America at Her Best Is Hamiltonian

[Hamilton] is a great man, but, in my judgment, not a great American. —U.S. President-elect Woodrow Wilson, Democrat (1912)1

When America ceases to remember [Hamilton’s] greatness, America will be no longer great. —U.S. President Calvin Coolidge, Republican (1922)2

America at her best loves liberty and respects rights, prizes individualism, eschews racism, disdains tyranny, extolls constitutionalism, and respects the rule of law. Her “can-do” spirit values science, invention, business, entrepreneurialism, vibrant cities, and spreading prosperity. At her best, America welcomes immigrants who seek to embrace the American way, as well as trade with foreigners who create products we want. And she is willing to wage war if necessary to protect the rights of her citizens—but not self-sacrificially nor for conquest.

America hasn’t always been at her best, of course. Beyond her glorious founding (1776­–1789), America’s best was exhibited most vividly in the half century between the Civil War and World War I, an era Mark Twain mocked as the “Gilded Age.” In truth, it was a golden era: Slavery had been abolished, money was sound, taxes were low, regulations minimal, immigration voluminous, invention ubiquitous, opportunity enormous, and prosperity profuse. The capitalistic North both outpaced and displaced the feudalistic South.

America today flirts with the worst version of herself.3 Her intellectuals and politicians routinely flout her Constitution. Gone is her firm adherence to separation of powers or checks and balances. The regulatory state proliferates. Taxes oppress while the national debt grows. Money is fiat, finance is volatile, production is stagnant. Populists and “progressives” denounce the rich and condemn economic inequality. Government-run schools produce ignorant voters with anticapitalist biases. Freedom of speech is increasingly assaulted. Racism, riots, and hostility toward policemen abound. Nativists and nationalists scapegoat immigrants and demand walled borders. Self-defeating rules of military engagement preclude the swift defeat of dangerous, barbaric enemies abroad.

Those wishing to see America at her best again can be inspired and informed by the writings and achievements of her founding fathers. And, fortunately, interest in the works of the founders appears to have grown in recent years. Many Americans today, despite their generally poor education, glimpse America’s distant greatness, wonder how the founders created it, and hope to regain it.

Most Americans have a favorite founder. A recent poll indicates that

40% of Americans rate George Washington, the general who defeated the British in the American Revolution and the nation’s first president, as the greatest Founding Father. Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, is second [23%], followed by Benjamin Franklin [14%], with later presidents John Adams [6%] and James Madison [5%] further down the list.4

There’s no doubt among scholars (and rightly so) that Washington was “the indispensable man” of the founding era.5 But the poll omits one founder who was crucial to the birth of the United States of America in myriad ways: Alexander Hamilton.6

Despite a relatively short life (1757–1804),7 Hamilton was the only founder besides Washington who played a role in all five of the key stages comprising the creation of the United States of America, and a more crucial role in each successive stage: establishing political independence from Britain,8 achieving victory in the Revolutionary War, drafting and ratification of the U.S. Constitution, creating the administrative architecture for the first federal government, and drafting of the Jay Treaty with Britain as well as the Neutrality Proclamation, which secured the “completion of the founding.”9

The colonial Americans’ declaration of independence from Britain didn’t guarantee a subsequent victory at war, nor did America’s war victory guarantee a subsequent federal constitution. Indeed, not even the Constitution guaranteed that initial federal officeholders would govern properly or cede power peacefully. There was much more to the founding than a couple of documents and a war. How did the documents come to be? How were they defended intellectually? How was the war won? Who was responsible for the countless pivotal aspects of the founding that amounted to the creation and sustenance of the land of liberty? . . .


1. Charles J. Herold, ed., The Wisdom of Woodrow Wilson (New York: Brentano, 1919), 91.

2. Calvin Coolidge, “Our Heritage from Hamilton,” address before the Hamilton Club at Chicago, January 11, 1922, in The Price of Freedom: Speeches and Addresses by Calvin Coolidge (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1924), 101.

3. One could argue that the 1930s or 1970s were worse decades in certain respects. During the Civil War America was fighting for her life against the fatal disease of slavery-secession.

4. See “What America Thinks: What Would the Founding Fathers Say?” Rasmussen Reports, July 1, 2016.

5. James T. Flexner, Washington: The Indispensable Man (Boston: Little Brown, 1974). See also Ron Chernow, Washington: A Life (New York: Penguin, 2010).

