The controversial founder's own views on liberty, representative government, monarchy, money, taxation, and his much-maligned reputation. Also citations of Hamilton in the press today.

Location: Pennsylvania, United States

This blogger runs both "Alexander Hamilton Speaks" and "Thomas Jefferson Speaks" on Both blogs present opinions & ideas of these Founders which are probably not familiar to many Americans.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Quotations from Alexander Hamilton

If you have subscribed to the libels of his enemies, Hamilton’s views will surprise you. Here he is, in his own words.

Democracy and Representative Government

“The true principle of a republic is that the people should choose whom they please to govern them. Representation is imperfect, in proportion as the current of popular favor is checked. The great source of free government, popular election, should be perfectly pure, and the most unbounded liberty allowed.”

Speech to NY Legislature, June 21, 1788 (LOA p. 493)

"Were the people of America, with one voice, to ask, What shall we do to perpetuate our liberties and secure our happiness? The answer would be, 'govern well, and you will have nothing to fear either from internal disaffection or external hostility.' "

A Letter from Phocion, 1784

“That instability is inherent in the nature of popular governments, I think very disputable … A representative democracy, where the right of election is well secured and regulated & the exercise of the legislature, executive, and judiciary authorities, is vested in select persons, chosen really and not nominally by the people, will in my opinion be most likely to be happy, regular and durable.”

Letter to Gouvernor Morris, May 19, 1777

“I trust that the proposed Constitution affords a genuine specimen of representative and republican government—and that it will answer, in an eminent degree, all the beneficial purposes of society.”

Speech to NY Legislature, June 21, 1788 (LOA p. 495)

"The republican principle demands, that the deliberate sense of the community should govern the conduct of those to whom they entrust the management of their affairs; but it does not require an unqualified complaisance to every sudden gust of passion, or every transient impulse which the people may receive from the arts of men, who flatter their prejudices to betray their interests. It is a just observation that the people commonly intend the PUBLIC GOOD. This often applies to their very errors. But their good sense would despise the adulator, who should pretend that they always reason right about the means of promoting it. They know from experience, that they sometimes err; and the wonder is, that they so seldom err, beset as they continually are by the wiles of parasites and sycophants, by the snares of the ambitious, the avaricious, the desperate; by the artifices of men, who possess their confidence more than they deserve it, and those who seek to possess, rather than to deserve it. When occasions present themselves in which the interests of the people are at variance with their inclinations, it is the duty of the persons whom they have appointed to be the guardians of those interests, to withstand the temporary delusion, in order to give them time and opportunity for more cool and sedate reflection. Instances might be cited, in which a conduct of this kind has saved the people from the very fatal consequences of their own mistakes, and has procured lasting monuments of their gratitude to the men, who had courage and magnanimity enough to serve them at the peril of their displeasure."The Federalist 71


“I desire above all things 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.”

Letter to Edward Carrington, May 26th 1792

“While property continues to be pretty equally divided, and a considerable share of information pervades the community, the tendency of the people’s suffrages will be to elevate merit even from obscurity. As riches increase and accumulate in a few hands; as luxury prevails in society, virtue will be in a greater degree considered as only a graceful appendage of wealth, and the tendency of things will be to depart from the republican standard.”

Speech to NY Legislature, June 21, 1788 (LOA p. 492)

"The highest toned propositions, which I made in the Convention, were for a President, Senate, and Judges during good behavior--a house of representatives for three years. Though I would have enlarged the Legislative power of the General Government, yet I never contemplated the abolition of State Governments; but on the contrary, they were, in some particulars, constituent parts of my plan.

"This plan was, in my conception conformable with the strict theory of a Government purely republican; the essential criteria of which are that the principal organs of the Executive and Legislative departments be elected by the people and hold their offices by a responsible and temporary, or defeasible, tenure ...If I sinned against Republicanism, Mr. Madison is no less guilty...

"I may truly then say, that I never proposed either a President or a Senate for life, and that I neither recommended nor meditated the annihilation of the State Governments....

[He protests that it was his understanding during the early days of the convention that members would offer "experimental propositions" might be made in the spirit of "free investigation."]

