~Fact: Benjamin Franklin's Nickname was Ben.~
In the 1700s, a scientist was someone who thought about the way things work and tried to figure out ways to make things work better. Today, that definition is still true. Every time Benjamin Franklin saw a question and tried to answer it, he was a scientist. Every time you ask a question and try to get an answer, you too are a scientist. Ben is most famous for his questions about electricity, but he also experimented with many other ideas in nature.
In 1743, Ben observed that northeast storms begin in the southwest. He thought it was odd that storms travel in an opposite direction to their winds. He predicted that a storm's course could be plotted. Ben rode a horse through a storm and chased a whirlwind three-quarters of a mile in order to learn more about storms. So, in a way, Ben was a weatherman too! He even printed weather forecasts in his almanack.
Today's meterologists don't chase storms on horseback, but they do continue to plot the course of storms.
Since Ben spent so much time sailing to Europe across the Atlantic Ocean, he became very interested in both ocean currents and shipbuilding. Ben was actually one of the first people to chart the Gulf Stream. He measured its temperature on each of his eight voyages and was able to chart the Stream in detail.
In November of 1783, Ben happened to be in Paris, France working on a peace treaty to end the American war against England. From his hotel window, he was able to watch the world's first known hot air ballon flight. The balloon lifted the Montgolfier brothers off of the ground as the first human beings ever known to fly. Ben was very interested in the idea of flight, predicting that one day balloons would be used for military spy flights and dropping bombs during battle. Soon, balloons were actually being used for recreation, military, and scientific purposes. Even though they could not yet be steered, many people volunteered to take a ride just for fun! Sadly, Ben Franklin died three years before the first American hot air balloon voyage. In 1793, Jean Pierre Blanchard lifted off from the Walnut Street Prison Yard in Philadelphia, beginning the hot air balloon craze in America.
~ I think George Washington was the most important president in U.S. History.~
On April 30, 1789, George Washington, standing on the balcony of Federal Hall on Wall Street in New York, took his oath of office as the first President of the United States. "As the first of every thing, in our situation will serve to establish a Precedent," he wrote James Madison, "it is devoutly wished on my part, that these precedents may be fixed on true principles."
Born in 1732 into a Virginia planter family, he learned the morals, manners, and body of knowledge requisite for an 18th century Virginia gentleman.
He pursued two intertwined interests: military arts and western expansion. At 16 he helped survey Shenandoah lands for Thomas, Lord Fairfax. Commissioned a lieutenant colonel in 1754, he fought the first skirmishes of what grew into the French and Indian War. The next year, as an aide to Gen. Edward Braddock, he escaped injury although four bullets ripped his coat and two horses were shot from under him.
From 1759 to the outbreak of the American Revolution, Washington managed his lands around Mount Vernon and served in the Virginia House of Burgesses. Married to a widow, Martha Dandridge Custis, he devoted himself to a busy and happy life. But like his fellow planters, Washington felt himself exploited by British merchants and hampered by British regulations. As the quarrel with the mother country grew acute, he moderately but firmly voiced his resistance to the restrictions.
When the Second Continental Congress assembled in Philadelphia in May 1775, Washington, one of the Virginia delegates, was elected Commander in Chief of the Continental Army. On July 3, 1775, at Cambridge, Massachusetts, he took command of his ill-trained troops and embarked upon a war that was to last six grueling years.
He realized early that the best strategy was to harass the British. He reported to Congress, "we should on all Occasions avoid a general Action, or put anything to the Risque, unless compelled by a necessity, into which we ought never to be drawn." Ensuing battles saw him fall back slowly, then strike unexpectedly. Finally in 1781 with the aid of French allies--he forced the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown.
Washington longed to retire to his fields at Mount Vernon. But he soon realized that the Nation under its Articles of Confederation was not functioning well, so he became a prime mover in the steps leading to the Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia in 1787. When the new Constitution was ratified, the Electoral College unanimously elected Washington President
He did not infringe upon the policy making powers that he felt the Constitution gave Congress. But the determination of foreign policy became preponderantly a Presidential concern. When the French Revolution led to a major war between France and England, Washington refused to accept entirely the recommendations of either his Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, who was pro-French, or his Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, who was pro-British. Rather, he insisted upon a neutral course until the United States could grow stronger.
To his disappointment, two parties were developing by the end of his first term. Wearied of politics, feeling old, he retired at the end of his second. In his Farewell Address, he urged his countrymen to forswear excessive party spirit and geographical distinctions. In foreign affairs, he warned against long-term alliances.
Washington enjoyed less than three years of retirement at Mount Vernon, for he died of a throat infection December 14, 1799. For months the Nation mourned him.
Alexander Hamilton was born in 1755 in the British West Indies and mortally wounded in a duel with Aaron Burr on July 11, 1804, in Weehawken, New Jersey. The trajectory of his life over those 49 years included remarkable accomplishments. He served in the Revolutionary army as lieutenant-colonel and aide to George Washington, fought tirelessly for ratification of the Constitution, and played a pivotal role in defining the governmental mechanisms for managing the national economy. Yet Hamilton's image in the American consciousness, the memory that the public retains of him, remains cloudy and vaguely negative.
Despite his formidable contributions to the shaping of the republic, despite the prophetic accuracy of his vision of the United States as a global power, Hamilton never quite captured the hearts of Americans in the way that Jefferson and Lincoln were able to. Technically, he must be counted in the pantheon of founding fathers -- it is for this reason that a seven-foot statue of Hamilton graces the Capitol Rotunda. But, while biographers have accorded him considerable shelf space, Hamilton remains largely unknown to many of the "regular people" who live in a society and political culture that he was instrumental in creating.
As a general principle, the most revered public figures are those who, whatever their actions may have been, strike a responsive emotional chord in their countrymen. The major determinative factor in attaining such "revered status" is the perception that the figure's beliefs and ideals reflect the best and noblest aspects of the culture and of the individual. The figure's emotional appeal rests largely on his or her identification -- or perceived identification -- with the personal hopes, fears, and aspirations of the populace.
This proposition helps to explain the long-term fading of Hamilton from the American consciousness. Hamilton's image has tended to emphasize not the military aspects of his career, nor his contributions to the Constitution, but his rather bureaucratic role as economic wizard, his belief in the necessity of powerful government, and his deeply rooted mistrust of the people. In other words, the potentially romantic side of Hamilton's character has given way to the vaguely unsettling and even contemptuous side. At times, it should be said, his economic expertise and governmental philosophy have been widely admired and praised -- at least at an intellectual level. But at the emotional level, the long-term trend has seen a steady descent in Hamilton's prestige in the eyes of the American public.
Considering Hamilton in relation to Thomas Jefferson is instructive. During their lives, the two men engaged each other in a titanic struggle over the form of the United States government and its relationship to society. In a directly parallel fashion, the public images of the two men also have been in perptual contention. Yet while Hamilton and the Federalists were able to seize the reins of power in the 1790s and institute many of their programs, it is Jefferson who, in the long run, captured the imagination and love of the American people.