6. Richard B. Morris, Seven Who Shaped Our Destiny: The Founding Fathers as Revolutionaries (New York: Harper & Row, 1973).

7. The best biographies of Hamilton are Forrest McDonald, Alexander Hamilton: A Biography (New York: W. W. Norton, 1979); Richard Brookheiser, Alexander Hamilton: American (New York: Free Press, 1999); and Ron Chernow, Alexander Hamilton (New York: Penguin, 2004). The latter is reviewed by Robert Begley in The Objective Standard 7, no. 3 (Fall 2012).

8. See Richard B. Vernier, ed., The Revolutionary Writings of Alexander Hamilton (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2009); and Richard M. Salsman, “Honoring Alexander Hamilton, The Great American Revolutionary,”, July 5, 2011.

9. Morton J. Frisch, “The Significance of the Pacificus-Helvidius Debates: Toward the Completion of the American Founding,” in Morton J. Frisch, ed., The Pacificus-Helvidius Debates of 1793–1794 (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2006), vii–xv.

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10. John C. Miller, The Federalist Era: 1789–1801 (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1960); and Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick, The Age of Federalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993). “A persuasive case can be made for the Federalists as liberal modernists and the Antifederalists as nostalgic republican communitarians seeking desperately to hold on to a virtuous moral order threatened by commerce and market society.” “The Federalists seemed to glory in an individualistic and competitive America, which was preoccupied with private rights and personal autonomy” (Isaac Kramnick, “The ‘Great National Discussion’: The Discourse of Politics in 1787,” William and Mary Quarterly 45, no. 1 [January 1988], 5).

11. Stephen F. Knott and Tony Williams, Washington and Hamilton: The Alliance That Forged America (Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, 2015). See also by Knott, “The Real Relationship Between Washington and Hamilton,” Time, January 26, 2016; and “Jeffersonians Claimed Washington Was Hamilton’s Dupe. They Were Wrong,” History News Network, January 24, 2016. Joseph J. Ellis, The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783–1789 (New York: Vintage Books, 2015) contends that Washington, Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison were the most crucial to the founding. That Washington and Hamilton most wanted a constitution and a potent federal government is documented by Edward J. Larson, The Return of George Washington: Uniting the States, 1783–1789 (New York: HarperCollins, 2014).

12. See John Fiske, The Critical Period of American History (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1888); and Thomas Fleming, The Perils of Peace: America's Struggle for Survival After Yorktown (New York: HarperCollins, 2007).

13. Other major anti-Federalists included Patrick Henry, Sam Adams, George Mason, James Monroe, Richard Henry Lee, and Aaron Burr.

14. Other major Federalists included John Jay, John Adams, John Marshall, Gouverneur Morris, James Wilson, Ben Franklin, and Fisher Ames.

15. See Stephen F. Knott, Alexander Hamilton and the Persistence of Myth (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2002).

16. The most egregious cases include Claude G. Bowers, Jefferson and Hamilton: The Struggle for Democracy in America (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1925); and works by Dumas Malone, a Jefferson biographer. FDR, seven years before becoming U.S. president, praised the Bowers book and fancied himself a Jeffersonian savior from the alleged depravations of the prosperous Coolidge years (“Is There a Jefferson on the Horizon?” New York Evening World, December 3, 1925). The New Dealers of the 1930s invoked Jefferson, not Hamilton, to justify their statism. Coolidge so admired Hamilton that he put him on the US$10 bill (see John Hendrickson, “The Admiration of Alexander Hamilton,” Calvin Coolidge Presidential Foundation, May 19, 2014). For more recent smears, typical among libertarians and others who claim Hamilton is a “statist,” see Thomas DiLorenzo, Hamilton’s Curse: How Jefferson's Arch Enemy Betrayed the American Revolution—and What It Means for Americans (New York: Crown Forum, 2008). His non sequitur goes like this: Today’s federal government is statist (true); Hamilton helped create the federal government in the 1790s (true); thus Hamilton is a statist (false).

17. See Stephen S. Cohen and J. Bradford DeLong, Concrete Economics: The Hamilton Approach to Economic Growth and Policy (Cambridge: Harvard Business School Press, 2016); and Michael Lind, ed., Hamilton’s Republic: Readings in the American Democratic Nationalist Tradition (New York: Free Press, 1997).