"Accordingly, it is a fact, that my final opinion was against an Executive during good behavior, on account of the increased danger to the public tranquility incident to the election of a Magistrate of this degree of permanancy. In the plan of a Constitution, which I drew up, while the convention was sitting, and which I communicated to Mr. Madison about the close of it, perhaps a day or two after, the Office of President has no greater duration than for three years."

Letter to Timothy Pickering, Sept. 16, 1803


“I would die to preserve the law on a solid foundation; but take away liberty and the foundation is destroyed.”

A Full Vindication of the Measures of Congress, 1774

“Remember civil and religious liberty always go together, if the foundation of the one be sapped, the other will fall of course.”

A Full Vindication of the Measures of Congress, 1774

“The meaning of the word liberty has been contested. Its true sense must be the enjoyment of the common privileges of subjects under the same government…[not] a mere exemption from personal imprisonment!”

A Letter from Phocion, 1784

“The violent destruction of life and property incident to war—the continual effort and alarm attendant on a state of continual danger, will compel nations the most attached to liberty, to resort for repose and security, to institutions which have a tendency to destroy their civil and political rights. To be more safe, they, at length, become willing to run the risk of being less free.”

The Federalist 8

A Free Press

“To watch the progress of such endeavors is the office of a free press. To give us early alarm and put us on our guard against encroachments of power. This then is a right of utmost importance, one for which, instead of yielding it up, we ought rather to spill our blood. “

Courtroom speech, 1803 (quoted in Ron Chernow, Alexander Hamilton 2004, p. 670)

“The Liberty of the press consists in the right to publish with impunity Truth with good motives for justifiable ends [al]though reflecting on government, magistracy, or individuals.”

Propositions on the Law of Libel, 1804

The Federal Government

“There are some things which the General [Federal] Government has clearly a right to do—there are others which it has clearly no right to meddle with, and there is a good deal of middle ground, about which honest and well-disposed men may differ.”

Letter to George Washington, 1792

Habeas Corpus

“The establishment of the writ of habeas corpus, the prohibition of ex post facto laws and of TITLE OF NOBILITY... are perhaps greater securities to liberty and republicanism than any it [the Constitution] contains. ...[T]he creation of crimes after the fact ... and the practice of arbitrary imprisonments have been, in all ages, the favorite and most formidable instruments of tyranny. The observations of the judicious [British 18th century legal scholar] Blackstone, in reference to the latter, are well worthy of recital:

'To bereave a man of life,' says he, 'or by violence to confiscate his estate, without accusation or trial, would be so gross and notorious an act of despotism, as must at once convey the alarm of tyranny throughout the whole nation; but confinement of the person, by secretly hurrying him to jail, where his sufferings are unknown or forgotten, is a less public, a less striking, and therefore a more dangerous engine of arbitrary government.''' [Emphasis Hamilton's.]

The Federalist 84 (LOA 468-69)

Human Nature

“The supposition of universal venality in human nature is little less an error in political reasoning than the supposition of universal rectitude. The institution of delegated power implies that there is a portion of virtue and honor among mankind, which may be a reasonable foundation of confidence. And experience justifies the theory. It has been found to exist in the most corrupt periods of the most corrupt governments. “

The Federalist 76

An Independent Judiciary

“The judiciary is beyond comparison the weakest of the three departments of government … It can never attack with success either of the other two; and all possible care is requisite to enable it to defend itself against their attacks … As liberty can have nothing to fear from the judiciary alone, [it] would have everything to fear from its union with either of the other departments [executive and legislative] … The complete independence of the courts of justice is peculiarly essential in a limited constitution.”

The Federalist 78

Money and Property

“When avarice takes the lead in a state, it is commonly a forerunner of its fall.”

A Letter from Publius, October-November 1778

“I hate money-making men.” Letter to John Laurens, 1778

“An indifference to property enters into my character too much.”

Letter to Elizabeth Schuyler, August 1780

“I don’t want to be rich and if I cannot live in splendor in Town, with a moderate fortune moderately acquired, I can at least live in comfort in the country and I am content to do so.”

