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.

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