessive alarm" for his health during an outbreak of yellow fever in Philadelphia in the summer of 1793. A man so "timid in sickness," Jefferson remarked sarcastically, "would be a phenomenon if the courage of which he has the reputation in military occasions were genuine." Jefferson may have been uncharitable in his doubts about Hamilton's "manly" fortitude, but he was not alone.7

Hamilton's emotional makeup was similarly split between light and dark. Friends and acquaintances were struck by his charm, wit, and affability. The Duc de La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt pronounced him one of those rare figures who combine "breadth of mind" with "cheerfulness, excellence of character, and much affability," an assessment that even Jefferson shared. With his good looks and easy charm, Hamilton invites comparison with the hero of Henry Fielding's contemporary sentimental novel, Tom Jones. Yet Hamilton had another, darker side to his personality. As his friend Gouverneur Morris confessed in his diary, for all his charm Hamilton could be "indiscreet, vain, and opinionated." More than that, when frustrated by forces opposing him personally or politically, he was susceptible to fits of depression that are more reminiscentof the morose broodings of Hamlet than the sunny disposition of the bastard Jones. Perceived favoritism toward foreign officers left him "contemptible in my own eyes." It was in the midst of one of these self-pitying fits of despair, brought on by resistance to his nationalizing program in the Continental Congress, that Hamilton dabbled with the threat of a military coup. When Washington called him to account and back to his senses, Hamilton confessed that "I often feel a mortification, which it would be impolitic to express, that sets my passions at variance with my reason." With John Laurens, perhaps his closest friend, Hamilton was far less "politic": "I hate Congress—I hate the army—I hate the world—I hate myself."8

Perhaps the greatest contrast in Hamilton's character, however, was in the realm of the public and political rather than the private and personal. Hamilton's program was the most modern and progressive of the founding era. Ever the champion of commercial interests, he promoted rapid industrialization and urban growth fostered by a strong central government capable of projecting its interests and power in the world at large. In place of the classical "republican" quest for virtue, austerity, and personal independence, Hamilton sought the modern goals of commercial prosperity, economic growth, and social mobility. While many Americans piously envisioned politics as a struggle over principles and convictions, the worldly Hamilton saw it as a clash of rival socioeconomic interests. And where others saw those very interests as the source of political corruption, Hamilton saw such corruption as the necessary lubricant for the wheels of government.

At one dinner party John Adams claimed that the British frame of government could be "the most perfect constitution ever devised" if purged of its corruption and its legislature reformed along more representative lines. Hamilton wryly responded that such "reforms" would only render it "an impractical government: as it stands at present, with all its supposed defects, it is the most perfect government which ever existed." Like the archmodern Bernard Mandeville, Hamilton sought to turn private vices into public benefits rather than vainly attempt to banish them from the world of politics. It was for good reason thatHamilton's opponents considered him an American Robert Walpole, the notorious "corrupting" prime minister of midcentury Great Britain and master of patronage, whose thoroughly modern credo was "no saint, no Spartan, no reformer."9

Yet while Hamilton's political principles were thoroughly modern, his public behavior was decidedly classical. Most of Hamilton's political writings were pseudonymously attributed to virtuous classical heroes of antiquity; more than that, Hamilton often assumed a rhetorical air of strict, almost austere classical honesty in his writings, refusing to flatter the people or to pander to their desires. As one scholar has recently noted, Hamilton's public mien was reminiscent of the Roman patrician Coriolanus of the early Republic, who Shakespeare depicts as filled with aristocratic hauteur when responding to the grumblings of the poor plebeians: "hang 'em!" Indeed, Hamilton's truths were not popular, but they were salutary. As he pointedly reminded his readers (again drawing on Hume), "Caesar, who overturned the republic was the WHIG, Cato, who died for it, the TORY of Rome." Despite believing that class and self-interest were the glue of politics, Hamilton personally conducted himself with Spartan purity. He publicly eschewed any compensation for his military services so that he could argue for pensions for the officer corps without any appearance of personal advantage. Similarly, when Henry Lee wrote to the newly appointed secretary of the Treasury for inside information on the likelihood of future payment of the national debt, Hamilton refused to provide it. "You remember the saying with regard to Caesar's wife," Hamilton replied. (Caesar's wife had to be spotless in reputation, not merely fact.) "I think the spirit of it applicable to every man concerned in the administration of the finances of a Country." And in fact, despite numerous charges against him, every investigation into his official conduct by his congressional opponents revealed that he had discharged his duties with the utmost honesty and integrity, leaving office with the nation's finances in order and his own in shambles.10

Hamilton was one of those misanthropic hypocrites who, judgingmankind incapable of benevolence or selflessness in public life, then hold themselves to the most virtuous standards of conduct. Perhaps no one grasped this contradiction in Hamilton's public character better than Jefferson. Although "under thorough conviction that corruption was essential to the government of a nation," Hamilton was nonetheless "of astute understanding, disinterested, honest, and honorable." Jefferson aptly concluded that "Hamilton was, indeed, a singular character."11

A Portrait of the Statesman as a Young Man

Much of the turmoil in Hamilton's character can be attributed to his childhood. Most of the leading statesmen of the founding era hailed from prominent families within the social elite. Some, such as Thomas Jefferson, William Livingston, and Hamilton's father-in-law, Philip Schuyler, were truly to the manor born. Only a small handful were drawn from the common sort. Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Paine may have been critical figures in the politics of early America, but their plebeian backgrounds were decidedly exceptional. None, however, came from origins as obscure or difficult as Alexander Hamilton's.

Hamilton's mother, Rachel Faucett, was born in 1729 on the tiny island of Nevis in the Lesser Antilles. Her early years were spent in an unhappy and broken family; her mother, Mary, separated from her father in 1740, taking the eleven-year-old Rachel with her to the nearby island of St. Kitts (St. Christopher). Five years later, at the age of sixteen, Rachel married John Michael Lavien, a small-time Danish merchant and erstwhile planter who was at least twelve years older than she. Together, the following year, they moved to the Danish-controlled island of St. Croix. Despite the birth of a son, Peter, Rachel's marriage was no happier than her mother's. In 1749 John Lavien had his wife imprisoned in the fort of Christiansted for adultery. Whether Rachel was guilty of the charge is unknown, but in any case Lavien's action was unremittingly draconian. In the tiny white community that sat atop the large slave societies of the West Indies, Rachel's imprisonment among drunkensailors, common criminals, and unruly slaves entailed her complete social ostracism. Unable to show her face in respectable society, no sooner was Rachel released than she fled the island, abandoning her husband and young son. She would never see either again.12

Presumably Rachel ran to her mother in St. Kitts, but there is no clear evidence establishing this. What is known is that in the following few years she hooked up with James Hamilton on the island of Nevis, another man at least ten years her senior. No mere "Scotch pedlar," Hamilton was the son of a Scottish lord; Alexander would later name his small country home in what is now Harlem after the ancestral family estate in Ayrshire. As the fourth son, however, James was propertyless and had come to the West Indies to make his fortune. At this task he was utterly unsuccessful. Rachel bore him two sons out of wedlock, James Jr. in 1755 and Alexander—named after his grandfather, the "laird of the Grange"—on January 11, 1757. In later years Alexander remembered his father fondly. Presumably it was from him that he learned to view the "money grubbing" ways of merchants with aristocratic disdain, despite the fact that, in stark contrast to his ne'er-do-well father, young Alexander was to prove quite adept at them. Together the family eked out a modest existence at the fringes of white island society.13

Ultimately, Rachel's relationship with James Hamilton was to prove no happier and not much more enduring than her previous marriage. In 1765 she returned to St. Croix, where James was commissioned to recover a debt. Having discharged his duty, he returned to St. Kitts, leaving Rachel and their two sons behind. Alexander, then eight or nine, would never see his father again, though in later years he would send him whatever sums he could spare. Rachel opened a small store in their home that Alexander helped tend, perhaps also clerking at the nearby firm of Nicholas Cruger, a merchant from New York who headed the West Indian branch of the family trade. Rachel's relative poverty and scandalous reputation precluded any hope of formal education for her sons. It was a hard lot that only got harder.14

On February 19, 1768, Rachel died. As illegitimate children, James Jr. and Alexander could not inherit what few assets she had; JohnMichael Lavien promptly claimed her small estate for his son Peter. The authorities placed the Hamilton boys in service, where they could learn a trade to support themselves. James Jr. was apprenticed to a carpenter, and Alexander became a clerk for Nicholas Cruger. Hamilton was just one month past his eleventh birthday.15

Despite his poverty and the obscurity of his birth, Hamilton's first extant letter, written to his friend Edward "Ned" Stevens just two months before his thirteenth birthday, testifies to his dreams of glory: "to confess my weakness, Ned, my ambition is so prevalent, so that I contemn the groveling condition of a clerk or the like, to which my fortune, etc., condemns me, and would willingly risk my life, though not my character to exalt my station." Fame and glory for Hamilton were the necessary salve for the wounds of his childhood. An exalted "station" would atone for his abandonment by his parents and finally answer the taunts of "whore child" that he had endured as a boy on the streets of Christiansted. Only extraordinary achievement could vindicate Hamilton. Ominously he ended his letter: "I wish there was a war."16

Hamilton's burning ambition spurred him to great accomplishments, much to the benefit of his adopted country. Hamilton's remarkable efforts in the revolutionary and early national epochs were critical to the founding of American freedom, prosperity, and national greatness. Indeed, by the time he retired from public life, Hamilton had achieved everything a man of his age could dream of, much less hope for. He had married into one of the wealthiest and most illustrious families in North America, with a handsome wife who adored him and a brood of devoted children. He was the leading member of the New York bar whose services were eagerly sought by all who needed legal representation. His political career was an unqualified success. Short of the presidency, he had been honored with every high office and title, both military and civilian, that his country could bestow. Revered by his followers, admired by his colleagues, and respected by his foes, Hamilton in his lifetime climbed the summits of acclaim that are usually reserved for those long deceased. Yet he remained unsatisfied. Success never brought the relief he pined for. "Mine is an odd destiny," he wrote to his friend and fellowFederalist Gouverneur Morris in 1802. "Perhaps no man in the United States has sacrificed or done more for the present Constitution than myself ... Yet I have the murmurs of its friends no less than the curses of its foes for my reward." This was the tragedy of Alexander Hamilton: no worldly success could remove the scars of his childhood wounds.17

A Native New Yorker

There was, of course, more to Hamilton than a wounded inner child. He was molded by, and reflected, the environment in which he came of age. Throughout his life in America Hamilton knew only one place as home: New York City. It was in New York that he attended college. It was in New York that he began his military career, organizing a patriot militia in the winter of 1774. It was in New York that he entered the Continental service, receiving a commission as a captain in the New York artillery in the spring of 1776. At war's end he represented New York in the state legislature and the Continental Congress. As a lawyer, he fixed his practice in New York City, where he resided with his family at 57 Wall Street. And at the end of his political career, it was in northern Manhattan that Hamilton built his country house, the Grange, which still sits nestled among the buildings surrounding the City College of New York in Harlem. Finally, it was in New York that he was buried after his famous duel with Aaron Burr, finding his final resting place in the Trinity churchyard in lower Manhattan.18

The New York of Hamilton's day was a relatively small city of some twenty thousand souls. Yet it was already growing at an astounding rate and undeniably was a unique place in early America, even among the handful of urban seaports that dominated the trade of the country. Boston had been part of the Puritan plan to build a godly "City upon a Hill" in the new world, and Philadelphia was envisioned as a Quaker city of brotherly love. New York, by contrast, from its very inception had been committed exclusively to commercial advantage. A remarkably diverse place, host to Dutch Calvinists, English Puritans, German Baptists, French Huguenots, and a smattering of creolized Angolans andSephardic Jews, by the mid-seventeenth century New York's politics were characterized by religious and ethnic factionalism. So intense was the partisanship in New York that some historians have seen in it the origins of our own modern party politics.

By Hamilton's time, New Yorkers had already been noted for many of the distinctive characteristics with which they are associated to this very day. New Yorkers walked and talked faster, worked and played harder, and pursued wealth with a greater avidity (if not cupidity) than their fellow Americans. It was Hamilton's natural home.

Like so many true New Yorkers, Hamilton was an immigrant who was attracted by its scintillating energy and enamored of its bustling tempo. Just as Jefferson represented the Virginia gentry in the public imagination, Hamilton was the embodiment of the New York City slicker, so much so that his contemporaries came to call the town "Hamiltonopolis." No doubt it was the identification with New York that, in part at least, made Hamilton such a polarizing figure. Then and now Americans have felt a strange ambivalence toward Gotham, proud of its colossal wealth and power yet uncomfortable with its moral excesses and worldly pursuit of gain.19

Ultimately, however, it was not merely his embodiment of New York City that made Hamilton such a divisive figure. Hamilton represented the politics of Enlightenment in the early republic. Indeed, he embodied them. His own dramatic social mobility exemplified the Enlightenment's meritocratic ideal of the career open to talents rather than birth or wealth. By dint of diligence and learning, Hamilton pulled himself out of obscurity to the heights of fame and fortune. A bastard by birth, Hamilton was one of those "natural aristocrats" whom the philosophes celebrated and whom Thomas Jefferson hoped could be "raked from the rubbish" by means of public education. His political vision, drawn from his reading and his experience as a New Yorker, represented the Enlightenment's program of commercial and urban development put into practice.20

In a country that was still overwhelmingly agrarian, this enlightened program could not help but spark controversy. Coupled with the worldlinessand disenchanted réal politique that Hamilton drew from the eighteenth-century philosophes, it is not hard to understand why he was and remains a troubling figure in the American founding. His career was the Enlightenment put into operation, and his political program represented its projection in the newly created United States of America. Hamilton was the Enlightenment fulfilled. It had not always been so.

THE TURNING

When Hamilton matriculated at King's College in the fall of 1773, a lull had fallen over the imperial crisis between Great Britain and her North American colonies. Of the Townshend Acts of 1767—a series of duties that Parliament had imposed on American imports—all but the tax on tea had been repealed. As a consequence, the colonial protest movement's efforts to retaliate through a boycott of British imports had largely collapsed. For most Americans, the conflict with England seemed to have been resolved. That all changed on December 16 when the Sons of Liberty cast 340 chests of tea belonging to the British East India Company into Boston Harbor. In short order Parliament responded with the draconian Intolerable Acts, which closed the port of Boston, revoked the Massachusetts charter, and remodeled its government under the military control of General Thomas Gage. According to the recollection of his friend Robert Troup, Hamilton had previously sided with the British in the imperial controversy. But after the famous Tea Party he began to reconsider his position, traveling to Boston to assess the situation for himself. Once there, he was galvanized by the radical rhetoric and patriotic posture of the beleaguered Bostonians. Thenceforth Hamilton would be among the most committed patriots in the American cause.21

"Inviolably Attached to the Essential Rights of Mankind"—Hamilton the Radical Republican

Unlike solidly patriotic New England, the mid-Atlantic colonies of New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware were deeply divided betweenloyalists to the British crown and partisans of colonial resistance. Tory publicists like the Anglican clergyman Samuel Seabury (writing under the pseudonym "A Westchester Farmer") filled the presses with pamphlets defending king and country and castigating the rebellious counsels of the Continental Congress. In the winter of 1774—75, Hamilton entered the lists on behalf of the patriots, publishing two essays—"A Full Vindication of the Measures of the Continental Congress" and "The Farmer Refuted"—in reply to Seabury. These were followed up in the ensuing summer with two additional pieces, entitled "Remarks on the Quebec Bill," that further elaborated the case for colonial resistance. In these writings, Hamilton took a decidedly radical position.

The colonies, Hamilton insisted, were in no way subject to the authority of Parliament; their sole tie to the empire was through their shared monarch. This was a view held by only a handful of the more committed revolutionaries at the time, such as James Wilson, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams. These polemical pieces by the still-teenaged collegian galvanized the forces of resistance in New York and the mid-Atlantic region at large. They also cemented Hamilton's reputation as a spokesman for the colonial cause. What is most striking about these essays, however, and about Hamilton's correspondence over the following years, is what they betray about his political thought at the time. The young propagandist was not merely an American partisan. In stark contrast to his later views, the revolutionary Alexander Hamilton was a committed republican. "I am inviolably attached to the essential rights of mankind," he insisted, "and the true interests of society."22

To be a republican in the eighteenth century meant far more than merely favoring representative or even popular government. As historians have demonstrated over the last fifty years, republicanism was a peculiar worldview that inspired the American revolutionaries. Its origins lay in the Florentine Renaissance, whose famous political theorists such as Machiavelli and Gucciardini sought to rekindle the civic humanism of classical Greece and Rome. Popularized in succeeding generations by authors like James Harrington and Algernon Sidney, republicans championed the ideal of active political engagement. For republicans, manwas, in Aristotle's phrase, "by nature a political animal" whose public existence was "defined by no other thing so much as by sharing in decision and office." Such active citizenship required the practice of virtue, the essential principle of republican government according to the famed Baron de Montesquieu. Political virtue meant the voluntary sacrifice of one's personal interests on behalf of the public good, a sacrifice exemplified in the willingness to fight and die for one's country.23

There were, of course, problems in adapting the civic humanism of the classical republicans to the politics of early modern Europe. Sparta, Athens, and Rome had been self-contained city-states, not territorially extended dominions. Moreover, with the exception of Switzerland and the Protestant Netherlands, most northern European polities were not republics at all but monarchies, and some, like France, were of the "absolute" variety. In this context, republican civic virtue took the form of an abiding suspicion that kings and their ministers were constantly conspiring to increase their power at the expense of the liberties of the people (the latter being the propertied and landed classes). Additionally, the ancient republics had been pagan rather than Christian. Thus post-Renaissance republicans supplemented classical political teachings with the "natural law" theories of late medieval Christianity. Nor had the classical republics been rent by confessional and sectarian controversies. In the case of English-speaking republicans in particular, their civic humanism was strongly colored by their pious Protestant hatred of Roman Catholicism. By the seventeenth century, English republicans were convinced that "Popery" was not merely heretical and anti-Christian but the religious source of tyranny and arbitrary government.