Letter to Robert Troup, April 13, 1795


“The idea of introducing a monarchy or aristocracy into this Country, by employing the influence and force of a Government continually changing hands, towards it, is one of those visionary things that none but madmen could meditate and that no wise men will believe …

The truth unquestionably is, that the only path to a subversion of the republican system of the Country is, by flattering the prejudices of the people, and exciting their jealousies and apprehensions, to throw affairs into confusion, and bring on civil commotion. Tired at length of anarchy, or want of government, they may take shelter in the arms of monarchy for repose and security. Those, then, who resist a confirmation of public order, are the true Artificers of monarchy.”

Letter to George Washington, 1792


“As too much power leads to despotism, too little leads to anarchy, and both eventually to the ruin of the people.”

The Continentalist, 1781

Race and Slavery

“An essential part of the plan [to enlist African-Americans as soldiers in the Revolution] is to give them their freedom with their muskets. This will secure their fidelity, animate their courage, and I believe will have a good influence on those that remain by opening a door to their emancipation. This circumstance, I confess, has no small weight in inducing me to wish the success of the project; for the dictates of humanity and true policy equally interest me in favour of this unfortunate class of men.”

Letter to John Jay, March 14, 1779

“In the interpretation of treaties, things odious or immoral are not to be presumed. The abandonment of negroes, who had been induced to quit their masters on the faith of official proclamations, promising them liberty, to fall again under the yoke of their masters and into slavery is as odious and immoral a thing as can be conceived. It is odious not only as it imposes an act of perfidy on one of the contracting parties, but as it tends to bring back into servitude men once made free.” 1795 (Quoted in Chernow, 213)

His Reputation

"What reasonable man, for the precarious enjoyment of rank and power, would establish a system, which would reduce his nearest friends and his posterity to slavery and ruin? If they [those who oppose ratifying the constitution] imagine, that I contemplate, with an ambitious eye, the immediate honors of the government; yet, let them consider that I have my friends--my family--my children, to whom the ties of nature and of habit have attached me. If, to day, I am among the favored few; my children, tomorrow, may be among the oppressed many. These dearest pledges of my patriotism ... I have troubled the committee with these observations to show that it cannot be the wish of any reasonable man to establish a government unfriendly to the liberties of the people."

New York Convention, June 1788 (during which Hamilton persuades his opponents to ratify the Constitution. He is New York's sole signer.)

“I trust that I shall always be able to bear, as I ought, imputations of error of Judgment; but I acknowledge that I cannot be entirely patient under charges, which impeach the integrity of my public motives or conduct. I feel, that I merit them in no degree; and expressions of indignation sometimes escape me, in spite of every attempt to suppress them.”

Letter to George Washington, August 18, 1792 (LOA, p. 760)

“Never was there a more ungenerous persecution of any man than myself. Not only are the worst constructions put upon my conduct as a public man, but it seems my birth is the subject of the most humiliating criticism.”

Letter to William Jackson, 1800

“I never advised any connection with Great Britain, other than a commercial one; and in this I never advocated the giving to her any privilege or advantage which was not to be imparted to other nations.”

Letter Concerning John Adams [who had accused Hamilton of leading a “British faction,” to Hamilton’s outrage]


“They [taxes] will in the end be borne by all classes; yet it is of the greatest importance that no one should sink under the immediate pressure. The great art is to distribute the public burdens well and not suffer them, either first, or last, to fall too heavily upon parts of the community; else distress and disorder must ensue. A shock given to any part of the political machine vibrates through the whole.”

The Continentalist VI, 1782

“The public necessities must be satisfied; this can only be done by contributions of the whole society. “

The Continentalist VI

“Experience will teach us that no government costs so much as a bad one.”

The Continentalist VI (LOA, p. 115)

“Every proposal for a specific tax is sure to meet with opposition … It must be the province of the legislature to hold the scales with a judicious hand and balance one by another. The rich must be made to pay for their luxuries; which is the only proper way of taking their superior wealth.”

The Continentalist VI

“Taxes are never welcome to a community. They seldom fail to excite uneasy sensations more or less extensive. Hence a too strong propensity, in the Governments of Nations, to anticipate and mortgage the resources of posterity, rather than encounter the inconveniences of a present increase in taxes.

But this policy, when not dictated by very peculiar circumstances, is of the worst kind. Its obvious tendency is, by enhancing the permanent burdens of the people, to produce lasting distress, and its natural issue is in National Bankruptcy.”

