The Unfortunate Legacy of an American Megalomaniac

Who has had more lasting influence on America's form of governance than any other?  George Washington, who refused to serve more than two terms as president, and who reminded Americans of future generations to avoid empire and entangling alliances with foreign countries?  James Madison, known as the Father of the Constitution?  Abraham Lincoln, who, some say, saved the country from destruction? Thomas Jefferson, penman of the Declaration of Independence?

Although they grace the pages of our history books, none of these men has left on America its most lasting political impression. The award for political influence actually goes to a less well-known founder--an openly adulterous big-government megalomaniac. Vestiges of his paw prints--paeans to power mongers throughout 21st century America--are everywhere. For that we are most unfortunate.
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His prestige and influence are undergoing an American renaissance. He is worshiped by establishment Progressives and Neo-Conservatives alike.He suggested that the United States be led by a king for life.  He is one of Newt Gingrich's biggest heroes.  He supported welfare subsidies for big business. He believed that America should become great through imperial conquest. He was a bitter rival of small-government advocate Thomas Jefferson, America's third president.

Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, is much better known than his big-government rival in our history books and our social venues.  Yet it is not Jefferson's limited-government view that prevails in America today.

The view of America that prevails in the 21st century is the view of adulterer, power monger, central banker, and would-be king maker--Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton, a confidant and aide-de-camp to General George Washington during the American War for Independence, later prevailed over President George Washington not to veto a clearly unconstitutional bill that established the first central bank of the United States. Thus, from the very beginning of our nation, the moneyed interests enjoyed undue influence over the lives of everyday Americans, an unfortunate reality that exists to this day.

Thomas Jefferson wrote that
a wise and frugal Government...shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.
Our federal government today does just the opposite. While placing an ever-growing burden of minutiae upon the backs of everyday Americans, our national government often looks the other way when corporate behemoths wreak havoc on the common man. Under the guise of improving society, government takes a substantial portion of today's earned bread, pouring most of it down a bureaucratic rathole.

President George Washington believed that
If...the Constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way the Constitution designates.  But let there be no change by usurpation...the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed.

Washington's manipulative Treasury secretary, however, believed that the amendment process was far too cumbersome for a government whose supposed "implied powers" meant to him that the government could do whatever it needed, whenever it needed, if it could be even remotely construed to be in the country's "general welfare".

Unfortunately, instead of the limitedly benevolent and otherwise benign government subscribed to by Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and a preponderant majority of America's founders, we have been saddled with the overweening government espoused by Alexander Hamilton.

It's not hard to see why the legacy of a megalomaniac is popular in America today. Other megalomaniacs love an excuse to consolidate their power. Hamilton is their perfect exemplar.

In 1992, columnist George Will wrote
If you seek Hamilton's monument, look around. You are living in it. We honor Jefferson, but live in Hamilton's country, a mighty industrial nation with a strong central government.
How unfortunate.

Comments

  1. But Hamilton was trying to protect the people from big business--not pandering to it! Jackson--he pandered to big business, but Hamilton wanted government to protect the common people!

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  2. Diana: Hamilton's Central Bank was direct pandering to big business. His intent was to get businesses in debt to the government in order to tie them more closely to a desire for big government protection. His "Report on Manufactures" to Congress in 1791 was the first advocacy of specific corporate welfare. He prevailed over George Washington to put down the "Whiskey Rebellion" because his big government scheme needed greater taxation. Many of the "officers" used to suppress the Whiskey Rebellion were giants of manufacturing who needed the whiskey tax in order that the value of their government bonds remained high.

    I'm not sure how fair it is to compare Hamilton to Jackson. They were both panderers to big business. When compared with Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Patrick Henry, etc., however, Hamilton doesn't look like a protector of the common person at all.

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  3. Frank, I respect your opinion, but I also think that it's a little misinformed and presents a slightly rosy view of what Jefferson did and wanted and that seems to assume that turning back the clock to 1789 would actually be good (and dismisses the fact that 1789 permitted slavery, did not allow for the Bill of Rights to apply to states, allowed state governments to shut down printing presses if it didn't like what they printed, did not allow women or unpropertied men to vote, and did not have flushing toilets...)

