Hamilton’s Economic Plan

Hamilton’s Economic Plan

Congress formed the first three executive departments:

  • Foreign Affairs, later to be the Department of State, was headed by Thomas Jefferson
  • War, later to be the Department of Defense, was headed by Henry Knox
  • Treasury was headed by Alexander Hamilton.

Compared to later presidents, Washington was not a micro-manager; he allowed the department heads to establish their own policies and did not attempt to chart a course for Congress.Hamilton quickly formulated a multifaceted program to deal with the young nation’s economic ills. He issued a series of reports for Congress dealing with such issues as public credit, manufacturing, and banking.

Report on Manufactures

The Report on the Subject of Manufactures, generally referred to by its shortened title Report on Manufactures, is the third major report, and magnum opus, of American Founding Father and first United States Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton. It was presented to the US Congress on December 5, 1791.

It laid forth economic principles rooted in both the mercantilist system of Elizabeth I's England and the practices of Jean-Baptiste Colbert of France. The main ideas of the Report would later be incorporated into the "American System" program by US Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky and his Whig Party. Abraham Lincoln, who called himself a "Henry Clay tariff Whig" during his early years, would later make the principles cornerstones, together with his opposition to the institution and the expansion of slavery, of the fledgling Republican Party.

Hamilton's ideas would form the basis for the American School of economics.

Establishment of political parties

A result of the struggle over Hamilton’s program and over issues of foreign policy was the emergence of national political parties. Like Washington, Hamilton had deplored parties, equating them with disorder and instability. He had hoped to establish a government of superior persons who would be above party. Yet he became the leader of the Federalist Party, a political organization in large part dedicated to the support of his policies. Hamilton placed himself at the head of that party because he needed organized political support and strong leadership in the executive branch to get his program through Congress. The political organization that challenged the Hamiltonians was the Republican Party (later Democratic-Republican Party) created by James Madison, a member of the House of Representatives, and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson. In foreign affairs the Federalists favoured close ties with England, whereas the Republicans preferred to strengthen the old attachment to France. In attempting to carry out his program, Hamilton interfered in Jefferson’s domain of foreign affairs. Detesting the French Revolution and the egalitarian doctrines it spawned, he tried to thwart Jefferson’s policies that might aid France or injure England and to induce Washington to follow his own ideas in foreign policy. Hamilton went so far as to warn British officials of Jefferson’s attachment to France and to suggest that they bypass the secretary of state and instead work through himself and the president in matters of foreign policy. This and other parts of Hamilton’s program led to a feud with Jefferson in which the two men attempted to drive each other from the cabinet.

When war broke out between France and England in February 1793, Hamilton wished to use the war as an excuse for jettisoning the French alliance of 1778 and steering the United States closer to England, whereas Jefferson insisted that the alliance was still binding. Washington essentially accepted Hamilton’s advice and in April issued a proclamation of neutrality that was generally interpreted as pro-British.

At the same time, British seizure of U.S. ships trading with the French West Indies and other grievances led to popular demands for war against Great Britain, which Hamilton opposed. He believed that such a war would be national suicide, for his program was anchored on trade with Britain and on the import duties that supported his funding system. Usurping the power of the State Department, Hamilton persuaded the president to send John Jay to London to negotiate a treaty. Hamilton wrote Jay’s instructions, manipulated the negotiations, and defended the unpopular treaty Jay brought back in 1795, notably in a series of newspaper essays he wrote under the signature Camillus the treaty kept the peace and saved his system.

AP US History: The Study Guide

You really love that Hamilton, don't you? Well all I can say is you know you should be going to Harvard when you think money's attractive.

The "hot" Hamilton cracked me up. Although I wouldn't really say that, I'd think he'd be pretty attractive. :D

what is wrong with you people

O-kayyy some people need help

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^I am with stupid(the special wittle person above)

Came back months after to say im still moist

Well this isn't what I expected to find on a post about the proposed economic plan for a young USA.

Look at all the high schoolers stealing matiral for there essays

Go listen to 2 wavy on SoundCloud for good music

Im noT StuPId, iM JuST SpEciAL. At LeASt, tHatS WHAt mY MoM SAid.

@ author: Although I understand the gist of the plan, I'm not too clear on why everybody else would be wealthy just because the (for lack of better words) wealthy are more affluent? Please clarify, thank you!

Hi Author! I know this is rather late, especially considering the times and dates of other comments, but I just wanted to thank you. This is amazing work, and so helpful, and I don't think anyone has really voiced that here. Thank you so much!

The Hamilton Plan

On June 18, Hamilton expressed his displeasure with both the Revised Virginia Plan and the New Jersey Plan. Then he proposed a plan of his own that did not, at the time, make much of an impact on the other delegates. They were interested in settling the issue of who or what should be represented in the new government. Hamilton thought the debate over sovereignty, whether the people or the states should be represented in the legislature, missed the critical issue: the problem of insuring what elsewhere he called “good government.” He articulated what we might call national rather than federal principles. More than the balance of powers between the states, what interested Hamilton was the location of powers between the branches of a new national government. For Hamilton, “we ought to go as far, in order to attain stability and permanency, as republican principles will admit.” This required Hamilton to challenge the traditional understanding of republicanism that where annual elections end, tyranny begins. He maintained that good government requires long terms in office. But don’t these long terms put republican principles in danger? No, says Hamilton, as long as the representatives are chosen by and removable by the people. These ideas presented in the Hamilton Plan played a greater part in the August conversation than they did in June.

Source: Gordon Lloyd, ed., Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787 by James Madison, a Member (Ashland, Ohio: Ashbrook Center, 2014), 92-101.

Mr. HAMILTON had been hitherto silent on the business before the Convention, partly from respect to others whose superior abilities, age and experience, rendered him unwilling to bring forward ideas dissimilar to theirs and partly from his delicate situation with respect to his own State, to whose sentiments, as expressed by his colleagues, he could by no means accede. The crisis, however, which now marked our affairs, was too serious to permit any scruples whatever to prevail over the duty imposed on every man to contribute his efforts for the public safety and happiness. He was obliged, therefore, to declare himself unfriendly to both plans.

He was particularly opposed to that from New Jersey, being fully convinced, that no amendment of the Confederation, leaving the States in possession of their sovereignty, could possibly answer the purpose. On the other hand, he confessed he was much discouraged by the amazing extent of country, in expecting the desired blessings from any general sovereignty that could be substituted.

As to the powers of the Convention, he thought the doubts started on that subject had arisen from distinctions and reasonings too subtle. A federal government he conceived to mean an association of independent communities into one. Different confederacies have different powers, and exercise them in different ways. In some instances, the powers are exercised over collective bodies, in others, over individuals, as in the German Diet and among ourselves, in cases of piracy. Great latitude, therefore, must be given to the signification of the term.

The plan last proposed [1] departs, itself, from the federal idea, as understood by some, since it is to operate eventually on individuals. He agreed, moreover, with the Honorable gentleman from Virginia, (Mr. RANDOLPH [2] ), that he owed it to our country, to do, on this emergency, whatever we should deem essential to its happiness. The States sent us here to provide for the exigencies of the Union. To rely on and propose any plan not adequate to these exigencies, merely because it was not clearly within our powers, would be to sacrifice the means to the end. It may be said, that the States cannot ratify a plan not within the purview of the Article of the Confederation providing for alterations and amendments. But may not the States themselves, in which no constitutional authority equal to this purpose exists in the Legislatures, have had in view a reference to the people at large? . . .

The great question is what provision shall we make for the happiness of our country? He would first make a comparative examination of the two plans — prove that there were essential defects in both — and point out such changes as might render a national one efficacious.

The great and essential principles necessary for the support of government are:

  1. An active and constant interest in supporting it. This principle does not exist in the States, in favor of the Federal Government. They have evidently in a high degree, the esprit de corps. [3] They constantly pursue internal interests adverse to those of the whole. They have their particular debts, their particular plans of finance, &c. All these, when opposed to, invariably prevail over, the requisitions and plans of Congress.
  2. The love of power. Men love power. The same remarks are applicable to this principle. The States have constantly shown a disposition rather to regain the powers delegated by them, than to part with more, or to give effect to what they had parted with. The ambition of their demagogues is known to hate the control of the General Government. It may be remarked, too, that the citizens have not that anxiety to prevent a dissolution of the General Government as of the particular governments. A dissolution of the latter would be fatal of the former, would still leave the purposes of government attainable to a considerable degree. Consider what such a State as Virginia will be in a few years, a few compared with the life of nations. How strongly will it feel its importance and self-sufficiency!
  3. An habitual attachment of the people. The whole force of this tie is on the side of the State Government. Its sovereignty is immediately before the eyes of the people its protection is immediately enjoyed by them. From its hand distributive justice, and all those acts which familiarize and endear a government to a people, are dispensed to them.
  4. Force, by which may be understood a coercion of laws, or coercion of arms. Congress have not the former, except in few cases. In particular States, this coercion is nearly sufficient though he held it, in most cases, not entirely so. A certain portion of military force is absolutely necessary in large communities. Massachusetts is now feeling this necessity, and making provision for it. But how can this force be exerted on the States collectively? It is impossible. It amounts to a war between the parties. Foreign powers also will not be idle spectators. They will interpose the confusion will increase and a dissolution of the Union will ensue.
  5. Influence, — he did not mean corruption, but a dispensation of those regular honors and emoluments which produce an attachment to the government. Almost all the weight of these is on the side of the States and must continue so as long as the States continue to exist. All the passions, then, we see, of avarice, ambition, interest, which govern most individuals, and all public bodies, fall into the current of the States, and do not flow into the stream of the General Government. The former, therefore, will generally be an overmatch for the General Government, and render any confederacy in its very nature precarious.

Theory is in this case fully confirmed by experience. . . . How then are all these evils to be avoided? Only by such a complete sovereignty in the General Government as will turn all the strong principles and passions above-mentioned on its side.