Report to the Speaker of the House, March 16-17, 1792


“A Firm Union will be of the utmost moment to the peace and liberty of the States as a barrier against domestic faction and insurrection. It is impossible to read the history of the petty Republics of Greece and Italy without feeling sensations of horror and disgust … [at how] they were kept in a state of perpetual vibration, between the extremes of tyranny and anarchy.” The Federalist, 9

"The immense exertions of Massachusetts during the late war [American Revolution] are known to every well informed man. It would not be too strong to say, that they were in a great degree the pivot of the revolution. The exertions sufferings sacrifices and losses of South Carolina need not be insisted upon. The other States have comparatively none or inconsiderable Debts. Can that policy be condemned which aims at putting the burdened states upon an equal footing with the rest? Can that policy be very liberal which resists so equitable an arrangement? ... Massachusetts threw her Citizens into Rebellion [Shays Rebellion] by heavier taxes than were paid in any other state..."

Letter to George Washington, August 18, 1792 (LOA, pp. 768-69)


“Wars oftener proceed from angry and perverse passions than from cool calculations of interest.” Quoted in Chernow, 216.

“Your sentiments respecting war are perfec[tly] just. I do not wonder at your antipathy to it. Every finer feeling of a delicate mind revolts from the idea of shedding human blood and multiplying the common evils o[f] life by the artificial methods incident to that state. Were it not for the evident necessity and in defence of all that is valuable in society, I could never be reconciled to a mili[tary] character; and shall rejoice when the restoration of pe[ace] on the basis of freedom and independence shall put it [in] my power to renounce it.”

Letter to Catherine Livingstone, May 1777


LOA= Library of America edition of Hamilton's Writings, edited by Joanne Freeman

Hamilton in the Media Today

The New York Times
July 23, 2007
Editorial Observer
Just What the Founders Feared: An Imperial President Goes to War

The nation is heading toward a constitutional showdown over the Iraq war. Congress is moving closer to passing a bill to limit or end the war, but President Bush insists Congress doesn’t have the power to do it. “I don’t think Congress ought to be running the war,” he said at a recent press conference. “I think they ought to be funding the troops.” He added magnanimously: “I’m certainly interested in their opinion.”

The war is hardly the only area where the Bush administration is trying to expand its powers beyond all legal justification. But the danger of an imperial presidency is particularly great when a president takes the nation to war, something the founders understood well. In the looming showdown, the founders and the Constitution are firmly on Congress’s side.

Given how intent the president is on expanding his authority, it is startling to recall how the Constitution’s framers viewed presidential power. They were revolutionaries who detested kings, and their great concern when they established the United States was that they not accidentally create a kingdom. To guard against it, they sharply limited presidential authority, which Edmund Randolph, a Constitutional Convention delegate and the first attorney general, called “the foetus of monarchy.”

The founders were particularly wary of giving the president power over war. They were haunted by Europe’s history of conflicts started by self-aggrandizing kings. John Jay, the first chief justice of the United States, noted in Federalist No. 4 that “absolute monarchs will often make war when their nations are to get nothing by it, but for the purposes and objects merely personal.”

Many critics of the Iraq war are reluctant to suggest that President Bush went into it in anything but good faith. But James Madison, widely known as the father of the Constitution, might have been more skeptical. “In war, the honors and emoluments of office are to be multiplied; and it is the executive patronage under which they are to be enjoyed,” he warned. “It is in war, finally, that laurels are to be gathered; and it is the executive brow they are to encircle.”

When they drafted the Constitution, Madison and his colleagues wrote their skepticism into the text. In Britain, the king had the authority to declare war, and raise and support armies, among other war powers. The framers expressly rejected this model and gave these powers not to the president, but to Congress.

The Constitution does make the president “commander in chief,” a title President Bush often invokes. But it does not have the sweeping meaning he suggests. The framers took it from the British military, which used it to denote the highest-ranking official in a theater of battle. Alexander Hamilton emphasized in Federalist No. 69 that the president would be “nothing more” than “first general and admiral,” responsible for “command and direction” of military forces.