    SO, that is why I think this is one of the least informed blog posts I've seen on your site. It feels like, in throwing some random facts and quotes completely out of context, that it does a real disservice to history and to Washington's right hand man. (That's right, Washington WAS a Hamiltonian.) In truth, perhaps it is just proof that one cannot right one wrong with a thousand rights. Hamilton, like all of the Founders, made mistakes, but those mistakes cannot, in the eyes of some, be righted by the good things that he did for our country.

    I think it important to note, among the other differences between Hamilton and Jefferson, that Hamilton was actually part of writing the constitution, while Jefferson was off in Paris loading up on never to be paid personal debt , that Hamilton wrote the vast majority of Washington's correspondence and speeches, as well as most of the Federalist Papers, while Jefferson actively committed acts that would have had him brought before a court for treason or sedition in our day and age as he promoted active dissent to the Washington Administration WHILE in it, and that Hamilton owned up to his extra-marital affair (singular), while Jefferson had multiple children with his adulterous affair with Sally Hemming and sought to hide it, all while actively attacking his political opponents for the same.

    And why do we only hear the Jefferson side of the story? Because he lived long enough to make his legacy stick, and Hamilton died leaving his rivals to smear him through the mud for the rest of their lives. (oh, and because Jefferson and Madison hated bankers because both were heavily in debt to them because they were farmers...that, too.)

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  4. The accusation that Hamilton wanted a monarchy is rooted in a brainstorming session of the continental congress writing the constitution, and was never debated or raised again, though it was also discussed by other luminaries, such as John Adams. Even in that context, Hamilton suggested a lifetime election of a president, not a monarch. Yet, when the continental congress moved on, Hamilton did, too, and his contributions to the Federalist Papers, defending and arguing for the Constitution, are by far the largest, and are indicative that he was fully on board with the written document and the principles there in. Not only was he on board, but the Federalist Papers are now the most quoted and referenced work in Supreme Court rulings aside from the Constitution itself. He was, at the time of the founding, among the majority many of his views, and it was he, along with Madison, that brought the continental congress together. It was he, along with Madison, that persuaded Washington to attend. He was joined by Adams, Jay, Morris, Livingston, Franklin, Dickinson, and Pickney, among others, as supporters, and indeed, his popularity amongst the founders is indicated that his Federalists were the largest party in the first 12 years of the Republic. Indeed, the majority of the founders, including George Washington, ascribed to Hamilton's views, not Jefferson's.

    A megolomaniac? Hamilton, a man who came from nothing, left nothing, never sought elective office, refused appointment after appointment in the military so he could lead his artillery squadron (which he only left to become aide de camp to the Commander-in-Chief, a role he often chaffed at because of the long hours and non-existent opportunities for action)? Even later in life, when he was appointed general, he laid down the commission rather than push it forward in clear indication that the role of the President was to lead the military.

    In contrast, Jefferson, a man with vast lands, plantations and farms worked by slaves, an ostentatious home that built by said slaves and that served better as a museum than a home, and who as Governor of Virginia fled rather than face an invading British army?

    Hamilton is no more a megalomaniac than the hypocritical Jefferson, a man who deigned to publish to all history his role in America's founding on his grave's obelisk, in contrast to the understated marker in Trinity Church yard, that and Hamilton engaged at a time when Jefferson was actively seeking to tear down the constitution and the administration of George Washington. (Did I mention that Jefferson was not a part of the drafting or convention process that made the constitution law?)

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  5. When he decided he could not have his way in government rather than seek to compromise and influence the discussion, Jefferson quit, resigned his office, and retreated to his mountain home where he actively worked against President Washington, even maligning the President in the press through intermediaries. On the other hand, Hamilton, who had actually read and written a thing or two about national economies, took the responsibility to deal with the large debt that the states had incurred in the Revolutionary War, all in the face of enormous opposition from political rivals and foes. Where others wanted to dismiss the debt to the states that had incurred it, regardless of their ability to pay it or the effect to weaken the states' ability to defend and unite against the still encroaching European powers, Hamilton wrote, almost overnight, with a plan to deal with America's economic woes, and raised money in a manner that Jefferson continued and utilized with NO compunctions during his presidency.