Each of these elements of the republican worldview found ample expression in Hamilton's revolutionary writings. Political self-government was not a privilege but a fundamental right. Without this right to civic participation, the colonists were no better than slaves. "The only distinction between freedom and slavery," Hamilton insisted, "consists in this: in the former state, a man is governed by the laws to which he has given his consent" while "in the latter, he is governed by the will of another." This right to active political participation flowed from the factof human equality. "All men have one common original," he reasoned, "and consequently have one common right." Given this equality, there was no justification "why one man should exercise any power, or preeminence over his fellow creatures," unless they had explicitly and "voluntarily vested him with it." This the colonists had pointedly refused to do. American self-legislation in defiance of British parliamentary pretensions was thus "an inherent right," one "founded upon the right of all men to freedom and happiness." Without that right "civil liberty cannot possibly have any existence," and the colonials, denied their birthright as freeborn Britons, would be reduced to thralldom.24

Parliament's assault on the rights of America was not fortuitous. It was "the offspring of mature deliberation," part of the never-ending quest of the king's ministers to expand their powers at the expense of popular liberty. What lay behind this plot was a growing apprehension of the rise of American glory, "a jealousy of our dawning splendour." This fear of American potential greatness was "one of the principal incitements to the present rigorous and unconstitutional proceedings against us." American resistance to these parliamentary violations was, therefore, not the result of "peevish and petulant humours" but the principled determination of colonials "to shew them, that we know the value of freedom."25

Proof that the British were conspiring against American liberty could be found in the Quebec Act, which established the Catholic religion and the French legal system in Canada. Clearly this was an unwarranted abrogation of power, for Parliament "had no more right" to "establish popery" in Quebec than in "New York and the other colonies." More than that, though, the absence of representative institutions and the English jury system in that province "invests the king with absolute power over a little world." This absolute power was a threat to the liberty of Protestant America. While Tory partisans of the crown dismissed such fears as "the dismal sounds of New-England's republicanism, bigotry, and intolerance," Hamilton insisted to the contrary that there could be no clearer evidence of "the corruption of the British Parliament" than "its act" in establishing the principles of arbitrary government in French Canada.26

Even with right on their side, how could the colonials hope to prevail against the most powerful empire in the history of the world? The answer for Hamilton lay in the appeal of republican virtue to the hearts and minds of the American people. "There is a certain enthusiasm in liberty, that makes human nature rise above itself in acts of bravery and heroism," intoned the young idealist. "It cannot be expected that America would yield, without a magnanimous, persevering, and bloody struggle." The British would certainly have advantages on their side. Equipped with a powerful navy, professional soldiers, experienced officers, and ample military supplies, the British enjoyed what Hamilton frankly acknowledged was a "vast superiority." Yet they were hardly "invincible." American patriotic virtue would supply "superior numbers" that, "joined to natural intrepidity and that animation which is inspired by a desire of freedom and a love of one's country," Hamilton argued, "may very well overbalance" the more traditional assets the British enjoyed. Moreover, a prolonged military struggle would devastate British commerce, an intolerable development for a nation of shopkeepers already burdened with a crippling debt.27

Hamilton's republican rhetoric may have been rousing, but it was hardly unique. Appeals to patriotic virtue against ministerial conspiracies were the stock in trade of American revolutionary polemic. Even antipopery was a fairly common element of the accepted arguments for colonial resistance. Indeed, republicanism has long been recognized as the ideological basis of the American revolutionary movement. What was distinctive about Hamilton's position was not its republicanism per se but the extremes to which he took it. His republicanism was remarkably radical, even among partisans of the American cause.

For all their talk of popular liberty and the rule of the people, most American revolutionary leaders were republicans, not democrats. They acknowledged the legitimate voice of the people in government but hardly accorded it full sovereignty. Instead, they favored what was known at the time as "mixed government." The ideal of mixed government was drawn from the classical republican theories of Aristotle and Polybius, who taught that combining elements of democratic, aristocratic, andmonarchical government in one constitutional frame eliminated the potential dangers of the "pure" forms by allowing each to check the excesses of the others. In legislative terms, a mixed government balanced the participation of the people with an equal representation of the elite.28

The British Parliament was just such a mixed government. The people had their representatives in the House of Commons, but that body was offset by the aristocratic House of Lords. Both in turn were checked by the king. Most colonial legislatures had incorporated this mixed ideal, with popularly elected assemblies balanced by small appointed councils made up of the social and political elite. Both branches of the legislature were in turn checked by an independent governor, generally appointed by the crown. Thus when the colonies broke with the empire, their new state constitutions replicated this mixed, bicameral mode of legislative organization. Popularly elected lower houses were matched with elite upper houses or "senates" whose members generally served longer terms. Only Pennsylvania and Vermont adopted the more radical and democratic unicameral legislature, where the people's representatives were the only source of law and policy.

Most revolutionaries were, like John Adams, appalled by the democratic nature of such unicameral legislatures. Thomas Jefferson preferred an appointed senate whose members enjoyed life tenures "rather than a mere creation by and dependence on the people." Hamilton was, in fact, one of those few radicals who favored democracy over mixed government.29

"That instability is inherent in the nature of popular governments," Hamilton acknowledged, was a common conviction among political leaders. But such charges were the result of elitist prejudices, he insisted, not a "strict examination of the matter." On the contrary, a careful perusal of the historical facts demonstrated that such instability in "governments in which the popular principle has borne a considerable sway" was the result of its mixture "with other principles." Combining popular sovereignty with elite checks and balances forced democracy to "operate in an improper channel." Unfortunately, this was precisely what revolutionary New York had done in its own constitution by balancingthe popularly elected assembly with an upper house. The newly created New York Senate, both by its "very name" as well as "the mere circumstance of its being a separate member of the legislature," was likely to destabilize the state government and "degenerate into a body purely aristocratical." Such aristocracy was both unwarranted and unnecessary because there was little "danger of an abuse of power" in a unicameral assembly "where the equality and fullness of popular representation is so wisely provided for." A far cry from his later sentiment, the revolutionary Hamilton was a proud democrat.30

Hamilton did more than champion the principles of popular democracy. He also sought to extend republican liberties beyond the political nation of white male property owners. Hamilton dismissed racist arguments that blacks lacked the intellectual and moral capacity for the virtuous defense of American liberty, going so far as to propose a plan to enlist South Carolina slaves in the army and thus "give them their freedom with their muskets." "The contempt we have been taught to entertain of the blacks," he averred, is "founded neither in reason nor experience." Indeed, he was convinced that "the negroes will make excellent soldiers" if only they were enlisted with emancipation as an inducement and placed under "proper management." But his scheme would do more than aid the war effort. It would also promote the cause of a general emancipation, an advantage that had "no small weight" for the young abolitionist. Hamilton's plan to enlist slaves as soldiers issued from the depths of his republican convictions. In refuting Seabury two years earlier, he had argued that "the whole human race is intitled" to the blessings of civil liberty and human dignity, and "it can be wrested from no part of them," African or European, "without the blackest and most aggravated guilt." Abolition was an essential element of Hamilton's revolutionary credo.31

In the years that followed the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, Hamilton's political thinking would undergo a sea change. Disillusionment would replace republican enthusiasm, and youthful idealism would give way to worldly realism. Hamilton never lost his hatred of slavery and his commitment to abolition, but his commitment to pure democracyand his faith in public virtue would dissipate. The young Hamilton was a republican dreamer whose political vision drew on classical sources. The mature Hamilton was a modern who considered appeals to republican virtue futile and childish. Government, the older Hamilton concluded, was founded on interest and opinion, not on abstract rights. The Hamilton that emerged from the maelstrom of revolutionary struggle was a decided realist whose thought was imbued with the worldly teachings and philosophies of the Enlightenment. As one biographer has noted, the young Hamilton "often sounded like his opponents in maturity."32

"These Things Wound My Feelings as a Republican"—The Sources of Disillusionment

Hamilton's break with republicanism was a direct result of his experience as an officer in the Continental Army. The Revolutionary War for independence forced him to reexamine his political beliefs and come to terms with realities that ran counter to his idealistic aspirations. Part of this reexamination included a reassessment of the role of the nation's fledgling political institutions. Additionally, Hamilton was led to confront the nature of American society and the character of its citizens. His youthful belief in the power of republican virtue and self-sacrifice was challenged by the course of events and the selfishness of his adopted countrymen. Idealism gave way to realism, and worldliness replaced heroic optimism in his thought. Hamilton ceased to be a republican stalwart and became the nation's most outspoken champion of the politics of Enlightenment.

By the time Hamilton joined General George Washington's staff in the spring of 1777, he had seen extensive military action in numerous engagements. Most of these battles had been disheartening and disastrous defeats. In early spring 1776 General William Howe evacuated Boston and moved the locus of British military operations to the mid-Atlantic colonies. In early July he established a military base on Staten Island. Toward the end of the following month he landed a force offifteen thousand troops on Long Island. On August 27 he routed the Continental Army at Brooklyn Heights. Washington was fortunate to be able to evacuate his surviving force of 9,500 men to Manhattan under cover of night two days later. In mid-September the British landed at Kip's Bay (presently East Thirtieth Street), facing little opposition from American militia, which fled as quickly as possible. Only Howe's failure to press his advantage and march directly across the island allowed Hamilton and the rest of the American army in New York City to escape complete encirclement by streaming up the western edge of Manhattan and holding off the British advance at Harlem Heights the following day, September 16. The British now occupied Hamilton's beloved New York City, as they would for the following seven years, using it as their primary base of operations.33

By mid-October, Washington realized that his position in New York was utterly untenable. Most of the thirteen thousand militia under his command had deserted, and his force of ten thousand Continentals had been repeatedly routed. On October 16 he moved the bulk of his army to higher ground north of Manhattan, leaving a large force of roughly three thousand to hold Fort Washington (in what is now Washington Heights). At the end of the month he was again defeated in White Plains and beat a hasty retreat across the Hudson and down through New Jersey. When he arrived at Hackensack in mid-November, he had a mere three thousand men. On November 16 Fort Washington surrendered unconditionally in the face of a British siege, with the loss of most of its force and a large cache of vital supplies. Three days later Fort Lee, just across the Hudson in New Jersey, fell with an additional loss of men and supplies—almost 150 cannons, 2,800 muskets, 400,000 cartridges, 12,000 rounds of cannon shot, and the bulk of the army's blankets, tents, and tools. Washington's diminished and dispirited forces continued their brisk flight across New Jersey with Howe's regulars close at their heels. By the end of the month they reached New Brunswick, where Hamilton's artillery, stationed at what is now Rutgers College, laid a protective covering barrage that held off the British and allowed Washington to safely cross the Raritan River. There Washington's forces were further depletedby the loss of two thousand militia from New Jersey and other states whose term of enlistment ended on December 1. Washington reached Trenton two days later and crossed the Delaware to Pennsylvania less than a week after that with little more than half of his original force of Continentals.34

Dispirited and repeatedly defeated, Washington confided to his brother in a letter that "I think the game is pretty near up." Only his daring Christmas raid at Trenton and his successful assault on Princeton the following week kept the American forces intact and revived at least some hope for eventual victory.35

Unfortunately, Washington's victories at Trenton and Princeton were to be his last for four years, until the final success at Yorktown in 1781. In 1777 Howe dispatched his forces by fleet for an assault on Philadelphia. Washington's efforts to defend the nation's capital were thwarted in the second week of September when he was handed a thorough drubbing at Brandywine Creek, forcing the Continental Congress to flee Philadelphia. The following week the British occupied Philadelphia without opposition. The very next week they dealt Washington another humiliating defeat at Germantown. To make matters even more galling for the commander in chief, while Washington went from crushing defeat to defeat, his great rival Horatio Gates scored the most stunning American victory of the Revolutionary War at Saratoga in late September and early October 1777. The British general John Burgoyne was forced to surrender with a force of nearly six thousand men. Gates's success, aided by the brilliant field leadership of the future traitor Benedict Arnold, was instrumental in gaining diplomatic recognition from France and, with it, much-needed military and financial support. Not surprisingly, many congressmen seriously considered replacing Washington with Gates as 1777 came to a close.36

Although Washington ultimately retained his command, the course of the war did not improve for the American cause in the following years. In the spring of 1778 General Henry Clinton replaced Howe as British commander and shortly evacuated Philadelphia to shift the war to the southern colonies. By the end of the year Georgia had been conquered.Mid-May 1780 brought the capitulation of Charleston, South Carolina, and with it the surrender of 5,500 American soldiers. Clinton then returned to New York and left Lord Charles Cornwallis to pacify the rest of the South. By the end of June he had gained control of most of the Carolinas, an area of some fifteen thousand square miles. At the battle of Camden on August 16 he destroyed the remnants of the American army in the South, sending its commander Horatio Gates (the hero of Saratoga) into panicked flight. Charlotte, North Carolina, fell by the end of September, at which point the British controlled most of the American South. In the interim, the best Washington had to show for himself was a minor tactical victory at Monmouth Court House in New Jersey, where his soldiers actually held their ground in a full pitched battle on June 28, 1778. As the year 1780 drew to a close, the American Revolution was on the verge of collapse.37

The American cause finally prevailed the following year, but only after the British had dislodged the Virginia legislature from its capital in Charlottesville on June 4, almost capturing Governor Thomas Jefferson at his Monticello estate. And when victory did come at Yorktown that fall, it was more the result of French land and naval forces—and stormy weather that scattered the British fleet—than American military effort. American independence had been achieved despite, not because of, the military activity of the Continental Army. It was a bitter pill for American soldiers and their officers to swallow. For none did it go down harder than for Alexander Hamilton. The experience, and the lessons he drew from it, permanently changed his political and intellectual orientation.

The failures of the Continental Army can be attributed to a variety of factors. Although far superior to their brethren in the militias, Continental soldiers lacked discipline and training. Not until the arrival of "Baron" von Steuben—in fact, a common mercenary and drill instructor from the Prussian army—at Valley Forge in the winter of 1777—78 did the American forces have even the basic rudiments of close order drill, the essential requirement for both proficiency in the field and unit cohesion in modern land armies. Recruitment was another problem. Congress called for enlistments for the duration of the war in 1776,but there were very few takers. The following year Congress resorted to a state quota system that persisted throughout the war. When enlistments proved inadequate to fill these quotas by the middle of the year, soldiers were drafted for service ending that December, and the lacuna was filled with ineffective militia. Once trained, these recruits would be discharged by the end of the year, and so the whole process would begin again the following January. Naturally, this left the army in a state of perpetual flux. This flux was exacerbated by desertion. Until the final year of the war, roughly 20 to 25 percent of the Continental Army fled from its posts. During the harsh winter months at Valley Forge in 1777—78, that number ballooned to almost ten desertions per day.38

The Continental Army was also hampered by a lack of able leadership. Untrained and inexperienced, American officers were forced to learn on the job. At Monmouth Court House, General Charles Lee inexplicably lost his nerve (a failure that resulted in his court-martial), almost snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Only the timely arrival of Hamilton and Washington to rally his panicked troops prevented another dispiriting rout. At Camden, South Carolina, the aged Horatio Gates vastly underestimated the strength of his foe and then turned to headlong flight, leaving his soldiers to fend for themselves. Even Washington dithered aimlessly in New York in 1776, failing to evacuate Forts Lee and Washington when their positions were hopeless.