Does the scheme of New Jersey produce this effect? Does it afford any substantial remedy whatever? On the contrary, it labors under great defects, and the defect of some of its provisions will destroy the efficacy of others. It gives a direct revenue to Congress, but this will not be sufficient. The balance can only be supplied by requisitions which experience proves cannot be relied on. If States are to deliberate on the mode, they will also deliberate on the object, of the supplies and will grant or not grant, as they approve or disapprove of it. The delinquency of one will invite and countenance it in others. Quotas too, must, in the nature of things, be so unequal, as to produce the same evil. To what standard will you resort?

Land is a fallacious one. Compare Holland with Russia France, or England, with other countries of Europe Pennsylvania with North Carolina, — will the relative pecuniary abilities, in those instances, correspond with the relative value of land? Take numbers of inhabitants for the rule, and make like comparison of different countries, and you will find it to be equally unjust. The different degrees of industry and improvement in different countries render the first object a precarious measure of wealth. Much depends, too, on situation. Connecticut, New Jersey, and North Carolina, not being commercial States, and contributing to the wealth of the commercial ones, can never bear quotas assessed by the ordinary rules of proportion. They will, and must, fail in their duty. Their example will be followed, — and the union itself be dissolved. Whence, then, is the national revenue to be drawn? From commerce even from exports, which, notwithstanding the common opinion, are fit objects of moderate taxation from excise, &c., &c. — These, though not equal, are less unequal than quotas.

Another destructive ingredient in the plan is that equality of suffrage which is so much desired by the small States. It is not in human nature that Virginia and the large States should consent to it or, if they did, that they should long abide by it. It shocks too much all ideas of justice, and every human feeling. Bad principles in a government, though slow, are sure in their operation, and will gradually destroy it. A doubt has been raised whether Congress at present have a right to keep ships or troops in time of peace. He leans to the negative.

Mr. PATTERSON’S [4] plan provides no remedy. If the powers proposed were adequate, the organization of Congress is such, that they could never be properly and effectually exercised. The members of Congress, being chosen by the States and subject to recall, represent all the local prejudices. Should the powers be found effectual, they will from time to time be heaped on them, till a tyrannic sway shall be established. The General power, whatever be its form, if it preserves itself, must swallow up the state powers. Otherwise, it will be swallowed up by them. It is against all the principles of a good government, to vest the requisite powers in such a body as Congress. Two sovereignties cannot co-exist within the same limits. Giving powers to Congress must eventuate in a bad government, or in no government. The plan of New Jersey, therefore, will not do.

What, then, is to be done? Here he was embarrassed. The extent of the country to be governed discouraged him. The expense of a General Government was also formidable unless there were such a diminution of expense on the side of the State Governments, as the case would admit. If they were extinguished, he was persuaded that great economy might be obtained by substituting a General Government. He did not mean, however, to shock the public opinion by proposing such a measure.

On the other hand, he saw no other necessity for declining it. They are not necessary for any of the great purposes of commerce, revenue, or agriculture. Subordinate authorities, he was aware, would be necessary. There must be district tribunals corporations for local purposes. But cui bono [5] the vast and expensive apparatus now appertaining to the States?

The only difficulty of a serious nature which occurred to him, was that of drawing representatives from the extremes to the center of the community. What inducements can be offered that will suffice? The moderate wages for the first branch could only be a bait to little demagogues. Three dollars, or thereabouts, he supposed, would be the utmost. The Senate, he feared, from a similar cause, would be filled by certain undertakers, who wish for particular offices under the government. This view of the subject almost led him to despair that a republican government could be established over so great an extent.

He was sensible, at the same time, that it would be unwise to propose one of any other form. In his private opinion, he had no scruple in declaring, supported as he was by the opinion of so many of the wise and good, that the British Government was the best in the world: and that he doubted much whether any thing short of it would do in America.

He hoped gentlemen of different opinions would bear with him in this, and begged them to recollect the change of opinion on this subject which had taken place, and was still going on. It was once thought, that the power of Congress was amply sufficient to secure the end [6] of their institution. The error was now seen by every one. The members most tenacious of republicanism, he observed, were as loud as any in declaiming against the vices of democracy. This progress of the public mind led him to anticipate the time, when others as well as himself, would join in the praise bestowed by Mr. NECKAR [7] on the British Constitution, namely, that it is the only government in the world “which unites public strength with individual security.”

In every community where industry is encouraged, there will be a division of it into the few and the many. Hence, separate interests will arise. There will be debtors and creditors, &c. Give all power to the many, they will oppress the few. Give all power to the few, they will oppress the many. Both, therefore, ought to have the power, that each may defend itself against the other. To the want of this check we owe our paper-money, instalment laws, [8] &c. To the proper adjustment of it the British owe the excellence of their constitution. Their House of Lords is a most noble institution. Having nothing to hope for by a change, and a sufficient interest, by means of their property, in being faithful to the national interest, they form a permanent barrier against every pernicious innovation, whether attempted on the part of the Crown or of the Commons. No temporary Senate will have firmness enough to answer the purpose.

The Senate of Maryland which seems to be so much appealed to, has not yet been sufficiently tried. Had the people been unanimous and eager in the late appeal to them on the subject of a paper emission, [9] they would have yielded to the torrent. Their acquiescing in such an appeal is a proof of it. Gentlemen differ in their opinions concerning the necessary checks, from the different estimates they form of the human passions. They suppose seven years a sufficient period to give the Senate an adequate firmness, from not duly considering the amazing violence and turbulence of the democratic spirit. When a great object of government is pursued, which seizes the popular passions, they spread like wild-fire and become irresistible. He appealed to the gentlemen from the New England States, whether experience had not there verified the remark.

As to the Executive, it seemed to be admitted that no good one could be established on republican principles. Was not this giving up the merits of the question for can there be a good government without a good Executive? The English model was the only good one on this subject. The hereditary interest of the King was so interwoven with that of the nation, and his personal emolument so great, that he was placed above the danger of being corrupted from abroad and at the same time was both sufficiently independent and sufficiently controlled, to answer the purpose of the institution at home. One of the weak sides of republics was their being liable to foreign influence and corruption. Men of little character, acquiring great power, become easily the tools of intermeddling neighbors. Sweden was a striking instance. The French and English had each their parties during the late revolution, which was effected by the predominant influence of the former.

What is the inference from all these observations? That we ought to go as far, in order to attain stability and permanency, as republican principles will admit. Let one branch of the Legislature hold their places for life, or at least during good behavior. Let the Executive also, be for life. He appealed to the feelings of the members present, whether a term of seven years would induce the sacrifices of private affairs which an acceptance of public trust would require, so as to insure the services of the best citizens. On this plan, we should have in the Senate a permanent will, a weighty interest, which would answer essential purposes. But is this a republican government, it will be asked. Yes, if all the magistrates are appointed and vacancies are filled by the people, or a process of election originating with the people.

He was sensible that an Executive, constituted as he proposed, would have in fact but little of the power and independence that might be necessary. On the other plan, of appointing him for seven years, he thought the Executive ought to have but little power. He would be ambitious, with the means of making creatures and as the object of his ambition would be to prolong his power, it is probable that, in case of war he would avail himself of the emergency, to evade or refuse a degradation from his place. An Executive for life has not this motive for forgetting his fidelity, and will therefore be a safer depository of power.

It will be objected, probably, that such an Executive will be an elective monarch, and will give birth to the tumults which characterize that form of government. He would reply, that monarch is an indefinite term. It marks not either the degree or duration of power. If this Executive magistrate would be a monarch for life, the other proposed by the Report from the Committee of the Whole would be a monarch for seven years. The circumstance of being elective was also applicable to both.

It had been observed, by judicious writers, that elective monarchies would be the best if they could be guarded against the tumults excited by the ambition and intrigues of competitors. He was not sure that tumults were an inseparable evil. He thought this character of elective monarchies had been taken rather from particular cases, than from general principles. The election of Roman Emperors was made by the army. In Poland the election is made by great rival princes, with independent power, and ample means of raising commotions. In the German Empire, the appointment is made by the Electors and Princes, who have equal motives and means for exciting cabals and parties. Might not such a mode of election be devised among ourselves, as will defend the community against these effects in any dangerous degree?

Having made these observations, he would read to the Committee a sketch of a plan which he should prefer to either of those under consideration. He was aware that it went beyond the ideas of most members. But will such a plan be adopted out of doors? [10] In return he would ask, will the people adopt the other plan? At present they will adopt neither. But he sees the Union dissolving, or already dissolved — he sees evils operating in the States which must soon cure the people of their fondness for democracies — he sees that a great progress has been already made, and is still going on, in the public mind. He thinks, therefore, that the people will in time be unshackled from their prejudices and whenever that happens, they will themselves not be satisfied at stopping where the plan of Mr. RANDOLPH would place them, but be ready to go as far at least as he proposes. He did not mean to offer the paper he had sketched as a proposition to that Committee. It was meant only to give a more correct view of his ideas, and to suggest the amendments which he should probably propose to the plan of Mr. RANDOLPH, in the proper stages of its future discussion. He reads his sketch in the words following: to wit.

“I. The supreme Legislative power of the United States of America to be vested in two different bodies of men the one to be called the Assembly, the other the Senate who together shall form the Legislature of the United States, with power to pass all laws whatsoever, subject to the negative hereafter mentioned.

“II. The Assembly to consist of persons elected by the people to serve for three years.

“III. The Senate to consist of persons elected to serve during good behavior their election to be made by electors chosen for that purpose by the people. In order to this, the States to be divided into election districts. On the death, removal or resignation of any Senator, his place to be filled out of the district from which he came.