18. See Michael P. Federici, The Political Philosophy of Alexander Hamilton (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012); and Carson Holloway, “Alexander Hamilton and American Progressivism,” First Principles Series Report #52 on Political Thought, Heritage Foundation, April 20, 2015. Hamilton differed from Washington on slavery, but in opposing it he helped diminish Washington’s belief in it.

19. Hamilton’s writings, which fill twenty-six volumes, are available and searchable online at

20. See Carson Holloway, “Hamiltonian Constitutional Interpretation: In Defense of Energetic and Limited Government,” First Principles Series Report #56 on Political Thought (Heritage Foundation, August 7, 2015); Clinton Rossiter, Alexander Hamilton and the Constitution (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1964); Harvey Flaumenhaft, The Effective Republic: Administration and Constitution in the Thought of Alexander Hamilton (Durham: Duke University Press, 1992); and Forrest McDonald, “The Constitution and Hamiltonian Capitalism,” chap. 3 in Robert A. Goldwin and William A. Schambra, eds., How Capitalistic is the Constitution? (Washington, DC: American Enterprise Institute, 1982), 49–74.

21. Alexander Hamilton, “A Full Vindication of the Measures of the Congress” (December 15, 1774), at Founders Online, National Archives, Source: The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 1, 1768–1778, edited by Harold C. Syrett (New York: Columbia University Press, 1961), 45–78.

22. Hamilton, writing as “Metellus,” Gazette of the U.S., October 24, 1792,

23. See Gerald Stourzh, Alexander Hamilton and the Idea of Republican Government (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 1970); Flaumenhaft, The Effective Republic; and Federici, The Political Philosophy of Alexander Hamilton, especially chaps. 3 and 4.

24. See also Alexis Tocqueville, famed author of Democracy in America (1835), with a chapter titled “What Sort of Despotism Democratic Nations Have to Fear” (see See also Paul A. Rahe, Soft Despotism, Democracy’s Drift (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010).

25. See Kurt von Fritz, The Theory of the Mixed Constitution in Antiquity. A Critical Analysis of Polybius’ Political Ideas (New York: Columbia University Press, 1954); Carrie-Ann Biondi, “Aristotle on the Mixed Constitution and Its Relevance for American Political Thought,” Social Philosophy and Policy 24, no. 2 (July 2007): 176–98; and Jessica C. Tselepy, “Avoiding the Tyranny of Democracy: The Republican Ideal of a 'Mixed' Constitution,” Inquiries Journal 7, no. 4 (2015).

26. On Jefferson’s view of constitutions as proper only when ephemeral, see “Popular Basis of Political Authority,” September 6, 1789, In an earlier letter to Madison (December 20, 1787), he wrote, “I am not a friend to a very energetic government. It is always oppressive.” “No country should be so long without [a rebellion].” “After all, it is my principle that the will of the Majority should always prevail,” Earlier (January 24, 1786) he rejected the claim “that our governments both federal and particular lack energy” or that “decisions of Congress are impotent, because the Confederation provides no compulsory power.” The compact retained “the right of compulsion,” he insisted, and “when any one state in the American Union refuses obedience to the Confederation” “the rest have a natural right to compel them to obedience.” “Should this case ever arise,” he noted approvingly, Congress “will probably coerce by a naval force,” not an army, it being “more easy, less dangerous to liberty, and less likely to produce much bloodshed.”

27. Robert McColley, Slavery and Jeffersonian Virginia (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1964); Sean Wilentz, “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Thomas Jefferson: How a Slaveholder and Ideologue Was Also a Great Democrat,” The New Republic, March 10, 1997; Brent Staples, “The Master of Monticello,” New York Times, March 23, 1997; Nicholas E. Magnis, “Thomas Jefferson and Slavery: An Analysis of His Racist Thinking as Revealed by His Writings and Political Behavior,” Journal of Black Studies 29, no. 4 (March 1999): 491–509; Henry Wiencek, Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2012); Henry Wiencek, “The Dark Side of Thomas Jefferson,” Smithsonian Magazine, October 2012; and Paul Finkelman, “The Monster of Monticello,” New York Times, December 1, 2012, A25.

28. Leonard W. Levy, Jefferson and Civil Liberties: The Darker Side (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1963).

29. Richard K. Matthews, The Radical Politics of Thomas Jefferson: A Revisionist View (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1984); Conor Cruise O’Brien, “Thomas Jefferson: Radical and Racist,” Atlantic, October 1996; and Betsy Erkkila, “Radical Jefferson,” American Quarterly 59, no. 2 (June 2007): 277–89.