Discouraged and disunited, officers fell into infighting and intrigue. After his victory at Saratoga, Gates jockeyed to replace Washington. In November 1777 Gates was appointed president of the Board of War, and his minion Brigadier General Thomas Conway was made inspector general, reporting directly to Gates and the Board rather than through Washington. Further eroding Washington's authority and sapping the morale of his officers was Congress's penchant for commissioning foreign, especially French, officers and promoting them above those Americans who had been serving in the field. More than simply galling, Hamilton complained that "these things wound my feelings as a republican more than I can express." Military experience had begun to erode Hamilton's faith in his political creed.39

The greatest single cause of the failures of the Continental Army, however, was the lack of vital supplies. The army simply lacked the food, clothing, and military matériel to take the field, much less mount an offensive. As early as 1776, one officer reported that the march to Trenton of Washington's army on Christmas Day was "tinged here and there with blood from the feet of men who wore broken shoes." For most of the war, Washington's soldiers were unpaid, poorly fed, and clad in rags or half-naked. Almost one-quarter of his force died at the winter encampment at Valley Forge from cold, disease, and outright starvation. By all accounts the encampment at Morristown the following winter—one of the coldest in New Jersey history—was even harsher. On January 1 the Massachusetts line mutinied, followed by the Connecticut line in late May and the New York line the following month.40

A beleaguered George Washington warned the president of the Continental Congress, Joseph Reed, that, unless the problem of supply was addressed shortly, "our affairs must soon become desperate beyond the possibility of recovery." "Indeed," he added, "I have almost ceased to hope."41

What made the suffering of the army especially exasperating was that it occurred in the midst of economic prosperity. The struggle for independence had brought with it a remarkable war boom that stretched from 1778 to 1780, precisely those years when Hamilton and his fellow Continentals experienced their greatest privations. Thus, for example, the starvation at Valley Forge followed a bumper crop. Unfortunately, Congress had tried to economize by setting compensation for wagons and draft animals at roughly a third of current market rates. Not surprisingly, teamsters refused to transport supplies to the army when they could make far more money contracting with private parties. The problem of supply, then, was the result not of a dearth of resources but of a failure of policies for procuring those supplies and the lack of political will to see that procurement through.42

By 1780 many officers in the Continental Army believed that the failures of supply and support for the army had reached the point of a genuine national crisis. In October of that year Hamilton wrote to IsaacSears (one of the leaders of New York's Sons of Liberty) that "it is impossible the Contest can be much longer Supported on the present footing." What followed was a series of demands that would form the core of Hamilton's program for the rest of his life. Foreign loans were needed to finance the war, and a national bank was required to administer those finances. Congressional boards must be replaced with executive bodies headed by individuals with the authority to enforce their orders. In the interim, a "tax in kind" should be imposed on the farmers of America to see that the army was fed. Simply put, Hamilton insisted that "we must have a Government with more power."43

Much of the blame for the crises of the army and the nation could be laid at the feet of the Continental Congress. Lacking a source of revenue, the Congress had adopted the expedient of printing money. As the money depreciated in value, Congress responded by simply printing more of it. At the beginning of 1779 it took $8 to purchase the same goods that had sold for one a mere two years earlier. By March 1780 the currency had become so worthless that Congress was forced to devalue its own money by a factor of forty to one. Congress thus practically declared bankruptcy and reduced its debt by fiat from $200 million to $5 million. Even that extraordinary measure failed to arrest the depreciation of the currency. In April 1781 it took $167 to purchase what had cost only one dollar at the outset of the war. Having failed to supply the army, in 1780 Congress simply abdicated its responsibility. Henceforth the states would be charged with provisioning the troops, an arrangement that proved no more satisfactory the following winter at Morristown.44

When Hamilton first took up his pen in the American cause, he did so as a champion of the Continental Congress. By 1778 he had become disillusioned with that body. At first he attributed its failures to the removal of leading statesmen to military, state, and diplomatic offices. But Congress not only lacked quality representation, it also suffered from an absence of moral scruple. In the winter of 1777-78 Hamilton became involved in a congressionally authorized cartel to exchange prisoners with the British. He was shocked to learn that Congress sought merelyto string the British along with impossible preconditions in order to blame the failure of exchanges on their foe and thus score a propaganda coup. "Such a cruel policy of exposing those men who are foremost in defense of their country to the misery of hopeless captivity" was scandalous, Hamilton thundered, particularly when it was foisted on "a republican army."45

Congressional immorality was compounded by sheer cupidity. When Congressman Samuel Chase of Maryland learned that a French fleet was shortly to arrive in American waters, he cornered the flour market for provisioning that fleet, doubling the price Congress had to pay for that commodity and reaping a handsome profit. Disgusted by Chase's venality, Hamilton attacked him in the press. Writing under the pseudonym "Publius"—the same name he would adopt in The Federalist—Hamilton charged the congressman with stooping "to the dishonest artifices of a mercantile projector" and sacrificing "his conscience and his trust to pecuniary motives." Such a "degenerate character" who had abused "the knowledge of secrets, to which his office gave him access" was worthy of "the utmost rigor of public resentment" and ought to "be detested as a traitor of the worst and most dangerous kind." For Hamilton, Congress had lost its luster as the embodiment of American republican virtue.46

Hamilton's disillusionment was not limited to the Congress. The states had also been remiss in fulfilling their obligations. Had the states retired the Continental currency through taxation, as Congress had enjoined, much of its devaluation might have been avoided. Yet to curry favor with their constituents, state legislators consistently refused to do this. Nor were they any more willing to shoulder their burdens under the system of state supply adopted by the Congress in 1780. When state price controls did not thwart the task of supply, those states not under attack by the British found more pressing needs for the tax revenues. Ultimately, the army was reduced to impressing the goods it desperately needed, leaving the victims of such seizures with increasingly worthless promissory certificates. By war's end, more than $93 million of such certificates had been foisted on unwilling farmers and tradesmen, and thatwas excluding those issued in Georgia and the Carolinas. The "conduct of the states," according to Hamilton, was so "pitiful" that "if we are saved France and Spain must save us."47

Having failed to discharge their duties, the states would henceforth be a perennial object of Hamilton's political enmity. He devoted much of the rest of his public career to weakening their pernicious stranglehold on political power in the new republic.

Hamilton's greatest disillusionment, however, was with the American people. Prior to his military service, Hamilton had waxed rhapsodic about the great republican virtue of the American people and the "enthusiasm in liberty, that makes human nature rise above itself." Years of suffering and privation in the field had taught him otherwise. Although the ineffectual policies of Congress and the states exacerbated the army's critical lack of supplies, overshadowing these failures was, in the words of one historian, "the speculative practices of countless farmers." They hoarded their crops, sold them at inflated prices to merchants rather than to army quartermasters, and as a last resort distilled their grains into alcohol for more profitable sale to half-starved soldiers. Civilian theft of army supplies was rampant both in camp and throughout the countryside.48

Magistrates and residents routinely found ways to avoid meeting their quotas of supplies and conscripts. Indeed, the failure of the states to supply the Continental Army was itself the result of their citizens' utter unwillingness to pay higher taxes to support the war effort, a lesson not lost on Hamilton and his fellow soldiers. This was particularly evident after France entered the war on the American side. As Hamilton correctly noted, Americans expected the French to secure their independence without having to sacrifice themselves. "Our countrymen have all the folly of the ass," wrote a disgusted Hamilton in 1780, "and all the passiveness of the sheep."49

Perhaps most discouraging of all, just as the southern colonies faced British conquest, South Carolina rejected John Laurens's plan to raise several regiments of black soldiers, a scheme that had the backing of the Continental Congress. Laurens's plan would have immeasurably aidedthe American war effort. Additionally, it would have at least made a dent in one of the gravest injustices that all Americans recognized as a blight on the nation's moral and republican character. Even before the legislature had rejected Laurens's proposal, Hamilton confessed that, although it was "the best resource the situation of your country will admit," his hopes were "very feeble." "Prejudice and private interest," he predicted, "will be antagonists too powerful for public spirit and the public good." The plan went down to defeat in South Carolina. Several years later Hamilton confessed to George Washington that "I have an indifferent opinion of the honesty of this country." To his friend Laurens he was far more direct: "there is no virtue in America."50

Adding to Hamilton's disillusionment was his frustration with the dead end his military career had taken. When he joined Washington's staff, he had received a double promotion from captain to lieutenant colonel. As the years passed, however, he remained fixed at that rank while others with field command were promoted ahead of him. As a child, Hamilton had hoped for a war to free him from the "groveling" clerical work he was assigned. Ironically, war had returned him to precisely that work. Worse yet, his very competence in that work made him indispensable to Washington. When he sought the command of a battalion under Lafayette for an expedition against Staten Island in November 1780, Washington flatly refused. His close friend John Laurens urged Congress to appoint Hamilton secretary to the American ministry in France. On December 11, 1780, Congress chose Laurens instead. Four days later Hamilton was nominated for the post of minister to Russia. Again he was passed over, this time for Francis Dana. Lafayette and Nathanael Greene then urged Washington to appoint Hamilton to the vacant post of adjutant general. Once again Hamilton was denied.51

Angry and disheartened, Hamilton reached an emotional low. In February 1781, after an angry outburst from Washington (his volcanic temper was well known by those who had access to him in private), Hamilton resigned from the general's staff and rejected all of the commander in chief's attempts at reconciliation. Still, Hamilton's frustrations grew. In early 1781 he was proposed for the post of financier, butCongress instead opted for the far more experienced merchant Robert Morris of Philadelphia. Shortly thereafter he was nominated and rejected as secretary of foreign affairs. Only an angry letter of resignation from the army finally secured him the command he desired from Washington for the final assault at Yorktown.52

The war Hamilton had wished for as a boy had brought only frustration, bitterness, and disillusionment. His youthful idealism was gone. Henceforth the great revolutionary republican and soldier would assume an entirely different public posture.

The Bitter Lessons of Experience

Despite his frustration and disillusionment, Hamilton had learned valuable lessons from his wartime experience. These lessons would inform his subsequent political career and mold his statesmanship as both a founding father and a leading light of Washington's Federalist administration. Two themes unified these lessons. The first was the need for sober realism in political discourse. If the fledgling experiment in American national self-government was to succeed, it would require a painstakingly honest, frank assessment of the challenges it faced and the resources it could draw on. The second theme was responsibility. Political leaders must be accountable for their actions. They must resist the temptation to pander to the popular prejudices and passions of the electorate. They must not promise more than they can deliver. And they must ensure that government has the power to deliver what they have promised.

The most obvious lesson Hamilton drew from his military travails was the inadequacy of his own republican convictions. The republicanism of the revolutionary movement had been an opposition creed, one well suited to resist the "usurpations of tyranny." Understandably, public opinion was animated by "an extreme spirit of jealousy" of centralized power. Unfortunately, although this jealousy or "zeal of liberty" was natural, it had become "predominant and excessive." "An extreme jealousy of power is the attendant on all popular revolutions," Hamiltonaverred, yet it "has seldom been without its evils." Republican fears of central authority had led to the great defect that had crippled the war effort and "endangered the common cause," namely "A WANT OF POWER IN CONGRESS." The republican vision may have been adequate for arousing the public's attention to the dangers of British imperial policy, but it was not suited "to the government of an INDEPENDENT NATION." Popular liberty was not the only goal of statecraft; just as important was "strength and stability in the organization of our government, and vigor in its operation." This, alas, "our enthusiasm rendered us little capable of regarding." Such strength and vigor would have to be cultivated if the new nation was to reap the fruits of its independence.53

An equally important lesson of Hamilton's wartime experience, learned as early as 1781, was that the power of the states posed a danger to the union. It was true that in unified nations the people had just cause to fear the power of centralized authority. But in federal schemes of the American variety, the real danger was that the states "will be an overmatch for the common head," and as a consequence, the central organs of government "will not have sufficient authority to secure the obedience of the several parts of the confederacy." At the federal Constitutional Convention, Hamilton observed that "the states have constantly shewn a disposition rather to regain the powers delegated by them than to part with more, or to give effect to what they had parted with." The emasculation of the union not only resulted in national impotence, it also opened the prospect of potential civil wars between the states. Given the profound sectional differences in the United States at the time, this was a very real danger, as events demonstrated tragically some fourscore years later.54

Nor was civil conflict the only danger the power of the states posed to the body politic. Demagoguery was itself a threat to republican liberty. "History will teach us," Hamilton warned, that "those men who have overturned the liberties of republics" generally rose to power "by paying an obsequious court to the people, commencing Demagogues and ending Tyrants." The classic examples from Roman history were the populares Lucius Sergius Catiline and Julius Caesar; Hamilton insistedthat such men were "to be found in every republic." By "leading the dance to the tune of liberty without law," popular demagogues delude the people and "render them the easier victims of their rapacious ambition." The real threat to the "republican system of the Country," Hamilton told Washington, was from popular state demagogues who produced political "confusion" and "civil commotion" by "flattering the prejudices of the people, and exciting their jealousies and apprehensions" of the national government.55

If political realism entailed an honest assessment of the dangers of state power, then political responsibility demanded the avowal of the ethical truism that ought implies can. If a government is to be charged with certain tasks and duties, it must be armed with the requisite authority and resources to discharge those duties. Means must be matched to ends, and not the other way around. For Hamilton, this was one of those "primary truths or first principles upon which all subsequent reasonings must depend." Just as geometry was based on self-evident axioms, political science depended on fundamental "maxims," like "there cannot be an effect without a cause" and "the means ought to be proportioned to the end." These maxims in turn entailed that "every power ought to be commensurate with its object" and that "there ought to be no limitation of a power destined to effect a purpose," especially when that purpose, like the security and general welfare of a nation, "is itself incapable of limitation." Here lay the real problem with the Articles of Confederation created during the struggle for independence: it had placed "the great interests of the nation" in "hands incapable of managing them."56

Congress had been given the authority to contract debts without the means of discharging them. It was entrusted with securing treaties without the authority to execute them. Most disturbing of all, it was charged with the "common defense" but lacked the power to "raise troops—have a fleet—raise money" or deploy any of the other means necessary to secure "the public peace." "These great interests must be well managed," Hamilton insisted at the Constitutional Convention, "or the public prosperity must be the victim." This same message that ought implies can applied to the convention itself. "The states sent us here to providefor the exigencies of the Union," he reminded his fellow delegates. To embrace a plan of government that fell short of those exigencies "merely because it was not clearly within our powers" to address them more fully "would be to sacrifice the means to the end."57

Perhaps the most important lesson Hamilton learned from his revolutionary experience was the true basis of government. Hamilton had entered the war a wide-eyed idealist whose democratic convictions entailed the belief that political authority rested exclusively on the will of the majority. The struggle for independence disabused him of this belief. "The people are turbulent and changing," he insisted, and "seldom judge or determine right." Instead, Hamilton came to see that government depended on three critical factors.58

The first foundations of government were finance and revenue. These were the sinews of state power. In the spring of 1781 he wrote to Robert Morris that independence would not be secured "by gaining battles" but by "introducing order into our finances." Hamilton hammered this point home in The Federalist. The modern "science of finance" had "produced an intire revolution in the system of war." It had replaced the armed camps of citizen-soldiers of the classical age with "disciplined armies, distinct from the body of the citizens." More than merely the means of modern warfare, however, finance was "the vital principle of the body politic," the resource that "sustains its life and motion, and enables it to perform its most essential functions." The power to procure revenue in an orderly and efficient fashion was therefore "an indispensable ingredient in every constitution." Money made the state go 'round.59

The second foundation of government was interest. As a young revolutionary, Hamilton had joined in calls for republican disinterestedness in the public sphere. Now he found such injunctions visionary. "We may preach till we are tired" of the "necessity of disinterestedness in republics," he wrote in "The Continentalist," "without making a single proselyte." Such calls to virtue will never convince any public official to "be content with a double mess of porridge, instead of a reasonable stipend for his services." The interest, indeed the self-interest, of officeholders,bureaucrats, and financiers was one of "the great and essential principles necessary for the support of Government." It was the need for this vital support that had prompted Hamilton while in the Continental Congress to urge that national revenues should only be collected by "officers under the appointment of Congress." Such an arrangement would strengthen the central government because those officeholders would know what side their bread was buttered on. Interest made the personal political.60

Finally, the third critical support of government was public opinion. Here, as in so many other points, Hamilton drew on the inspiration of that archetypal enlightenment thinker, David Hume. Hume had argued that opinion was one of the "first principles of government." In even the most despotic state, the resources of the rulers were never a match for those of the ruled. "As force is always on the side of the governed," Hume concluded that "the governors have nothing to support them but opinion." Hence his maxim that it is "on opinion only that government is founded." When public opinion did not believe that a regime had the right to rule, that regime was robbed of legitimacy and rested on a precarious foundation.61

This was precisely the point Hamilton made at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. The public opinion of the "necessity and utility" of an administration and constitutional scheme was one of the basic "principles of civil obedience" and one of the essential "supports of government." Hamilton reiterated this claim one year later at New York's ratifying convention for the new federal Constitution. "All governments, even the most despotic," he insisted, "depend, in a great degree, on opinion." This was particularly true of republics. "In these, the will of the people makes the essential principle of the government," he argued, "and the laws which control the community, receive their tone and spirit from the public wishes." Yet public opinion was not a fixed datum. It was moved by changing circumstances and could be informed by public debate. Hamilton would devote much of his subsequent efforts as a public polemicist to molding and marshaling the opinion of the young republic along lines that were both realistic and responsible.62

THE HAMILTONIAN VISION: THE ENLIGHTENMENT FULFILLED

Hamilton's vision for America was the most modern and progressive in the new republic. He saw the prospect of a nation both powerful and prosperous, whose resources were deployed by an enlightened government to promote domestic tranquillity and the general welfare. Hamilton's projected America was a place much like his beloved New York City, bursting with economic activity, a nation whose future power rested on urban and industrial development. He envisioned a worldly and wealthy nation that faced modernity foursquare and embraced it unflinchingly. Hamilton's vision was the fulfillment of the politics of Enlightenment.

The sources of Hamilton's vision were broad and diverse. He read widely into eighteenth-century history, sociology, political theory, and economics. He pored over Malachy Postlethwayt's Universal Dictionary of Trade and Commerce to learn the intricacies of international trade. He studied the history of banking from Renaissance Venice and seventeenth-century Holland to the Bank of England and the French schemes of financiers like John Law, Anne-Robert Turgot, and Jacques Necker. The evolution of modern society was culled from authors as varied as Adam Ferguson, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, William Robertson, and Adam Smith. But one figure loomed larger than all the others: David Hume exercised an influence on Hamilton's vision greater than that of any other author. It was from Hume that he learned of the central role that commercial capitalism played in the evolution of modern society. And it was Hume who taught him to appreciate the necessity of worldly realism in political thought. Hume showed him that what republican ideologues castigated as corruption was an ineradicable, indeed essential, component of modern politics. Commercial capitalism and self-interested "corruption" would form two of the three critical components of the Hamiltonian vision.

Hamilton also drew on his own personal experience. It was the failure of the states and the Continental Congress to honestly address therealities of self-interested political behavior that had crippled the war effort, starving the Continental Army and jeopardizing the struggle for independence. Similarly, it was commercial capitalism that gave energy and force to the life of Manhattan. And it was commercial capitalism, after all, that afforded poor men like Hamilton the opportunity to move up in the world. What had really set Hamilton's career on a meteoric path, however, was not merely commercial activity but the high cultural expertise that came from education. King's College had exposed him to the philosophical and political tracts that gave him the theoretical insights he put to use as a military aide, lawyer, congressman, and state legislator. Education made Hamilton both a gentleman and a leading statesman of the new republic. This awareness of the importance of high cultural expertise informed the third component of Hamilton's vision of American politics, namely the role of the enlightened intellectual as statesman in a republican government. It was the role of the philosophe, combined with the importance of commerce and corruption, that defined Hamilton's contribution to the politics of Enlightenment in the American strand.