A number of juxtapositions may suggest the reasons underlying Jefferson's superior popular appeal. Hamilton championed strong government; Jefferson championed the individual. Hamilton emphasized self-interest as the prime mover of human affairs; Jefferson exalted the ability of humankind to realize virtuous ideals. Hamilton issued the Report on Manufactures; Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence. Hamilton concerned himself with the intricacies of finance and federal power; Jefferson founded the University of Virginia and invented the dumbwaiter.
Perhaps the fate of Hamilton's reputation is unfair; perhaps public memory is unfair in its nature. After all, Hamilton, unlike Jefferson, held no slaves and was a staunch opponent of the institution. He drafted the call for a Constitutional Convention, and when the document appeared headed for defeat, he fought indefatigably for its passage. His vision of the United States as a global power stabilized by capitalism proved prophetic. Hamilton as much as Jefferson lived his life for his country. Yet his birthday goes uncelebrated; his visage does not peer out from Mt. Rushmore; his name is not evoked in soaring political oratory; and his accomplishments are sung mainly by academics, not by the people.
The island of Nevis in the Caribbean is a volcanic cone approximately five miles in diameter and 1,300 miles away from New York City. Today, its primary tourist attraction (perhaps its only tourist attraction) is the house in Charles Town where Alexander Hamilton was born. His parents were James Hamilton, an unsuccessful Scotch businessman, and Rachel Fawcett Lavien, who was still married to another man when Alexander was born (she was divorced from John Lavien in 1758). Although she and James Hamilton started a family together, they never married.
In 1765, shortly after the family moved to the island of St. Croix, James Hamilton, who had never succeeded in his various business ventures, abandoned Rachel and the two boys, Alexander and James. Rachel opened a small shop in the main town, James was apprenticed to a carpenter, and Alexander, then 11 years old, took work as a clerk at the trading post of Cruger and Beckman. The main export of St. Croix at this time was sugar, the main labor force slaves.
These early experiences helped shape critical facets of Hamilton's later thinking. Having spent his entire youth outside the American colonies (he moved to New York at the age of seventeen), Hamilton never developed the kind of state or regional loyalty that characterized so many of his colleagues. He could envision the United States as a single entity in which partisan regional interests would be subsumed to the health and stability of the whole.
At the same time, Hamilton witnessed the brutal system of slavery which drove the economy of St. Croix. Slave rebellions occasionally erupted, occasionally resulting in deaths of whites, but they were always crushed, the slaves forced back into lives of unremitting and unrewarded toil. As an adult, Hamilton consistently opposed slavery, served as an officer of the New York Manumission Society and tended to hold the southern planter class in low regard. It should be noted, however, that, as a true pragmatist, he was willing to compromise on issues of slavery in the interests of strengthening the union. The South's slave-based economy, after all, provided the raw materials that drove the economic engines of the North, which Hamilton regarded as the essential foundation for the country.
Meanwhile, Hamilton's tenure as a bookkeeper, and briefly as manager, at Cruger and Beckman exposed him to the intricacies of business world and fostered in him an appreciation of the importance of trade and of precise economic reasoning. Still, the knowledge he gained in the position did not come close to satisfying his desire for a life of adventure beyond the shores of St. Croix. In a 1769 letter to his friend Edward Stevens, Hamilton wrote, "...I mean to prepare the way for futurity, I'm no Philosopher you see and may be justly said to Build Castles in the Air, my Folly makes me ashamed and beg youll conceal it, yet Neddy we have seen such schemes successful when the Projector is Constant. I shall Conclude saying I wish there was a war" [sic].
In the short term, the destruction that Hamilton saw was not a war but a devastating hurricane that hit St. Croix in August, 1772. In a letter to his father describing the storm, the 17-year-old Hamilton reflected on human nature and the apparent wrath of God: "Where now, oh! vile worm, is all thy boasted fortitude and resolution? What is become of thy arrogance and self-sufficiency?" This critical view of humankind did not, however, efface the compassion that led him to implore all those who "revel in affluence, [to] see the afflictions of humanity, and bestow your superfluity to ease them.". Perhaps unfortunately for Hamilton, it was the former quality of mind, the suspicion of human nature, that critics and enemies emphasized in painting his character.
At the time, the letter greatly impressed the Presbyterian clergyman of St. Croix, Hugh Knox, who managed to have it printed in the island newspaper. The printing secured Hamilton's reputation as a youth of good character and formidable intellectual ability who needed to transcend the confines of St. Croix. Accordingly, Knox, Nicholas Cruger, and a number of other friends took up a collection to send Hamilton to the United States for a college education. They hoped that he might return to St. Croix some day, but the American Revolution and subsequent struggles in creating the American republic involved Hamilton in a much different course of history.
When he arrived in New York toward the end of 1772, Hamilton still sympathized with the British, and could not fully appreciate the demands of American patriots. However, the friends of Hugh Knox with whom Hamilton stayed in both New York and New Jersey were Presbyterians definitely loyal to the colonial cause, and as a student at King's College (later Columbia), Hamilton read the revolutionary works of James Otis, John Adams and John Dickinson. His first public act of resistance to Britain was a 1774 speech in the Fields park of New York City, in which he defended the Boston Tea Party and called for democratically chosen delegates to the First Continental Congress.
Yet Hamilton did not yet consider himself a revolutionary. His prescription for resolving the troubles that beset both the colonies and Britain was to bind the two closer together, but on an equal footing that assured the God-given rights of all men, including those of personal and economic liberty. The British Empire, in his eyes, was one which could include the United States and England as equal partners. As events would prove, the British Parliament and King remained unwilling to cede any significant degree of power. The shots fired at Lexington demonstrated that there was to be no peaceful resolution to the imperial crisis.
Very early into the actual fighting with Britain, Hamilton joined the New York militia and in 1775 accepted an appointment as captain of the New York Artillery Company. After approximately two years of combat, while the outcome of the war remained entirely uncertain, Commander-in-Chief George Washington invited Hamilton to become his aide-de-camp, with the rank of lieutenant colonel. This appointment, and the access it brought to the corps of gentlemanly soldiers and aristocrats in the Washington circle, set the stage for Hamilton's future career in the Washington and Adams administrations. He was also increasingly respected by New York political leaders who admired his eloquence and valued his proximity to Washington and detailed knowledge of the course of the war.
Most importantly, this knowledge reinforced Hamilton's belief in the necessity of effective government. As aide to Washington, he became acutely aware of the economic and political troubles that were hindering the American army's ability to wage war, and was especially critical of the Continental Congress's inefficiency in managing the military. Political caprice and factionalism, inertia and ignorance, a tendency to defer to the states, seemed to sap Congress of the authority necessary to win the war. "Their conduct," he wrote, "with respect to the army especially is feeble, indecisive, and improvident." In his later career, these were the very qualities Hamilton would seek to expunge from government.