30. Sean Wilentz, The Politicians and the Egalitarians: The Hidden History of American Politics (New York: W. W. Norton, 2016), 38. See also Michael J. Thompson, “The Radical Critique of Economic Inequality in Early American Political Thought,” New Political Science 30, no. 3 (September 2008): 307–24.

31. “Americanus” No. 1 (January 31, 1794) and No. 2 (February 7, 1794); see (No. 1) and (No. 2).

32. Conor Cruise O’Brien, The Long Affair: Thomas Jefferson and the French Revolution, 1785–1800 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996).

33. See Michael D. Chan, “Alexander Hamilton on Slavery,” Review of Politics 66, no. 2 (2004): 207–31; and James Oliver Horton, “Alexander Hamilton: Slavery and Race in a Revolutionary Generation,” New-York Journal of American History 65, no. 3 (2004): 16–24. See also Federici, “Hamilton and Jefferson on Slavery,” in The Political Philosophy of Alexander Hamilton, 233–36; and Chernow, Alexander Hamilton, 201–16.

34. See Darren Staloff, Hamilton, Adams, Jefferson: The Politics of Enlightenment and the American Founding (New York: Macmillan, 2007); and Brooke Allen, “Alexander Hamilton: The Enlightened Realist,” Hudson Review 57, no. 3 (2004): 497–508.

35. Letter by Washington to Hamilton, August 28, 1788,

36. Letter by Jefferson to Madison, November 18, 1788,

37. Some critics falsely claim that Hamilton, in his multi-hour presentation at the 1787 Constitutional Convention (June 18), praised or proposed monarchism. In fact, he simply stressed that the British Constitution was better (more pro-rights and pro-liberty) than anti-Federalists would admit, and that Britain, at least, was a constitutionally limited monarchy (better than anarchy). He also argued for longer terms for the president, Senate, and even House members (three years), to incentivize leaders to be longer-range oriented and render government less prone to what he saw as the ephemeral, illiberal, and fiscally reckless whims of the populace. Hamilton also was pushing the debate strategically as much as possible toward (and beyond) the Virginia Plan (for more federal power) and away from where the debate was then trending, toward the New Jersey Plan (which wasn’t far from the status quo of the failed Articles of Confederation).

38. Letter, Hamilton to Edward Carrington, May 26, 1792,

39. For evidence of present-day libertarianism’s deep sympathy for anti-Federalism in America’s founding era, see Michael Allen, “Anti-Federalism and Libertarianism,” Reason Papers 7 (Spring 1981): 73–94.

40. Hamilton, “Tully No. III,” American Daily Advertiser, August 28, 1794,

41. For documentation of this theme, see Max M. Edling, A Revolution in Favor of Government: Origins of the U.S. Constitution and the Making of the American State (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).

42. See David M. Post, “Jeffersonian Revisions of Locke: Education, Property Rights, Liberty,” Journal of the History of Ideas 47, no. 1 (January–March 1986): 147–57; and Stanley N. Katz, “Thomas Jefferson and the Right to Property in Revolutionary America,” Journal of Law and Economics 19, no. 3 (October 1976): 467–88.

43. Rachel Wiener, “The Libertarian War over the Civil War,” Washington Post, July 10, 2013. “The neo-Confederates are largely centered around libertarian author Lew Rockwell” and “the Ludwig von Mises Institute.”

44. See Tara Smith, Judicial Review in an Objective Legal System (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015); Bernard Siegen, Economic Liberties and the Constitution (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980); and Richard A. Epstein, Takings: Private Property and the Power of Eminent Domain (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1985).

45. Hamilton, “First Speech, New York Ratifying Convention [Francis Childs’s Version],” June 21, 1788,

46. Cited in Max Farrand, Records of the Federal Convention, Volume I (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1911), 299.

47. Until “progressive” Democrats passed the Seventeenth Amendment in 1913, the U.S. Senate was elected indirectly by state legislatures.

48. Cited in Maggie Riechers, “Honor Above All,” Humanities 28, no. 3 (May/June 2007),

49. See, from Monticello, “Jefferson’s Religious Beliefs,” which cites his two compilations, The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth (1804) and The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth (1819–20),

50. Thomas Jefferson letter to Thomas Jefferson Smith, February 21, 1825,

51. Reliable sources include Gregg L. Frazer, The Religious Beliefs of America's Founders: Reason, Revelation, and Revolution (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2012), 193–96, who contends that Hamilton converted (from nonreligiosity) to Christianity near the end of his life; and David L. Holmes, Faiths of the Founding Fathers (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006).