The Virtues of Commercial Activity

"The prosperity of commerce," Hamilton announced in Federalist number 12, was one of the most important goals of modern statecraft. Despite the fact that this was "now perceived and acknowledged by all enlightened statesmen," Hamilton knew it was a hard sell to make to the overwhelmingly agricultural citizenry of the United States. Urban entrepôts like Charleston, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Manhattan, and Boston may have been vital to the economic life of the nation, but they represented a tiny fraction of the population. Country folk often viewed the sharp trading practices of urban tradesmen and merchants with suspicion. It was vital for Hamilton to allay these suspicions, for commerce lay at the heart of his vision for America.63

Trade did more than circulate goods and capital throughout society. It was the primary object of taxation and thus the essential resource of government. Without a regular and predictable supply of revenue, governmentmust either resort to plundering the property of the people or "sink into a fatal apathy, and in a short course of time perish." No calls for public-spirited sacrifice could ever replace the need for the revenues government drew from commercial activity.64

The rise of commerce and the revenues it generated for government had enabled modern nations to fund professional armies and navies. Without such military forces, no nation could hope to defend itself from foreign predation. The genius of commercial capitalism had given rise to "the science of finance" and banking, and national banking both reinforced commercial development and promoted the power of modern nation-states. Nowhere was this more apparent than in England, the most commercially advanced and powerful state in Europe. Without its remarkable commercial activity and nationally chartered bank, "England would never have found sufficient funds to carry on her wars," Hamilton remarked, "but with the help of this she has done, and is doing wonders." Commercial development could work the same wonders for America.65

Commerce did more than contribute to the strength of the nation: it also ensured its liberties. Confident of a steady stream of revenues from taxes on trade, government had no need to plunder the property of its citizens, and the security of private property was an essential buttress of personal independence and freedom. Indeed, one of the central themes of Scottish social theory from Adam Smith and Adam Ferguson to David Hume and William Robertson had been the role of commerce in producing modern liberty. It was the rise of commerce that had destroyed the baronial despotism of the feudal epoch, redistributing property from the landed aristocracy to the urban tradesman and the people at large, a point Hamilton made at the New York ratifying convention for the federal Constitution. "As commerce enlarged," he informed his fellow delegates, "wealth and civilization encreased," slowly illuminating the darkness that had prevailed during the medieval era. In time "the people began to feel their own weight and consequence" as a result of their newfound commercial wealth. "They grew tired of their oppressions" and, joining forces with their monarchs, "threw off the yoke of aristocracy." Freedom and commerce went hand in glove.66

Adam Smith had taught that commerce was the prime cause of the wealth of nations. Trade promoted markets and demand. These in turn promoted the division of labor, the principal cause of the growth of human productivity. Hume had made a similar claim in his defense of the "refinement in the arts" in commercial society. When commerce enlivened the mechanical arts, "men are kept in perpetual occupation" to secure "the fruits of their labour" in purchasable commodities. The availability of those trade goods, whether luxuries or necessities, was thus a spur to industry. Hamilton made that same argument in The Federalist. "By multiplying the means of gratification," commerce helped "vivify and invigorate channels of industry," making them "flow with greater activity and copiousness." Such activity would clearly benefit urban tradesmen and merchants. Just as important, however, it would spur "the active mechanic and industrious manufacturer." Even farmers were prompted to greater exertions when commerce made desirable goods available for purchase, just as they benefited from "a more certain and steady demand for the surplus produce of the soil." This spur to industry was no small benefit for American society. With the growth of commercial activity, "all orders of men look forward with eager expectation" to the "pleasing rewards of their toils." The rising tide of trade lifted all ships, silencing the age-old rivalry between merchants and farmers.67

The virtues of commerce were not merely pragmatic, however. Enlightened philosophes had long held that commerce was a humanistic force for social uplift and enlightenment. As commerce spread, it gave rise to an increasing division of labor, as Smith had stressed, leading to both increased efficiency in production and a greater range of potential forms of employment. Hume further argued that, immersed in the diverse activities of a commercial society, "the mind acquires new vigour" and thus "enlarges its powers and faculties." This was one of the principal virtues of commerce, as Hamilton stressed in his Report on Manufactures. Commerce, and the manufactures it supported, not only resulted in "a more ample and various field for enterprise," it also enriched the opportunities of laborers by "furnishing greater scope for the diversity of talentsand dispositions which discriminate men from each other." Nor was it merely incidental that commercial activity itself inculcated rational habits of thought. Means had to be matched to ends, risks calculated and balanced against rewards, and consequences foreseen before actions were taken. Such instrumental rationality, even in the pursuit of narrow self-interest, was a vital part of the general process of Enlightenment. Not surprisingly, Hamilton often referred to those most deeply entrenched in the web of commerce—urban tradesmen in general and merchants in particular—as "that enlightened class of citizens." The font of power, liberty, wealth, and Enlightenment, commerce lay at the center of the Hamiltonian vision.68

The Case for "Corruption"

Thomas Jefferson grossly exaggerated when he claimed that Hamilton was "under thorough conviction that corruption was essential to the government of a nation." Hamilton deeply deplored the abuse of office for pecuniary gain, as his wartime denunciation of Samuel Chase demonstrated. Bribery, profiteering, and graft by public officials were anathema to him. Yet Jefferson was not entirely wide of the mark. The cry of corruption was the great shibboleth of republican ideologues. The charge included far more than malfeasance in office. Corruption also encompassed ambitious political behavior, factional partisanship, and even the pursuit of local and self-interest. In short, any public action that was not purely and selflessly motivated by the imagined public good was proscribed as corrupt. Although bribery and abuse of office were beyond the pale for Hamilton, he did believe that corruption in the broader sense was indeed "essential to the government of a nation." Hamilton's case for corruption marked him as the most enlightened and modern statesman of the new republic.69

Hamilton's case for corruption was based on the psychological tenets of enlightened philosophy that were characterized by a worldly reevaluation of the role of the passions. Traditional Christian doctrine held that the passions—such as pride, lust, ambition, and desire—were thesource of humanity's sinful dispositions, and thus required resistance from the pious conscience fortified by divine grace. Seventeenth-century Rationalists decried the passions as the cause of error and superstition that needed to be reined in by the ruling power of reason. In stark contrast, the philosophes of the Enlightenment saw the role of the passions in a far more positive light. On the one hand, they denied the Rationalist notion that reason had the power to suppress or govern the passions. Reason was instrumental and calculative. It could match means to ends but was incapable of arriving at ends on its own. On the other hand, they rejected the Christian view of the passions as inherently sinful. Passion and desire were natural and were the essential and generally salutary seat of human motivation and action. Hume summed up this enlightened view in his famous dictum that "reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them."70

Hamilton stressed the importance of this enlightened and realistic view of human psychology at the Constitutional Convention. "Take mankind as they are, and what are they governed by?" The answer was obvious: "their passions." It was a "great error," he warned, to "suppose mankind more honest than they are." This was particularly true in the political realm, where the "prevailing passions are ambition and interest." Hume had made this point at the outset of his essay "Of the Independency of Parliament." Although it was not true in all cases, political prudence demanded that "every man ought to be supposed a knave, and to have no other end, in all his actions, than private interest." Through taking such interests into account, the individual could be made to serve the public good, "notwithstanding his insatiable avarice and ambition." Specifically citing this passage from Hume, Hamilton drove the argument home to his fellow delegates: "It will ever be the duty of a wise government to avail itself" of the passions of ambition and interest. The real challenge was to "make them subservient to the public good."71

To avail itself of these passions, government needed to acknowledge the importance of "influence." Far from considering influence corrupt,Hamilton believed it was one of the essential "supports of government." Indeed, the new federal government must have sufficient influence to overcome the power of the states. As things stood, the great passions of "avarice, ambition, interest," passions that "govern most individuals, and all public bodies," all "fall into the current of the States." Only the states had lucrative offices to confer and revenues to attract creditors. If the federal government was to survive, it needed influence of its own.72

Hamilton had seen this as early as 1780, when he argued that a congressional award to army officers of a pension of half pay for life "would be a great stroke of policy, and would give Congress a stronger tie upon them, than any thing else they can do." Seven years of increasing state encroachment on the power of the national government had only confirmed Hamilton in his view. The federal government must have enough influence "to interest all the passions of individuals."73

Using "all the passions of individuals" to support the new federal government required an honest assessment of the various interests that divided the body politic. "Society naturally divides itself into two political divisions," Hamilton informed his fellow delegates, "the few and the many." The few were, of course, "the rich and well born," while the many were "the mass of the people." Neither had a monopoly of virtue, and either would "tyrannize" the other if allowed to dominate the government. The obvious solution was to place political power "in the hands of both." This power ought to be separated into different bodies of the government, and "this separation must be permanent." The few, rather than the states, should be represented in the Senate. Only then could it serve as a "principle in government capable of resisting the popular current." The many would be represented in the House. To resist the tyranny of the few, the House "should be on a broad foundation" and as democratic as possible. In fact, Hamilton feared that the representation outlined in the Constitution for the House was not sufficiently democratic.74

In any event, both the few and the many must have a separate and permanent voice in the government where they could be assured that their interests would be considered. Each of these voices required a"mutual check" in the executive—ideally a monarch, as in Great Britain. Hamilton sang the praises of the British Constitution, "not as a thing attainable by us, but as a model which we ought to approach as near as possible." Hamilton was fully aware that the American people would never tolerate either monarchy or hereditary aristocracy. Nonetheless his defense of the British Constitution at Philadelphia forced his fellow delegates to broaden their debate beyond the competing Virginia and New Jersey Plans, the former of which would have benefited the large states while the latter favored the smaller ones. Hamilton's arguments may have shocked and scandalized many at the convention, but few failed to see his point. Although such a scheme was impractical for the new nation, it forced the founders to recognize that no pure ideal could be realized. Instead, as Hamilton insisted, calculating interests required a spirit of compromise and realistic accommodation in constitutional design.75

Calculating different interests was also essential for formulating government policy. Although Hamilton insisted that the presumed rivalry between commerce and agriculture was illusory, he was not so naïve as to assume that fiscal and tax policy would not have different impacts on different segments of the nation. No policy, "however salutary to the whole and to every part" of society, can fail to be more to the "benefit of some parts, than of others." The key to prudent policy was to balance interests and overcome sectional and class jealousies.76

On no issue was this key more vital than that of putting the financial credit of the nation on a sure footing. The establishment of public credit was "the great desideratum," Hamilton informed Washington, and was the only means to "supply the future wants of government." Yet building public credit required the cooperation and support of those with surplus capital and cash. Appealing to their patriotism was hopeless. As early as 1780, Hamilton concluded that "the only certain manner" of establishing the credit of the nation was "to engage the monied interest immediately in it." The only way to "engage" the "monied," and induce them to supply credit to the government, was to make it in their own selfish interest by "giving them the whole or part of the profits." Establishing public credit was vital to the nation and its future economicprosperity, but it would require further enriching the wealthiest Americans. This, in fact, proved an extremely delicate and politically difficult task. Although Hamilton's financial projects as secretary of the Treasury did establish the credit of the nation and led to dramatic commercial expansion, they also lined the pockets of financiers and speculators, a class of individuals most morally suspect to a nation of farmers.77

Hamilton and Hamiltonians ever since have been accused of being the servants of the wealthy. That Hamilton's policies benefited the financial capitalists of the new nation is certainly true. But that he was their servant is far more dubious. Hamilton enriched the nation's creditors, but he also used them to pursue his own vision of America's future. That can be seen most clearly by examining the role of intellectuals in his politics of Enlightenment.

The Role of the Philosophes

At the Constitutional Convention, Hamilton had divided the political community into the wealthy few and the common many. In Federalist number 35, however, he offered a far more nuanced analysis of American political society. On the one hand, there was the urban commercial interest of artisans, manufacturers, shopkeepers, and merchants. On the other hand, there was the rural-agricultural interest. This interest would be represented by large-scale landlords and planters. Urban commerce and rural agriculture did not, however, exhaust the principal divisions within the body politic. Hamilton noted the presence of a third, vital element within the body politic: the learned professions.78

Lawyers, doctors, and other educated intellectuals who derived their income from their high cultural expertise formed a distinct stratum within the political community. Unlike the landed and commercial interests, however, enlightened intellectuals lacked a distinct interest of their own. Indeed, they were distinguished by their very disinterestedness, making them the natural arbiters of the public good. Disinterested and informed by enlightened views, the learned intellectuals were the critical arbiters of the national interest, balancing the wishes of commerceand agriculture on behalf of the general welfare. The philosophes were thus the critical political check and balance to both the monied and the landed, the "Platonic guardians" of the American republic.79

Hamilton envisioned a distinct place for the learned in all three branches of the federal government. Within the legislature, they would find their voice as an important component of the Senate. Unlike the popular representatives of the people in the House, senators required "greater knowledge and more extensive information," a requirement that could be fulfilled only by high cultural expertise. Lacking a distinct interest of their own, the educated elite "will be less apt to be tainted by the spirit of faction." Moreover, they would be insulated from "those occasional ill humors or temporary prejudices" that "contaminate the public councils" and thus "beget injustice and oppression of a part of the community." This was a vital role for the learned in the legislature, for although such "prejudices" often "gratify a momentary inclination or desire," they invariably result in "general distress, dissatisfaction and disgust." Only the presence of enlightened intellectuals in the Senate could curtail this threat.80

For Hamilton, whereas the learned would make up just one element of the legislature, they were to fill the entire judiciary. Republican government demanded an extensive and "voluminous code of laws." In addition, it required that the federal judiciary be "bound down by strict rules and precedents" in order to "avoid an arbitrary discretion in the courts." Such laws and precedents would quickly "swell to a very considerable bulk" and would therefore "demand long and laborious study to acquire a competent knowledge of them." Only the most learned and distinguished jurisprudential scholars in the nation would "have sufficient skill in the laws to qualify them for the stations of judges" in the federal courts. To attract such legal expertise to the federal branch, Hamilton insisted that they be offered tenure for life. Already at the apex of the legal profession, anything less "would naturally discourage such characters from quitting a lucrative line of practice."81

Moreover, the review of the federal judiciary over the laws of the land must be final and decisive. To allow for legislative or popular reviewof the laws would be to subject "the decisions of men selected for their knowledge of the laws," knowledge "acquired by long and laborious study," Hamilton insisted, "to the revision and control of men, who for want of the same advantage cannot but be deficient in that knowledge." Only an independent and learned judiciary could ensure the practice of justice and equity and check the partisan passions of the people. Like the censors of Republican Rome, the legal scholars of the new republic would speak law and justice to the nation at large.82

Higher education and learning were also vital requirements for several offices within the executive branch. Obviously, the attorney general required the same level of legal expertise as that found in the federal judiciary. The secretary of state also demanded high cultural expertise. The management of foreign affairs entailed extensive knowledge of political affairs abroad as well as diplomatic and treaty history. More than that, it also necessitated a thorough immersion in the abstract philosophical literature dealing with the law of nations. But Hamilton singled out one executive office in particular as requiring ample high cultural training. That was, of course, the very office he himself assumed, the secretary of the Treasury. There was, he insisted, "no part of the administration of government" that required such "extensive information." The management of the Treasury entailed a complete mastery of finance, commerce, and taxation. The revenues of the government hinged on such mastery as well as the commercial prosperity of the nation. As such, a Treasury secretary must have "a thorough knowledge of the principles of political economy" as well as a practical grasp of "the business of taxation." Knowledge was power, and only with knowledge and learning could the new federal frame of government fulfill its promise.83

Understanding the role of the learned in Hamilton's enlightened vision of America sheds new light on his policies within Washington's Federalist administration. Hamilton's opponents accused him of simply serving the interests of speculators and financiers, the nascent financial bourgeoisie of the young republic. Many historians have seconded this charge.

Hamilton was certainly solicitous of "the men of property in America": they were "enlightened about their own interest," he explained to RobertMorris, "and would easily be brought to see the advantages of a good plan." Yet Hamilton used the financiers every bit as much as he served their interests. Indeed, he served their interests precisely because he knew that that was the only way to secure their financial resources for the benefit of the government. Hamilton sought to use the nation's small financial community not only to secure public credit but to promote commercial and industrial expansion as well. He was fully aware that market forces on their own were insufficient to achieve these goals. Their fulfillment required the strong hand of an activist government.84

Unlike subsequent boosters of American business, Hamilton was no fan of laissez-faire. Commercial expansion and rapid industrialization were vital American goals, and Hamilton sought to achieve them through a powerful, activist federal government. Hamilton practiced the American variant of what the scholar Barrington Moore referred to as "the Prussian road to modernity." Commercial and industrial development would be imposed from above by a strong centralized state. Two features distinguished the Hamiltonian vision from that of the conservative leaders of Prussia and Germany. First, its Constitution was committed to a popular and pluralist republican form of government rather than an absolutist monarchy. Second, the republic would be led, in part at least, by enlightened philosophes rather than hereditary monarchs and landed Junker aristocrats. Whatever similarities exist between Hamilton's and Bismarck's statism and practice of worldly real politique, a fundamental distinction remains. Hamilton was a child of the Enlightenment, not of European reaction. His vision of America represented the achievement of its central goals.85

THE PRACTICE OF HAMILTONIANISM

For all its theoretical brilliance, Hamilton knew that his enlightened vision for America was useless if it could not be translated into political practice. Encapsulating his goals into functioning policies and legislative acts was the great challenge of his career once the federal Constitution had been adopted. His response to that challenge was informed both bythe worldly realism of his enlightened politics and by the lessons of responsibility he culled from his military experiences.

As President George Washington's secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton's primary responsibility was to repair the shattered credit of the nation and put the new government on a sound financial footing. This proved a Herculean task. The nation was deeply in debt, and a slumping economy offered the prospect of relatively modest revenues. Moreover, financial policy on a national scale was an alarmingly novel phenomenon in America at the time, and one that understandably provoked differing and partisan responses from the diverse social and economic interests that made up the young republic.