One proposal Hamilton supported, as the British pressed the war in the South, was for the American Army to enlist slaves there as they had occasionally done in the North. But the idea struck to the heart of many whites' fears of black rebellion. Predictably, the proposal never managed to overcome the strenuous objections of Southern legislatures, but it reveals the striking distance between Hamilton and Jefferson on the question of slavery. While Jefferson continued to own slaves and to suspect that blacks were inferior to whites, Hamilton wrote that "the contempt we have been taught to entertain for the blacks makes us fancy many things that are founded neither in reason nor in experience" and believed that "their natural faculties are as good as ours." (See Moulton, The Reach of Jefferson, for more on Jefferson's views on race and slavery).
As early as 1779 a cloud appeared on the horizon of Hamilton's life which suggested the acrimony of the American political climate, and the degree to which war had raised the stakes of all political debate. A rumor had been started to the effect that Hamilton had said "it was high time for the people to rise, join General Washington, and turn Congress out of doors." Although the charge was false, and Hamilton never believed in establishing a military dictatorship, as the rumor implied, he recognized its potential to wreck his career. Nothing less than treason was involved.
Hamilton eventually traced the story to a Massachusetts parson, William Gordon, who refused to tell the young lieutenant colonel his source, fearing that a duel would result. After an exchange of words in which Hamilton excoriated the parson, Gordon wrote to Washington himself, asking for an apology from Hamilton in return for revealing to Washington the rumor's source. Washington declined the whole offer and replied that the army had more important business to attend to than rumor-mongering.
This episode represents an early instance of the sort of calumny that Hamilton would experience as he entered more fully into the political arena and the public eye. It taught him the importance of caution in dealing with the civilian government; in the political debates of the early republic, he sought always to be forthright and aggressive in promoting his views, but never precipitate.
During the war years, nonetheless, Hamilton acquired a wide reputation as a brave soldier, a gentleman of refined sentiments, a writer and rhetorician of redoubtable talent, and a man of supreme confidence who seemed to have a solution for every problem and to be perfectly willing to distinguish his own views from his superiors, including Washington. The respect that he commanded in St. Croix as an industrious and intelligent clerk found its echo -- a much more significant echo -- in his success as an American soldier.
As fate would have it, the momentum that Hamilton's career received as a result of his wartime reputation ultimately plunged him into the vicious storm of politics in the 1780s and 90s. He would become a lightning rod for the attacks of Antifederalists who alleged, among other things, that his economic plan for the United States entailed a conspiracy to return the country to monarchy. The damage done to his reputation during the years of the early Republic would never be fully repaired.
Hamilton's aversion to warfare, expressed in a 1777 letter to an unidentified friend, seems a fitting though ironic preview of the battles to come. "Every finer feeling of a delicate mind," he wrote, "revolts from the idea of sheding human blood and multiplying the common evil of life by the artificial methods incident to [war]. Were it not for the evident necessity and in defence of all that is valuable in society, I could never be reconciled to a military character..." (sic). Within a decade, the war would be won and the political bloodletting would begin.
The economy of the young nation in the years following the Revolution was in bad shape. The United States had accrued millions of dollars in war debt; competitive tariffs between states hampered economic growth while sowing political discord; American shipping struggled to recover from the war; and the Continental Congress was unable to impose taxes in order to drive the country forward out of its financial doldrums.
Against this background, the legislature of Virginia in 1786 called for a meeting of the states in Annapolis, Maryland, to deliberate adjustments to the nation's commercial regulations -- a relatively modest ambition. Hamilton, Receiver of Continental Revenue for New York, attended the September Convention as his state's representative, only to find that four states had not even bothered to send delegates. The only states represented were Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and New York, and it became apparent that any measures these five did adopt might not carry sufficient authority for implementation.
The whole project appeared headed for failure, and in fact, the only notable success to come out of the episode was Hamilton's call for a constitutional convention of all the states to meet in Philadelphia the next year. While phrased blandly -- delegates would have the power to make such changes as were "necessary to render the constitution of the Federal Government adequate to the exigencies of the Union" -- the resolution emphasized that everything relating to the government of the United States would be on the table. Advocates of strong central government, as they themselves perceived, would have the chance to overhaul the Articles of Confederation at one fell swoop, rather than tinkering at the edges.
It was at this point that the Shays Rebellion in Massachusetts lent a vital urgency to the call for a Constitutional Convention and strengthened the public belief that the country needed a much stronger federal government than the one it had. The rioting farmers and debtors, led by Daniel Shays, who closed courts of justice, demanded the nullification of the Massachussets Senate, and insisted violently on financial reform represented for many political leaders the dangers posed by unchecked public action, by "the mob." The framers of the Constitution agreed that a republican society depended on the democratic participation of the citizens, but they believed that such participation needed to occur within recognized lawful limits.
The rebellion also highlighted the impotence of the Continental Congress, which faced such a serious cash shortage that it couldn't raise the troops necessary to put down the rebellion (which was eventually suppressed by a contingent of 4,000 Massachusetts militiamen). Citing the weakness of the central government, Hamilton raised the familiar but compelling spectre of a disintegrating republic: "Who can determine what might have been the issue of [the] late convulsions, if the malcontents had been headed by a Caesar or a Cromwell? Who can predict what effect a despotism, established in Massachusetts would have upon the liberties of New Hampshire or Rhode Island, of Connecticut or New York?"
As a New York delegate to the Constitutional Convention, Hamilton initially had to compete with Roberts Yates and John Lansing, Jr., two fellow representatives from his state who had been appointed by Governor George Clinton, a staunch opponent of centralized federal power, in order to outweigh Hamilton's vote.
Hamilton's role in the framing and ratification of the Constitution was a curious one. He did not prove to be a particularly distinguished or influential delegate at the Convention -- many members thought his proposals went too far in strengthening the central government. Indeed, the ideas Hamilton presented on June 18, 1787, after approximately a month of peripheral involvement, included some shockers: state governors would be appointed by the President; the President and Senators would hold office for life; and the Congress would retain exclusive authority to make all the laws of the country.
The five-hour speech had little effect. Many delegates were already nervous about a plan put forth by Virginia which, while less radical than Hamilton's vision, seemed to retain too little power for the states. Since convention proceedings were kept secret from the public, however, an atmosphere of free and open debate prevailed, and Hamilton felt obligated to at least raise his proposals in their undiluted form.
His philosophy rested, in true colonialist fashion, on the notion of "the public good" and the superiority of a government which derived its power from the consent of the governed: the essence of republicanism. Where Hamilton differed from his contemporaries was, first, in believing that only a "talented few" -- understood to mean men drawn from the wealthy and aristocratic strata of society -- had the wisdom and dispassionate foresight to implement the measures necessary for the public good. The great majority of people, in Hamilton's eyes, operated primarily out of self-interest and could not be trusted to think or act judiciously in matters of state power. Hence, a proposal such as seating the President for life, so that he would not be subject to the whims of a fickle electorate.