52. See Douglass Adair and Marvin Harvey, “Was Alexander Hamilton a Christian Statesman?” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., vol. 12, no. 2 (April 1955): 308–29; Gregg L. Frazer, “Alexander Hamilton, Theistic Rationalist,” in Daniel L. Dreisbach, Mark David Hall, and Jeffry H. Morrison, eds., The Forgotten Founders on Religion and Public Life (South Bend, IN: Notre Dame Press, 2009), 101–24; and Matt J. Rossano, “Alexander Hamilton’s Religion: A Temperate Example for Today’s Fractured World,” Huffington Post, January 3, 2011, It should be noted that Hamilton once considered pandering to popular prejudice: As Jefferson’s “democratic revolution” took hold in the early 1800s, Hamilton proposed, in a letter to a Federalist on election strategy, forming a “Christian Constitutional Society,” to insinuate publicly that his opponents were immoral, untrustworthy atheists. He wasn’t seeking to wed church and state, but rather to win elections (hoping people wouldn’t vote for atheists). Even so, this was uncharacteristically unprincipled.

53. Cited in Chernow, Alexander Hamilton, 659.

54. See Richard M. Salsman, “Holy Scripture and the Welfare State,”, April 28, 2011,

55. Alexander Hamilton, “Letter to Theodore Sedgwick, July 10, 1804,” in Harold C. Syrett, ed., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 26, May 1802 – October 1804 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1979), 309–11.

56. “Capitalism” was coined by Louis Blanc in 1850 and next used by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon in 1861. The most famous first use by Karl Marx was in Capital, vol. I (1867).

57. The best works on Hamilton’s political economy are Louis M. Hacker, Alexander Hamilton in the American Tradition (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1957), especially chap. 9; Forrest McDonald, “The Constitution and Hamiltonian Capitalism,” chap. 3 in Robert A. Goldwin and William A. Schambra, eds. How Capitalistic is the Constitution? (Washington, DC: American Enterprise Institute, 1982), 49–74; Peter McNamara, Political Economy and Statesmanship: Smith, Hamilton, and the Foundation of the Commercial Republic (Dekalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1998); Michael D. Chan, Aristotle and Hamilton: On Commerce and Statesmanship (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2006); and “Hamilton’s Political Economy,” in Federici, The Political Philosophy of Alexander Hamilton, 187–213.

58. Alexander Hamilton, “Final Version of the Report on the Subject of Manufactures (December 5, 1791), at Founders Online, National Archives, Source: The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 10, December 1791–January 1792, edited by Harold C. Syrett (New York: Columbia University Press, 1966), 230–340.

59. See Gilbert Chinard, The Correspondence of Jefferson and Du Pont de Nemours, with an Introduction on Jefferson and the Physiocrats (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University, 1931); Robert F. Haggard, “The Politics of Friendship: Du Pont, Jefferson, Madison, and the Physiocratic Dream for the New World,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 153, no. 4 (December 2009): 419–40; and Vernon L. Parrington, “The Heritage of Jeffersonianism,” in Main Currents in American Thought, vol. 2, pt. 1, chap. 2 (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1927): “Historically the [French] Physiocratic school is as sharply aligned with idealistic agrarianism as the [British] Manchester school is aligned with capitalistic industrialism. The conception that agriculture is the single productive form of labor, that from it alone becomes the net product or ultimate net labor increment, and that bankers, manufacturers and middlemen belong to the class of sterile workers, profoundly impressed the Virginia mind, bred up in a plantation economy and concerned for the welfare and dignity of agriculture. Franklin had first given currency to the Physiocratic theory in America a generation earlier, but it was Jefferson who spread it widely among the Virginia planters. He did more: he provided the new agrarianism with politics and a sociology. From the wealth of French writers, he formulated a complete libertarian philosophy. His receptive mind was saturated with romantic idealism which assumed native, congenial form in precipitation.”

60. Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia (1781–1783). See To Madison in December 1787 Jefferson wrote, “I think our governments will remain virtuous for many centuries; as long as they are chiefly agricultural; and this will be as long as there shall be vacant lands in any part of America. When they get piled upon one another in large cities, as in Europe, they will become corrupt as in Europe.” (

61. See William D. Grampp, “A Re-Examination of Jeffersonian Economics,” Southern Economic Journal 1, no. 3 (January 1946): 263–82; Claudio J. Katz, “Thomas Jefferson’s Liberal Anti-Capitalism,” American Journal of Political Science 47, no. 1 (January 2003): 1–17; Michael Merrill, “The Anti-Capitalist Origins of the United States,” Review (Fernand Braudel Center) 13, no. 4 (Fall 1990): 465–97; and Michael J. Thompson, “The Radical Critique of Economic Inequality in Early American Political Thought,” New Political Science 30, no. 3 (September 2008): 307–24. On the environment, Hamilton (in his Report on Manufactures) extolled a more industrial system in which “the bowels and surface of the earth are ransacked for articles which were before neglected,” so as to enhance human prosperity. In contrast, see Peter F. Cannavò, “To the Thousandth Generation: Timelessness, Jeffersonian Republicanism and Environmentalism,” Environmental Politics 19, no. 3 (May 2010): 356–73; and Linda A. Malone, “Reflections on the Jeffersonian Ideal of an Agrarian Democracy and the Emergence of an Agricultural and Environmental Ethic in the 1990 Farm Bill,” Stanford Environmental Law Journal 12, no. 3 (1993): 4–49, who notes that “the continuing influence of the Jeffersonian ideal in America is critical to determining the future role of the federal government in regulating agriculture to serve environmental objectives.” See also Franklin Kalinowski, America’s Environmental Legacies (New York: Springer, 2016), which includes a chapter praising Jefferson as a proto-environmentalist and another condemning Hamilton as his opposite in this regard.

62. See Robert E. Wright, Hamilton Unbound: Finance and the Creation of the American Republic (Westport: Praeger, 2002) and One Nation Under Debt: Hamilton, Jefferson, and the History of What We Owe (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2008).

63. See Frank R. Gunter, “Thomas Jefferson on the Repudiation of Public Debt,” Constitutional Political Economy (1991), 283–301; and Herbert E. Sloan, Principle and Interest: Thomas Jefferson and the Problem of Debt (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2001). Jefferson’s exploitation of his creditors and slaves is best captured in his 1787 letter to Nicholas Lewis, in which he complains of a “torment of mind” due to his burdensome personal debts (attributable to his overspending); he reports that he won’t reduce his debts by selling any of his land, “nor would I willingly sell the slaves as long as there remains any prospect of paying my debts with their labor. In this I am governed solely by views to their happiness, which will render it worth their while to use extraordinary exertions for some time.” Cited in John P. Foley, ed., The Jefferson Cyclopedia (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1900), 230.

64. Hamilton letter to Robert Morris, April 30, 1781, in The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 2, 1779–1781, edited by Harold C. Syrett (New York: Columbia University Press, 1962), 604–35. See

65. See Thomas DiLorenzo, Hamilton’s Curse: How Jefferson’s Arch Enemy Betrayed the American Revolution—and What It Means for Americans (New York: Crown Forum, 2008); for an accurate account of the same topic, see John Steele Gordon, Hamilton’s Blessing: The Extraordinary Life and Times of Our National Debt (New York: Walker Books, 1997).

66. Alexander Hamilton, “Report Relative to a Provision for the Support of Public Credit” (January 9, 1790), in The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 6, December 1789–August 1790, edited by Harold C. Syrett (New York: Columbia University Press, 1962), 65–110,

67. Alexander Hamilton, “Report on a Plan for the Further Support of Public Credit” (January 16, 1795), at Founders Online, National Archives, Source: The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 18, January 1795–July 1795, edited by Harold C. Syrett (New York: Columbia University Press, 1973), 56–129.

68. Alexander Hamilton, “Final Version of the Second Report on the Further Provision Necessary for Establishing Public Credit (Report on a National Bank)” (December 13, 1790), in The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 7, September 1790–January 1791, edited by Harold C. Syrett (New York: Columbia University Press, 1963), 305–42,

69. Contemporary foreign policy theory classifies Hamilton as a “realist,” which is true only to the extent that the term connotes a selfish approach; but modern theorists who conflate altruism with morality consider the “realist” policy to be amoral at best (insufficiently “humanitarian” toward those in need abroad) and immoral at worst (imperialistically assaulting innocents abroad), all of which Hamilton rejects. For a reasonable account see Carson Holloway, “Alexander Hamilton and American Foreign Policy,” First Principles, Heritage Foundation, September 15, 2015: “Hamilton’s thinking does justice to the complexities of foreign policy by giving due attention to the claims of both prudence and principle. By acknowledging the role of national interest in foreign policy, it manifests a realism that understands that politics, both domestic and international, will always be influenced by the self-regard of political actors. . . . Hamiltonian foreign policy is realistic insofar as it acknowledges the importance of national self-interest, but it is not an amoral realism [nor] a foolish idealism that believes foreign policy cannot be moral unless it is animated primarily by altruism.” For the precise distinction between the “realist” and rationally-selfish approach, see Craig Biddle, “U.S. Foreign Policy: What’s the Purpose?” The Objective Standard 10, no. 2 (Summer 2015).