“IV. The supreme Executive authority of the United States to be vested in a Governor, to be elected to serve during good behavior the election to be made by Electors chosen by the people in the Election Districts aforesaid. The authorities and functions of the Executive to be as follows: to have a negative on all laws about to be passed, and the execution of all laws passed to have the direction of war when authorized or begun to have, with the advice and approbation of the Senate, the power of making all treaties to have the sole appointment of the heads or chief officers of the Departments of Finance, War, and Foreign Affairs to have the nomination of all other officers, (ambassadors to foreign nations included,) subject to the approbation or rejection of the Senate to have the power of pardoning all offences except treason, which he shall not pardon without the approbation of the Senate.

“V. On the death, resignation, or removal of the Governor, his authorities to be exercised by the President of the Senate till a successor be appointed.

“VI. The Senate to have the sole power of declaring war the power of advising and approving all treaties the power of approving or rejecting all appointments of officers, except the heads or chiefs of the Departments of Finance, War, and Foreign Affairs.

“VII. The supreme Judicial authority to be vested in Judges, to hold their offices during good behavior, with adequate and permanent salaries. This court to have original jurisdiction in all causes of capture, and an appellative jurisdiction in all causes in which the revenues of the General Government, or the citizens of foreign nations, are concerned.

“VIII. The Legislature of the United States to have power to institute courts in each State for the determination of all matters of general concern.

“IX. The Governor, Senators, and all officers of the United States, to be liable to impeachment for mal- and corrupt conduct and upon conviction to be removed from office, and disqualified for holding any place of trust or profit: all impeachments to be tried by a Court to consist of the Chief —, or Judge of the Superior Court of Law of each State, provided such Judge shall hold his place during good behavior and have a permanent salary.

“X. All laws of the particular States contrary to the Constitution or laws of the United States to be utterly void and the better to prevent such laws being passed, the Governor or President of each State shall be appointed by the General Government, and shall have a negative upon the laws about to be passed in the State of which he is the Governor or President.

“XI. No State to have any forces land or naval and the militia of all the States to be under the sole and exclusive direction of the United States, the officers of which to be appointed and commissioned by them.”

On these several articles he entered into explanatory observations corresponding with the principles of his introductory reasoning. The Committee rose, and the House adjourned.

Study Questions

A. Hamilton suggests that his plan is still within the proper sphere of both republicanism and federalism rather than a reformulation of monarchy and nationalism. Does his plan support his claim? Do the states have any role under his plan? Has he elevated the Presidency to a position of more importance than the Governors of the States?

B. Compare and contrast Hamilton’s position on the separation of powers with that found in the Virginia Plan, the New Jersey Plan, and the Committee of Detail Report.

Hamilton’s Economic Plan - History

In September 1789, ten days after Hamilton became Secretary of Treasury, the House of Representatives asked him to create a plan to meet the national debt. Hamilton estimated it to be $54,124,464.56, including interest. The general assumption was that the debt would be reduced somewhat, and that U.S. citizens would receive only partial repayment. Most domestic debt certificates were held by speculators and merchants who had purchased them at drastically discounted prices from Revolutionary War soldiers and patriots. Thus, many Americans felt that it was unnecessary to pay the speculators the full price of the debt, since they had obtained the certificates at a discount.

Some of Hamilton's recommendations, as presented to Congress in 1790, were, thus, something of a surprise. Few Congressmen objected to his suggestion to pay the foreign debt in full, since repayment of debt was important in establishing the new nation's credibility. There was much controversy over his proposal to pay back the domestic debt in full. Hamilton asserted that the current holders of the bonds, whether they were speculators or not, should be paid in full. Although some members of Congress protested the unfairness of rewarding speculators without paying anything to the soldiers and others who had originally held the bonds.

Another contentious proposal was that the federal government should assume state debts. Northern states tended to have larger debts than southern states, so those in the north supported the proposal, while southern Congressmen opposed it as an unfair burden to the nation. A compromise was finally reached, which allowed the federal government to assume responsibility for state war debts, provided that the national capital be built in the South.

The nation clearly did not have the money to pay back the debt immediately. Congress had established customs duties on all imports and a tonnage duty on all shipping, arranged to levy high duties on foreign ships, and low duties on American vessels. These customs revenues were funneled into the Treasury, from which the nation's war debts were to be settled. Hamilton suggested that the debt be funded by reissuing bonds to be paid back in full after 15 or 20 years. Thus, rather than eliminating the debt, Hamilton's plan created a large, permanent public debt, issuing new bonds as old ones were paid off. Congress approved this proposal.

In addition to ideas on how to fund the debt, Hamilton made four other sets of proposals: establishing a national bank creating an American coinage system establishing an excise tax and creating protective tariffs for American industry. Hamilton felt that the new nation needed to establish a National Bank to act as a safe depository for federal tax revenue facilitate public and private borrowing and create a ut put into circulation.

Nevertheless, the federal government lacked the funds needed to meet their operating and debt-repayment expenses. The 1789 tariff act, putting duties on certain imports, had not raised enough money to meet the government's expenses. Hamilton recommended that a tariff be levied on foreign imports to protect domestic industries and discourage imports, as well as raise government revenue. This was the only major Hamilton proposal to be rejected by Congress. In 1791, however, Hamilton was able to convince Congress to pass an excise tax on whiskey. (An excise tax is one placed on goods produced or services performed within the country.)niform and stable American currency by issuing sound paper money. After significant debate (see A National Bank), Washington signed the National Bank Bill into law.

Ambition & Bondage: An Inquiry on Alexander Hamilton and Slavery

Of the founding fathers of our nation, none has attracted a more peculiar sense of mystery and controversy than Alexander Hamilton. Precocious, vigorously outspoken, and limitlessly ambitious, Hamilton polarized the opinions of his contemporaries, earning admirers of his revolutionary political and financial ideas as well as lifelong political adversaries, averse to his contentious writings and personality. Most works on Hamilton focus on his role in George Washington’s inner circle during the American Revolution and the beginning of the American republic, his influential interpretations of the United States Constitution, his foundation of the American financial system, and his role in introducing partisanship into the early American political system. However, Hamilton also retained a complicated relationship with the institution of slavery in the fledgling United States. Hamilton’s biographers praise him for being a public abolitionist, but his position on slavery is more complex than his most prominent biographers (including Ron Chernow, Willard Randall, and Richard Brookhiser) suggest. Careful research indicates that Hamilton detested the institution of slavery with fervor, but whenever the issue of slavery came into conflict with Hamilton’s central political tenet of property rights, his belief in the promotion of American interests, or his own personal ambition, Hamilton allowed these motivations to override his aversion to slavery.

The persistent conflict between Hamilton’s ambition and ideology was born of the social complexity of his early life, during his childhood in St. Croix and his early adulthood in the city of New York, before Hamilton left King’s College to join General George Washington’s camp during the American Revolution. This conflict can be illustrated by examining Hamilton’s influencers, including his patrons who helped to fund his departure from St. Croix and his tuition at Elizabethtown Academy and eventually King’s College. Hamilton’s later public opinion on slavery as a prominent New York statesman would ultimately be shaped in the early years of his manhood. The private life and mind of Hamilton is left for historians to speculate on from Hamilton’s private writings, but pieces of the public mind of the United States’ first Treasury secretary can be understood by scrutinizing the young Hamilton’s relationship with slavery. By analyzing Hamilton’s experiences with slavery in his childhood and adolescence in St. Croix and his young adulthood at Elizabethtown and King’s, Hamilton’s private struggle and eventual public relationship with slavery becomes clearer.

Hamilton’s attitude towards the institution of slavery found its initial grounding amid his upbringing on the Caribbean island of St. Croix. Personal tragedy and economic squalor plagued young Hamilton’s life. The personal records that remain of Hamilton’s childhood and adolescence lack substantial information about Hamilton’s early character and disposition. The few specific facts of young Hamilton’s childhood are gleaned from legal records. Hamilton was born out of wedlock on the island of Nevis in 1755, the son of James Hamilton and Rachel Fawcett Lavien. When he moved to St. Croix is unclear, but it is certain that James Hamilton left the family early in Hamilton’s childhood. Already a social outcast as a bastard, Hamilton’s childhood became even more difficult when his mother Rachel died in 1768, when Hamilton was twelve years old. Here, Hamilton experienced his first direct contact with the institution of slavery, as Rachel left her orphaned son the remainder of her property, including a slave boy named Ajax. Hamilton and his brother James Jr., however, did not receive any of their inheritance because of their illegitimate birth[1]. Though Hamilton did not become an early slaveholder, his childhood in St. Croix, an island where only 2,000 of its 24,000 inhabitants were white[2], exposed Hamilton fully to the trials and tribulations of plantation slavery, as the operations of the Caribbean sugar industry was wholly dependent on the institution. Coming of age within a slave society and observing its daily practice influenced the young Hamilton – as a social outcast himself, Hamilton may have in some ways identified with the slave’s depressed and despised position in West Indian society[3]. Hamilton witnessed firsthand the intense struggles that plantation slaves faced, and began to loathe the institution of slavery through this direct exposure.

Despite the misfortunes of his early childhood, the ambition of Hamilton started to burgeon along with his considerable talents. At the age of twelve, Hamilton wrote his earliest documented letter to his childhood friend Edward Stevens, then a student at King’s College in New York City, in which Hamilton admits his frustrations at his limited opportunity on the island of St. Croix. His ambition was such “that I contemn the grov’ling and condition of a Clerk or the like, to which my Fortune &c. condemns me and would willingly risk my life tho’ not my Character to exalt my station”[4]. Hamilton did find outlets for his boundless precocity in St. Croix – in the late 1760s, the import-export business of Beekman & Cruger in Christiansted hired the young Hamilton as a clerk, providing him a window to the outside world by placing him in the environment of trading ships and fluctuating markets. The firm traded every conceivable commodity necessary for planters[5], and the handling of foreign coin and the successful execution of imports provided Hamilton with a priceless education that would inform his later writings on the American economy. Hamilton’s model at the firm, Nicholas Cruger, was a member of a prominent colonial New York family. His father, Henry, was a wealthy merchant, shipowner, and member of His Majesty’s Royal Council for the province, and his uncle John was a long-standing royal mayor for New York City[6]. Despite these official connections, Nicholas Cruger eventually expressed sympathy for the rebel American colonists and openly revered George Washington. Historians believe that Cruger served not only as a professional mentor but also as an early political mentor to the young Hamilton Cruger furnished a direct route to Hamilton’s future home in New York City by exposing the young Hamilton to his mainland connections through the operations of Beekman & Cruger. When Nicholas Cruger fell ill for months in 1771, Cruger left the operations of the entire St. Croix branch of Beekman & Cruger to the fourteen year-old Hamilton[7].