The second major distinguishing feature of Hamilton's political philosophy was its emphasis on energetic government. He believed that the government should be proactive in economic and military affairs, have the power the supersede lower governments (as at the state level), and be able to exercise authority directly on the people. Only an energetic government would be able to provide the stability and order necessary to secure the blessings of liberty for the people, especially over such a large geographical area as the United States.
The proposed Constitution that the convention produced in September -- and the one most Americans are familiar with -- did reflect much of the spirit of Hamilton's philosophy, particularly in clearly subordinating the states to the federal government. But it represented a much more moderate compromise of a number of competing interests. Still, Hamilton firmly supported the Constitution, even while admitting in his last speech to the convention that "no man's ideas were more remote from the plan than [mine] were known to be." He supported the plan because he believed it to be the country's last, best hope for an effective union. He was not alone in believing that the potential consequences of rejecting the Constitution entailed nothing less than civil war.
But ratification would prove to be an uphill battle. In particular, New York Governor Clinton and fellow opponents of the Constitution vowed to stymie passage in the state legislature. This opposition was especially dangerous because New York, as a major economic and political entity located in the heart of the country, would be an essential pivot in any union of states.
Against this background, Hamilton, in an attempt to win over New Yorkers to the convention's plan, launched a project of explaining and defending the Constitution which eventually produced one of the world's most enduring texts of political theory. In collaboration with James Madison and John Jay, Hamilton wrote a series of newspaper pieces, under the pseudonym "Publius," which he called The Federalist. Comprised of 85 articles appearing between October, 1787, and August, 1788, two-thirds of which were written by Hamilton, The Federalist combined bombastic attacks on the Articles of Confederation, sage insights into human nature, deft evasions of significant criticisms of the Constitution, and clear-headed explanations of the ways in which the proposed new government would operate.
At the time, the primary importance of The Federalist was to provide supporters of the Constitution with a kind of handbook of argumentation they could use in debate. It probably had little impact on the actual course of ratification, and, since the authors remained anonymous, had no impact on Hamilton's career other than helping him to refine his political philosophy. Over time, The Federalist has become a staple of political science courses, but unlike Jefferson's Declaration of Independence, it has not inspired much personal affection for the man behind it.
Finally, The Federalist is important for what it reveals of Hamilton's views regarding human nature. The usual verion, and the one routinely employed by his critics, holds that Hamilton saw humankind as inevitably selfish, untrustworthy and prone to corruption and "licentiousness." The characterization has some merit, but Hamilton actually held a more complex set of beliefs.
In Federalist no. 76, while discussing the role of the President in appointing federal officers, Hamilton asserts that any group of people will contain measures of both vice and virtue. "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." In addition to "virtue and honor," Hamilton also exalted the human capacity for reason, although he admitted that reason too often furthers the pursuit of immoral aims.
Such complexities of view, however, tend to become flattened out and forgotten in the centrifuge of public memory. The Jeffersonian Republians assailed Hamilton as an arrogant aristocrat and enemy of the people, and the charges, however warranted they may have been, indelibly stained Hamilton's reputation and helped to determine future generations' impressions of him. Many Americans genuinely feared a return to an aristocratic, British style of rule, even monarchy, and Hamilton's controversial career as Secretary of the Treasury allowed the Republicans to play on those fears and storm the breach.
Secretary of the Treasury
Hamilton is best known for his tenure as Secretary of the Treasury, for it is in that role that he made his most important and lasting contributions to the governance of the nation. His vision of a centralized economy provided the basic model for a system that has survived to the present day -- yet in the implementation of his ideas, Hamilton encountered ferocious attacks against his character and beliefs.
Following the Revolutionary War and the depression of the 1780s, the most critical problems confronting the young nation were financial, and of the four federal departments -- State, War, Attorney General, and Treasury -- the Treasury was considered the most important. The government's war debt totalled approximately $50 million, the nervousness of foreign investors in the United States was palpable, and with the severance of ties with England, American manufacturing lagged far behind Europe.
Hamilton's plan for centralizing and reinvigorating the national economy was integrally related to his political philosophy. He believed that an energetic American government should, in the interest of promoting the public good, actively encourage manufacturing, assume responsibility for the country's debts, standardize and control the currency system through a national bank, link the interests of wealthy citizens with the government's success, and, finally, maintain friendly ties with Britain in order not to provoke a disastrous trade or shooting war.
The components of the "Hamiltonian system" that he presented to Congress during 1790 and 1791 were not isolated responses to individual financial problems, but an interlocking set of solutions designed to put the nation on a firm economic footing. Hamilton and the Federalists had the votes and energy to carry the plan through, but not without being bloodied in the process by the fierce opposition of the Republicans, the nascent political party led by Jefferson and James Madison.
The complexity of the Hamiltonian system is demonstrated by the first two major victories of his career at the Treasury Department: the financing of the public credit and the federal assumption of the states' war debts.
During the war, the government had raised money by issuing public bonds, promising to repay them with interest later. Yet at the war's end, the government owed approximately $50 million, and could not repay the bonds. Hamilton's solution was to raise more cash by issuing a new series of 30-year bonds at six-percent interest, which would presumably sell (and in fact did sell) because of a high level of public confidence in the United States. The proposal, however, encountered the reasonable objection (raised by Madison) that since speculators were buying up Confederation bonds, the federal government would not end up repaying the original bond-holders who had patriotically risked their savings in the country's time of need.
The congressional bill of discrimination (discriminating between different bond-holders) sought to remedy the conflict by paying present holders of the bonds the current market value and reserving the difference for the original holders. Hamilton countered, first, that the logistics of tracking down and sorting out competing claims were prohibitively difficult and would discourage nervous foreign investors, and, second, that the bonds needed to be readily transferrable in order to compensate for the lack of hard cash. In the end, the bill for discrimation was defeated by a vote of 36 to 13.
Hamilton's second major success stemmed from his proposal that the national government assume responsibility for the debts that states had incurred during the war. He argued that since the war was fought for the union, the union should pick up the tab, and that "A national debt attaches many citizens to the government who, by their numbers, wealth, and influence, contribute more perhaps to its preservation than a body of soldiers." Assumption would strengthen the federal government by giving creditors -- who tended to be citizens of relative power and wealth -- an interest in preserving the entity that owed them money.
As with discrimination, the proposal for assumption raised the hackles of many critics. States like Virginia which had paid off much of their debt already saw it as unfair that they would be paid less by the federal government than states which had not canceled much of their debt, like Massachusetts. Also, opponents of assumption contended that it overly restricted the power of the states, and that the internal taxation required by assumption would place an undue burden on the citizenry.