Hamilton's influence extended well beyond the realms of finance and revenue. Hamilton had a decisive role in formulating foreign policy This too was a task fraught with difficulties. At every turn he found himself at loggerheads with Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, who enjoyed both Washington's confidence and respect. The eruption of the French Revolution just as the new federal government was being organized at the close of the 1780s further complicated matters. Partisan splits began to coalesce over attitudes toward the revolutionary movement across the Atlantic. Federalists condemned its excesses and increasingly saw Great Britain as a bulwark of order in an alarmingly anarchic international order. In stark contrast, Jeffersonian Republicans celebrated the cause and victories of revolutionary France and vilified Britain's hostility to the new order as evidence of hopeless corruption and reactionary monarchical principles.

Perhaps most pervasively, Hamilton was pivotal in the process we have now come to know as nation building. More than any other member of Washington's cabinet, he transformed the federal government from an abstract constitutional frame into a concrete political reality. His policies projected the power of the nation both at home and abroad, giving it, in a few short years, a psychological reality and weight that was truly impressive. His broad construction of the Constitution ensured the ascendancy of the national government over the states. It also delineated a powerful role for the judiciary within that government. Both ofthese developments were deeply controversial in their day and have remained so in our own time. Arguably, neither would have happened but for the efforts of the young secretary of the Treasury.

Financial Solutions

As Treasury secretary, Alexander Hamilton submitted several reports to Congress, three of which have had a profound impact on the practice of American government. The first addressed the problem of the national debt and the means to establish the public credit. The second detailed a plan for a national bank closely modeled on the Bank of England. The third encapsulated Hamilton's proposals for a national industrial policy to promote manufacturing. Although submitted separately, the three reports were interrelated parts of Hamilton's fiscal and economic policy for the young republic. Immensely detailed, closely reasoned, and filled with statistical tables, the reports were nonetheless far more than simple statements of economic data and fact. They were argumentative, almost pugnaciously so. They thoroughly challenged the conventional wisdom of the day. The most important and influential state papers of their time, they remain among the most brilliant government reports in American history.86

Their genius lay in the way they built upon one another, each succeeding report drawing upon the conclusions of the previous ones. Two scholarly collaborators have characterized this technique as "projection," "an ordering of facts and circumstances into patterns which present conditions have not as yet made actual but which future ones will." Hamilton's projection outlined much of the nation's fiscal policy for his time and its economic destiny for the centuries that followed.87

Funding and Assumption

Hamilton's first report, submitted in mid-January 1790, focused on the problem of securing the credit of the nation. The new federal government had inherited a staggering burden of debt. The ContinentalCongress had borrowed roughly $10 million from foreign public and private sources to help pay for the war effort, none of which had been repaid. Indeed, arrears in scheduled interest and principal payments had ballooned the total foreign debt to almost $13 million. Hamilton calculated the cost of servicing the foreign debt at roughly $1 million per year, a sum that virtually exhausted projected revenues from tariffs and excise taxes on spirituous liquors and luxury goods. An additional $40 million was due to domestic creditors through a combination of loan office certificates, army certificates, various securities, and accruing arrears of unpaid interest. Financing the domestic debt was further complicated by two factors. First, the lack of an independent source of revenue had forced the Continental Congress to borrow at the then-high rate of six percent interest. Second, the federal government would have to compete with the states for tax revenues to retire the debt since the states themselves had borrowed about $25 million to pay for the war. These debts were also contracted at six percent interest. Combined, the annual interest due on foreign, national, and state debts was a whopping $4.5 million dollars—three times the projected revenue of the federal government. Hamilton had his work cut out for him.88

Hamilton's solution was bold and innovative. The federal government would not only fund the inherited national debt, it would also assume the burdens incurred by the states. The new nation would then commence with a staggering debt of over $76 million. The funding of the debt would be made manageable by renegotiating the rate of interest from six to four percent. Creditors were offered a variety of terms of settlement, from strict payment at the original rates to reissued securities at the lower rate of interest that could serve as annuities. Since "probabilities are always a rational ground of contract," Hamilton reasoned that if sufficient taxes were imposed to cover the lower rate of interest, most investors would opt for the safe annuities. The rest of the debt could be purchased by the federal government with funds borrowed from European investors at the lower rate of four percent interest. Once the large Dutch and English banking houses saw that America was committed to honoring its debts and had imposed sufficient taxes to meet itscommitments, Hamilton assumed that the nation's public credit would be restored and foreign capital would be obtainable on favorable terms, an assumption that was fully borne out within one year of the passage of his scheme.89

Hamilton's financial plan was not quite a Ponzi scheme, though it looked that way to its critics. It was, however, a precarious project that rested on the most slender of supports, namely the public opinion of speculative investors that could create a favorable climate for investment in government securities. To secure this public opinion, Hamilton proposed sufficiently high taxes to assure regular payments of interest. He also called for the creation of a sinking fund. Sinking funds were a well-established part of British national finance whereby specific tax revenues were earmarked for the purchase of particular contracted debts. This assured investors that they would be repaid, which in turn ensured that they would continue to lend to the government. Hamilton's sinking fund would draw on revenues generated from the post office to purchase outstanding debt. Its purpose, however, was not to actually retire the debt but to ensure that government securities continued to trade at par, thus reinforcing the impression in capital markets that the American government was an excellent investment. This in turn would mean that the government could borrow at low interest rates, which in itself enhanced the perceived creditworthiness of the nation.90

The brilliance of Hamilton's plan was that it turned an immense liability—the public debt—into an equally large boon. It did so because, if properly funded and transformed into "an object of established confidence," the public debt could serve as capital, the one element the resource-rich nation sorely lacked. Once public credit had been established by creating investor confidence, government securities would be treated as legal tender and thus "transfers of stock of public debt" would become "equivalent to payments in specie." And once government debt was sufficiently creditworthy that it "passes current as specie," the nation would enjoy a dramatic increase in its money supply.91

Increasing the money supply would have manifold economic benefits. Commerce would boom "because there is a larger capital to carry iton." This in turn meant that merchants making more frequent transactions could "afford to trade for smaller profits," thus cutting prices for consumers. Indeed, stock in government debt was even better than specie for the merchant, for "when unemployed" it did not sit idly but continued to accrue "an interest from the government." The increased money supply would also help both agriculture and manufacturing since "more capital can be commanded to be employed in both." Agriculture would also benefit from a boost in land values. Hamilton calculated that southern land values had fallen by 20 to 25 percent, even more in some parts of South Carolina and Georgia. Since most of this decline was "attributed to the scarcity of money," increasing the money supply by funding the debt "must have a proportionate effect in raising that value." Not only would more money be available, but the cost of borrowing it would be reduced, "for this is always in a ratio, to the quantity of money, and the quickness of circulation." This spur to commercial and agricultural prosperity would in turn make the taxes necessary to manage the debt less burdensome. In its simplest terms, Hamilton's projection was that, given time and the right circumstances, America could grow its way out of debt.92

For all its brilliance, Hamilton's plan was deeply controversial. At the time Hamilton took office, government securities were trading at 20 to 25 percent of their face value. Funding them at par, even at a reduced rate of interest, would thus represent an immense windfall profit for those who held those securities. Much of that debt had been issued to Continental soldiers in lieu of pay and to farmers as compensation for goods taken to provision the army. In the intervening years, however, almost three-quarters of those securities had been purchased by largely northern speculators, derisively called "stockjobbers" or bloodsuckers. Indeed, shortly after ratification of the federal Constitution, northern stockjobbers dispatched boatloads of agents to the southern and western states to purchase outstanding securities at a deep discount, betting that the government would fund them at par.93

Many congressmen, particularly those from southern and western states, favored what became known as discrimination. Discriminationmeant repaying stockjobbers only what they had paid for the securities they held and returning the bulk of the profits to their original holders. Many southern congressmen also objected to the assumption of state debts on the grounds that their states (especially Virginia) had already retired most of their debts. Assumption and funding, they claimed, would effectively transfer wealth from the southern and western states to the commercial centers of the north and east. Behind such rhetoric lay more tangible, if sordid, interests. With independence, the states had acquired title to vast domains previously held by the crown. Many wealthy southerners and westerners speculated heavily in these lands, using continental and state securities as collateral. The state governments accepted these securities at par although they were purchased at a fraction of their nominal value. Although funding and assumption would increase the value of the lands, it would also mean that the purchase price that such land speculators had contracted for would be substantially increased. As Hamilton wryly observed some years later, "many of the noisy Patriots" who denounced stockjobbing were in fact "land-jobbers, and have a becoming tenderness for this species of extravagance."94

Hamilton objected to discrimination on the grounds that it was both unjust and impolitic. It was unjust because it constituted a clear "breach of contract." Hamilton explained that the government had issued securities on the stipulation that it would "pay the sum expressed" to either "the first holder, or its assignee." That some original holders had been forced by hardship to sell their securities at a great discount was undeniable, but it was the failure of the government to secure the public credit that had caused that hardship, not the greed of the purchaser. Discrimination was impolitic both because it destroyed the debt's capacity to serve as capital and "it introduces a breach of faith" with the current holders of the debt. In so doing it "renders property in the funds less valuable," which in turn would force "lenders to demand a higher premium for what they lend." The ultimate result would be all the "inconvenience of a bad state of public credit," one of the principal weaknesses of the previous confederation that had prompted the federalist movement in the first place.95

An ultimately unworkable plan, discrimination was easily defeated, and Hamilton's funding scheme found fairly smooth passage through Congress. The assumption of state debts was another matter. Hamilton noted that assuming the state debts would not cost any more than leaving them to the states, since they had to be paid in any event. The real question was whether such expenditure could be "more conveniently and effectually made, by one general plan" from the federal government or by a variety of "different plans" formulated by the various states. The latter course, Hamilton objected, would lead to a struggle over tax revenues between the states and the central government. Far more serious was the effect that failure to assume the state debts would have on public creditors. If the public creditors were divided between the federal and state governments, they would have distinct interests, some favoring the central and others the state establishments. Instead of "that union and concert of views, among the creditors"—one that "in every government is of great importance to their security, and to that of public credit"—there would be "mutual jealousy and opposition." The likely consequence would be that the fiscal and tax policies of the federal government "will be in danger of being counteracted" by the states and their wealthy creditors. Funding the national debt without assumption was a recipe for fiscal disaster.96

Despite the cogency of his arguments, Hamilton was unable to ensure passage of assumption. Ultimately he was reduced to political horse-trading with Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and Speaker of the House James Madison at an infamous dinner held in the summer of 1790. The two Virginians extracted two very large concessions. The first was that Hamilton must help them secure removal of the federal government from Manhattan to Philadelphia for a ten-year interim, and then to its permanent and present site, a swampy morass not far from the falls of the Potomac where Madison had substantial real estate investments. Their second condition was that Hamilton ensure a readjustment of the state debts that would net Virginia over $13 million. It was a high price to pay, but with the passage of funding and assumption Hamiltonhad set his financial plan into operation. At long last the nation's credit would be secure. The Hamiltonian vision was becoming a reality.97

The Bank of the United States and the Report on Manufactures

Hamilton's first report had argued that a funded debt could be turned into capital. How that was to be achieved, however, was only intimated at the end of the report. Because Hamilton issued federal securities in notes for their full value—their denominations were far too large to circulate as cash—some further means was necessary to monetize the debt. Thus Hamilton suggested that the "application of this money" generated through funding and assumption should be performed "through the medium of a national bank." He submitted his plan to Congress on December 14, 1790, just one day after he submitted his schedule of taxes. Hamilton's proposed bank would monetize the debt by accepting securities in payment for bank stock and then issuing bank notes, backed by the collateral of those securities and some gold and silver, in denominations that could serve as ready money. Through the medium of the bank, the nation would enjoy a dramatically expanded money supply.98

Hamilton's proposed bank was bold in its proportions. Capitalized at $10 million (far more than all the available specie in the nation), it easily dwarfed all contemporary American banks. The government would purchase $2 million of bank stock with funds borrowed from the bank itself. The bank would enjoy an exclusive twenty-year charter. Like the Bank of England, whose charter Hamilton relied on heavily in drafting his report, the bank would serve both as the depository of government funds and as a source of emergency loans. The bank would also aid in the collection of federal revenues by short-term loans to taxpayers and more generally by "encreasing the quantity of circulating medium and the quickening of that circulation." Yet unlike the Bank of England, the Bank of the United States was not a purely public institution that servedthe financial needs of the government. Like our own Federal Reserve Bank system, it was a private lending body. In fact, the Bank of the United States was envisioned as only a short-term lender to the federal government and, after its capitalization, was prohibited from buying government bonds. Its primary public function was to monetize the debt and thus expand the money supply.99

Although Hamilton secured enactment for his bank fairly easily, it was still controversial. Most farmers viewed banks, and large national banks in particular, with a suspicion born of provincial incomprehension. Their more educated rural brethren were often equally hostile. Like their English counterparts, American landed gentry viewed national banking—and the larger financial revolution of which it was a part—as a source of political and moral corruption. Jefferson considered Hamilton's entire financial plan "a machine for the corruption of the legislature" whose most insidious "engine" was the Bank of the United States. Jefferson also attacked the legality of the bank. Following Madison's lead, he claimed that a strict reading of the Constitution demonstrated that Congress lacked the authority to charter such an institution. Underlying Jefferson and Madison's constitutional scruples lay deeper worries. What was the ultimate purpose of Hamilton's bank and its expansion of the money supply? Was it simply to secure the nation's credit? If so, why was the bank so large, and why was it a largely private, though nationally chartered, institution? Hamilton's funding and assumption scheme had made the Bank of the United States necessary. What would the bank lead to? What was the final term of Hamilton's projection?100

Hamilton's answer to these questions, the Report on Manufactures, was not submitted for another twelve months. The linchpin of his entire financial plan, the Report on Manufactures was Hamilton's blueprint for a national policy of rapid industrialization. The enactment of its provisions would fulfill his vision for America, turning a backward rural nation into an urban and industrial powerhouse. In so doing, it would require and create an active and powerful federal government that could serve as a unifying counterweight to the centrifugal force of the states. Itrepresented the fruition of one of the central threads of the politics of Enlightenment, namely the celebration and promotion of capitalist commercial and industrial society.

Hamilton knew his final report would spark controversy. The vast bulk of Americans were agriculturalists who had grave misgivings about the workings of commercial and industrial society. Their more educated representatives adhered to the belief that, in Hamilton's words, "agriculture is, not only, the most productive, but the only productive species of industry." Land was the sole source of value as realized through farming. Commerce and manufactures simply transformed part of the value of the harvest into another form, adding no additional value at all. Moreover, industry promoted cities, which Jefferson considered sinkholes of vice and corruption. Indeed, for Republicans like Jefferson and Madison, urban and industrial development was a curse to be postponed, if not avoided, by focusing the nation's resources on the more salutary goal of westward expansion. Even those favorably disposed toward industrialization doubted that the United States as yet had the vital resources of capital, labor, and internal market demand to achieve any notable results. Even if Hamilton's monetized debt and national bank had alleviated the capital shortage, the perennial American shortage of labor—and therefore high wages—and limited market infrastructure meant that the newly created capital would seek more profitable and secure investment outlets in land and trade.101

Against these reservations, Hamilton came out swinging. In answer to his agrarian critics, he argued that manufacturing was both productive in its own right and beneficial to American agriculture. Physiocracy was a speculative castle of sand, far more "subtil and paradoxical, than solid or convincing." Following Locke, Hume, and Smith, Hamilton insisted that labor rather than land was the ultimate source of value. As such, it was highly dubious that farmers were more productive than "artificers." The former could scratch out a comfortable subsistence "with a considerable degree of carelessness in the mode of cultivation," while the latter could survive only by "exerting himself pretty equally" with all his competitors. Indeed, it was likely that artisans were more productive,if only because their labor was "at once more constant, more uniform, and more ingenious." Moreover, industrialization would be a boon to agriculture. True, in the short run it might mean higher prices for manufactured goods. In the long run, however, prices would drop. As an industry matures and becomes competitive, Hamilton argued, its product "seldom or never fails to be sold cheaper, in process of time, than was the foreign [imported] Article for which it is a substitute." Manufacturing also created urban markets for agricultural products. It was the strength of these markets, after all, that determined whether "the exertions of the husbandman will be steady or fluctuating, vigorous or feeble."102

Having answered his agrarian critics, Hamilton turned to the objections of sympathetic skeptics. Industrialists had three means immediately at hand to ameliorate the labor shortage. The overall need for labor could be curtailed by the extensive use of steam-powered machinery, "which substituting the Agency of fire and water, has prodigiously lessened the necessity for manual labor." In addition they could draw on a pool of "underemployed" agriculturalists. But Hamilton saw the major source of potential factory workers—quite accurately as it turned out—among women and children. Indeed, as had been proven in the English cotton mills, by being put to work in factories, they would be "rendered more useful" than if left to their normal regimen of farm chores. Even with these resources at hand, wages would still remain a bit high, but that in turn would induce the immigration of European workmen, who would enjoy high wages and "a moral certainty of employment."103

Capital would be drawn to industry by a variety of measures. Hamilton knew that American investors were chary of risky schemes and that therefore "it is of importance that the confidence of cautious sagacious capitalists, both citizens and foreigners, should be excited." High tariffs, pecuniary bounties for new manufactures and raw materials, and the ban of export of raw materials would ensure the profitability of infant ventures. Exclusive patent privileges would reward investment in labor-saving technology. The domestic market would be cultivated by an extensive system of internal improvements in roads and canals. Entry into the foreign market would be assured by high quality control, itself securedby "judicious regulations for the inspection of manufactured commodities." The whole industrial development program would be overseen by a federal board "for promoting Arts, Agriculture, Manufacture, and Commerce." The board would pay for the passage of skilled European workers and would seek to "induce the prosecution and introduction of useful discoveries, inventions, and improvements, by proportionate rewards judiciously held out and applied."104

Rapid industrial development was not only feasible, it was essential to the welfare and security of the nation. In addition to its benefits to all sectors of the economy, manufactures would promote a "favorable balance of Trade" in the Atlantic economy and therefore a greater amount of "pecuniary wealth, or money," than would otherwise be the case. In fact, as the relation of Europe and her colonies demonstrated, "the importations of manufactured supplies seem invariably to drain the merely Agricultural people of their wealth." Even more important was the support industry lent to national security. The revolution had been fraught with "extreme embarrassments" because of the states' "incapacity to supply themselves" with the means of defense, means that had to be manufactured. If not rectified shortly, future conflicts would expose the same weakness with similarly disastrous results.105

Hamilton believed that industrialization would also help ameliorate the growing sectional tensions between North and South. Industrial development would tie the commercial and manufacturing North to the agrarian South through "mutual wants," surely "one of the strongest links of political connection." Specifically, northern manufactures would create a "demand" for southern "Timber, flax, Hemp, Cotton, Wool, raw silk, Indigo," and other raw materials. Further, "the critical moment for entering with Zeal upon the important business" was at hand. The eruption of war on the Continent due to the French Revolution was disrupting the European economy, and American manufactures would be an attractive source of investment for European financiers. Foreign workers would also be "more easily acquired than at another time." Hamilton did not revel in the agonies of Europe, but he believed in seizing an opportunity when it was presented.106

Despite his cogent arguments and passionate appeals, the provisions of Hamilton's Report on Manufactures were not adopted. Hamilton's vision was simply too bold and aggressive for the rural nation. America's early industrial development would occur at a more leisurely pace, one prompted by the growth of domestic demand rather than federal policy Too far ahead of their time, Hamilton's pleadings fell on the deaf ears of his incredulous countrymen. But while the Report was defeated, it did not die. Its provisions cropped up whenever war reminded statesmen like John Calhoun and even James Madison of the necessity of industry for national defense. It was revived when nationalist politicians like Henry Clay sought an "American System" of industrialization to unite the fractious sections. And it was finally embraced in the aftermath of secession when the Republican Party fulfilled Hamilton's vision, creating a strong and active federal government that promoted industrial prosperity and power. In the meantime, Hamilton had at least secured the credit of the nation, set the conditions for commercial expansion, and laid out the path to industrial progress.