The founders would have been astonished by President Bush’s assertion that Congress should simply write him blank checks for war. They gave Congress the power of the purse so it would have leverage to force the president to execute their laws properly. Madison described Congress’s control over spending as “the most complete and effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the immediate representatives of the people, for obtaining a redress of every grievance, and for carrying into effect every just and salutary measure.”

The framers expected Congress to keep the president on an especially short leash on military matters. The Constitution authorizes Congress to appropriate money for an army, but prohibits appropriations for longer than two years. Hamilton explained that the limitation prevented Congress from vesting “in the executive department permanent funds for the support of an army, if they were even incautious enough to be willing to repose in it so improper a confidence.”

As opinion turns more decisively against the war, the administration is becoming ever more dismissive of Congress’s role. Last week, Under Secretary of Defense Eric Edelman brusquely turned away Senator Hillary Clinton’s questions about how the Pentagon intended to plan for withdrawal from Iraq. "Premature and public discussion of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq reinforces enemy propaganda that the United States will abandon its allies in Iraq,” he wrote. Mr. Edelman’s response showed contempt not merely for Congress, but for the system of government the founders carefully created.

The Constitution cannot enforce itself. It is, as the constitutional scholar Edwin Corwin famously observed, an “invitation to struggle” among the branches, but the founders wisely bequeathed to Congress some powerful tools for engaging in the struggle. It is no surprise that the current debate over a deeply unpopular war is arising in the context of a Congressional spending bill. That is precisely what the founders intended.

Members of Congress should not be intimidated into thinking that they are overstepping their constitutional bounds. If the founders were looking on now, it is not Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi who would strike them as out of line, but George W. Bush, who would seem less like a president than a king.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

Friday, March 31, 2006


  • Alexander Hamilton Legacy

  • Saturday, January 07, 2006


    Hamilton’s reservations about the masses and [his] advocacy of energetic government are softened by generous and sincere pronouncements on behalf of reason and humanity

    Peter Gay, The Enlightenment: The Science of Freedom (p. 560).

    Thursday, December 01, 2005

    Hamilton in the Media Today


    "The U.S. Constitution, itself, is in crisis because the Bush administration has been illegally spying on U.S. citizens in this country, including a wholesale violation of the privacy of U.S. Muslims and the sanctity of their places of worship, and because of a pattern of “deception, manipulation, torture, retribution and cover-ups in the Iraq War.”

    So says Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee. Mr. Conyers has been joined by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), and John Dean, Richard Nixon’s former White House counsel, along with a number of legal scholars, who have all suggested that President George Bush should be impeached for illegally ordering the National Security Agency (NSA) to spy inside this country without court warrants.

    Pres. Bush personally gave the NSA permission for wiretaps more than three dozen times after October 2001. In each case, the White House counsel and the Attorney General certified the lawfulness of the program.

    After withholding the story from print for more than a year, The New York Times reported on Dec. 16: “Months after the September 11 attacks, President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency (NSA) to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying.” The story opened a floodgate of concerns.

    “This shocking revelation ought to send a chill down the spine of every American,” Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), said the next day, according to published reports.

    “I think if we’re going to be intellectually honest here, this really is the kind of thing that ALEXANDER HAMILTON was referring to when impeachment was discussed,” admitted Norm Ornstein, a conservative legal scholar from the American Enterprise Institute.

    January 5, 2006, (and many other sites)

    It is for this reason our founding fathers set up a government of men, not false gods, under which, as Alexander Hamilton wrote in The Federalist, No. 65, impeachable offenses must be "of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated political, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself."

    Patricia J. Williams, “Diary of a Mad Law Professor,” 1/21/1999


    "Going right back to the mid-18th century … Pitt the Elder's view was that the American colonists were not to be allowed to manufacture so much as a horseshoe nail. Adam Smith agreed. It would be better all round if the Americans concentrated on agricultural goods and left manufacturing to Britain.

    "Alexander Hamilton, the first US Treasury secretary, dissented from this view. In a package presented to Congress in 1791, he proposed measures to protect America's infant industries. America went with Hamilton rather than Smith. For the next century and a half, the US economy grew behind high tariff walls, with an industrial tariff that tended to be above 40% and rarely slipped below 25%. This level of support is far higher than the US is prepared to tolerate in the trade negotiations now under way."