The opposition at first remained adamant, and the threatened defeat of assumption gave rise to serious talk of the failure of the whole financial system and even of the disintegration of the union. Many historians agree that at this point Hamilton and Madison, at an informal dinner arranged by Jefferson, struck a deal: in exchange for passing assumption, the Federalists would agree to locate the national capitol on the Potomac. Whether or not the story is a canard, the bill of assumption passed and Congress adjourned having implemented the central elements of Hamiton's plan.
At the time, the Hamiltonian system carried great emotional significance and immediate political importance to all lawmakers and to much of the public. Moreover, the proposals determined critical aspects of American government that undoubtedly aided the country in weathering the turbulence and insecurity of the late 18th century. However, the Hamilton plan's daunting complexity and specificity to a unique era suggest its perishability as an achievement capturing the public's imagination. It lacks the accessibility and evanescent, timeless appeal of a work like the Declaration of Independence. His accomplishment speaks to the mind, but not to the heart.
At the same time, Hamilton's restructuring of the American economy exposed him to attacks from various quarters, attacks ranging from sober critiques of the merits of his policies to hyperbolic and personal assaults on his character.
The Republican Assault
The Hamiltonian economic plan represented the worst fears of many Jeffersonian Republicans. It seemed to favor the interests of wealthy patricians over the great number of agrarian laborers, to encourage a servile dependence on the will of Britain, and to set the stage for a return to monarchy. Outwardly, it did resemble in certain respects (most notably the Bank of the United States) the British economic system of the 17th and 18th centuries which the colonists resented so deeply. Such a resemblance, combined with Hamilton's imperious personality, gave the Republicans ample opportunity (and perhaps just cause) to launch a campaign designed to bring down the Secretary.
Hamilton himself did little to calm the opposition. With supreme confidence, he expanded his post into a pulpit from which he directed the operations of over 1,000 Treasury employees, issued intimidating and bewildering financial reports to the Congress, involved himself in virtually all major political issues, and generally acted as a kind of philosopher of economics for the country. He also, on several occasions, played fast and loose with the rules of the Treasury, although there is no evidence that he deliberately sought to enrich himself or to undermine the system.
Republicans were particularly concerned over his involvement with Congress, which harkened back to the dreaded days of "ministerial influence" in the British Parliament. They fundamentally believed that a republic depended on an independent legislature, and Hamilton's uncanny ability to push complex programs through Congress seemed to threaten the institution's integrity. The programs themselves, moreover, by focusing onÊnorthern, urban manufacturing and aligning the interests of wealthy men with the government, appeared to form a cabal of power hostile to the virtuous agrarianism lauded by Jefferson and his allies.
After the passage of the core of the Hamiltonian program in 1791, Jefferson and Madison wanted to counteract the views of the pro-administration Gazette of the United States, which had wholeheartedly endorsed Hamilton's system. They convinced New York newspaper editor Philip Freneau to relocate to New Jersey and launch the National Gazette. The battle of words that ensued drew in other newspapers and quickly turned vitriolic; Republican attacks began to extend beyond critiques of administration economic policy to include direct charges of conspiracy and corruption against Hamilton and others.
One anonymous writer for the National Gazette, "Caius," claimed that the Hamiltonian system would "overwhelm and destroy ... every free and valuable principle of our government." Another, "Brutus," played on fears of a return to British-style monarchy, writing that "These are not visionary fears but apprehensions, justified by other countries, particularly England, from whence all these schemes are imported." Jefferson himself, while not admitting involvement in the newspaper war, in a 1792 letter, charged that Hamilton's economic plan "flowed from principles adverse to liberty and was calculated to undermine and demolish the republic by creating an influence of his department over the members of the legislature ... to have that corps under the command of the Secretary of the Treasury for the purpose of subverting step by step the principles of the Constitution...."
The Republicans also sought on occasion to prove that Hamilton and his friends had used the Treasury and the Bank of the United States for personal gain, and would demanded detailed financial records, which Hamilton always provided. But although they could show certain sketchy dealings, there was never any proof of downright fraud, and Hamilton weathered the storm.
Or did he? Many of the accusations against him, by virtue of being widely distributed and reported, sank into the consciousness of the public. Enough mud had been thrown at the Treasury Secretary that some of it was bound to stick. The complexities of his economic policies were much more difficult to understand than the charge that he sought to establish an American monarchy and profit in the process. Indeed, the complexities allowed the charge because Hamilton was uninterested in explaining financial intricacies for the common people, and because the Republicans therefore seized the opportunity to define their opponent.
The Duel with Burr
The ultimate political and personal confrontation in Hamilton's life stemmed from the mutual enmity between himself and Aaron Burr, who had been elected Vice-President in 1800.
After the election that brought Jefferson to the White House, the political fortunes of the Federalists entered a tailspin (see the next section, The Jefferson and Jackson Years, for more). The Federalists, bitter in defeat, saw or imagined the dread encroachments of unrestrained democracy and demagoguery in the person of Jefferson. The party gradually developed two major factions: a moderate wing including Hamilton and a more radical group led by ex-Secretary of State Timothy Pickering.
Much of the driving force of the split was the Louisiana Purchase, which simultaneously boosted Jefferson and dashed the Federalists' hope for war against France. It also raised serious concern about the ability of the federal government to maintain liberty and property rights over so large an area as the country had just become. Most importantly, the purchase seemed to seal the doom of New England power by expanding the geography and resources of Southerners and Westerners. As the Republicans had done when they were out of power, the Federalists sought to shore up their base in state governments, but saw state by state slip away to the Republicans.
In a perverse, reverse foreshadowing of a much more well-known episode in American history, the radical Federalists conceived the notion of forming a "Northern Confederation" of New England states and New York, with Pennsylvania and even Nova Scotia free to join. Pickering envisioned Hamilton at the head of the confederate military, but Hamilton believed that the current union, however flawed, was still desirable, and that splintering it would only concentrate the evils of unchecked democracy in one section.
Dismissing Hamilton's recommendation of resistance within the system -- the essence of loyal opposition -- Pickering convened a meeting of Federalist leaders in 1804. Here, it was suggested they approach Aaron Burr, whom the Republicans had effectively sidelined, and attempt to persuade him to become a turncoat and join the Federalists' scheme. They would support him in his campaign for governor of New York (which he lost) if he would in return bring the state into ther confederacy.
Hamilton, who had attended the 1804 meeting, regarded Burr as a kind of Trojan Horse who seemed appealing but would bring disgrace and ruin upon the Federalists. He let it be known publicly that he held the Vice-President in low regard and that the Federalists should not consort with such a character. One New York newspaper reported that Hamilton said he "looked upon Mr. Burr to be a dangerous man, and one who ought not to be trusted with the reins of government." The article also referred to occasions when Hamilton had expressed an even "more despicable opinion of Burr."
