A Little More on Hamilton

Further to my previous comments on Hamilton as an architect of a strong, central government and a self-sufficient nation I think we should point out a few things about the man that goes missing in his deification by Broadway.

While Hamilton enjoyed the trust of George Washington he had many enemies in the fledging United States. All will, of course, remember Aaron Burr but many will not remember Thomas Jefferson or James Monroe, George Mason or George Clinton (multiple times governor of New York), John Adams (second president) or John Lansing and Robert Yates (Hamilton’s co-representatives to the Constitutional Convention of 1787), and finally most of the legislatures and farmers in the Southern parts of the United States. Now many think this latter was because Hamilton was anti-slavery but it wasn’t; it was because he supported centralized control and pushed for manufacturing in the Northern States including providing subsidies for the manufacture of certain products which, in the South were generally made by local artisans or the farmers themselves. As for slavery Hamilton supported the three-fifths solution in the Constitution and is known to have purchased and sold slaves on behalf of clients. Would someone truly opposed to slavery have increased his personal wealth by acting on behalf of others in the slave trade? His grandson believed Hamilton had, himself, owned slaves but there is no concrete evidence that he did.

No, the dislike for Hamilton in the South was that he was thought to devalue the agrarian values the South represented. If you read the Federalist Papers and the accounts of the 1787 Constitution Convention and the chronicles of the various state ratification processes you will discover the seeds of the American Civil War. This issue of states’ rights was a thorn in the side of the Republic from day one and Alexander Hamilton was a proponent of a strong central government which made him anathema to most of the politicians in the South. It is interesting to note that in 1798 Hamilton became Inspector General of the US Army and supported going to war with France (remember France was at war with England at the time so this would have essentially amounted to the US supporting England against France.) To do this Hamilton directed his replacements at Treasury to propose a series of taxes in direct support of the war. What resulted was a bevy of taxes including a stamp act and levies on houses and other possessions that had been the proximate cause of the revolution against England. Thus, the very taxes against which the colonies had revolted were enacted by the Congress in support of Hamilton’s phony war.

Remembering that Hamilton did not favor power residing within individual states; that he had proposed a president for life; and in 1798 wanted to go to war against a former ally in support of a former oppressor one begins to see the English vice American influences noted in my previous post wherein Hamilton did not spend his youth in the US but in the British West Indies. Hamilton originally supported a unicameral legislature which would choose the president. Thus, Hamilton’s original thoughts for the newly formed United States were greatly different than what would eventually come out of the Constitutional Convention with a few exceptions one of them being what is referred to as the ‘Interstate Commerce Clause’ which over the past two centuries has become the hammer with which the National Government drives the nail through the heart of State and local law. That’s a book in itself, but when you force someone into compliance by proving the grain that fed the cattle that the restaurant owner uses to make barbecue moved in interstate commerce you have shown the power of Hamilton’s desire for a centrally controlled government.

My wife Anne tells me this reads more like a history lesson than a blog but I am of the opinion that if you know from where and why something comes you have a better chance of dealing with the exigencies arising from political situations and perhaps, just perhaps, not allowing the same mistake to be made that has been made many times before but seemingly forgotten; for example the sanctuary city situation is a rehash of the nullification uprising in South Carolina in 1828 wherein the South Carolinians unilaterally declared that federal tariffs and excise taxes did not apply to their state. In other words we won’t accept Federal law over state law. Read up on it and you’ll see that everything happening now has happened before and, based on observation we’ll probably make the same mistakes addressing the problem as we did originally.


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