    Larry Elliott, economics editor, The Guardian
    Monday December 12, 2005,,1664984,00.html


    "The Founders must be turning in their graves. As Alexander Hamilton - arguably the most conservative of the Founders - wrote in Federalist 84:

    'The establishment of the writ of habeas corpus ... are perhaps greater securities to liberty and republicanism than any it [the Constitution] contains. ...[T]he practice of arbitrary imprisonments have been, in all ages, the favorite and most formidable instruments of tyranny. The observations of the judicious [British 18th century legal scholar] Blackstone, in reference to the latter, are well worthy of recital:
    "'To bereave a man of life,' says he, 'or by violence to confiscate his estate, without accusation or trial, would be so gross and notorious an act of despotism, as must at once convey the alarm of tyranny throughout the whole nation; but confinement of the person, by secretly hurrying him to jail, where his sufferings are unknown or forgotten, is a less public, a less striking, and therefore A MORE DANGEROUS ENGINE of arbitrary government.'" [Capitals all Hamilton's from the original.]


    "As Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist Number 8:

    'The violent destruction of life and property incident to war; the continual effort and alarm attendant on a state of continual danger, will compel nations the most attached to liberty, to resort for repose and security to institutions which have a tendency to destroy their civil and political rights. To be more safe, they, at length, become willing to run the risk of being less free.'"

    "We must not make the mistake that Jefferson and Hamilton warned us against. Contact your U.S. Senators (the Capitol's phone number is 202 225-3121) and tell them to stop this assault on eight hundred years of legal precedent by leaving our habeas corpus laws intact and quickly moving to ensure that the captives in our Guantanamo Bay Concentration Camps (and other, overseas, secret prisons) have the fundamental human rights of habeas corpus our Supreme Court has already ruled they should be accorded."

    "The question, ultimately, is whether our nation will continue to stand for the values upon which it was founded."

    Thom Hartmann, 11/14/2005,


    "However the Miers nomination turns out, the fact that Bush submitted it is an unflattering reflection on his character. In the Federalist No. 76, Alexander Hamilton writes that the Senate’s role in confirming appointments is designed to make the President

    'both ashamed and afraid to bring forward, for the most distinguished or lucrative stations, candidates who had no other merit than that of coming from the same State to which he particularly belonged, or of being in some way or other personally allied to him, or of possessing the necessary insignificance and pliancy to render them the obsequious instruments of his pleasure. '

    Hamilton was no naïf about human nature, but in the present case his formula seems to have underestimated the Presidential capacity for both shamelessness and—well, courage isn’t quite the right word. Arrogance."

    Hendrik Hertzberg, The New Yorker, 10/17/2005


    In the 1790s, wealthy merchants leapt to buy and trade public securities, to the delight of Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, who, Fraser notes, "conceived of the Street as an engine of future national glory." Hamilton was sure these ur-speculators would invest their profits in long-term economic growth. Instead, in Wall Street's ur-burst of irrational exuberance, they chased after instant riches by plunging back into the market itself, led by Hamilton's close associate William Duer, the Darth Vader of early American finance. Drawing on insider information, Duer manipulated a bull market that sucked in unwary investors, then overreached and went belly up, precipitating the country's first stock market crash and first recession (a short one, given Wall Street's marginality to the existing agrarian economy).

    Hamilton, dismayed by what he called "extravagant sallies of speculation," conceded that stock trading "fosters a spirit of gambling." But he resisted market regulation, fearing idle capital more than chaotic conditions and hoping that "public infamy" would draw the line between "dealers in the funds and mere unprincipled gamblers."

    Mike Wallace, “All the World is Green,” March 31, 2005


    “Provincialism was not entirely a weakness, however. As with the Corsican-born Napoleon, growing up on the periphery gave him a certain perspective that others lacked, a better appreciation of the big picture. This is what explains Washington's growing sense of nationalism and the strategic vision that allowed him to turn his enemy's weaknesses to his own advantage. Johnson writes that Washington "fought the war over nine of the thirteen states and got to know large parts of the country with painful intimacy but also with a glowing regard for their potential." True, but it was his sense of their potential that led him to take on the revolutionary command in the first place. Johnson, moreover, gives little idea of the lengths he was prepared to go to in carrying out his ideas. Not only did Washington ally himself throughout the 1790s with Alexander Hamilton, the brilliant young Northern dynamo whose efforts at fostering industrial growth directly threatened the interests of the Southern plantocracy, but when war with Napoleonic France seemed imminent in 1798, he insisted that Hamilton be among those in charge of military defense. This was tantamount to a declaration of war on his fellow landowners. If Bonaparte had invaded, he would most likely have done so via Virginia, where he probably could have counted on a warm welcome from planters who were heavily pro-French. By putting Hamilton in command, Washington was preparing to unleash the slaveholding South's bête noire on his own state. Johnson describes Washington as a man who united his country but gives no indication that he was also prepared to divide it.”