Burr soon sent Hamilton a letter demanding an unconditional apology and retraction of any aspersions he may have cast against Burr. In the angry correspondence that ensued, Hamilton refused to issue a sweeping apology, and Burr consequently insisted upon a duel. Although Hamilton had come to loathe the practice of dueling, he evidently felt compelled by his sense of honor to meet the challenge. In an 1804 letter explaining his reasons for dueling Burr, he wrote that "it would ever give me pain to be obliged to shed the blood of a fellow creature," but acknowledged that "what men of the world denominate honor, imposed on me (as I thought) a peculiar necessity not to decline the call."
He resolved to meet Burr in battle but to withhold his fire, "thus giving a double opportunity to Col. Burr to pause and reflect." Two principal considerations probably converged to guide this decision. Hamilton had recently experienced a religious flowering that brought him away from his youthful beliefs in a vengeful God and toward a faith in the preciousness of life. In one of two letters to his wife penned before the duel, he wrote, "the scruples of a Christian have determined me to expose my own life to any extent rather than subject myself to the guilt of taking the life of another."
Also high in Hamilton's thinking was the death of his oldest son, Philip, in a duel three years earlier. Philip, who was likely to follow in his father's footsteps as a lawyer, apparently had also made the decision not to fire on his adversary, out of regret for his responsibility for the conflict.
Yet when Hamilton and Burr, along with their seconds, met at a remote spot in Weehawken, New Jersey (dueling was illegal in New York), Burr had no compunctions about firing. His bullet hit Hamilton in the abdomen and lodged in his spine. He was rushed to a friend's house on Manhattan Island, where he died after thirty-one hours of excruciating pain. He was buried on July 12, 1804, in Trinity Churchyard in Manhattan.
The Jefferson and Jackson Years
The presidential election of 1800 effectively relegated the Federalist party, including Hamilton, to political and popular irrelevance. Jefferson, the "Sage of Monticello," had risen to the nation's highest office and, despite the near-hysterical warnings of Federalists against anarchy and "Jacobinism," went on to preside over an unprecedented era of peace and prosperity. The country had entered a new century and had never seemed on such sure footing. In this climate, Hamilton soon retired from the political sphere to pursue his private New York law practice.
During the election, the Federalists, with Hamilton leading the charge, had contributed to their own downfall by embroiling themselves in ugly internecine disputes (which ultimately would result in Hamilton's duel with Burr). Hamilton made known his low opinion of President Adams, who, against Hamilton's strongest wishes, was pursuing a policy of peace with France. On a personal level, Hamilton considered the president an unstable, jealous, vacilliating man prone to unseemly outbursts of temper. Hamilton's plan for the election was to maneuver Federalist electors into choosing Charles Pinckney, a South Carolina Congressman, and leaving Adams to be content with the Vice-Presidential spot on the ticket. Entering into Hamilton's preference, no doubt, was the fact that Pinckney had demonstrated a greater susceptibility to Hamilton's personal influence than had Adams.
In October, 1800, in response to a charge by Adams that he led a faction of "British partisans," Hamilton distributed to Federalist leaders his Letter from Alexander Hamilton concerning the Public Conduct and Character of John Adams. Here, he presented a variety of dubious evidence purporting to show the President's "disgusting egotism," "ungovernable indiscretion," and so on. Rather than swaying opinion against Adams (the letter, after all, conceded the president's patriotism and talent), Hamilton's move redounded to his own discredit. Moderate Federalists rallied behind Adams, and even Noah Webster, a erstwhile admirer of Hamilton's, was inspired to write, "Your ambition, pride and overbearing temper have destined you to be the evil genius of the country!"
In contrast to such divisive intraparty politics, the Republicans put forth Jefferson and Aaron Burr with relativley little fuss. As the election approached and the Federalists saw the writing on the wall, some of them began to support Burr over Jefferson, whom they still regarded as embodying the worst kind of dreamy, agrarian populism. But Hamilton, partly out of personal dislike for Burr and partly out of a desire to keep his party from forming an alliance with any Republican, swallowed his pride and endorsed Jefferson. If Jefferson won, he reasoned, the Federalists would be able to survive as a party by concentrating their fire on their traditional bete noire, rather than being absorbed into a more sympathetic Burr administration.
As it turned out, his reasoning was off the mark. When Jefferson, in his inaugural address, declared that "We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists," he signalled not only a conciliatory attitude, but the undermining of the Federalists that Hamilton feared. The Jefferson administration effectively appropriated key aspects of the Federalist platform, and left the Federalists little room in which to form a relevant opposition ideology.
Once in office, Jefferson proved to be a pragmatist who could appreciate the benefits of an energetic central government. He also seemed to have matured in his view of the executive office, saying in 1810 that the people were "looking to the executive to give the proper direction to their affairs, with a confidence as auspicious as it is well founded." Even more significantly, since Jefferson recognized the infeasibility of reversing the Hamiltonian financial system, his administration simply began to use it effectively. The Bank of the United States survived and even thrived, the adminisration aided individual banks with government funds, and business went on much as it had before. Politically, Jefferson made the smart decision to repeal the excise tax, depriving the government of some funds, but winning public favor in the process. Hamilton found himself in the unenviable position of supporting the widely unpopular tax.
As the country surged into the new century and as public support for Jefferson steadily mounted, the Federalists were reduced to harping upon increasingly unpersuasive themes: the rise of demagoguery in the form of a Jacobite regime, the dismantling of republican government, the growing threat to virtue and property. The opposition task was a dreary and not very effective one, and many Federalists retired from politics altogether. Hamilton himself, becoming further separated from the mainstream of public opinion and further isolated in his stale critique of Jeffersonianism, returned to his law practice in the fall of 1801.
In an 1802 letter to his friend and political ally James Bayard, a representative from Delaware, Hamilton spelled out some of the reasons he thought underlay the Federalists' decline. The letter suggests that the Republicans' appeals to reason and enlightened sensibility were self-serving appeals to vanity that would also trump the Federalists' sober emphasis on principle. Hamilton wrote:
"Unluckily ... for us, in the competition of the passions of the people, our opponents have great advantages over us; for the plain reason that the vicious are far more active than the good passions; and that, to win the former to our side, we must renounce our principles and our objects, and united in corrupting public opinion till it becomes fit for nothing but mischief. Yet, unless we can contrive to take hold of, and carry along with us some strong feelings of the mind, we shall in vain calculate upon any substantial or durable results."
Hamilton's diagnosis, while biased, was largely correct, but the Federalists were unable to enact a cure. The image of Jefferson remained unassailable during the decades leading up the Civil War. In the election of 1828, for instance, both the National Republicans, under Henry Clay, and the Jacksonian Democrats invoked Jefferson's memory as the banner under which their respective parties marched.
Jackson, in his gruff populism, was a natural heir to the Jeffersonian legacy. The name of Hamilton was on few people's lips as Jackson vetoed the recharter of the Bank of the United States and the Maysville Road Bill, both of which represented the increasingly discredited Hamiltonian centralism.