The Waste & Account Book of the Cruger family reveals that they mainly dealt with merchant commodities, but on occasion the firm and family did engage in the African slave trade. Hamilton, through his employment, witnessed the cramped conditions of slave ships, where hundreds of Africans were chained in fetid holds – the conditions on the ships were said to be so vile that people onshore on St. Croix could smell the foul effluvia from miles away. The Cruger firm advertised in the Royal Danish American Gazette, the local bilingual newspaper of St. Croix, that the firm had “just imported from the windward cost of Africa, and to be sold on Monday next, by Messrs. Kortwright & Cruger, At said Cruger’s yard, Three Hundred Prime SLAVES”[8]. The purchasers of these slaves were not allowed in until the “merchandise” had been well rubbed with oil “in order to make them look sleek and handsome,” a task which was surely left to Hamilton and other caretakers of goods. A year later, Hamilton was involved in selling the cargo of the Dutch Indiaman ship Venus, which endured a rough journey from the African Gold Coast, arriving in the port of Christiansted in poor condition. Nicholas Cruger complained that the 250 slaves onboard were “very indifferent indeed, sickly, and thin.” They brought an average of 30 pounds each, less than the value of a healthy mule[9]. Though Hamilton executed the Venus trade with his usual efficiency, it was an operation he openly detested[10]. Whether or not Hamilton wanted to engage with slavery on the island of St. Croix or not, the laws issued from the parent government in Copenhagen compelled him to due to his status as a white male. According to the “St. Croixian Pocket Companion,” a booklet outlining the duties of whites on the island, every male over the age of sixteen was required to serve in the militia and be at the ready with muskets if the central fort fired its guns twice. This militia service was mainly utilized to quell the minor slave revolts that occurred on the island. Hamilton saw how skittish planters lived in constant dread of slave revolts and continuously fortified their militia to avert them even after Hamilton left for America, he carried with him a distaste for anarchy and disorder that came into conflict with Hamilton’s philosophical embrace of personal liberty. Hamilton’s exposure to the slave trade in St. Croix perhaps played an instrumental role in his eventual advocacy for a stronger central state – he detested the tyranny of the authoritarian rule of the plantation planters, yet also feared the potential revolts of dismissed slaves[11]. The conflicting dichotomy of despotism and anarchy as a result of Hamilton’s exposure to Caribbean slave society would exhibit itself in his later writings on government and non-slave related matters.

Hamilton’s brilliant performance at Beekman & Cruger began to impress people with his intellectual promise. The reverend Hugh Knox, an evangelical Christian who served as an intellectual mentor to the young Hamilton, bestowed upon him Scottish Enlightenment ideals that advocated free will over predestination as the central tenant of evangelical Presbyterianism. Knox was Hamilton’s first exposure to a strong religious argument against slavery[12]. Shortly after a hurricane devastated much of Christiansted and St. Croix in 1772, Hamilton penned a letter to his father as a reflection to the destruction caused by the hurricane on the inhabitants of the Caribbean island. The reverend Hugh Knox caught wind of the letter and published it in the Royal Danish American Gazette. In the letter, Hamilton hurled affronts at the planter class of St. Croix for their failure to come to the aid of their fellow citizens of St. Croix – “O ye, who revel in affluence, see the afflictions of humanity and bestow your superfluity to ease them. Say not, we have suffered also, and thence withhold your compassion. What are your sufferings compared to those? Ye have still more than enough left. Act wisely. Succour the miserable and lay up a treasure in Heaven.”[13] This jibe against the planter class shows Hamilton’s aversion to the slave society of St. Croix, and perhaps suggests that his later feelings on slavery found grounds in economic jealousy along with than ideological and philosophical opposition. Despite his fundamental disapproval of the institution, Hamilton recognized nonetheless with this letter that the powerful elite of the island were almost universally slaveholders or slave traders.

The letter served as a springboard for Hamilton’s ambition to escape the small town of Christiansted to further himself in society. The reverend Knox began arranging a scholarship to send Hamilton to New York City for an education. Recognizing Hamilton’s intellectual potential, numerous citizens rallied to the cause. Wealthy merchants who had conducted business with Hamilton as a Beekman & Cruger clerk made contributions. Nicholas Cruger and his associate Cornelius Kortwright agreed to consign four annual “cargoes of West India produce” to be “sold and appropriated to the support of Hamilton.” One of the four annual cargoes most certainly included funds accrued from the sale of slaves and slave-produced goods, and therefore the Caribbean slave trade directly enhanced the social mobility of Hamilton. Another contributor to the fund, interestingly enough, was the probate judge who denied Hamilton’s inheritance from his mother Rachel due to his illegitimate birth. In total, the reverend Knox had arranged pledges of 400 pounds, his estimate of the cost of four years’ tuition, board, and transportation to the mainland of America[14].

In early October 1772, Hamilton arrived in the port of Boston and started to soak in the complexities of colonial life in fledgling America. He arrived in New York City for the first time in early November, taking the biweekly Boston-New York stagecoach to the southern tip of Manhattan. His first stop was King’s College, perched on a bluff overlooking the Hudson River between Barclay and Murray streets[15] – though not a student just yet, he intended to visit his old friend Edward Stevens, to whom he wrote his first recorded letter in 1769. Hamilton had in his possession letters of recommendation and merit from Reverend Knox and Nicholas Cruger. Reverend Knox referred him to a Reverend John Rodgers, who recommended to Hamilton that he pursue a preparatory school education, though on an accelerated track so as to not exhaust his funds before even setting foot in college. Hamilton enrolled in Elizabethtown Academy in Elizabethtown, New Jersey with the recommendation of Reverend Rodgers. Hamilton hoped to enter the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) after a few years of accelerated study at Elizabethtown.

Young Hamilton dove headfirst into his studies, attempting to absorb years of education within a few months. Though Hamilton was known to be voracious in his studies, often seen “pacing in the graveyard [of Elizabethtown], hour after hour, mumbling to himself with a book in hand,”[16] he was not merely a pedant. Through his recommendations from Reverend Knox, Hamilton acquainted himself with the powerful families around the area, including those of Elias Boudinot and William Livingston.

The Boudinot manor, Boxwood Hall, is believed to be Hamilton’s place of residence during his tenure at Elizabethtown, and he absorbed much of the philosophy that made Elias Boudinot a prominent member of the middle colonies’ unofficial aristocracy. Boudinot was a successful lawyer and philanthropist, who by the time Hamilton joined the fireside family at Boxwood Hall had become a leader of the American Presbyterian Church and an influential member of Princeton’s board of trustees. Most notably, Elias Boudinot was an early abolitionist, using his legal skills to defend slaves in court without demanding a fee[17]. Hamilton developed connections with a multitude of families during his time in New Jersey, but none so warmly and closely as the relationship he established with the Boudinot family. It is clear that the Boudinots influenced Hamilton to a higher degree than his other professional connections, perhaps because of the sympathy Elias and Alexander shared for the state of slaves in America.

At this time Hamilton also became conversant with the Livingston family through William Livingston. At Liberty Hall in Elizabethtown, the Livingston Manor, Hamilton received good meals and important introductions. It was at Liberty Hall that Hamilton mixed with some of the most prominent slave-owning families in the middle colonies – here he made the acquaintance of the Beekman family of New York City, the rest of the Livingston clan, the DeLancey family, and even the Schuyler family of Albany. It was at Liberty Hall that Hamilton met his future wife Elizabeth Schuyler[18]. Despite his distaste for slavery, Hamilton was compelled to flirt with the daughters of the American slave aristocracy. Whether he liked it or not, to wield the influence that these families exhibited in colonial America would accelerate Hamilton’s path to achieving his own personal ambitions.

Upon completion of his accelerated course of study at Elizabethtown Academy, Hamilton sought to fulfill his original intention of entering the College of New Jersey. Armed with recommendations from two trustees of the college – William Livingston and Elias Boudinot – and the desire to conduct his studies at a “more republican” college, Hamilton met with the president of Princeton, the Scottish minister Dr. John Witherspoon. Hercules Mulligan, a New York merchant tailor acquainted with the Cruger family, accompanied Hamilton. Mulligan later recalled that Hamilton “stated that he wished to enter [the college] . . . with the understanding that he should be permitted to advance from Class to Class with as much rapidity as his exertions would enable him to do so.” Buoyed already by the stress of a previous Princeton student who completed his undergraduate degree in two years rather than four (ironically James Madison, Hamilton’s future collaborator on The Federalist), Witherspoon “listened with great attention to so unusual a proposition from so young a person,” and turned Hamilton’s request down[19]. Hamilton made the same request to King’s College in New York, which took him on.

Historians dispute exactly when Hamilton enrolled as a student at King’s – the records of Hamilton’s collegiate contemporaries seem to vary as well. A copy of a manuscript from “The Matricula or Register of Admissions & of Graduations & of Officers employed in King’s College in New York” displays Hamilton’s name among those admitted in 1774, one among a class of 17[20]. Robert Troup, Hamilton’s lifelong friend and collegiate roommate during his time at King’s College, recalled that he had acquainted himself with Hamilton “in the year 1773 at King’s, now Columbia College, in New York, where I was a student…when the General [Hamilton] entered College, he did it as a private student, and not by annexing himself to a particular class”[21]. Troup’s word serves as an illustration of Hamilton’s unorthodox approach to college education, a recollection of Hamilton’s wish to finish his education on an independently accelerated track. Hercules Mulligan housed Hamilton in his family lodgings in New York City and recalled that Hamilton “enrolled King’s College in the spring of 75 in the Sophomore Class”[22]. King’s College in its infancy kept its official roster carelessly – Matricula could refer not only to matriculation into King’s College, but perhaps also an indication of graduation or other collegiate landmarks. Hamilton was doubtless a “private student,” as mentioned by Robert Troup, in the academic year of 1773-1774 and then formally entered King’s, as per the Matricula, in 1774, perhaps as a sophomore, as recalled by Hercules Mulligan.