    Hamilton was also an abolitionist, whereas Jefferson was a slave owner of hundreds. While you quote Jefferson and his "rights of man," Jefferson did not actually ever raise a finger to bring about those rights, and was fully behind and in support of the institution of slavery. He served in government while hundreds of slaves maintained for him large estates he inherited from his marriage and from his father. On the other hand, Hamilton served at great expense to his family and himself, and left government service after the Washington administration so that he could earn income to provide for his legitimate and large family and pay back his debts.

    Yes, we live in Hamilton's America, a compromise with Jefferson's, and we are lucky we do instead of Jefferson's alone. What Hamilton did in the 1780s and 1790s was what our country needed at that time to cement it together and provide for a unified national government. Excesses since are not his, nor should they be laid at his door.

    (That's like saying that the Civil War, fought on the guise of "state's rights" has as it's patron saint Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, as the Confederates DID believe. However, that argument is far more credible--Jefferson actively worked to tear down national unity in the favor of strengthening Virginia and the south. Even the 3/5ths compromise inserted by southern delegates to the constitutional convention, and allowed by northern delegates desperate to keep recalcitrant southerners at the table, is indicative of the discord that was written into the constitution and that would later lead to the Civil War.)

    Jefferson was the consummate southern slave holder, and his "rights" that he writes about were for white land owning men, only. He cheered on while the French cut off the heads of their royalty, priests, dissenters, and anyone else the "Terror" took in 1790s France. We should be glad that we followed his words, and not his actions, because he was not an example that would have helped our country--his debt, adultery, and insurrection would only have left our country a fractured set of 13 states, saddled with debt and ripe for the picking by stronger European powers, a world where a "little revolution" in every generation would have been a good thing. We are lucky that our country is a compromise between the two perspectives of Hamilton and Jefferson.

    Give me Hamilton. And if we don't like what others have done since, let us stand up and make the difference now, rather than rewrite history to blame our current problems on a man long dead. We chose our current leaders, and we continue to choose them, not Hamilton.

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  7. Please take this all in the spirit it's intended: I mean this as a respectful dissent from your somewhat myopic conclusions. That's all.

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  8. Daniel: It's all good. I appreciate your insights, and I take no offense by them. My diatribe is admittedly one-sided, but part of that probably comes from my being "nurtured" by the philosophies of Cleon Skousen, Ezra Taft Benson, and Jerrold Newquist. I'll take some time to digest your comments and respond to your points later (hopefully this evening).

    Thanks again.

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  9. Daniel: Thank you for your perspective. It encourages me to broaden my understanding of Hamilton, Jefferson, and others around them.

    I will have to do more research to find out how/where I got the strong impression that Hamilton continually wanted a king. In my facebook discussion on this topic, others have agreed with me however, that this was his desire.

    You say that Thomas Jefferson was the megalomaniac "actively seeking to tear down the constitution and the administration of George Washington". Speaking of myopic, that sounds a bit myopic to me.

    You must have read Ron Chernow's book about Hamilton, because some of your accusations of Jefferson (i.e. his reaction to the killings in France) are things I have only heard of in Chernow's book.

    Your accusations of Jefferson adultery, as I have stated in my article, rest on feeble ground.

    I most appreciate one of your concluding statements: "And if we don't like what others have done since, let us stand up and make the difference now, rather than rewrite history to blame our current problems on a man long dead. We chose our current leaders, and we continue to choose them, not Hamilton." We must, I agree, stand up and make a difference now. We can't blame our problems on Hamilton, but we CAN blame them on people who enjoy the thrill of power that obtains to them when they perpetuate the unfortunate belief that Hamilton was right. This article is one of the myriad means I try to use to get Americans to STOP voting for people who, like Hamilton, have a mania for power.

    Perhaps a disagreement between supporters of Jefferson vs. Hamilton is very similar to a modern-day disagreement between supports of Mike Lee vs. Tim Bridgewater... ;-)

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