A number of historians, however, recognized the implications of the country's adoration for Jefferson: while northern abolitionists seized upon the Declaration of Independence for their denunciations of slavery, southerners insisted upon Jefferson's doctrine of states' rights to resist any interference in their "peculiar institution." Thirty-two years after Jackson's election, the country would be plunged into a violent resolution of this conflict.
The Civil War and Gilded Age
Hamilton's public image underwent a dramatic revitalization during the decades following the Civil War. Increasingly, historians and political figures came to regard the Civil War as a validation of Hamilton's major philosophical tenets and a repudiation of Jefferson's. It was the Virginian's doctrine of states' rights, the argument went, that provided the South both the encouragement and the rationale to secede, while his lofty language asserting the equality of mankind denied the South moral authority in the eyes of the North -- a double bind that has been called the "Jeffersonian dilemma."
On the other side of the equation, then, stood Hamilton and his visionary assertion of the necessity of a powerful federal government. Where would the union be, post-war historians and nationalists wondered, were it not for the stability and strength of state that Hamilton insisted upon for his entire career? Moreover, Hamiton's opposition to slavery proved itself the ethic associated with the victorious Union forces, while Jefferson's Southern roots and acquiescence to the forces promoting slavery provided, as it were, comfort to the enemy.
Meanwhile, the whole era reverberated with the sounds of industrialization and modernization. Reconstruction had provided significant economic opportunities for both North and South, while westward expansion and new methods of manufacturing and transportation lay the foundation for booming capitalist enterprises. In this climate, the Hamiltonian virtues of laissez-faire and free trade enjoyed an unprecedented ascendancy, while the simple agrarianism of Jefferson seemed badly outdated. As Hamilton had predicted, the United States was establishing itselt as a preeminent industrial force in the world.
Teddy Roosevelt himself admired Hamilton's reputation for dynamism and, in a 1910 letter to Gouverneur Morris, praised Hamilton's "touch of the heroic, the touch of the purple, the touch of the gallant, the dashing, the picturesque." These years also saw the opening of Chicago's Hamilton Club and the raising of Hamilton statues in Paterson, New Jersesy, a town which Hamilton had founded.
Significantly, the restoration of Hamilton's image took place primarily on the plane of academic history. It is important to note that many of the new scholarly histories published during this time were written by New England historians steeped in Federalist tradition, who tended to see Hamilton as vindicated by the course of American history.
The major works included George Bancroft's History of the United States (1834-1874), John Bach McMaster's The History of the United States (1883-1913), and Henry Adams's History of the United States ... 1801-1817. Hamilton's son, John C. Hamilton, also got into the act with a tome entitled History of the Republic of the United States, which argued that the Civil War could have been avoided altogether, if only the country had more closely followed the elder Hamilton's policies.
The language of these books, to a modern reader, can seem shockingly biased. McMaster, for instance, portrayed Jefferson as a man "saturated with democracy in its rankest form" who "remained to the last day of his life a servile worshipper of the people." On the other hand, wrote McMaster, "Of all men who, in the judgement of posterity, are ranked high among the founders of the republic ... by far the most brilliant and versatile was Hamilton."
Beside the histories, a number of biographies and other writings sympathetic to Hamilton also appeared during the post-bellum years and Gilded Age. Gertrude Atherton, in her romantic novel The Conqueror (1902), wrote that Hamilton with his "inherent philosophy," pursued "measures in whose wisdom he implicitly believed, and which, in every instance, time has vindicated." Similarly, Herbert Croly, the future founder of the New Republic, put a distinctly positive spin on Hamiltonianism when he wrote in The Promise of American Life (1909) that it "implied a conscious and indefatigable attempt on the part of the national leaders to promote the national welfare."
The momentum of the Civil War in the resurrection of Hamilton's image lasted, with natural variations of intensity, all the way through the 1920s. In 1923, President Harding and Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon dedicated a statue of Hamilton placed in fron of the Treasury Building, where it stands to this day. The next year saw a successful movement to save Hamilton's Manhattan residence, The Grange, which had been steadily deteriorating. Later in the decade, President Coolidge invoked Hamilton to praise Mellon, who had managed America's financical system with "a genius and success unmatched since Hamilton."
In retrospect, the praise smacks of irony. The year 1929 would see both the crash of the American economy and the corresponding decline in Hamilton's image -- a decline that has never been significantly reversed.
The Great Depression
At first glance, one might expect that the Great Depression would have elevated Hamilton's standing in the public consciousness. After all, the New Deal involved the greatest expansion of federal power that the country had seen, and the vast majority of Americans supported its programs. James M. Beck, in a speech to Congress in 1934, declared that the Roosevelt administration "is realizing beyond any dream of Alexander Hamilton his ideas as to the nature of our government and what its desired form should be."
Yet Hamilton's star faded precipitously during the 1930s, and here we return to the proposition that administrative successes matter much less than emotional populism in the realm of public opinion. The economic foresight and efficiency of Hamilton's policies, their direct relevance to the New Deal, did not change the popular conception of him as an aristocrat unsympathetic to the plight of the "little guy."
Franklin Roosevelt, campaigning in 1932, sounded the theme that stirred many Americans' souls during the 1930s, a theme distinctly non-Hamiltonian in character. Invoking the early struggle between Jefferson and Hamilton, Roosevelt referred to a "a new day" in the nation, "the day of the individual against the system, the day in which individualism was made the great watchword of American life." This formula clearly favored Jefferson's rhetorical emphasis on personal liberty and individual virtue over Hamilton's efforts to construct a potent system of governmental control.
Although political groups ranging from the communists to the Republicans continued to employ Jefferson's image, Roosevelt and the Democrats did so most successfully. They presented Roosevelt as a champion of the common man in the true Jeffersonian tradition. Hamilton, on the other hand, was the man who had warned against the potentially dangerous nature of human ambition, and argued that government must be vigilant against the excesses of human nature.
In 1943, a play by Sydney Kingsley pitted caricatures of Jefferson and Hamilton against each other. The fictional Hamilton boasts, "And when you stir up the mobs, remember -- we who really own America are quite prepared to take it back for ourselves, from your great beast, 'The People'." The portrait of Hamilton that Kingsley drew is not entirely deserved, but not entirely off-the-mark, either, and it captured a persistent image of him as a calculating patrician out to protect the interests of wealthy Americans.
Several developments give a sense of how far Hamilton had fallen. The Hamilton Club of Chicago went bankrupt. The anniversary of Hamilton's birth went unobserved, even at the site of his tomb in Manhattan's Trinity Church. Hamilton Grange in Manhattan sunk into decrepitude and obscurity.