King’s College was located in “the most beautiful site for a college in the world”[23] on an elevated plateau bounded by today’s West Broadway, Murray, Barclay, and Church Streets. Across the street from King’s was the red-light district of New York, where as much as 2% of the total population of the city patrolled the dusky lanes each evening, offering their “services” to wary King’s students. President Myles Cooper, an Anglican royalist, sought to sequester his students from external New York as much as possible for these reasons.

New York proved to be an altogether different environment for American slavery than St. Croix – mainly household slaves resided within the city, and slaves made up a fifth of a population of 25,000. Hamilton loved New York immediately as he found its trade and immigrant-oriented world familiar, a merging of his previous homes in Christiansted and Elizabethtown. At King’s, Hamilton encountered peers who had brought their household slaves to the college – most notably John “Jacky” Parker Custis, who was sent by his step-father General George Washington to King’s in 1773 in hopes of curbing Jacky’s penchant for indecent behavior. Accompanying Jacky was his slave, Joe, who lived in lodgings provided by King’s with his master[24]. King’s College in Hamilton’s time operated on an endowment that was underwritten by slavery – sixteen slave merchants of the city served as trustees of King’s College before the Revolution. The slaving activities of the trustees are clear even after gleaning details from incomplete and damaged records of the New York treasurer’s reports. Hamilton had arrived on a campus that had essentially been built by the operations and donations of slave merchants[25].

Hamilton dove headfirst into his studies and student life at King’s, devoting his mental and spiritual faculties to King’s libraries and college chapel. Hamilton initially enrolled in the equivalent of modern day pre-medical courses to start his education as an aspiring physician. Robert Troup’s records indicate that Hamilton “attended anatomical lectures of Dr. Clossy in the College”[26]. Hamilton’s classmates noted his deep devotion to religious ideals – Robert Troup called his roommate as “a zealous believer in the fundamental doctrines of Christianity”[27], and several of Hamilton’s classmates would note his attention to public worship and his habit of “praying on his knees night and morning”[28]. Hamilton started to stray from his medical studies as he partook in courses in political philosophy, voraciously reading Locke, Hobbes, Montesquieu, Hume, Blackstone, Grotius, and Samuel von Pufendorf, from whom particularly Hamilton absorbed a keen sense of natural law and its relationship to human freedom[29]. Hamilton’s deep spiritual pursuit coupled with his sudden fascination with Enlightenment writers compelled him to engage with the political issues of his time, even as a young student at King’s. Hamilton came to King’s as a monarchist – Troup noted that Hamilton “was versed in the history of England and well acquainted with the principles of the English constitution, which he admired”[30]. However, through weekly meetings of a self-made rhetoric society that included membership from Hamilton, Troup, and Edward Stevens, Hamilton’s political disposition began to evolve, and Hamilton started to pen outspoken anti-British pieces. Using his peers in the rhetoric society to preview his essays, Hamilton began to lash out at British colonial rule through his writing, where he would compare the plight of revolutionary Americans to the condition of the black colonial slave. These pieces served as the early establishments of Hamilton’s burgeoning reputation.

In the aftermath of the Boston Tea Party in 1773 and the subsequent Coercive Acts of 1774, revolutionary stirrings began to ripple all around the Atlantic colonies. Anti-British fervor began to appear in the generally Anglophile New York, which distracted Hamilton from his studies with rallies, petitions, broadsides, and handbills. The militant Sons of Liberty held a mass meeting on a grassy common near King’s College in July 1774 to rally support for a boycott of British goods, a meeting that served as the soapbox for Hamilton’s first public speech. Hamilton, energized by the gathered crowd, spoke out against the closure of Boston’s port, endorsed colonial unity against unfair taxation, and came out for a boycott of British goods – he stated that inaction would allow “fraud, power, and the most odious oppression to rise triumphant over right, justice, social happiness, and freedom”[31]. Hamilton kept writing against the oppressive policies of the crown as the revolutionary effort began to take shape and the first Continental Congress made plans to gather. In December 1774, Hamilton published his first major essay, “A Full Vindication of the Measures of the Congress,” advertised in the New-York Gazetteer. “A Full Vindication” displayed Hamilton’s extensive education in history, philosophy, politics, economics, and law from King’s – he wielded the principles of Hume and von Pufendorf in an intellectually charged argument against British colonial rule. Most notably, the piece draws direct comparisons between black slaves and oppressed colonists, another affirmation of Hamilton’s deep disapproval of slavery. Hamilton declared in the piece his fundamental belief that “all men have one common origin: they participate in one common nature, and consequently have one common right,” and that there was no just reason that “one man should exercise any power, or pre-eminence, over his fellow creatures unless they have voluntarily vested him with it.” He continued to call on the farmers of the Atlantic to engage with their oppression, asking them if they are “willing then to be slaves without a single struggle? Will you give up your freedom, or, which is the same thing, will you resign all security for your life and property, rather than endure some small present inconveniencies? Will you not take a little trouble to transmit the advantages you now possess to those, who are to come after you?”[32]. Hamilton filled “A Full Vindication of the Measures of Congress” with explicit references to the condition of slavery in connection with the pamphlet’s target audience, the oppressed colonists of the American colonies, structured by the philosophies Hamilton absorbed from the library of King’s College. Hamilton’s critics, several of whom were wealthy Atlantic slave-owners, responded to “A Full Vindication” by rejecting the analogy between the condition of slaves and the condition of colonists. In his rebuttal to the criticism, titled “A Farmer Refuted,” Hamilton made no mention of slavery whatsoever, instead focusing on rhetoric directly pertinent to the revolutionary cause[33].

New York came under the grip of revolutionary fever, and records of Hamilton’s early exposure to slavery fade as the attention of the colonies began to focus on an impending skirmish with the British crown. In the spring of 1775, Hamilton famously distracted an angry, drunken, Patriot mob from seizing King’s College’s president Myles Cooper, who continued to harbor strong Loyalist sentiments[34]. With the leadership of the College vacated, and the events of the Revolution snowballing, students at King’s started to neglect their studies, many joining local New York militias and lending their assistance to the Revolutionary cause. Hamilton himself partook in a mission to drag artillery from Fort George (where it was in danger of being captured by British forces encroaching on Manhattan) back to King’s, where the artillery was set safely under the liberty pole in the Common[35]. Hamilton never graduated with a formal degree from King’s College as it dissolved into a military hospital for patriot forces by April 1776.

Hamilton was barely twenty-one years, but the period characterized as his early life had largely ended. Seeking a more active role in the war to come, Hamilton enlisted in the Continental Army after serving some time with the New York militia Hearts of Oak. Through Hamilton’s connections with prominent New Yorkers, the New York Provincial Congress eventually appointed Hamilton captain of the Provincial Company of the Artillery of NY in March 1776[36]. After military successes at the Battle of White Plains and the Battle of Trenton, Hamilton found himself invited to become an aide to General George Washington, a post he accepted with excitement. Washington and Hamilton had complementary talents, values, and opinions that made the pair far more than the sum of their parts, and Hamilton absorbed as much as he could from the General – never had he become so close with someone so influential. Washington utilized Hamilton’s superior rhetoric skills to his advantage, making Hamilton conduct all of Washington’s communications to Congress, state governors, and the most powerful generals in the Continental Army. Hamilton even began to pen some of Washington’s speeches, a trend that continued into Washington’s presidency[37]. Washington owned over one hundred slaves on his plantation in Mount Vernon, a fact that Hamilton chose to overlook in his speeches and letters for General, then President Washington. Hamilton’s relationship with Washington exemplifies Hamilton prioritizing his personal ambition and influential connections over the distaste for slavery he had acquired in his early life. A close relationship to Washington, Hamilton saw, would reap political and social benefits in the long term, and Hamilton weighed that against his abhorrence for slavery.

Though Hamilton avoided discussing slavery with Washington at all costs for fear of alienating his mentor, Hamilton did urge Washington to enlist slaves in the Continental Army. Washington, partly due to his own racial views and partly in fear of alienating South Carolina and Georgia from the revolutionary effort, refused to enlist black men until Lord Dunmore, the governor of Virginia, offered slaves freedom for fighting against the colonists[38]. Hamilton seized this opportunity to convince Washington to accept black soldiers fighting for the revolutionary cause. In a letter to John Jay, at the time the president of the Continental Congress, Hamilton argued that this action would “have to combat much opposition from prejudice and self-interest,” but hoped to prove “that the Negroes [would] make very excellent soldiers, with proper management.” Hamilton hoped that this measure would potentially pave a way to emancipation, and confessed this clandestine wish to Jay: “This circumstance, I confess, has no small weight in inducing me to wish the success of the project for the dictates of humanity and true policy equally interest me in favor of this unfortunate class of men.” At a time where a large number of white men of power, including Hamilton’s contemporaries Thomas Jefferson and Washington, harbored deeply racist views, Hamilton denied the inferiority of the black race, speculating that “their natural faculties are as good as ours”[39], a remarkably progressive statement in the context of Hamilton’s era. Though Hamilton hoped that including black soldiers in the Continental Army could potentially serve as a pathway to gradual emancipation, this was not Hamilton’s primary goal in rallying support from Washington to enlist slaves for the revolutionary effort. Hamilton, ever the pragmatist, saw that enlisting slaves was essential to the revolutionary effort – if the 5,000 slaves who had joined the Continental Army had instead joined the thousands of colonial slaves flocking to the British Army, the manpower situation for the Continental Army would have been dire.

