“A Lesson from Historical Personalities” – John Frost
One cannot separate a political philosophy from the individuals who espouse them. In retrospect, the Great American Experiment has survived because of the free flow of ideas which gain ascendance one or the other over time. In my readings coinciding with the recent July 4th Independence Day Celebrations, I found it instructive to explore the positions, beliefs and philosophies of two Founding Fathers who held opposing views, namely, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton.
In no particular order, let’s start with Jefferson. He had a deep and persistent faith in the common people, the farmers, the laborers, the workers and the entrepreneurs. He was especially distrustful of individuals with special privileges. He opposed nepotism and governance by aristocracy, the unelected and the self-appointed by right of inheritance. His Presidency encouraged lowering voting qualifications which eventually led to universal suffrage in the next century. He was in favor of a relatively weak central government and often deferred to the wishes of the democratically elected representatives. He believed that government closest to the people, governs best. He was a states rights person. He believed that laws were best when they protected individual rights and liberties. He thought that agriculture should be the backbone of the nation though he did not support subsidies, aid of special concessions for farmers. Nor did he support government aid to trade organizations, financial institutions or manufacturing. He opposed the creation of a central bank like the Federal Reserves System. He did not believe in internal taxes on individuals or corporations relying upon external tariffs and user fees. He wanted to pay off the national debt and he felt that the power of the government was impinged upon by those who controlled the debt. He feared the day would come when interest rates would be so high and the debt so large that the government would collapse being unable to pay it. He was a supporter of France and the principles espoused by the French Revolution. His party was called the Democratic-Republican Party. (No connection to the Republican Party of Lincoln.) His constituency was mainly artisans, shopkeepers, frontier settlers and small farmers. His political base was mainly in the South, the Southwest and the western frontier.
On the other end of the spectrum was Alexander Hamilton. He believed that the common people often acted foolishly, unpredictably and emotionally, especially farmers. He believed that the rich, the landed, the educated and wellborn were the right people to rule and serve in government. He wanted to raise voting requirements by excluding particularly unsavory groups. He favored a strong central government and strong state governments. He found much to like about the British System with most political power resting with the aristocracy. He had no qualms about a large, supportive federal bureaucracy which governed by regulations and proclamation of policies. He felt the Constitution was supposed to be subject to loose interpretation in keeping with changing times. Certain rights, such as freedom of speech, were to be curtailed and subordinated to the good of the country. He was strictly anti-subversive. He favored a balanced economy and encouraged agriculture, trade, finance and manufacturing on a large scale for efficiency. He was not opposed to using government aid to “assist, promote and protect” favored enterprises. He was the founder of the U.S. Treasury and promoted the formation of a Central Bank like the Federal Reserve. He believed that internal taxes were necessary to fund the government and to influence wanted behavior. He accepted the use of the national debt to finance capital projects and to provide credit to national projects. He was supportive to the British in trade and commerce. The Federalist Party consisted of bankers, manufacturers, merchants, professional people and wealthy farmers. His supporters came mainly from the New England States and the Atlantic Coast States.
Over the past 240 years from our Declaration of Independence, the experiences which have shaped our Country–The Revolutionary War, The Civil War, WW I, The Great Depression, WW II, the Cold War and now global terrorism, to mention a few–and the governing philosophies with which individual voters are asked to align, and the candidates they represent, will determine the future of our Great American Experiment. This cycle, the issues appear more clouded, the candidates more polarizing, and the events fraught with more emotionalism. I believe that somehow, someway, the Country will adapt, survive and prosper. If Jefferson and Hamilton could co-exist, I have boundless hope for the future.
Timely. Good review!