Nonetheless, a collection of scholars and conservative Republicans still carried the Hamiltonian torch and argued that his vision was what had provided the ship of state sufficient ballast to carry it through the turmoil of not only the Civil War but of the early twentieth century as well. Broadus Mitchell, a professor of economics at Johns Hopkins, and two Columbia economists, Joseph Dorfman and Rexford Tugwell, all sought to disentangle Hamilton's reputation from a speciously dichotomous relationship with Jefferon's. They sought to do justice to both men's lives. Mitchell, for example, wrote in Heritage from Hamilton that "the Federalists, pitching their case on the need for order and control, were correct at the outset. They were pragmatic and serviceable in the first formative period."
The Modern Era
A dispirited Hamiltonian revival occurred in 1957, the bicentennial of his birth, but it consisted mainly of another round of academic biographies. There was no memorial erected. A national bicentennial commission tried to whip up interest in Hamilton by sending out letters to various publications, libraries, radio stations and such, but garnered little more than statements of support from a variety of organizations including the American Bar Association, the American Dental Association and the Loyal Order of the Moose.
A signal of the dispassion that Hamilton aroused came in a 1956 commemorative speech, in which President Eisenhower gave flaccid acknowledgement to Hamilton's "sincere efforts and inspiring leadership in the work of the men who laid the foundations, raised the structure, and built the sustaining traditions of the Government of the United States."
The last two decades of the 20th century appear unlikely to herald any sort of renewal of interest in or respect for Hamilton. A resonant, even dominant theme, of modern political debate was sounded by Ronald Reagan when he vowed to "get the government off the backs of the people." The expansion during the 1960s of liberal programs in the spirit of the 1930s appears to be screeching to a half. Everyone, including the leadership of the Democratic party, agrees on the necessity of "downsizing" government in the 1990s.
If this situation indicates on one hand that the United States realized or even surpassed Hamilton's vision of a strong federal government, it suggests on the other that many Americans now want to move in the opposite direction. The concept of states' rights is heard more and more often. The image of a "bloated federal bureaucracy" represents a bugbear which everyone recognizes. Few people invoke Hamilton's name in praise, if at all. While visual images of Jefferson and Washington have become nearly ubiquitous, most people would be hard pressed to identify without help the portrait of Hamilton that hangs in the Capitol Building.
Over the course of two centuries, the image of a public figure undergoes striking transformations. Usually, the complexities that distinguished the person's life and career are bleached out in the process. The effective use of the person's image in political debate, in commercial activity, or in the manipulation of public sympathies depends on keeping the image relatively simple: easy to understand and to wield. Despite the generally well-intentioned efforts of academics to preserve an individual's complexity, the "real" person tends to get lost in a haze of nostalgia, opportunism, and ignorance. In Hamilton's case, his fame never quite reached the critical mass of Washington's or Jefferson's, and during the periods when he was in ascendancy, his reputation stayed essentially one-dimensional: the clear-headed economic wizard with a suspciously positive attitude toward Britain. The complexities of his public career made it possible for opponents to paint him in stereotyped ways, while simultaneously hindering the public from forming an emotional bond with him. For his own part, Hamilton never wrote an autobiography that would help to define himself for posterity. Nor did he manage to raise himself out of the messy trench warfare of early American politics and attain a more transcendent image of the glorious patriot. His accomplishments as revolutionary soldier and framer of the Consitution became imaginatively subsumed to the rather dreary, legalistic operations of finance that consumed so much of his time and embroiled him in such controversy.
Perhaps the fact that Hamilton was never President has limited the reach of his image in the American consciousness. If so, we should note the undying fame of others who never sat in the White House, including Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Edison.
The best explanation for Hamilton's demise as a figure of public adulation (regardless of his
appearance in history books), has to do with his beliefs regarding his countryment. While Jefferson, Washington, Lincoln and others, whatever their ideological contradictions and personal flaws may have been, were perceived as "of the people," Hamilton was often regarded, with some justice, as an elitist who disdained ordinary folk and doubted their capacity for virtue.
He who believed that no man should be carried on the shoulders of a crowd, who suspected the crowd itself, would have seen the natural outcome of his philosophy: The American public has declined to bear aloft his image and his memory.
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) was a founding father of the US, the author of the draft of the Declaration of Independence, and the third President of the United States of America. This great man was a long-term legislator, lawyer, diplomat, architect, inventor, scientist, agriculturist, writer, and revolutionary thinker.
Early Life: Jefferson was born on April 13, 1743, at Shadwell, Goochland (now called Albemarle) County, Virginia. His father, Peter Jefferson, was a successful planter and surveyor in Virginia. His mother, Jane Randolph Jefferson, was from a wealthy family.
Education and Marriage:
From 1760 to 1762, Jefferson attended the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. He later studied law privately. He began practicing law in 1767.
Monticello was the Virginia house that Jefferson designed and lived in most of his life. It was built on land that he inherited from his family. Construction on Monticello began in 1769 but continued for decades as Jefferson added to the house.
In 1772, Jefferson married Martha Wayles Skelton (she died in 1782, after giving birth to their sixth child, Lucy Elizabeth). Only two of their children survived to adulthood.
Jefferson had, on average, about 200 slaves who ran his house and grew food on his large estate.
While a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1775, Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence (it was amended by Benjamin Franklin and other committee members).
In 1776, Jefferson was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates, where he fought for the separation of church and state and other causes that were important to him. Jefferson became the Governor of Virginia in 1779, but resigned his second term in 1781 after the British (led by the turncoat Benedict Arnold) invaded Virginia. Jefferson had been unprepared for the attack and soon became very unpopular in Virginia.
In 1783, Jefferson was elected to Congress (from Virginia). Soon after, in 1785, President George Washington appointed Jefferson as the US Minister to France (replacing Benjamin Franklin). In 1789, Washington appointed him Secretary of State, but he resigned on Dec. 31, 1793 (after major differences with Alexander Hamilton).
In 1796, Jefferson ran for President of the USA, but lost. John Adams won, and Jefferson became Vice-President of the USA (it was an unusual administration since Adams and Jefferson had been opponents).
Serving as President:
Jefferson was elected President in 1800 (defeating Adams). He was re-elected to a second term in 1804. His Vice-Presidents were Aaron Burr and George Clinton.
As President, Jefferson arranged the purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803. The Louisiana Purchase increased the area of the United States tremendously (it had an area of 828,000 square miles (2,155,500 square kilometers). Soon after (in 1804), Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark to map the newly-acquired western US territory (they returned in 1806 with maps, newly-discovered animals, and information about Indian tribes).
Late in Life:
Jefferson retired from elected office in 1809 and went to live at Monticello - he never again left the state of Virginia. In 1814, Thomas Jefferson sold his extensive personal library to government of the US to re-start the Library of Congress, which has been burned during the War of 1812; Jefferson was paid $23,950 for his 6,487 books. In 1819, Jefferson founded the University of Virginia.
Jefferson died at Monticello on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. John Adams died later that same day. They were the only two signers of the Declaration of Independence who were elected President of the USA.
The American Flag
The American Seal