Hamilton and Jefferson–Beyond the Musical

 

No one can get tickets to the Hamilton musical, but we can get the book and learn how their relationship affects us…

Each was a colossus whose footsteps color our daily lives…

Lecture by John Pinheiro from Aquinas College given at #Acton2017.

 

We can look at Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson through two lenses:
  • Lived Experience. How their lives and upbringing affected their philosophy.
  • Philosophy and Principle. Whom they were reading and by whom they were influenced.
LIVED EXPERIENCE

JEFFERSON: Born into a planter aristocracy. Mother’s family (the Randolphs) were stratospherically rich and remained his main patrons throughout his career. Father was an educated aristocrat.

Jefferson had a solid classical education and even spoke 8 or 9 Native American languages. In 1775 he was one of the wealthiest men in America and had 200 slaves.

HAMILTON: Very broken home in the Caribbean. Worked hard as a clerk and got a scholarship to King’s (Columbia) in NYC. John Adams called him the “bastard brat.” Saw the bad side of people and slavery. Felt that we needed order and control to curb this.

PHILOSOPHY and INFLUENCERS

JEFFERSON: The French Enlightenment. People naturally good unless corrupted by commerce. Yeoman farmers are the key to freedom because they don’t have employers. Thus, have a small and weak central government and an agrarian paradise. Disperse the population westward. Emmerich de Vattel’s The Law of Nations influenced Jefferson–how sovereign states can participate in a union. Jefferson always used plural verbs and pronouns with “United States.” The Physiocrats (France) also influenced Jefferson. They stressed agriculture and coined the term “laissez-faire.” Land is the source of all wealth.

HAMILTON: The Scots Enlightenment. Especially Adam Smith. Looked not to France, but rather the British Empire. Always accused of being a royalist. Capital and division of labor, not land, are the source of wealth. Bernard Mandeville wrote the Fable of the Bees, which influenced Hamilton. Where do you look for a financial model? London! Protective tariffs. Centralized bank. Financed national debt a good thing. Hard work and ambition, not inheritance, is the path to power and wealth.

Conclusion

Jefferson and Hamilton continue to be the twin pillars of American social, political and economic thought. Jefferson’s party won most of the elections for the next couple of generations. His expansionist/agrarian vision led to the purchase of Louisiana. Enhanced by Jackson and Polk who steamrolled the country to the Pacific with “Manifest Destiny.” Homesteading and the checker boarding the Midwest USA are monuments to this thinking.

Hamilton won the economic battle however, with New York being a second London in terms of global finance, and the industrial north beat the agrarian south in the Civil War. Lincoln was a Hamiltonian and used his principles to further unite and solidify central authority.

Both believed that a virtuous society is necessary to maintain a republic.