Freedom from Foreign Entanglements—National Interest and Policy

In his Farewell Address, outgoing president George Washington urged his countrymen to avoid "antipathies against particular nations and passionate attachments for others." Americans should "cultivate just and amicable feelings towards all" while having as "little political connection with them as possible," especially avoiding any "permanent alliance." For Hamilton, who had penned that address, these were the guiding principles of his foreign policy. Despite his own marked Anglophilia, Hamilton insisted that "the true path" for America was "the Neutral and Pacific Policy." Embroilment in European affairs might lead to war, which would place an immense burden on the nation's already precarious finances. Even more ominous, Hamilton recognized that war would further polarize the sectional and partisan divisions within the country. Only freedom from foreignentanglements could assure the United States the time it required to put its house in order and establish its new federal republic.107

Hamilton's pursuit of peace and neutrality was complicated by several factors. In spite of its vast domains, America was a relatively weak nation, one whose weight counted for little in European councils and that was therefore liable to depredations by the great continental rivals, England and France. Moreover, many Americans still harbored resentment against Great Britain from the revolution as well as for her failure to relinquish several northwestern military posts in violation of the peace treaties of 1783. Equally powerful was the feeling of gratitude toward France for her role in aiding the struggle for independence. Such an American was Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson. Hamilton was no doubt uncharitable when he accused Jefferson of "a womanish attachment to France and a womanish resentment against Great Britain," but he was not entirely wrong. The revolutionary struggle had left Jefferson with an implacable hatred of all things English, and his experience as a diplomat in Paris had filled him with an equally ardent love of France, an affection that was only intensified by the outbreak of the French Revolution.108

At every turn, Jefferson and Hamilton were at loggerheads on matters of foreign policy. Jefferson deeply resented Hamilton's incursions into his own province, particularly his semisecret meetings with various English diplomats. Hamilton justified his own private diplomacy on the accurate grounds that Jefferson had proven himself unwilling to enter into any serious negotiations with his British counterparts. Hamilton feared that if Jefferson were left to his own devices, "there would be in less than six months an open War between the U[nited] States & Great Britain." Maintaining peace and neutrality required Hamilton's meddling in foreign policy. That Washington shared this view is demonstrated by the fact that he both was apprized of and approved Hamilton's secret negotiations.109

The greatest obstacle to Hamilton's pursuit of peace and neutrality, however, was the eruption of the French Revolution. The passionsevoked by that struggle were inordinately intense. Many Americans saw in the French struggle the European fulfillment of their own republican convictions. Others came to see the French Revolution, especially after the execution of Louis XVI, as an anarchic assault on all forms of civilization and order. More than that, the French Revolution inaugurated a new epoch in political history characterized by a hyperideological orientation that threatened to unleash a new wave of secular "enthusiasm" and fanaticism. This new style of political thought and action gave a new edge to struggles within and between countries, especially as the revolution began to proselytize. As the stakes of the contest between France and her enemies grew ever greater, both sides resorted to tactics that threatened to draw the United States into the fray. In Washington's administration the first threat of involvement came principally from France and the second from Great Britain. In both cases, it was Hamilton more than any other figure who kept America out of war.

France, Neutrality, and the Genet Affair

Unlike most Americans, Hamilton greeted the eruption of the French Revolution with "a mixture of Pleasure and apprehension." Writing in the autumn of 1789, he congratulated his friend Lafayette on his nation's efforts to secure republican liberty and the rights of mankind. Yet he could not suppress his fears "for the final success" of these efforts. Internal disagreements, the selfishness of the aristocracy, and the "vehement character of your people" all filled Hamilton with dread lest the revolution exceed the limits of reason and self-interest and lead to "innovations greater than will consist with the real felicity of your nation." Particularly troubling were "the reveries of your Philosophic politicians" who, lacking practical experience, "may aim at more refinement than suits either with human nature or the composition of your Nation."110

Hamilton's fears were well founded. Beginning in the mid-1760s, the French Enlightenment had become destabilized by a militant wing of proto-Romantics, symbolized by the Physiocratic "sect," the growing cult of Rousseau, and what French historian Daniel Roche has called "the crisisof sensibility." Few of his countrymen shared Hamilton's fears. Most saw in France the extension of their own revolutionary principles, and they could not help hoping that the revolution in France represented a new dawn of liberty in the old world that would sweep away the regime of kings and nobles and usher in a new age of human dignity. While uncommon, Hamilton's apprehension unfortunately proved all too accurate.111

Despite its vehemence, American support of the French Revolution was a matter of sentimental attachment without political or policy ramifications. That all changed on February 1, 1793, when France declared war on Holland and Great Britain. That same month, Washington's cabinet met to discuss a request from outgoing French minister Jean-Baptiste Ternant for "three millions of livres to be furnished on account of our debt to France." A large advance on the outstanding debt, the money was to be spent in the United States on provisions that would be shipped to France. Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of War Henry Knox, and Attorney General Edmund Randolph all urged the president to comply with this request. Only Hamilton dissented. Providing that sum would put an undue strain on the nation's finances. Even more important, Great Britain would take such generosity to an adversary as a hostile act, threatening relations with a crucial trading partner. Hamilton instead proposed that Ternant be furnished with $318,000, a sum equivalent to "the arrearages equitably due to France at the end of 1792." Washington sided with Hamilton, but the problem of Franco-American relations had only just begun.112

In 1778 the United States had entered into a military alliance with France, and many Americans felt their nation should honor that treaty by entering the war on the side of their sister republic. Hamilton strenuously rejected this position. That alliance had been defensive in nature, but in the current war France was clearly the aggressor. Moreover, that treaty had been made with Louis XVI, "a prince who has been dethroned and decapitated." Given the unsettled state of French politics, Hamilton urged that the treaty be considered "temporarily and provisionally suspended." Washington instead sought a middle course, issuing a proclamation of American neutrality on April 22, 1793.113

Washington's proclamation was met with howls of protest. "Democratic-Republican" political clubs were organized across the country to express their solidarity with the French struggle and their disillusionment at the president's temporizing neutrality. Such feeling was exacerbated by the arrival of the new French minister, citizen Edmond Genet. A member of France's then-ascendant Girondin party, Genet had been commissioned to negotiate a more thorough treaty of alliance with the United States. He was also instructed to facilitate uprisings among the peoples of Louisiana, Florida, and Canada against their British and Spanish colonial masters. This was to be achieved by spreading revolutionary doctrine and, more ominously, by organizing military incursions from Kentucky and other western frontier settlements in the United States. To harass British shipping, he was armed with letters of marque to commission privateers that would operate from American ports with American sailors. Obviously, such hostile acts threatened to draw the United States into the armed struggle against England and her allies.114

Genet arrived in Charleston, South Carolina, to a hero's welcome on April 8, 1793. Ten days later, after addressing the legislature of that state and commissioning a number of privateering vessels, he set out for Philadelphia. Along the way he was feted by the newly created Democratic-Republican clubs and addressed large crowds of enthusiastic supporters. In mid-May he finally arrived in Philadelphia, where he was cordially received by the president. In the interim his privateers had taken a number of British prizes, one having been seized at anchor in Delaware Bay. Throughout he had been in close contact with Jefferson. Apprised of Genet's mission, Jefferson was filled with warmth and encouragement. Although he warned the French diplomat that any Americans caught planning military actions against foreign colonial possessions would be judged guilty of treason and face execution, he nonetheless supplied him with a list of likely contacts in Kentucky. Moreover, he assured him that the president's policy of neutrality did not reflect the sentiment of Congress or the nation at large.115

Washington was alarmed to learn that privateers commissioned byGenet had captured British vessels in American waters and that French consuls were busily presiding over the disposition of those prizes in American seaports. Recognizing that the British would treat such behavior as an act of war, he ordered Genet to immediately cease all such operations on June 5. Genet ignored this order, and on the fifteenth began refitting a captured British ship called the Little Sarah—now renamed the Little Democrat—in the national capital. Emboldened by Jefferson's assurances that he was backed by public opinion, on July 7 he informed Washington that he would not detain the Little Democrat and would go over the president's head and appeal directly to the American people if he continued to thwart his goals.116

Genet had grossly overplayed his hand. An irate Washington decided to demand his recall, an action that the new Jacobin government in France would be only too happy to comply with. Indeed, if the president had not granted the now-deposed minister political asylum, he would undoubtedly have faced the guillotine rather than spending his remaining days in rural isolation in New York. But even more important than Genet's gaffe in stemming the tide of pro-French war sentiment in the United States was Hamilton's remarkable journalistic crusade. Beginning in late June 1793, Hamilton wrote a series of powerful essays on the French Revolution and American diplomacy that dramatically moved public opinion away from war frenzy and toward acceptance and eventual appreciation of Washington's policy of neutrality.

Hamilton built his case methodically. He began by noting that much of the "acrimony and invective" directed against American neutrality was a thinly veiled attack on the president by his partisan Republican opponents. Nor was neutrality a violation of the treaty of alliance with France. That treaty had been defensive in nature, whereas "France first declared and began the War against Austria, Prussia, Savoy, Holland, England and Spain." France had given a "general and just cause of alarm" on November 19, 1792, when she declared her support for "every people who wish to recover their liberty," a proclamation which "was ordered to be printed in all languages." Her subsequent annexation ofthose territories she had conquered was not only a "violation of the rights of Nations" but an act of unmitigated imperialism and "culpable ambition." Such irregular proceedings were certainly "questionable enough to free the U[nited] States from all embarrassment" arising from its treaty of alliance.117

Hamilton then turned to the argument advanced by Madison that, despite treaty stipulations, the United States owed France a debt of gratitude that ought to be repaid in her hour of need. While "faith and justice between nations are virtues of a nature sacred and inviolable," Hamilton acknowledged, "the same cannot be said of gratitude." The debt of gratitude was due to disinterested acts of benevolence. Such acts were common between individuals, "but among nations they perhaps never occur." Foreign aids were invariably the result of "the interest or advantage" of the party "which performs them." The true motive behind French support of the American Revolution had not been benevolence at all. Rather, France sought to weaken its British rival and avenge its prior defeat and consequent loss of empire in the Seven Years' War of 1756—63. In fact, such support had not been forthcoming until the British defeat at the battle of Saratoga, "which went a great way towards deciding the issue of the contest" and thus gave France "a confidence in our ability to accomplish our purpose." Interest, not sentiment, was the true motive force of foreign relations.118

Having disarmed the critics of neutrality, Hamilton moved on to an assault on French diplomacy. In a series of articles signed "No Jacobin," Hamilton recounted the details of Genet's mission in America. In the first four essays he carefully demonstrated that "the claim of right on the part of France to fit out privateers in the ports of the United States, as derived from treaty, is without foundation." The relevant treaty articles were at best "doubtful or obscure" and were more reasonably interpreted as "merely a prohibition" against allowing "a power at war with the other to fit or arm its privateers in the ports of the party at peace." Moreover, it was a recognized principle of international law that neutral states "cannot lawfully succor, aid, countenance, or support either of the parties at war with each other." Despite these recognized principles,Genet had fitted out privateers "under French colours and commissions" in Charleston. This high-handed act was taken "without a possibility of sounding or knowing the disposition of our government on the point." Not only might these acts have precipitated British reprisals against American shipping, they betrayed an arrogant lack of respect for the American people and the sovereignty of their government.119

Hamilton then turned to the French minister's unwarranted intrusion into American politics. Genet's leisurely journey from Charleston to Philadelphia was no mere goodwill mission. Rather, it represented the execution of a planned "system of electrifying the people" meant to circumvent the normal channels of diplomatic exchange with "popular intrigue." His addresses to political clubs were bad enough, but his "placing himself at the head" of one such society in Philadephia (he had assumed the presidential chair) was an act without precedent in "the history of diplomatic enterprize." Here was a dangerous precedent that "demands the exercise of republican jealousy." But such behavior paled in comparison to Genet's threat to circumvent Washington entirely and take his case directly to the American people. Such a threat betrayed his view of Americans as "light, vain, and precipitate," a people "likely to be governed by impulse more than reason" and capable of being duped into "measures inconsistent with their dignity, their interest, their peace and their safety." The real wonder, according to Hamilton, was that "there are men among us, who call themselves citizens of the United States, degenerate enough to become the apologists of Mr. Genet."120

The impact of Hamilton's essays on public opinion was staggering. By early July, after the first pieces had been published, Jefferson was alarmed. He urged his friend and fellow Republican leader James Madison to "take up your pen, select the most striking heresies, and cut him to pieces in the face of the public." Only Madison could hope to counter Hamilton, for "there is nobody else who can and will enter the lists with him." Madison did reply with his "Helvidius" essays, but to no avail. Hamilton swept the field and turned American opinion against Genet and in favor of the very policy of neutrality that had so recently been the source of derision. In mid-August a despondent Jefferson reported that a recent town meetinghad voted "9 out of 10" against Genet and "for the Proclamation" of neutrality. He shortly expected all the northern towns to follow suit. Jefferson advised Madison that the Republican opposition now had no choice but to reverse field,"approve unequivocally of a state of neutrality," and "abandon G[enet] entirely."121

Hamilton had utterly shifted the tide of political battle, putting Jefferson and his fellow Republicans on the defensive and rallying the nation to the Federalist policies of Washington. More than that, he had rescued the nation from entanglement in a costly foreign struggle and preserved its peace and neutrality, at least for the time being.

Great Britain and the Jay Treaty

Within months of settling the Genet affair, Hamilton was faced with a fresh challenge to American peace and neutrality. This time the threat came from Great Britain. In early November 1793 the British government had issued Orders in Council instructing its naval officers to seize all shipping to or from the French West Indies. The order was kept secret for almost two months, however, by which time American merchants had dispatched their trading fleets to the Caribbean. The result was the capture of hundreds of American ships and their cargoes. When news of these seizures reached the mainland, a wave of anti-British sentiment swept the nation, threatening to plunge the country into war with its old adversary.122

Hamilton advised a two-pronged approach. On the one hand, he urged the president to place the nation in "a respectable military posture." Seaports should be fortified, an army of twenty thousand should be raised, and the executive should obtain power "to lay an embargo" on all foreign commerce. On the other hand, when Hamilton learned that the British had revoked the offending Orders in Council and had offered compensation for seized American shipping, he counseled diplomatic engagement. War should be avoided if at all possible. Realistically, the United States was simply too weak to expect any great success againstBritish military might. Of even greater concern was the likely impact of armed hostility on American politics. The French Revolution had already "unhinged the orderly principles of the people of this country," he noted, and a war fought in alliance with that power "may prove to be the threshold of disorganization and anarchy."123

In keeping with Hamilton's counsel, Washington decided to send an envoy to England to negotiate a treaty settling the outstanding issues between the two countries. Although Hamilton was the obvious candidate for this task, he had become so feared and hated by the Republican opposition that he finally urged the president to appoint the Supreme Court chief justice John Jay instead. Jay's instructions, largely written by Hamilton, contained three central goals. Jay must demand compensation for the capture of American vessels the previous winter. The posts in the Northwest that the British held in violation of the peace treaty of 1783 must be surrendered. Finally, he should negotiate a general commercial pact ensuring the American carrying trade in the West Indies. Ideally, he should also get compensation for slaves carried off by the British at the end of the Revolutionary War. If Jay could achieve these objectives, they would represent a long-term settlement of the outstanding differences between the United States and her old colonial master. If not, war would become unavoidable.124

The treaty Jay brought back in early 1795 fulfilled most of the goals Hamilton had set. The British agreed to return the frontier posts stipulated in the treaty of 1783 and to establish commissions to settle compensations for the spoliation of American shipping. American vessels would be given complete access to the West Indies, but only if under a fixed weight and if they did not re-export certain enumerated tropical products (restrictions that were eventually deleted from the ratified treaty). For its part, America would establish commissions to facilitate the payment of prerevolutionary debts to British merchants. Jay did fail to extract compensation for slaves liberated by the British—not too surprising, given his abolitionist convictions—but even Jefferson saw this as a minor issue. On the whole, Jay had succeeded in advancingAmerican commerce, settling most of the outstanding issues with Great Britain, and keeping the United States out of war.