When the Revolutionary War ended, Hamilton served briefly in the Congress of the Confederation, resolving issues ranging from army protests to economic inequities from late 1782 to July 1783[40]. Hamilton doubted Congress’ ability to govern the fledgling United States, and left his first stint in politics to go back to New York City. Upon return, Hamilton established a law practice and settled down in the city with his new wife Elizabeth Schuyler, whom he had wooed and married during the twilight years of the Revolution. Hamilton certainly loved Elizabeth, whom he affectionately referred to as “Eliza,” but valued much more the connection she fostered to the Schuyler family, one of the more influential, slave-owning families of New York City. Hamilton’s marriage to Eliza serves as another example of Hamilton putting his settled antipathy for slavery beneath his desire to further his own social position in American society. At times, Philip Schuyler, the patron of the family, owned as many as twenty-seven slaves, working on the family estate in Albany and a plantation in Saratoga[41]. Records are unclear as to whether or not Hamilton and Eliza owned slaves within their personal household – financial records do not indicate clearly that the Hamilton household held ownership of house slaves, and an 1804 letter written by Angelica Schuyler noted regretfully that Eliza did not have slaves to assist with a large party that the Hamiltons were planning[42]. Regardless, Hamilton accepted this aspect of the Schuyler family’s power in order to facilitate his own social mobility.

In addition to his new law practice and his budding new family, Hamilton involved himself in other pursuits in New York. Hamilton played a direct role in the resurrection of his alma mater, King’s College, becoming a trustee of the revived Columbia College. The minutes of the Trustees of Columbia College reveal that Hamilton regularly attended meetings from 1784 until the time of his death in 1804[43]. Hamilton set standards for the early administrators of Columbia College, stating that the president of the college must be “a gentleman…as well as a sound scholar…and his politics be of the right sort.” Hamilton prevented Dr. Benjamin Rush, a prominent statesman during the American Revolution, from obtaining an administrative post in the medical division of Columbia College[44].

Hamilton’s most notable activity regarding his views on slavery was his role in the foundation of the Society for the Promotion of the Manumission of Slaves in New York. Hamilton joined his contemporaries and old friends John Jay and Robert Troup to establish the society in early 1785. The New York Manumission Society, as it was known, conducted a wide-ranging campaign against slavery, printing essays, producing literature, and establishing a registry to prevent freed blacks from being dragged back into servitude[45]. Early records of the Manumission Society do not reveal heavy involvement from Hamilton – it even appears that he missed the inaugural meeting of the society[46]. Perhaps Hamilton simply lent his prestige to a worthy cause in order to mix again with the upper echelon of New York society, including notable men such as Nicholas Fish, William Livingston, John Rodgers, John Mason, James Duane, and William Duer. However, later records show that Hamilton did indeed play a consequential role in the society, penning a proposal with Robert Troup and White Matlack for the members of the Society to emancipate their slaves within a specified timeframe. The Society members thought Hamilton’s proposal was too radical and scrapped his plan. After leaving the Society for a short period, Hamilton returned as a counselor to the Society and helped to draft a petition to end the New York slave trade[47]. Hamilton’s efforts to further the cause of abolition through the Manumission Society did not conflict with his personal ambitions or his interests in property rights or the construction of the American republic – since the members of the Society were tasked to emancipate their slaves on their own volition, Hamilton felt no need to hinder any effort at potential abolition through this venture.

Hamilton had to cease his activity with the New York Manumission Society, and New York society at large, as the new United States entered the process of constructing a new and unified government. After a failed attempt at the reformation of the Articles of Confederation in Annapolis in 1786, Hamilton worked tirelessly to arrange the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia with the purpose of revising the system of American government. Hamilton served as a central negotiator during the Constitutional Convention, often making compromises to ensure the establishment of a unified form of government for the infant United States. Though compromises regarding citizenship and the structure of government were reached with careful effort from the delegates, the specter of slavery haunted the convention. Southern states refused to budge on the issue whatsoever, and supported the Virginia Plan of congressional representation in order to protect the peculiar institution of slavery. Hamilton realized that a difficult compromise needed to be struck in order to ensure that a unified nation would emerge from the convention, and grudgingly accepted the “federal ratio” of five slaves counting as three whites for the purposes of congressional representation. He glumly concluded that without this federal ratio, “no union could have possibly been formed”[48]. In exchange for the ratio, Hamilton argued for the eventual abolition of the slave trade in the United States, which the Southern states conceded – the importation of slaves into the United States would cease after 1808. Though northerners would be hopeful that the end of the slave trade might signal the eventual end of slavery, Hamilton and his cohorts in the Convention recognized that such an outcome was at most an illusory hope[49]. Despite his misgivings about the Constitution that the Convention had conceived, Hamilton recognized that it was the best hope the United States had at a uniform central government, and set his efforts on the arduous task of ratifying it through the states. Yet again, Hamilton recognized that the potential for an advancement of the United States would be deterred by a frontal assault on the institution of slavery, and chose to prioritize the former.

Hamilton understood that New York’s ratification of the Constitution would be absolutely critical to its overall acceptance, and feverishly penned the Federalist Papers in collaboration with John Jay and James Madison to persuade New Yorkers to accept the Constitution. Hamilton penned fifty-one essays in total, many of which dealt directly with the issue of property rights. Despite his misgivings about the institution of slavery, Hamilton accepted that slaves counted as property under the Constitution, and suggested in his essays that the more property meant a stronger vote for the citizen[50]. Hamilton harbored distrust for the lower classes and favored a de facto aristocracy in the new American republic to ensure political stability. Hamilton had labored all of his life to enter the upper echelons of society, and consequently weighted heavily the political influence the wealthy, property-owning upper classes would have in the constitutional government. Despite his monumental contributions to the formation of the new republic, Hamilton at his core favored the political system of Great Britain, and accepted a legislature where representation favored wealthy, property owning men. Hamilton’s support of the three-fifths clause of the Constitution coincided with his commitment to the ideal of property rights, and serves as another example of Hamilton prioritizing a personal agenda rather than the abolition of slavery.

Hamilton ultimately accepted protecting slavery in the Constitution to solidify the union of the North and the South, which was crucial to the financial growth that Hamilton envisioned. The compromises that Hamilton made to perpetuate slavery within the framework of the Constitution were accepted not because Hamilton wished to perpetuate slavery, but because Hamilton recognized that a unified government would not find fruition without slavery’s continued existence. The economic prosperity of the United States depended on harmonious relations between the North and South. Plus, Hamilton maintained that the Southern agrarian economy put the nation at an “advantage,” as the Southern crops of tobacco, rice, and indigo had to serve as “capital objects in treaties of commerce with foreign nations”[51]. Hamilton saw the continued existence of slavery in the United States as a necessary concession for economic growth, and chose national economic power over taking a stand against slavery. A refusal to budge on the issue would have made it impossible to ratify the Constitution.

Though Hamilton had spent the latter part of his life conceding on the issue of slavery in order to further his personal ambitions and the interests of the early American republic, his work as the eventual Treasury Secretary of the United States allowed him to lay the foundations of an American economy independent of slavery. Under Washington, Hamilton had unprecedented power to establish the financial system of the United States. He believed that manufacturing was a more desirable activity than agriculture since it yielded higher profits[52]. In the magnum opus of his economic plan for the United States, the Report on the Subject of Manufactures, Hamilton conceded that “agriculture is, not only, the most productive but the only productive species of industry” and emphasized its importance in an economy, but that American economic independence would have to come about from the growth of manufacturing and its establishment as a permanent feature of the economic system of the nation[53]. Hamilton argued that this could be established through subsidies to manufacturing, regulation of trade through tariffs promoting internal production, and other forms of government support. This increase in manufacturing, Hamilton proposed, would attract young, talented immigrants to the United States and expand applications of technology and science for all sectors of the economy, including agriculture. The Report does not make a single mention of slavery, but refers to labor as human capital as a variable input (wage labor) rather than a fixed function of capital (slave labor). Hamilton’s Report on the Subject of Manufactures, coupled with First and Second Reports on Public Credit (his reports on public finance and national banking respectively), laid out an economic blueprint for the United States devoid of slavery. Though Hamilton had to compromise on the issue of slavery to secure the unification of the United States necessary for the financial vision he harbored, Hamilton’s omission of slavery in his plans for the United States economy in no way interfered with his personal ambitions, his devotion to property rights, or his perception of American interests. A further indication of the free labor nature of Hamilton’s Report of Manufactures is the adoption of the measure as a cornerstone of the early Republican Party platform, along with the opposition to the perpetuity and expansion of slavery. The Report was so radical for its time that one Hamilton chronicler stated that Hamilton had, with his plan, “prophesied much of post-Civil War America”[54].

Hamilton’s economic plan met heavy opposition from his contemporaries Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, both Virginian slave-owners. Hamilton’s detractors opposed the subsidies to industry, fearing detrimental effects on American agriculture, which they saw as the backbone of the American economy. Ultimately however, Jefferson and Madison could not concede, as Hamilton could, that the central reason the agrarian economy retained such robustness was the free cost of labor stemming from plantation slavery. The genius of Hamilton’s economic plan unfortunately went ignored, and his detractors won out – Congress shelved the Report on Manufactures, and Hamilton made no effort to resurrect his plan from legislative oblivion[55]. Hamilton’s landmark work, and potentially his largest contribution to the abolition of slavery in the United States, did not find a platform of action until well after Hamilton’s death.

