The more and more I read about Alexander Hamilton, the more and more I absolutely hate his understanding of the relationship between man and State, and the early American monetary system. He easily was the most detrimental of all the founders to the health and long term survivability of our nation; and his ghost indeed still haunts us.
Here are five reasons why I wish he had never lived.
1. Alexander Hamilton was the original author of interventionist government programs, stimulus, and subsidies.
In France, England, and other parts of Europe, institutions exist supported by public contributions, which eminently promote agriculture and the arts; such institutions merit imitation by our government…
In matters of industry, human enterprise ought, doubtless, to be left free in the main; not fettered by too much regulation; but practical politicians know that it may be beneficially stimulated by prudent aids and encouragements on the part of the government. – Alexander Hamilton
Hamilton argued that the “general welfare clause” authorized the federal government to initiate interventionist programs aimed at providing general welfare, instead of merely promoting it (as the Constitution reads). Hamilton was a proponent of subsidies to industry; and while I don’t blame him for wanting to encourage growth in the young, fragile American economy, I do disagree with his way of promoting it.
Hamilton’s idea was to indeed provide subsidies in manufacturing. Jefferson, among many others, opposed this plan and argued that it would lead to favoritism. In many ways, Hamilton’s ideas led to the Civil War as nineteenth century government policies favored the manufacturing base in the North over the agrarian South.
It’s as if Hamilton provides a platitude to the free market before saying it sucks. I see what you’re saying, but you’re wrong.
2. Hamilton was a big government, progressive visionary.
In a 1787 speech during the Constitutional Convention, Hamilton proposed that presidents and senators should be elected for life terms. In addition to a life term, the president would have been given an absolute veto. Three years after the American colonists had defeated the British Empire and the king-for-life monarchy, he proposes to elect another king!
Hamilton was also the first to introduce the idea of implied powers by invoking the “necessary and proper clause”; that is, he defined Constitutional power not explicitly provided under its provisions. In other words, Hamilton was the first to kill the US Constitution and allow it to be interpreted in ways detrimental to its intent. Although Anti-Federalists were derided for their anti-federal views (fearing that the federal government would become a tyrannical behemoth), their worst nightmares were proved to come alive again and again, thanks in great part to Hamilton.
3. Hamilton was the father of the debt-fueled, centrally-controlled American economic and financial systems.
Hamilton’s first use of the “necessary and proper clause” was in defense to complaints over America’s first central bank, with which then-President George Washington agreed before signing into law the Bank Bill. Hamilton had been appointed the Treasury Secretary in 1789; and in his first report to President Washington, Hamilton proposed that state debts incurred during the Revolution should be overtaken as federal debt, thereby relieving the states of that debt. Congress approved his plan in 1790.
Hamilton also introduced targeted confiscatory taxation powers that we still see today. Hamilton (who later started to organize the “Christian Constitutional Party”) levied taxes on farmers who sold grain whiskey, igniting the Whiskey Rebellion which started in 1791. Some historians, including your author, believe that this was a deliberate tax to the ends of authoritarian government engaging in behavioral engineering. Hamilton also taxed the large distillers at a lower rate, further infuriating poorer, seasonal distillers who were hit hardest as whiskey was a principle of their localized, rural economies. The tax went uncollected and by 1792, Hamilton was openly calling for military intervention to collect the very unpopular tax.
Hamilton began publishing essays under the pseudonym Tully, calling for military action on those tax cheat farmers. The Whiskey Rebellion became violent and resulted in deaths in only a handful of instances. In 1794, a federal militia was sent to western Pennsylvania, where the rebellion was most popular, and the rebellion faded. Many of the farmers fled; and of 24 that were indicted for high treason, only two were convicted. They both were later pardoned by President Washington. Even after this, the Whiskey Tax was difficult to collect; and oftentimes went uncollected altogether.
In separate matters, Hamilton’s first central bank paved the way for the fleecing of America we’ve seen since 1791 (except for a few brief periods of American history, namely when Andrew Jackson vetoed the charter of the Second Bank of the US in 1832).
Hamilton believed that government could steer the national economy and solve the nation’s monetary woes through tools of the central bank. Jefferson and others argued that this was unconstitutional because it was; just as it is today, same as it ever was.
In 1795, he resigned from his post at the Treasury; and by 1799 he had been appointed a major general in the army to prepare for a war with France. He wrote to his successor at the Treasury to draw a tax to fund the avoidable war; and argued that the US military should conquer Spanish territory if war with France should break out.
4. Thomas Jefferson hated him.
Good enough for reason number four.
5. Hamilton was the original Slick Willy.
Hamilton, married and while in office, had a three-year affair with a married woman; an event which, once made public, permanently tarnished his reputation. It was one of the first, if not the first, sex scandal in national-level US political history.
The affair started when Mrs. Maria Reynolds, the wife of an acquaintance, had approached Hamilton and asked for money because she had presumably been poorly treated by her husband. Hamilton, the original Slick Willy, fell for Maria’s temptation, and was later blackmailed by Mr. Reynolds who threatened to go to the press with the story. Hamilton surprisingly continued to see Mrs. Reynolds to two years, and paid over $1000 to Mr. Reynolds to keep the story a secret.
In 1797, after a failed investigation to trap Hamilton in a separate corruption scandal, the sex scandal story came out in the press. But if public knowledge of the affair wasn’t bad enough, Hamilton later wrote publicly, and rather salaciously:
I put a bank bill in my pocket and went to the house. I inquired for Mrs. Reynolds and was shown upstairs, at the head of which she met me and conducted me into a bedroom. I took the bill out of my pocket and gave it to her. Some conversation ensued from which it was quickly apparent that other than pecuniary consolation would be acceptable.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Have no doubt: Hamilton and his big government visions are the root cause of our problems today.