Despite these accomplishments, news of Jay's treaty was met with public rage. The Republican press denounced the treaty as a pusillanimous betrayal of France on behalf of the forces of monarchy and reaction. Rather than manfully asserting American rights, the chief justice had betrayed national honor and interest out of craven fear. In the spring and summer of 1795, Jay was burned in effigy by angry crowds in the principal ports of the eastern seaboard. Frontier settlers in Kentucky and elsewhere threatened to secede from the union if the treaty became law. When Hamilton tried to address an enraged mob, he was pelted by stones. Even after the Federalist-controlled Senate had ratified the treaty, Washington remained undecided whether he should actually sign the document given the intense opposition to it. Naturally, he turned to Hamilton for advice.125

Hamilton had in fact retired into private life, having resigned his post in the Treasury Department at the beginning of the year. Nonetheless, in early July 1795 he responded to his old commander's call for counsel with a lengthy letter. Hamilton carefully dissected the provisions of the treaty, meticulously analyzing their strengths and weaknesses. Despite its failings, Hamilton concluded that Jay's handiwork successfully settled the "controverted points between the two Countries." The commercial terms of the treaty would have little impact, but it would secure "an object of primary consequence," namely the recovery of "our Western Posts." Most important of all, however, was the fact that the treaty would keep the nation "from being implicated in the dreadful war which is ruining Europe." Peace would "enable us to make our way sufficiently fast in trade" so that if, after a dozen years, war should become unavoidable, "we may then meet it without much inquietude" and a reasonable prospect of success. And in fact, the peace that followed the Jay Treaty was accompanied by one of the most dramatic commercial and economic booms in American history. Overall, Hamilton judged that "more is gained than given" and thus urged the president to sign the treaty. Though not the only determining factor, Hamilton's advice wasan important source of Washington's decision to put the treaty into effect and thus close the prospect of war with Great Britain.126

Perhaps even more important than his role in settling Washington's judgment, however, were Hamilton's efforts in transforming public opinion. Writing as "Camillus," Hamilton published a series of essays beginning in late July in defense of the Jay Treaty. As in his previous defense of the neutrality proclamation, Hamilton began by noting the partisan motives of the treaty's critics, namely Jefferson's ambition to succeed Washington. Moreover, those who condemned the treaty and the measures taken to secure it gave the false impression that the United States was "among the first rate powers of the world." This was foolhardy in the extreme. Although "a very powerful state may frequently hazard a high and haughty tone" in foreign affairs, "a weak state can hardly ever do it without imprudence," and truth be told, "the last is yet our character." In brief, the great virtue of the treaty was that it secured peace, while "the too probable result of a refusal to ratify is war" or national humiliation.127

The treaty had, Hamilton insisted, secured its primary objectives. Great Britain had agreed to turn over the western posts and compensate "the spoliations of our property" by her navy. True, Jay had failed to secure payment for slaves liberated and removed by the British at the end of the Revolutionary War, an apparent violation of the terms of peace. But these terms were liable to various interpretations, one being that the British should not transport any slaves liberated after the close of hostilities. That was the British construction of the article in question, and it was neither as "odious or immoral" as the alternative of returning freedmen to a state of bondage. In any event, "the whole number" of such freedmen did not exceed three thousand, which fairly valued came to a mere $600,000. This sum paled in comparison to what southerners owed their British creditors, especially in Virginia where "her courts in defiance of the Treaty [of 1783] have constantly remained shut to the recovery of British debts."128

As usual, Hamilton was meticulous in his analysis of the treaty. The most powerful impact of his essays, however, was his refutation of thecentral assumptions of its Republican critics and his efforts in revealing their partisan motives. Their most dangerous assumption was evident in their fervid "declamations which describe Great Britain to us as vanquished and humbled," merely requiring stiff defiance to conjure capitulation. Such views were "either the chimeras of over-heated imaginations, or the fabrications of imposture." Hamilton urged his countrymen to shun Republican "sycophants" who "flatter the errors and prejudices of the people." Instead they should hearken to those "honest and independent men" like himself who were willing "to tell unpalatable truths." One of those truths was that America was relatively weak, while Britain remained the preeminent superpower of the day.129

The impact of Hamilton's essays was extraordinary. As soon as the first appeared, Washington sent him his hearty congratulations. Jefferson was understandably less sanguine. Indeed, by mid-September he had seen more than enough. "Hamilton is really a colossus to the antirepublican party," he complained; "without numbers, he is an host within himself." Again he urged Madison to respond in print, and again Madison proved no match for Hamilton. The New Yorker's essays turned the tide of public sentiment. By the spring of 1796 public opinion was every bit as adamant in favor of the treaty as it had been vociferous in opposition to it the previous year. Once again Hamilton had rescued the Washington administration and its foreign policy in the public mind. Once again he had preserved the peace and neutrality of the republic.130

The Future of an Illusion—Alexander Hamilton and American Nation Building

Alexander Hamilton had warned his fellow delegates at the Constitutional Convention that he saw "the Union dissolving or already dissolved." Some three years later he was more optimistic. There was, he assured Washington, a "growing conviction" in the public mind "of the Utility and benefits of National Government." This was the key to Hamilton's understanding of nation building. If the public perceived the federal government to be effective and capable, the government's powers andauthority would be accepted and approved. Regardless of its constitutional and theoretical strictures, however, if the new government failed to govern effectively, it would go the way of the previous confederation. As the proverb went, the proof of the pudding would be in the eating.131

Hamilton's financial system had obviously gone a long way toward registering the utility of the new government. The creditworthiness of the new regime, its ability to handle its finances and assume its debt obligations, had helped create the sense that it was competent and stable in a way that the old confederation had never been. The commercial prosperity that these measures ushered in helped establish the reality and desirability of the government in the public mind. Hamilton's dogged efforts on behalf of American neutrality had also been instrumental in nation building. Keeping the United States free from the wars of the French Revolution allowed Hamilton to obscure from public view the real military and diplomatic weakness of the infant nation. Peace also kept the new government from facing the strains of internal dissent and sectional strife that would surely have surfaced had war been declared, thus creating the illusion of national stability in advance of its achievement.

Hamilton's contributions to American nation building were not limited to financial and foreign policy measures, however. Equally vital were his efforts in the one field in which he had professional expertise, namely, the rule of law. Twice during his tenure as secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton decisively influenced the course of legal and constitutional development, each time with dramatic and far-reaching effect. The first moment occurred shortly after the passage of his proposal for a national bank. Hamilton championed a liberal or "broad" interpretation of the Constitution, one that took an expansive view of federal power and strengthened the nation against emasculation by the states. The second moment came in the aftermath of the so-called "Whiskey Rebellion" in western Pennsylvania. Hamilton's decisive and thoroughgoing resolution of that insurrection during Washington's second term signaled for all Americans the reality of the federal government and its power and willingness to uphold the rule of law in the face of violent civil disobedience.

The Bank of the United States and Broad Construction

Congressional approval of Hamilton's Bank of the United States seemed all but a foregone conclusion in early 1791. Few questioned the desirability of the institution. In little more than a month after Hamilton had submitted his report for its incorporation, a bill codifying his proposals had been drafted and passed by the Senate. The legislation promptly moved through the House of Representatives without a single attempt at amendment. But on February 2, as the House neared its final vote on the measure, James Madison rose in opposition.

The Constitution conferred on the federal government decidedly limited powers, Madison argued, and "it was not possible to discover in it the power to incorporate a bank." Supporters of the bank found that power in Article I, Section 8, which granted Congress authority to "make all laws which shall be necessary and proper" to achieve its enumerated ends, among which were the collection of taxes and the regulation of commerce. The power to incorporate a bank was thus "implied" by those ends rather than strictly specified. But Madison warned that "the doctrine of implication" was fraught with dangers. If given free rein in the interpretation of the "necessary and proper" clause, it would "give an unlimited discretion to Congress" and threatened the very ideal of a government "composed of limited and enumerated powers." Only a strict and literal construction of the Constitution could avoid such dangers. And by a strict construction, Hamilton's bank simply did not pass constitutional muster.132

Madison's excursion into constitutional exegesis had little impact on congressional approval of the bank. His Federalist opponents challenged his interpretation of the "necessary and proper" clause with that found in Federalist number 44. In that essay, Publius had explicitly defended that clause. In the absence of implied powers, the government would be reduced to the dismal "alternative of betraying the public interest by doing nothing, or violating the Constitution by exercising powers indispensably necessary and proper, but, at the same time, not expressly granted." This must have been especially galling to Madisonfor, unbeknownst to his congressional opponents, he had in fact been the author of that essay. Refuted by his own words, Madison was powerless to stop the passage of the bank bill.133

Madison's argument did, however, have a profound impact on the president. Washington had immense respect for Madison and regarded him as the leading light on the Constitution. Troubled by his fellow Virginian's misgivings, he seriously considered vetoing the bank legislation. He turned to his cabinet and requested written opinions from Secretary of State Jefferson, Attorney General Randolph, and Secretary of the Treasury Hamilton. Jefferson and Randolph largely rehashed Madison's argument. Jefferson added the proviso that the entire dispute over constitutional interpretation should be considered in the light of the Tenth Amendment, which "reserved to the States respectively, or to the people," all those powers "not delegated to the United States by the Constitution or prohibited by it to the States." Combined with Madison's call for strict construction, Jefferson had advanced what became the classic case for states' rights and limited federal power.

Hamilton had the advantage of replying last, after he had read the opinions of Randolph and Jefferson. On February 23, 1791, he sent Washington a lengthy brief on behalf of the constitutionality of the bank. Immensely learned and justifiably famous in constitutional lore, Hamilton's brief refuted each of Jefferson's and Randolph's assertions in great detail. The crux of his argument was that "the principles of construction" maintained by the bank's opponents "would be fatal to the just & indisputable authority of the United States." The power to create corporate bodies like the Bank of the United States, even if not explicitly enumerated in the Constitution, "is inherent in the very definition of Government." Corporations were merely means to pursue specified ends, and "every power vested in a Government is in its nature sovereign, and includes by force of the term, a right to employ all the means requisite, and fairly applicable to the attainment of the ends of such power." This was a recapitulation of Hamilton's maxim of ethical responsibility. Ought implies can; a nation must have the power to fulfill its assigned tasks.134

Jefferson's invocation of the Tenth Amendment was beside the point. The power of incorporation may not have been explicitly enumerated, but it was surely implied. Nor could this lead to the slippery slope Madison feared. An implicit power to create corporations did not mean unlimited power in the hands of the federal legislature. Congress could not, for example, incorporate the police department of Philadelphia "because they are not authorized to regulate" the government of localities. But Congress was authorized to regulate trade and collect taxes and could thus "employ all the means which relate to its regulation to the best & greatest advantage," means that clearly included the incorporation of a national bank. Hamilton similarly rejected Jefferson's restrictive gloss on the word "necessary" in the "necessary and proper" clause. Jefferson read the word as allowing only "those means, without which the grant of the power would be nugatory." This would hamper the government by limiting its "exercise of any implied power" to only a "case of extreme necessity." True, taxes might be collected without a bank, but by the same reasoning towns ought not to be incorporated by the states because it was possible for residents to coexist without such formal organization. The case was exactly analogous for, as Hamilton reminded Washington, "there is no express power in any State constitution to erect corporations." Somehow they managed to do so anyway, even creating banks of their own.135

The proposed principles of strict interpretation not only threatened to limit the potential powers of the federal government; they also ran counter to existing practices. The national legislature had created "light houses, beacons, buoys & public piers" without either express constitutional authority or ironclad necessity. Moreover, if the Constitution did not sanction the creation of corporate bodies, by what authority had the federal government created territorial governments? In fact, two such governments had been established, "one northwest of the river Ohio, and the other south-west," and in the latter case "independent of any antecedent compact." "Why then," Hamilton asked, "does not the same clause authorize the erection of a corporation in respect of the regulation of any other of the property of the United States?"136

Strict interpretation thus ran counter to the established practice of American government. States exercised implied powers routinely, as did other nations. Neither shied from erecting corporations when deemed beneficial, regardless of explicit constitutional authorization. In such circumstances, Hamilton reasoned, "the practice of mankind ought to have great weight against the theories of individuals." National banks were a widely accepted "engine in the administration of national finances." They were "the most effectual instrument of loans" and "one which in this country has been found essential." Contrary to Jefferson's warnings, the incorporation of a national bank in no way intruded on the prerogatives of the states or the people. "Each state may still erect as many banks as it pleases," Hamilton noted, "and every individual may still carry on the banking business to any extent he pleases." The real test of constitutionality was the ends to which means like the Bank of the United States were related. "If the end be clearly comprehended within any of the specified powers" of the Constitution—in this case, the collection of taxes, regulation of trade, and procurement of credit—"it may safely be deemed to come within the compass of national authority."137

The impact of Hamilton's opinion was far reaching. To be sure, it had the immediate effect of inducing Washington to sign the bank bill. But Hamilton was interested in far more than national banking. His broad construction of implied constitutional powers was meant to be a bulwark to the national organs of government. He invoked the same principles in his Report on Manufactures, arguing that "the terms 'general welfare'" in the preface to the Constitution "were doubtless intended to signify" a host of powers and "a vast variety of particulars, which are susceptible neither of specification nor of definition." These powers were vital, as he later claimed, to defend the ideal of enlightened republicanism.138

It was his fundamental goal "to see the equality of political rights exclusive of all hereditary distinction firmly established by a practical demonstration of its being consistent with the order and happiness of society." That order and happiness, without which equality could not hope to survive, was threatened not by the national government, but by the "too potent and counteracting influence" of the states. The statesthreatened the sovereignty of the nation, and the nation was the ultimate support of public happiness and ordered liberty. Hamilton's augmentation of centralized powers was meant to offset that threat. "Hence a disposition on my part towards a liberal construction of the powers of the national government" he wrote to Edward Carrington, "and to erect every fence to guard it from depredations, which is, in my opinion, consistent with constitutional propriety." Such liberal construction was a critical component in the process of American nation building.139

The Whiskey Rebellion and the Rule of Law

In the spring and summer of 1794 the new federal republic faced the first major challenge to its domestic tranquillity. An insurrection raged in the four westernmost counties of Pennsylvania. Federal officials were tarred and feathered, the federal mail was intercepted, and a wave of violent intimidation was unleashed on wealthy residents. An angry mob of five hundred armed men assaulted the home of excise inspector John Neville in mid-July, forcing the surrender of seventeen federal soldiers and prompting the panicked flight of Neville and federal marshal David Lenox. Shortly thereafter a force of some six thousand gathered to march on Pittsburgh, threatening to burn it. The rebels had already attempted to form an alliance with other disgruntled frontiersmen in Kentucky and the Carolinas and had entered into negotiations with representatives of Great Britain and Spain to secure their independence in the event of their secession from the union. The Whiskey Rebellion was the first great test of federal authority and its ability to uphold the rule of law.140

The roots of the uprising lay in Hamilton's excise on distilled liquor. Passed in early March 1791, the excise imposed a modest tax of seven and a half cents per gallon on distilled whiskey and rum. Hamilton proposed the tax to help defray the costs of funding and assumption. He also hoped to curtail "the consumption of ardent spirits" that "on account of their cheapness, is carried to an extreme." Hamilton's moralizingmight seem quaint today, but the citizens of the early republic drank truly astounding quantities of alcohol. Hamilton estimated that the average American family consumed roughly sixteen gallons of hard liquor per year, not including wine, beer, and the ubiquitous hard cider (thirty-six proof) that was served at each meal. The most thorough study of the subject suggests that the total consumption of pure or "absolute" alcohol by adults in 1795 was a whopping 6.2 gallons per year, almost three times the current rate and greater than almost any other contemporary European nation. Hamilton was hardly being alarmist when he described American bingeing as a danger "to the health and morals" of the people and a drag on "the oeconomy [sic] of the community."141

Collection of the excise from the rum distilleries of the eastern seaboard went fairly well. The same could not be said, however, of the whiskey producers of the western frontier. From the outset, opposition was widespread and violent. Westerners complained that distilling their grain into whiskey was the only economical way of transporting their harvests across the mountains to eastern markets. As such, the tax on whiskey would strip them of the little cash they had. The requirement of oaths of compliance from distillers was assailed as an assault on public morality, presumably because it implied their dishonesty absent such pledges. The tax was also an invasion of privacy in the guise of intrusive excise inspectors.142

These complaints were largely specious. The tax on whiskey, like all excises, would be passed on to consumers. Westerners would shoulder an undue burden only if they were "greater consumers of Spirits, than those of other parts of the Country." In any event, it would be more than offset by the army's purchase of whiskey rations, which Hamilton directed to be made from complying western distillers. As for the danger to public morality, oaths were required in the execution of all revenue laws and "constantly occur in jury trials." If oaths and inspections were precluded, Hamilton noted, "it is not easy to imagine what security there can be for any species of revenue, which is to be collected from articles of consumption." As it was, westerners contributed almost nothing tothe federal Treasury while draining it through costly military actions that were taken to protect frontiersmen from the Amerindians whose land they continually encroached upon. The whiskey tax was the least they could be expected to pay in support of their government.143

As secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton was privy to reports of often gruesome assaults on his agents. In the fall of 1791 a young man in western Pennsylvania falsely claimed to be an excise officer. For his pains he was stripped naked, beaten, and tortured with a red-hot iron bar "both behind and before," enduring injuries that were "sufficient to make human nature shudder." The following summer an actual inspector was locked in a distillery for three days without food. He was then assured no harm would come to him, "but he must submit to the mild punishment of having his Nose ground off at the Grindstone." To assault federal officials with such impunity showed an utter disregard for the authority of the nation's government and contempt for its sovereignty. "Such persevering and violent opposition to the Law," Hamilton informed the president in early September 1792, "seems to call for vigorous measure on the part of the Government."144

Washington preferred a more conciliatory approach. He issued a proclamation calling for an end to "all unlawful combinations and proceedings" against the excise. For his part, Hamilton adjusted the tax to make it less onerous and costly for home distillers. Although revenue collection improved only marginally at first, the worst violence abated. By early 1794 the vast bulk of distillers in western Pennsylvania were, officially at least, in compliance with the law. Only thirty-seven were still delinquent. When excise inspector Neville and federal marshal Lenox attempted to serve subpoenas on those delinquents, however, all hell broke loose. In the years since the measure had first passed, many residents of western Pennsylvania had been convinced by the Republican press that the excise was part of an insidious Federalist conspiracy to foist a monarchical regime on the nation and deliver its government to a cabal of commercial plutocrats. The newly created Democratic-Republican clubs in the region added fuel to the fire. European governments contactedby the insurgents began speculating how long it would take for the new federal government to collapse in the face of armed insurrection.145

On August 2 an angry George Washington convened a cabinet meeting with the principal officials of Pennsylvania. The state officers held their peace until Washington expressed his intention of taking military action against the insurgents. At that point Pennsylvania chief justice Thomas McKean interjected that the state courts were more than capable of handling the problem and "that the employment of a military force, at this period, would be as bad as anything the Rioters had done—equally unconstitutional and illegal." Hamilton fired back that, on the contrary, the moment had come "when it must be determined whether the Government can maintain itself." Pennsylvania secretary Alexander J. Dallas countered that the presiding judge in the western district had assured him that the local courts were adequate to the task, and that military action would merely galvanize opposition throughout the region. Hamilton then pointedly reminded Dallas that "the Judge alluded [to] was among those who had most promoted the opposition in an insidious manner," a fact that Washington was all too aware of. With the exception of Secretary of State Edmund Randolph, the entire cabinet supported Hamilton in his call for the suppression of the Whiskey Rebellion by force if necessary.146

Hamilton proposed the assembly of a massive force of twelve thousand militia, half of which should be raised from Pennsylvania itself. Such a large army would eliminate the danger of battle since the rebels could not hope to withstand it. More important, it would signal both to the citizens of the nation and to foreign powers the willingness of the federal government to defend its sovereignty and the authority of its laws. In the interim, the president should issue a proclamation announcing his intention of using force to quell the rebellion and offering a general amnesty to all those who lay down their arms and swore allegiance to the federal government. Washington followed Hamilton's counsel, issuing his proclamation on August 7. The response to his call was enthusiastic. The militia had begun to assemble by early September, and at theend of that month Washington and Hamilton had joined the force of twelve thousand men.147

Hamilton had been busy in the intervening weeks. Secretary of War Henry Knox had taken a leave of absence and Hamilton was forced to assume his duties, securing provisions and looking after other logistical details for the gathering army. Far more critically, however, he took up his pen to prepare public opinion for the use of force. Beginning in late August he published a series of essays signed "Tully," the popular name for the legendary Roman republican patriot Cicero. In these essays, Hamilton made the case for the administration's forthcoming measures against the Whiskey Rebels.

The issue at hand was simple enough. "Shall the majority govern or be governed? shall the nation rule or be ruled? shall the general will prevail or the will of a faction?" All these questions could be reduced to one: "shall there be government, or no government?" The American people had ratified a constitution that explicitly authorized excise taxes. They had elected representatives who had duly passed such excises year after year. "But the four western counties of Pennsylvania," Hamilton declared, "undertake to rejudge and reverse your decrees." Those who sought to minimize the danger of the insurgents by "ill timed declamations against excise laws" and questioned the use of force were enemies to the nation. Such a villain "may prate and babble republicanism" but ultimately set "the will of a faction, against the will of a nation" and "the violence of a lawless combination against the sacred authority of laws pronounced under your indisputable commission."148

Respect for the nation's laws and the constitution under which they were formulated was "the most sacred duty and the greatest source of security in a Republic." The rule of law was the only bulwark against the designs of malevolent elites "against the common liberty." To resist these laws by force of arms was thus "treason against society, against liberty, against every thing that ought to be dear to a free, enlightened, and prudent people." Those who sought to appease such treason were, Hamilton warned, "your worst enemies," foes who "treat you either as fools or cowards, too weak to perceive your interest and your duty, ortoo dastardly to pursue them." Only cowardice or perfidy could counsel inaction in face of such a dangerous threat to the rule of law in a free and enlightened republic.149

The combination of Hamilton's essays and military preparations worked like a charm. The army that he led into western Pennsylvania that fall pacified the region without even a scintilla of resistance. Two thousand of the most hardened rebels fled at the approach of the militia. The rest were cowed into submission. In all, twenty men were dispatched to Philadelphia to face charges of treason. Of these, two were convicted and subsequently pardoned by the president. The Whiskey Rebellion had been thoroughly crushed without firing a shot in anger. At the same time, the public rallied to the administration's measures. Federalists regained control of both houses of Congress in that year's elections. Most important of all, Hamilton had vindicated the rule of law and the authority of the federal government, one of the most critical elements in nation building. It would be almost another fourscore years before the nation was seriously threatened by domestic insurrection.150

"MINE IS AN ODD DESTINY"—THE LEGACY OF ALEXANDER HAMILTON

By almost any measure, Alexander Hamilton was the most important figure in the founding of the American republic. Soldier, statesman, legislator, constitutional theorist, political polemicist, and national administrator, Hamilton combined all the roles that were vital to American nation building. His vision of a strong federal government with an independent judiciary and a vigorous executive has become second nature to most Americans. His goal of state-supported industrial and commercial development and modernization is the unstated desideratum of every successful American political movement in the last century. His understanding of American foreign policy in terms of realistic assessments of national strengths and worldly interests has become, in fact if not theory, the dominant view in American government, regardless of the party in power. Indeed, in terms of political and economic practice, it is fair tosay that we are all Hamiltonians, whether Democrats or Republicans, progressives or conservatives, radicals or reactionaries.

No other founding father or leader of the early republic grasped as clearly and embraced as unflinchingly the modern world we have inherited. To that extent at least, as modern Americans in the most powerful country on earth, we are the children of Alexander Hamilton.

Despite his myriad accomplishments and larger-than-life legacy, Hamilton is perhaps the least loved founding father. No national or state holiday celebrates his life. No memorial commemorates his contributions to American life and ideals. His words are rarely quoted by politicians, and his writings are even less frequently cited by pundits. But for the ten-dollar bill, his visage would be utterly unknown to the American people. Unlike Monticello, Mount Vernon, and even Montpelier, his home sits largely unheralded in Harlem just north of City College, begrudgingly preserved and almost never visited. Washington became the father of his nation, and Jefferson its most beloved spokesman. Perhaps fittingly, Hamilton has become its bastard, unrecognized and somehow illegitimate in the public mind.

Why Hamilton should have suffered this fate is itself an interesting subject of speculation. Some of his scholarly defenders have pointed to the propaganda of his Jeffersonian opponents, both in his day and ours. Jefferson and his fellow Republicans heaped calumny upon Hamilton, depicting him as an embryo-Caesar and a tool of plutocratic elites. In this century, politicians of both parties—and writers sympathetic to them—have adopted Jefferson as their guiding light among the founding generation. On both left and right, there have been few willing to oppose the reigning dogma and defend the ambitious New Yorker. The legendary progressive novelist John Dos Passos described him as a crypto-Napoleon who "consolidated property interests" and "inaugurated the authoritarian trend" in American government. Dos Passos's facist counterpart, the expatriate poet Ezra Pound, dismissed Hamilton as "the Prime snot in ALL American history," derisively adding elsewhere that he "was a kike" and "a red headed scotch chew [sic]."151

These calumnies have been exacerbated by the real flaws in Hamilton's personality. Lacking Jefferson's endearing optimism or Washington's stolidly stoic demeanor, Hamilton was and remains a remote and almost forbidding persona. Arrogant and imperious, disdainful of dissent and utterly unwilling to suffer those he considered fools, Hamilton had little of that warmth or folksiness that Americans have always embraced in their heroes. It is impossible to imagine Hamilton, the ultimate neurotic New Yorker, telling fireside stories and passing a whiskey bottle in a log cabin. By dint of personality and character, he is almost the stereotype of the fast-talking, city-slicking urban "boss" in a Hollywood tale of American politics and history. If Frank Capra or Oliver Stone had made a movie about the American founding, Hamilton would undoubtedly have been cast as the villain, the Gordon Gecko of the early republic.

Ultimately, however, neither bad press nor personal flaws explain the American people's loveless feelings for Hamilton. All of the founders were pilloried in the early American press. Washington was depicted as a senile old fool and Jefferson was denounced as a radical Jacobin atheist. Nor did they lack personality flaws. Washington was known to have a volcanic temper and a deeply avaricious streak, and those intimate with Jefferson were aware of his rather strained relationship with truth-telling. Historians have since remarked Washington's self-centered absorption with his reputation and stunning lack of military skill, while Jefferson has been exposed as a self-deluded ideologue and an outspoken racist crank. Yet both continue to captivate the national imagination. Both still retain their hold on the American heart. Hamilton is different. He is different because the source of his reputation lies neither in the press he has received nor in the traits that defined his character. The problem with Hamilton lies in the self-image of the American people and the way we like to think of ourselves and our past. In the last analysis, we are the problem. We are responsible for Hamilton's historical fate.

At the most elemental level, Americans do understand Hamilton. We know that his vision of an enlightened and modern American republicand his practice of the politics of enlightenment are largely responsible for the privileged position, unrivaled power, and unmatched wealth we enjoy. But while we know this, we like to think otherwise. We prefer to see ourselves as uniquely blessed and exceptional, a nation whose might and prosperity are the result of superior virtue, the natural consequence of a unique character, or the blessings of an approving deity. Hamilton forces us to abandon these illusions. His unflinching honesty demands that we recognize that our success is part and parcel of the march of modernity in the western world and our singular embrace of it. We are not exceptional, Hamilton tells us, only more fortunate in our immense resources and lack of traditional cultural and political baggage. Resenting this message, we ignore the messenger lest we feel compelled to preach what we practice.

The people of the United States like to think of American capitalism as a natural system. Our economy is based on the free development and exchange of free individuals, its lineaments set by universal market forces like supply and demand. Hamilton destroys this myth. His legacy reminds us that the American economy never was a "laissez-faire" system determined solely by impersonal market forces. From the outset, the overall trajectory of American economic development has been influenced, if not determined, by initiatives of state, local, and federal government. As much as Americans of all stripes hate to acknowledge this, they know it is true. That is why, with remarkable inconsistency, they demand that all levels of government intercede in their "natural" capitalist economy whenever a recession strikes and unemployment rises.

Even more troubling, Hamilton reminds us that America's great industrial base was not solely the result of technological "Yankee ingenuity" and rags-to-riches tales of enterprising poor boys made good. Rather, it was, in part at least, built on the backs of women and children who filled our first factories and whose descendants could be found there for a full century. Hamilton also reminds us that those women and children who were not in factories worked just as hard and long in the nation's fields and farms as their counterparts in sweatshops. Americans are embarrassed by these truths. We are uncomfortable with the fact thatour comforts and wealth are, in part at least, the fruits of such heartless exploitation, an exploitation we currently decry in the third world. We are embarrassed, and so we turn our back on the figure that brings this embarrassment to mind.

Americans like to think of their role in the world as uniquely pacific and idealistic. America is a beacon of freedom and democracy, a light unto the nations. Without doubt, there is some truth in this image. But Hamilton reminds us that this is only part of the picture. Rhetoric aside, American foreign policy has always been based on réal politique and cold calculations of national interest. Many of our first hundred years of national history were absorbed with an aggressive and occasionally brutal program of territorial expansion and conquest. Since then our projection of power on a global basis, while often serving the interests of stability and order, has hardly been modest. America is not unique in this regard. Our friends and foes alike operate on the same principles and pursue the same objectives. What is unique about America is our obdurate insistence on cloaking our understandable objectives and policies in idealistic Wilsonian rhetoric. Hamilton removes this rhetorical facade. He reminds us that only a child or a fool could believe that a colonial backwater could emerge as a global hegemon by means of neutrality, high-mindedness, and pacifism. No one becomes a superpower by being nice. Hamilton forces us to acknowledge this obvious truth. And so we turn away from him.

Our greatest problem with Hamilton, however, involves our understanding of the nature of American government itself. We pride ourselves on being a democratic nation, one governed by the will of the people. In a vague way, this is true. Political power is ultimately grounded in popular consent. But in any precise sense of the term, America is not a democracy at all. Ours may be a government for the people, but it has never been a government by or of the people. On the contrary, it is a representative republic whose institutions were explicitly designed to ensure that the popular will would rarely directly drive political policy, and whose representatives have always been drawn from the social and economic elite. Nor does the majority hold sway in all elections,as the presidential ballot of 2000 demonstrated. Indeed, if the popular will were to reign in American elections, most offices would remain vacant, since a clear majority of potential voters consistently refuses to participate in the process. Those who do participate wield influence only if they are organized in a cohesive faction or interest. Whether benign or malevolent, selfish or selfless, these interest groups represent a small minority of the population. They are the elites that govern the nation.

Hamilton knew this, and his experience and legacy remind us of it. More than that, he reminds us why, despite our protestations to the contrary, we want it that way: the people do not always know best. "The people are turbulent and changing," Hamilton claimed; "they seldom judge or determine right." These words offend our sensibilities, in large part because we know they are true. Had the people of Arkansas or even the nation been consulted in 1954 rather than nine un-elected Supreme Court justices, it is highly doubtful that the principle and practice of racial segregation in public education would have been found unconstitutional. Nor is it any more likely that the accused would have been given the safeguards they received in the following decade, or that women in the decade after that would have been given the right to choose whether to have abortions.152

Hamilton was the greatest champion of the federal judiciary among the founders precisely because he understood that the least democratic branch of our government was likely to be the strongest bastion of our liberties. Hamilton reminds us that for all our vaunted talk of democracy, it is the rule of law that ensures our freedom and pluralism, and that simple majority rule can all too easily degenerate into mob rule. Hamilton believed this not because he thought the American people were particularly vicious. Rather, it was an unavoidable danger associated with the mass melding of opinion that occurs in any democratic gathering of public sentiment. "In all very numerous assemblies, of whatever characters composed, passion never fails to wrest the scepter from reason," Hamilton tell us in The Federalist. "Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have beena mob." In our most honest, soul-searching moments, we know that Hamilton is telling the truth. For this, he can never be forgiven.153

And yet for all his brutal honesty, for all the uncomfortable and unwanted truths he forces upon us, we do honor Hamilton. We honor him implicitly if not explicitly, in practice if not in theory. We honor him when we bask in the glow of our unrivaled power in the world. We honor him when we enjoy our unparalleled wealth and robust prosperity. And we honor him when we embrace the remarkable pluralism and diversity of American life, a pluralism based on individual liberties secured by the rule of law and protected by a strong federal government. When the nation opened its heart to his beloved city of New York in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, it also silently honored him.

Americans have always felt a profound ambivalence about "Hamiltonopolis." New York, and the urban-industrial-commercial order it represents, has often been seen as the source of the nation's corruption, the home of Wall Street financiers who foreclose family farms and are in perennial war against main street U.S.A. But after September 11, Americans remembered that New York, and the other great urban centers like it, are a vital, indeed essential, element in the American dream. The source of our national wealth and power, cities like New York have made America the land of opportunity and the asylum of the world's downtrodden. In grieving for New York and rallying to her defense, America implicitly acknowledged that Hamilton, despite being a bastard and an immigrant, was one of our nation's proudest and greatest sons. His was an odd destiny indeed.

Copyright © 2005 by Darren Staloff

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Table of Contents

Ch. 1 Alexander Hamilton : the enlightenment fulfilled
Ch. 2 John Adams : the enlightenment transcended
Ch. 3 Thomas Jefferson : romantic America
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  • Posted May 27, 2013

    If you believe that people reveal themselves by the way they del

    If you believe that people reveal themselves by the way they deliberate about practical matters, as Aristotle said, then you might find this book on Hamilton, Adams and Jefferson the most revealing biography of them available. The author does not abstract their thinking out of the context of problems they had to deal with and the rival opinions they had to contend with, as some political theorists do. Nor does he reduce their thinking to a reflection of the environment in which they thought and acted, as some historians do. He interprets the thinking and character and public deeds of these three statesmen against the background of a richly well-informed, insightful and precise conception of the Enlightenment. He shows how each revised his earliest Enlightenment beliefs----for example, unqualifiedly republican (Hamilton), optimistic on the benefits of diffused learning (Adams), hopeful but in the end unsuccessful in proposing reforms in the spirit of the moderate Enlightenment (Jefferson). Where each ended up after fundamentally revising his original beliefs, without ever joining the Counter-Enlightenment, cannot be summarized in familiar terms. To understand them, we would first have to learn where they started and what they went through in re-thinking their originial convictions. Doing that is, to my mind, the greatest merit of this book. The descriptions of it on this site from Publishers Weekly and The Library Journal are imprecise and misleading in treating it as a conventional history-book. They do not identify, I believe, what is distinctive about it---that it provides three finely insightful (but still arguable) analyses of how serious thought (and re-thinking) combined with character guided the statesmanship of Hamilton, Adams and Jefferson as founders of the United States.

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    Posted June 14, 2012

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