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Authors: John Ferling

Jefferson and Hamilton

BOOK: Jefferson and Hamilton
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To Lorene Flanders
and all those in the Irvine Sullivan Ingram Library
who have provided so much assistance over the years





Coming of Age

Chapter 1 “To make a more universal Acquaintance”:
Unhappy Youths

The American Revolution

Chapter 2 “The galling yoke of dependence”:
Becoming Rebels

Chapter 3 “Is my country the better for my having lived”:
Making the American Revolution

Chapter 4 “If we are saved, France and Spain must save us”:
The Forge of War

Chapter 5 “Our Affairs seem to be approaching fast to a happy period”:
Glory for Hamilton, Misery for Jefferson

Postwar America

Chapter 6 “The inefficacy of the present confederation”:
Grief and Intrigue

Chapter 7 “They will go back good republicans”:
Jefferson in Paris

Chapter 8 “To check the imprudence of democracy”:
Hamilton and the New Constitution

The Struggle to Shape the New American Republic

Chapter 9 “The greatest man that ever lived was Julius Caesar”:
The Threshold of Partisan Warfare

Chapter 10 “Devoted to the paper and stockjobbing interest”:
Unbridled Partisan Warfare

Chapter 11 “A little innocent blood”:
To the Mountaintop and to the Top of the Mountain

Chapter 12 “A colossus to the antirepublican party”:
The Election of 1796

Chapter 13 “The man is stark mad”:
Partisan Frenzy

Chapter 14 “The gigg is up”:
The Election of 1800

Chapter 15 “This American world was not made for me”:
A Glorious Beginning and a Tragic End


Plate Section


Select Bibliography


A Note on the Author

By the Same Author


The sun struggled to peek through the scudding winter clouds as Bill and Hillary Clinton strode briskly up the steps of Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s majestic mountaintop home outside Charlottesville, Virginia. It was January 17, 1993. Just three days away from becoming America’s forty-second chief executive, Clinton had chosen to embark on his inaugural festivities at the residence of his namesake, the nation’s third president.

The visitors were given a tour of the mansion, after which they joined a motorcade for the journey to Washington. When Clinton took office in a festive ceremony on January 20, he spoke of Jefferson in his inaugural address, describing the Founder as an apostle of change. Jefferson, said President Clinton, had believed in democracy and knew that periodic “dramatic change” was essential in order to “revitalize our democracy” and “preserve the very foundations of our nation.” To endure, Clinton said, America “would have to change,” but the changes must come within the framework of “America’s ideals” as set forth by Jefferson: “life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness,” and the equality of all humankind. As it had been during Jefferson’s time, Clinton continued, each generation was compelled to “define what it means to be an American.”

Clinton returned for a second visit to Monticello only seventy-five days into his presidency, and throughout his term he spoke so often of his predecessor that a national news magazine referred to Jefferson as “Bill Clinton’s muse.” Clinton even enlisted Jefferson in the fight for national health insurance, avowing that Jefferson would be shocked to learn that not every American had access to affordable health care. As had Jefferson, Clinton said that he believed “democracy would rise or fall not on the strength of some political elite, but on the strength of ordinary people who hold a stake in … how our society works.”

Clinton’s successor, George W. Bush, said little about Jefferson. Bush was drawn more toward a different founder, Alexander Hamilton. On May 30, 2006, a spring-soft morning in the capital, Bush walked from the Oval Office
to the Rose Garden to announce the appointment of a new secretary of the Treasury. In his remarks, the president said that he hoped his appointee, Henry Paulson, would follow the example of Alexander Hamilton, the first Treasury secretary, in overseeing the “management of public finances” that were crucial to “the health and competitiveness of the American economy.” Above all, Bush desired that Paulson would, like Hamilton, use his talent and “wisdom to strengthen our financial markets and expand the reach of the American Dream.”

George Washington was the one who made things happen, but while he was the prime mover in Revolutionary America, it was Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, more than any others, who shaped the new American nation. The strong central government, our system of finance, and the industrial vigor of the United States are Hamilton’s legacy. America’s bedrock belief in equality, its quest for novelty, and the continental span of the nation were bequeathed to succeeding generations by Jefferson.

Hamilton’s and Jefferson’s contrasting views on the shape of the new American republic—its government, society, and economy—sparked a bitter rivalry. Furthermore, the ideas and issues that divided those two Founders have persisted from generation to generation in American politics. Their opposing views are like the twin strands of DNA in the American body politic. In the nineteenth century, partisans clashed over banks, tariffs, the money supply, and workers’ rights, among other things. In subsequent generations, political parties have battled over issues such as regulation of trade, the distribution of wealth and power, and government’s role in health care. Always, however, the divisions in these battles stretch back to the fundamental differences that separated Jefferson and Hamilton: faith in democracy, commitment to civil liberties, trust in the wholesomeness of market forces, the availability of individual opportunities and security, toleration of dissent, the scope of the military, and above all, the depth and breadth of government intrusiveness.