70. On Hamilton’s view of foreign relations, see Frisch, The Pacificus-Helvidius Debates of 1793–1794: Toward the Completion of the American Founding; Federici, “Hamilton’s Foreign Policy,” 148–86; Carson Holloway, “Alexander Hamilton and American Foreign Policy,” First Principles Series Report #57 on Political Thought, Heritage Foundation, September 15, 2015; Brooke Allen, “Alexander Hamilton: The Enlightened Realist.” Hudson Review 57, no. 3 (2004): 497–508; Helen Johnson Looz, Alexander Hamilton and the British Orientation of American Foreign Policy (The Hague: Mouton, 1969); Karl-Friedrich Walling, Republican Empire: Alexander Hamilton on War and Free Government (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1999); Lawrence S. Kaplan, Alexander Hamilton: Ambivalent Anglophile (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001); John Lamberton Harper, American Machiavelli: Alexander Hamilton and the Origins of U.S. Foreign Policy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004); and Gilbert L. Lycan, Alexander Hamilton and American Foreign Policy: A Design for Greatness (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1970).

71. In January 1794, Hamilton wrote that “after wading through seas of blood, in a furious and sanguinary civil war, France may find herself at length the slave of some victorious Scylla or Marius or Cæsar.” In The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 15, June 1793­–January 1794, edited by Harold C. Syrett (New York: Columbia University Press, 1969), p. 671.

72. Thomas Jefferson letter to William Short, January 1793,

73. Cited in Chernow, Alexander Hamilton, 495–96.

74. See Roland Ringwalt, “Jefferson, the Great Practical Protectionist,” The Protectionist, November 1910, 333–37; and “Protectionists Who Came from the Democratic Ranks, The Protectionist, August 1910, 172–76. See also Douglas A. Irwin, “Revenue or Reciprocity? Founding Feuds Over Early U.S. Trade Policy,” National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper 15144, July 2009. Excerpt: “The Federalist policy of moderate tariffs, non-discrimination, and conflict avoidance”—which was opposed by the anti-Federalists—“provided much needed stability during the critical first decade of the new government.”

75. Robert W. Tucker and David C. Hendrickson, Empire of Liberty: The Statecraft of Thomas Jefferson (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), x–xi.

76. Federici, “Hamilton’s Foreign Policy,” 186.

77. Cited in Federici, “Hamilton’s Foreign Policy,” 167.

78. Hamilton, “Second Letter, from Phocion to the Considerate Citizens of New-York on the Politics of the Times, in Consequence of the Peace,” April 1784,

79. During his presidency (1801–1809) Jefferson came to acknowledge the importance and validity of implied constitutional powers (e.g., the extralegal Louisiana Purchase), of banning slave imports, of unquestioningly servicing the national debt, and of manufacturing’s net productiveness. Madison came to regret the damage done (the War of 1812–1814) after he and Jefferson targeted Britain with harsh protectionist measures (the Embargo of 1808) and left the nation unprepared militarily (by steep cuts in defense spending and the standing army). Madison also regretted his refusal to renew the (First) Bank of the U.S.’s charter in 1811, as public finances went awry for five years before he approved a successor bank (albeit in the form of a politicized Second Bank of the U.S., 1816–1836). Albert Gallatin, an early and unrelenting critic of Hamilton, nonetheless, as Treasury secretary under Jefferson and Madison (1801–1814), repeatedly praised Hamilton’s public financial architecture, even as his bosses pushed him to try to uncover prior misdoings. James Monroe (U.S. president, 1817–1825) came to regret his earlier charge that Hamilton engaged in peculation; nevertheless, in 1827 Hamilton’s widow, Eliza, rejected the ex-president’s in-person attempt to apologize (see Chernow, Alexander Hamilton, 727–28).[/groups_can]

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