    May 26, 2005
    The Nation
    “The Heritage Foundation” by Daniel Lazare


    ‘Our Constitution makes no mention whatever of God. The omission was too obvious to have been anything but deliberate, in spite of Alexander Hamilton's flippant responses when asked about it: According to one account, he said that the new nation was not in need of "foreign aid"; according to another, he simply said "we forgot." But as Hamilton's biographer Ron Chernow points out, Hamilton never forgot anything important.” ‘

    Brooke Allen, “Our Godless Constitution,” February 3, 2005


    "Only with the civil rights revolution of the 1950s and '60s did the great sorting out of left and right, Jeffersonian regression versus Hamiltonian progress, start up again, and only since the 1990s has it really begun in earnest.

    American history, as a result, has been stood on its head--or on its feet. Federalists formerly dismissed as conservative elitists have been rediscovered and rehabilitated. David McCullough's celebratory biography of John Adams was a surprise bestseller, as was Richard Brookhiser's 1999 biography of Alexander Hamilton. Previously regarded as yet another stuffy Bostonian, Adams's son, John Quincy, emerged as an unexpected moral hero in Steven Spielberg's 1997 film Amistad owing to his legal efforts on behalf of a group of slaves fighting for their freedom.

    Jefferson, that erstwhile champion of American liberalism, has meanwhile come in for one thrashing after another, of which Garry Wills's "Negro President": Jefferson and the Slave Power, is merely the latest. Wills is the author of two previous, largely positive books about America's third President, Inventing America: Jefferson's Declaration of Independence (1978) and Mr. Jefferson's University (2002). But he opens his latest with an apology: "I have admired Jefferson all my life, and still do--though some may question that statement after reading this book." And, indeed, "Negro President" is an extended study in moral hypocrisy. Where previously Jefferson had been seen as a high-minded philosophe torn between the conflicting goals of slavery and freedom, it's now clear that protecting slavery was always his top priority.

    Freedom for the pike was death for the minnow. Faced with such a choice, Washington vacillated. Shortly after arriving in Massachusetts, he issued an order expelling blacks from the ranks. Then, when black veterans of Lexington and Concord objected, he took it back, at least as far as free blacks were concerned. In 1778, he gave his approval to a Rhode Island plan to raise a regiment of slaves by offering them freedom as an inducement to enlist. But when two of his aides, Alexander Hamilton and a wealthy young planter named John Laurens, proposed the same thing on a national scale, he withheld his support. Wiencek notes that Washington was contemplating a massive sale of his own slaves around this time to raise funds. If the Hamilton-Laurens plan had gone through, the value of such assets would have plummeted, something he was not prepared to see happen. Yet when his overseer wrote to complain that Washington's newfound reluctance to break up slave families was making a sale more difficult, the general refused to back down. He was not prepared to see that happen either.

    Still, there's something a bit musty about the whole exercise. Not surprisingly, perhaps, given [Gore] Vidal's roots in the Virginia gentry, Inventing a Nation is consistently hostile to Hamilton, the great modernizer of the period, while apologetic about Jefferson and his dependence on slave labor. "If all men are created equal, then, if you are serious, free your slaves, Mr. Jefferson," he admonishes. Vidal adds, however, "But they were his capital. He could not and survive, and so he did not.... It might be useful for some of his overly correct critics to try to put themselves in his place." Yet Jefferson has come under repeated assault in recent years not only because he refused to free his slaves but because he sought to extend slavery to the West while protecting it against Northern dynamos like Hamilton.

    “Skeletons in the Closet,” Daniel Lazare, The Nation, December 18, 2003