After serving out his term as George Washington’s Treasury Secretary, Hamilton returned back to New York and resumed work with the New York Manumission Society in January of 1798. As one of four legal advisers, Hamilton defended free blacks from out-of-state slave masters who brandished bills of sale and attempted to snatch them off the streets of New York[56]. The Manumission Society enjoyed one of its most significant victories in 1799, when the New York Assembly decreed the gradual abolition of slavery in the state of New York by a vote of 68 to 23. The Society continued its work, with Hamilton one of the few at the helm, running a school for black children and protesting the practice of New York slaveholders who were circumventing state laws by exporting slaves to the south, from where they were transferred to the West Indian sugar plantations that Hamilton had known as a boy. Hamilton stayed heavily involved in the Manumission Society until his death, despite his multiplying commitments.[57] Now that he had established himself in the history of the United States, ensured that property rights played a role in the Constitution of the new Republic, and laid the foundation for the economic system of the United States, Hamilton finally felt free to work with an institution like the Manumission Society that allowed him to rectify the racial injustice that surrounded Hamilton in his early years.

The rise of Alexander Hamilton from impoverished, orphaned squalor to become a key player in the construction of the United States explicates both his personal views and public actions regarding slavery and race. During his childhood and upbringing in St. Croix, Hamilton witnessed firsthand the awful conditions of the slaves, and absorbed philosophical abstractions critical of slavery during his education at King’s College. Though from his early life he adopted a comprehensive hatred of the institution of slavery, Hamilton harbored boundless ambitions, for himself and for the philosophical rights he believed in that would eventually become instrumental in his economic plan for the United States. Whenever confronted with the choice of furthering his ambitions or choosing to weaken slavery in the United States, Hamilton chose the former. This trend in Hamilton’s life does not detract from the monumental accomplishments of the most famous student of Columbia College, for Hamilton, despite submitting to his personal ambitions, did what he could to cripple slavery until his death in 1804. Hamilton’s views on race and the freed slave’s place in American society were far more progressive than those of his contemporaries: not only did Hamilton reject methods like colonization and mindsets of racial superiority, but Hamilton also believed that African slaves had mental faculties equal to those of whites, and deserved a fair standing within the American republic. Hamilton believed that slavery was a retrograde institution when posed in juxtaposition with his revolutionary vision of a manufactory America, and his career serves to underscore the limits of anti-slavery sentiment during his time – slavery was not the central dialectical issue of Hamilton’s era, and thus the institution did not occupy a central space in Hamilton’s mind. Ultimately, a frontal assault on slavery in the time of Hamilton would have endangered the fledgling union of a new nation that Hamilton had devoted his life to constructing. When considering the stakes of his era, Hamilton’s prioritization of his personal and public ambitions over the destruction of slavery becomes all the more clear. Alexander Hamilton had resplendent visions for himself and the United States, yet ultimately remained a pragmatist who understood and only participated in the battles that he could win – unfortunately for his time, slavery, so ingrained in the American South, was an impossible battle for Hamilton to win.

Austin, Ian Patrick. Common Foundations of American and East Asian Modernisation: From Hamilton to Junichero Koizumi. (Singapore: Select Books, 2009). E-Book.

Broadus, Mitchell. Hamilton: Youth to Maturity 1755 – 1788. (MacMillian Company: New York, 1962).

Brookhiser, Richard. Hamilton, American. (New York: The Free Press, 1999). Print.

Chernow, Ron. Hamilton. (New York: Penguin Books, 2004). Print.

Cruger, Henry and John. Waste Book, June 1762 -- January 1768. Manuscript. (New-York Historical Society, New York).

Cruger, Henry and John. Letter Book, June 1767 -- August 1768. Manuscript. (New-York Historical Society, New York).

Dorfman, Joseph and Tugwell, Rexford Guy. “Alexander Hamilton: Nation-Maker.” Columbia University Quarterly (December 1937): 59-72

Ellis, Joseph J. Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002). Print.

Flexner, James Thomas. The Young Hamilton: A Biography. (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1978). Print.

Hamilton, Alexander. “Letter to Edward Stevens.” Hamilton Papers. Manuscript. Library of Congress, Washington. Online.

Hamilton, Alexander. “To The Royal Danish American Gazzette.” Manuscript. National Historical Publication & Records Commission. National Archives, Online.

Hamilton, Alexander. “Report on Manufactures.” Manuscript. Library of Congress, Washington. Online.

Hendrickson, Robert A. The Rise and Fall of Hamilton (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1981). 42

Humphreys, David. Papers of David C. Humphreys. Manuscript. From Rare Books & Manuscript Library, Columbia University, Box 1. 1975.

Horton, James Oliver. “Hamilton: Slavery and Race in a Revolutionary Generations,” New York: The New York Journal of American History 3 (2004), 16-24.

“Matricula of King’s College.” Manuscript. (New York, 1774). Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

Miner, Dwight. Papers of Dwight Miner. Manuscript. From Rare Books & Manuscript Library, Columbia University, Box 1. 1973.

Mulligan, Hercules. “Narrative of Hercules Mulligan in the City of New York.” Hamilton Papers. Manuscript. Library of Congress, Washington. Online.

New York Manumission Society. “New-York Manumission Society Records.” Manuscript. (New-York Historical Society, New York. 1785-1849).

“Probate Court Transaction on Estate of Rachel Levien.” Manuscript. (St. Croix, 1768). National Archives, Washington. Online.

Randall, Willard Sterne. Hamilton: A Life. New York: HarperCollinsPublishers, 2003. Print.

The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, 3 vols. - Online Library of Liberty., 'The Records Of The Federal Convention Of 1787, 3 Vols. - Online Library Of Liberty'.

Syrett, Harold C. and Jacob E. Cooke, eds. The Papers of Hamilton. 27 vols. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1961-87).

Troup, Robert. “Robert Troup to John Mason, March 22, 1810.” Hamilton Papers. Manuscript. Library of Congress, Washington. Online.

Wilder, Craig. Ebony & Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities. (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2013). Print.

[1] “Probate Court Transaction on Estate of Rachel Levien.” Manuscript. (St. Croix, 1768). National Archives, Washington.

[2] Brookhiser, Richard. Hamilton, American. (New York: The Free Press, 1999),18.

[3] Hendrickson, Robert A. The Rise and Fall of Hamilton (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1981), 42.

[4] Hamilton, Alexander. “Letter to Edward Stevens, 1767.” Hamilton Papers. Manuscript. Library of Congress, Washington.

[5] Cruger, Henry and John. Waste Book, June 1762 -- January 1768. Manuscript. (New-York Historical Society, New York).

[6] Cruger, Henry and John. Letter Book, June 1767 -- August 1768. Manuscript. (New-York Historical Society, New York).

[7] Chernow, Ron. Hamilton. (New York: Penguin Books, 2004), 31.

[8] Chernow, Ron. Hamilton. (New York: Penguin Books, 2004), 32.

[9] Flexner, James Thomas. The Young Hamilton: A Biography. (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1978), 39

[10] Austin, Ian Patrick. Common Foundations of American and East Asian Modernisation: From Hamilton to Junichero Koizumi. (Singapore: Select Books, 2009), 31.

[11] Chernow, Ron. Hamilton. (New York: Penguin Books, 2004), 33.

[12] Austin, Ian Patrick. Common Foundations of American and East Asian Modernisation: From Hamilton to Junichero Koizumi. (Singapore: Select Books, 2009), 32.

[13] Hamilton, Alexander. “To The Royal Danish American Gazzette.” Manuscript. National Historical Publication & Records Commission. National Archives, Online.

[14] Randall, Willard Sterne. Hamilton: A Life. (New York: HarperCollinsPublishers, 2003), 40.

[16] Flexner, James Thomas. The Young Hamilton: A Biography. (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1978), 54.

[18] Flexner, James Thomas. The Young Hamilton: A Biography. (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1978), 56.

[19] Brookhiser, Richard. Hamilton, American. (New York: The Free Press, 1999), 21.

[20] “Matricula of King’s College.” Manuscript. (New York, 1774). Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

[21] Troup, Robert. “Robert Troup to John Mason, March 22, 1810.” Hamilton Papers. Manuscript. Library of Congress, Washington.

[22] Mulligan, Hercules. “Narrative of Hercules Mulligan in the City of New York.” Hamilton Papers. Manuscript. Library of Congress, Washington.

[23] Chernow, Ron. Hamilton. (New York: Penguin Books, 2004), 49-50.

[24] Wilder, Craig. Ebony & Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities. (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2013), 136

[26] Miner, Dwight. Robert Troup’s Diary. Manuscript.

[28] Chernow, Ron. Hamilton. (New York: Penguin Books, 2004), 53

[30] Flexner, James Thomas. The Young Hamilton: A Biography. (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1978), 63.

[31] Chernow, Ron. Hamilton. (New York: Penguin Books, 2004), 55.

[32] Syrett, Harold and Jacob E. Cooke, eds. The Papers of Hamilton. Vol 1. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1961-87).

[34] Chernow, Ron. Hamilton. (New York: Penguin Books, 2004), 64.

[36] Miner, Dwight. Miner Papers. Manuscript.

[37] Chernow, Ron. Hamilton. (New York: Penguin Books, 2004), 89.

[38] Horton, James Oliver. “Hamilton: Slavery and Race in a Revolutionary Generations,” New York: The New York Journal of American History 3 (2004), 21.

[39] Syrett, Harold and Jacob E. Cooke, eds. The Papers of Hamilton. Vol 2. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1961-87).

[40] Randall, Willard Sterne. Hamilton: A Life. (New York: HarperCollinsPublishers, 2003, 261-262.

[41] Chernow, Ron. Hamilton. (New York: Penguin Books, 2004), 210

[42] Syrett, Harold and Jacob E. Cooke, eds. The Papers of Hamilton. Vol 19. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1961-87).

[43] Humphreys, David. Papers of David C. Humphreys. Manuscript. From Rare Books & Manuscript Library, Columbia University, Box 1. 1975.

[45] Chernow, Ron. Hamilton. (New York: Penguin Books, 2004), 214-215.

[46] New York Manumission Society. “New-York Manumission Society Records.” Manuscript. (New-York Historical Society, New York. 1785-1849).

