The rivalry of Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson was a bitter one that still resonates within our American political spectrum today. While the legacies of both men are recognized by modern historians, only Hamilton’s agenda seems to have sustained. Thomas Jefferson has a beautiful memorial dedicated to him in Washington, and Hamilton’s face is enshrined on the $10 bill. Both men are certainly remembered equally, but the retrospective images of the rival founders have been unfairly altered by revisionist history. Contemporary historians perpetuate the view that Thomas Jefferson was an evil slave owning hypocrite who was ignorant of economics and backwards thinking. Hamilton is revered by history as a brilliant statesman whose economic vision was responsible for making America the richest and most powerful nation on earth. Both the left and right adore Hamilton. Newt Gingrich has cited him as a personal hero, and Pat Buchanan has been an ardent admirer of his. Hamilton’s views live on through statist economic policies such as the Bush and Obama bailouts, Obama’s stimulus, Solyndra, and other recent policies of corporate welfare and Keynesianism. Woodrow Wilson, one of the most radical Presidents in American History, was a staunch Hamiltonian. This fueled his creation of the Federal Reserve, the money monopoly that is responsible for every economic crisis since its inception. Even with the failures of Hamiltonianism, he remains a hero. In contrast, it is politically incorrect to cite Thomas Jefferson as a hero because of his social views, and area where modern historians are overly obsessed and naively focused. As America recklessly approaches a fiscal black hole, we must recognize the truth about both men, and take a lesson from history. In reality, it was Alexander Hamilton who allowed The United States to accumulate excessive public debt as he sought the formation of an oligarchy in America. He was an enemy of The Constitution, and a proponent of big government. Thomas Jefferson offered a practical vision of liberty, small government, and fiscal sanity. His views resonated from the spirit of The American Revolution, and are as applicable now as ever.
One of Alexander Hamilton’s greatest schemes was his plan to nationalize the states’ debt from the American Revolution. Historians cite the motive for this endeavor as an effort to establish good credit for the young nation, but there is more to Hamilton’s plot than the establishment of credit. He called the national debt a “public blessing” as he hoped the wealthy citizens would eat it up through the issuing of bonds. This would tie the aristocrats to the state (an essential oligarchy), making a push for higher taxes more publicly favorable so the bond holders could receive maximum payback. This scheme benefited the elite Northern class, and placed an unfair burden on Southerners. By the time of the debt nationalization, Southern states like Virginia had already paid off most of their debt. However, Northern States such as Massachusetts had not shown similar financial diligence. With a centralization of debt, Massachusetts basically had a free ride while Virginia was unfairly hindered with a larger deficit. Through this scheme, the government issued new bonds and announced the debt would be cashed out at face value. While this news spread quickly among the urban elite, it was slow to reach the rural areas of the country. Rich businessmen, congressmen, and other friends of Hamilton flocked to the under developed areas. They bought up old bonds from lower class holders who were not yet aware of the Fed’s announcement. These speculators acquired some bonds for as low as 10% of face value, and quickly saw a 90% return on investment. This allowed the rich to get richer and more powerful, and the poor to get poorer. Surprised to here a conservative complain about that? Well, there is a lot you didn’t know about Alexander Hamilton. Staunch Hamilton supporters Robert Morris and New York Governor George Clinton made $18 million and $5 million from the debt caper, respectively. No wonder they were Hamilton supporters! This spoils system can be defined as crony capitalism, and brings to mind liberal initiatives such as Solyndra and other green energy failures.
On top of Hamilton’s plans to establish an oligarchy, he also schemed to severely limit individual liberty. An enemy of the Constitution, he called it “a frail and worthless document.” Frail, because it limited the government’s powers, not the individual’s. At the Constitutional Convention, he proposed a permanent President and Senate, with the Governor of each state being appointed by the executive branch. His vision consisted of states being defined as mere provinces, loyal to the permanent president, or king. Jefferson, in his Presidential Farewell Address gave a constitutional rebuke of Hamilton’s radical views: “”The principles of our Constitution are wisely opposed to all perpetuations of power, and to every practice which may lead to hereditary establishments.” In an age where Hamilton’s initial vision is becoming reality, and the Jeffersonian support of states’ rights curtailed, we must heed the warnings of Jefferson and eschew the Hamiltonian usurpation of the states. Gun control comes to mind, but I digress.
Even when Hamilton’s ideas are criticized, many historians (particularly college professors) immediately dismiss Jefferson’s alternative views due to the accepted notion that Thomas Jefferson was a crazed, hypocritical supporter of slavery. While he did own slaves, lets us not forget, though we often do, that Hamilton was also a slave owner. Alexander Hamilton participated in the slave trade in New York City, purchasing them and retaining some that were given as gifts from his in-laws. The New York Aristocrat kept them around for house work, and never proposed any legislation for the curtailment of the practice. Contrary to popular belief, Thomas Jefferson actually proposed some measures for the diminishment of slavery. A 1778 bill authored by Jefferson proposed the banning of slave imports to Virginia, and in 1784 he proposed another bill banning the expansion of slavery to the Northwest territories . While Hamilton has been given a clean record on slavery by modern academia, and Jefferson has been demonized, the legislative actions of both men contrast with their adopted reputations.
If you paid even remote attention in history class, without outside research, you would have walked away with the assumption that Thomas Jefferson was an evil and naive hypocrite whose social practices render his opinions irrelevant to modern day policy. The same class probably taught you that Alexander Hamilton was an economic genius who with benevolent intentions created American Capitalism. I left high school with this exact viewpoint, but looking deeper, my politically correct education wasn’t factually correct. Alexander Hamilton, like Jefferson, was a participant in the slave trade. However, not once did he propose any legislation to banish the practice. Economically, Hamilton can hardly be described as a Capitalist. His vision for high taxes, tariffs, protectionism, corporate welfare, debt consolidation, national banking, and oligarchial power can hardly be considered capitalism. However, his legacy is sustained today by the actions of liberal politicians, and his memory lingers on through the adoring eyes of historians, professors, and politicians of every political identity. Even some “conservatives” cite Hamilton as a personal hero. Even though Hamiltonian economics are a wet blanket on economic progress and individual liberty, it is Thomas Jefferson who is socially unacceptable to emulate. In order for an economic and political awakening to occur, we must reject Hamiltonianism, and have a Jeffersonian rebirth.
For Further Reading, I suggest Hamilton’s Curse by Thomas DiLorenzo.
Colin Snell | College of New Jersey | @SnellColin