Jefferson’s and Hamilton’s standing in the minds of Americans has hardly been constant. For decades following Jefferson’s election to the presidency in 1800, a contest that spelled political ruin for Hamilton, the Virginian captured the hearts of Americans. All the while, Hamilton slid, if not into oblivion, at least into the dark shadows of history. The Democratic-Republican Party, or Democratic Party, as it was known by the 1820s, had been Jefferson’s, and it was largely predominant until the mid-nineteenth century. A succession of Democratic presidents kept alive the memory of Jefferson as the
author of the American creed—which he had articulated in the Declaration of Independence—while portraying their administrations as locked in battle against latter-day Hamiltonians. Andrew Jackson, who was often called the “second Jefferson,” saw American history as a struggle between those who feared the people and those who resisted “the selfishness of rulers independent” of the people. Jackson called his foes “the Monarchical party,” as had Jefferson, and he depicted his administration as battling the anti-democratic tools of wealthy merchants and financiers. Jacksonians toasted the “PLANTER – JEFFERSON” for sowing the “Democratic Tree of Liberty,” which they insisted Jackson had brought to “blossom like the Rose.”

But a great shift occurred in the second half of the nineteenth century. The reputation of Jefferson, a Southerner and a slave owner, suffered nearly mortal wounds in the hearts of many Americans in the wake of Southern secession, civil war, and the repudiation of slavery. The standing of Hamilton, who had been a proponent of a strong national government, soared, and he ascended even higher in America’s pantheon of heroes as the country entered the Industrial Age later in the century. While treasury secretary, Hamilton had offered an alternative to Jefferson’s agrarianism, ultimately making possible the explosive growth of the American economy. As the century ended, Hamilton was touted as the creator of modern capitalism and the first American businessman, and in 1900, when New York University established a Hall of Fame to honor eminent Americans, Hamilton was the first inductee.

Industrialization was a double-edged sword. It provided new social, cultural, and material opportunities, but wealth and power were soon concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. Giant corporations and important financiers exercised nearly unmatched political clout, while unprecedented numbers of Americans lived in squalor and coped with dangerous and exploitive working conditions. Jefferson’s reputation rebounded, especially in the South and the Great Plains, home to farmers who saw themselves as victims of railroads, tariffs, and the fiscal policies of a national government in the grasp of corporate and financial giants. Jefferson’s image took on renewed luster among those who feared his vision of an Arcadian America was vanishing before new hordes of Hamiltonians. William Jennings Bryan, the foremost spokesman for the oppressed farmers, was saluted in the 1890s as “the Jefferson of today.” In hundreds of speeches, Bryan exhorted his followers to espouse “Jeffersonian principles with Jacksonian courage.” He proclaimed that Jefferson had stood for “equal rights for all, special privileges for none.” Others who resisted privilege, monopolies, and centralized authority reminded their followers of Jefferson’s “sympathy with popular rights” and his belief
that “all civil power should be … exercised that the interest and happiness of the great mass of the people would be secured.”

In the shadow of the first laudatory biographies of Hamilton, two editions of Jefferson’s papers were issued beginning in the 1890s. They were accompanied by several favorable life histories. A veritable army of historians portrayed Jefferson as having stood for advancing the liberating tendencies unleashed by the American Revolution while Hamilton had represented the forces of reaction.

Busts, statues, and memorials of Jefferson sprang up across the landscape. Democratic Clubs sponsored a Jefferson celebration at Monticello in 1896, and the next year the Democratic Party inaugurated its Jefferson Day Dinner, which thereafter has been held annually on the anniversary of the Founder’s birthday. Attendees sang a song with lyrics proclaiming Jefferson the “symbol of the nation” who had stood for “the Universal Brotherhood of Man.” Many of the tributes to Jefferson portrayed each federal law that aided Wall Street and corporate America as “a monument to the memory of Alexander Hamilton.”

In the 1920s, countrywide fundraising efforts, including “Jefferson Week” in April 1924, raked in money as part of a generation-long campaign to make Monticello a public memorial. During the Independence Day celebrations in 1926, the sesquicentennial of America’s break with Great Britain, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation formally dedicated Monticello and opened it to the public. In 1927, the gigantic sculpture at Mt. Rushmore was dedicated, a shrine to Jefferson, Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt as the greatest Americans.

Hamilton did not fade away during the reawakening of appreciation for Jefferson. President Theodore Roosevelt was the first occupant of the White House to openly extol Hamilton, calling him “the most brilliant American statesman who ever lived.” Roosevelt also praised Hamilton as having possessed the “loftiest and keenest intellect” among the Founding Fathers, touted his “constructive statesmanship,” and asserted that he had “a touch of the heroic, the touch of the purple, the touch of the gallant.” Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts was of like mind. A biographer of Hamilton, Lodge praised his subject as an exemplary American nationalist.

Roosevelt and his followers understood that the national government had to play a role in coping with the harshness and inequities ushered in by industrialization and urbanization. Hamilton, the exponent of a strong executive branch and broad federal powers, was their hero. Some turned their scorn and malice on Jefferson, suggesting that a Jefferson government was a do-nothing government.

Roosevelt and his adherents were also ultranationalists who longed to extend the reach of American power, influence, and economic interests. They were drawn to Hamilton, the exponent of a robust, powerful United States capable not only of defending itself but also of expanding its borders. Early in the twentieth century, the admirers of Hamilton erected statues in his honor in numerous communities, organized a movement to preserve his home in Manhattan, the Grange, and in 1904 commemorated the centennial of his death. In the 1920s the Coolidge administration put Hamilton’s image on the ten-dollar bill (and Jefferson’s on the seldom-seen two-dollar bill).

BOOK: Jefferson and Hamilton
11.62Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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