[47] Chernow, Ron. Hamilton. (New York: Penguin Books, 2004), 214-215.

[48] Ellis, Joseph J. Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002), 201.

[49] Chernow, Ron. Hamilton. (New York: Penguin Books, 2004), 239.

[50] Syrett, Harold and Jacob E. Cooke, eds. The Papers of Hamilton. Vol 4. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1961-87).

[51] The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, 3 vols. - Online Library of Liberty. Vol. 1, 5-6.

[52] Dorfman, Joseph and Tugwell, Rexford Guy. “Alexander Hamilton: Nation-Maker.” Columbia University Quarterly (December 1937), 62

[53] Hamilton, Alexander. “Report on Manufactures.” Manuscript. Library of Congress, Washington.

[54] Flexner, James Thomas. The Young Hamilton: A Biography. (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1978), 437.

[55] Chernow, Ron. Hamilton. (New York: Penguin Books, 2004), 378.

Paying for the Assumption of Debts

The federal government established bonds at Hamilton's behest. However, this was not enough to pay off the huge debts that had accrued during the Revolutionary War, so Hamilton asked Congress to levy an excise tax on liquor. Western and southern congressmen opposed this tax because it affected the livelihood of farmers in their states. Northern and southern interests in Congress compromised agreeing to make the southern city of Washington, D.C. into the nation's capital in exchange for levying the excise tax. It is noteworthy that even at this early date in the nation's history there was much economic friction between northern and southern states.

Jefferson versus Hamilton

How did the debate between Jefferson and Hamilton shape the political system of the United States?


In George Washington’s Farewell Address (1796), the retiring president warned that the creation of political factions, “sharpened by the spirit of revenge,” would most certainly lead to “formal and permanent despotism.” Despite Washington’s cautionary words, two of his closest advisors, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, helped to form the factions that led to the dual party system under which the U.S. operates today. Other men, most notably James Madison and John Adams, also contributed to the formation of political parties, but Hamilton and Jefferson came to represent the divisions that shaped the early national political landscape.

Although both men had been active in the Revolutionary effort and in the founding of the United States, Jefferson and Hamilton did not work together until Washington appointed Jefferson the first secretary of State and Hamilton the first secretary of the Treasury. From the beginning, the two men harbored opposing visions of the nation’s path. Jefferson believed that America’s success lay in its agrarian tradition. Hamilton’s economic plan hinged on the promotion of manufactures and commerce. While Hamilton distrusted popular will and believed that the federal government should wield considerable power in order steer a successful course, Jefferson placed his trust in the people as governors. Perhaps because of their differences of opinion, Washington made these men his closest advisors.

Hamilton’s economic plan for the nation included establishing a national bank like that in England to maintain public credit consolidating the states’ debts under the federal government and enacting protective tariffs and government subsidies to encourage American manufactures. All of these measures strengthened the federal government’s power at the expense of the states. Jefferson and his political allies opposed these reforms. Francophile Jefferson feared that the Bank of the United States represented too much English influence, and he argued that the Constitution did not give Congress the power to establish a bank. He did not believe that promoting manufactures was as important as supporting the already-established agrarian base. Jefferson deemed “those who labour in the earth” the “chosen people of God . . . whose breasts he has made his peculiar deposit for substantial and genuine virtue.” He advised his countrymen to “let our work-shops remain in Europe.”

When George Washington’s administration began, the two camps that formed during the Constitutional ratification debates – those groups known as the Federalists and Anti-Federalists – had not yet solidified into parties. But, disagreements over the nation’s direction were already eroding any hope of political unity. In May of 1792, Jefferson expressed his fear to Washington about Hamilton’s policies, calling Hamilton’s allies in Congress a “corrupt squadron.” He expressed fear that Hamilton wished to move away from the Constitution’s republican structure, toward a monarchy modeled after the English constitution. That same month, Hamilton confided to a friend that “Mr. Madison cooperating with Mr. Jefferson is at the head of a faction decidedly hostile to me and my administration, and . . . dangerous to the union, peace and happiness of the Country.”

By the time Jefferson and John Adams vied for the presidency in 1796, political factions had formed under the labels “Republicans” and “Federalists.” In fact, by 1804 the advent of political parties necessitated a constitutional amendment that changed the electoral process to allow president/vice president tickets on the ballot. The Federalists dominated the national government through the end of the 18th century. Despite President Washington’s efforts at unity, political differences proved to be too deep to promote consensus. The Republican Party emerged as organized opposition to Federalist policies, and despite Jefferson’s assurances in his first inaugural address that Americans were “all republicans” and “all federalists,” faction had solidified into party.

For more information

George Washington, “Farewell Address,” Yale University, Avalon Project.

Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, 1784, in David Waldstreicher, ed., Notes on the State of Virginia, and Related Documents. Boston: Bedford St. Martins Press, 2002. Can also be found online at the University of Virginia Library’s Electronic Text Center.

Thomas Jefferson to George Washington, May 23, 1792 and Alexander Hamilton to Edward Carrington, May 26, 1792 in Jefferson vs. Hamilton: Confrontations that Shaped a Nation, ed. by Noble E. Cunningham, Jr. Boston: Bedford St. Martins Press, 2000.

Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address, 1801. Papers of Thomas Jefferson, ed. by Barbara Oberg. Princeton University Press, 2006. vol. 33: 148-152.


Cunningham, Noble E., Jr. ed. Jefferson vs. Hamilton: Confrontations That Shaped a Nation. Boston: Bedford St. Martin’s Press, 2000.

Read, James H. Power versus Liberty: Madison, Hamilton, Wilson, and Jefferson. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2000.

Staloff, Darren. Hamilton, Adams, Jefferson: The Politics of the Enlightenment and the American Founding. New York: Hill and Wang, 2005.

Free Example of Alexander Hamilton an Economic Genius Essay

Alexander Hamilton is one of the most famous public figures in the history of the United States of America. He is one of the most controversial economists of his era. Whether America&rsquos financial strength can be attributed to Alexander Hamilton or no continues to be a debatable topic. In this paper, we discuss the opposing views of two historians. John Steele Gordon, a historian who wrote Empire of Wealth: The Epic History of American Economic Power, claims that Hamilton&rsquos policies and foresight are what turned around the US&rsquos economy from having unsalable obligations and nil borrowing ability in 1789 to having bonds that were selling at 10 percent above par and the highest credit rating in Europe in 1794. However, Professor Carey Roberts argues that Hamilton&rsquos policies diminished faith in the federal government. He also challenges the claim that the policies had been beneficial to the general public and the economy itself.

According to John Steele Gordon, Hamilton&rsquos foresight and knowledge of public finance helped him chart a course for the American economy in a way that nobody else could. Starting from spearheading the Constitutional Conventions in Annapolis and Philadelphia to his proposal to Congress and the first National Bank, he displayed his brilliance as an economist. He also outlined a plan to create the capital required to kick start a prosperous economy and introduced government tariffs, subsidies, and awards to encourage American Manufacturing. According to John Steele, Alexander Hamilton can take all the credit for creating an economy that went on to become one of the strongest in the world. Even the then &lsquofuture&rsquo French Foreign minister &ndash Talleyrand stood by Hamilton&rsquos proposal for the federal government to assume the debts that had been incurred by the various states fighting in the revolution. Hamilton advocated federal bonds as opposed to state bonds, and according to Talleyrand, the bonds were &ldquosafe and free from reverses. They have been funded in such a sound manner and the prosperity of this country is growing so rapidly that there can be no doubt of their solvency.&rdquo

While John Steele believes that Hamilton laid the foundation for America&rsquos strong and powerful national economy, Carey Roberts believes that there is a lot that has not been spoken about and that has been hidden under the carpet of a prosperous economy. According to Carey Roberts, the increasing tax burden on the common man, the inflations, and initially spiraling economy are not taken into consideration anywhere. For instance, The Bank of United States &ndash created by Hamilton - exercised an inflationary effect and also followed a fairly rapid credit expansion policy in the first few years. As Carey points out, &ldquoHamilton mistakenly saw credit as a means of stimulating investment and failed to recognize that demand for credit does not correlate to demand for the investments created with it.&rdquo It is also believed that the inflationary tendencies of Hamilton&rsquos policies misled entrepreneurs into thinking that the economy was better than it actually was &ndash the Panic of the 1790s is the best example of misled entrepreneurs.

While John Steele glorifies Alexander Hamilton&rsquos policies and the way the economy reacted to them, Carey Roberts brings to light the various misconceptions and miscalculations in Hamilton&rsquos policies which affected the economy and caused it to spiral at one point of time. However, it cannot be denied that Hamilton was a visionary and a genius when it came to planning for an economy that was sinking and debt ridden. Though his policies did have some major negative impacts, the United States of America was able to sustain and pick itself from the slightly better position that Hamilton had put it in and move to great heights from there. Even without overlooking the economic crises that the United States went through, Hamilton can be considered an economic genius for the sheer courage and work that went into outlining the future of the American economy.

Hamilton vs. Jefferson: Using Hamilton the Musical in the Classroom

“And the world’s gonna know your name –
What’s your name, man?

Alexander Hamilton.
My name is Alexander Hamilton.
There’s a million things I haven’t done
But just you wait.
Just you wait…”

For the past four years, I have used Lin-Manual Miranda’s performance at the 2009 White House Poetry Jam to introduce my students to Alexander Hamilton. And every year, they demand a second viewing. Lin-Manual’s ability to tell Hamilton’s story through hip-hop is absolutely amazing and my students often sang the song weeks later.

Lin-Manual Miranda is the genius behind Hamilton the Musical, the hit musical that tells the story of the first treasury secretary and of our young nation. When tickets for the production went on sale I immediately bought them. I cannot explain how amazing the show is. Mr. Miranda not only does a remarkable job bringing Alexander Hamilton to life, he breathes life into the founding of our nation. After seeing it, I could not wait to bring it to my class.

While Act 1 does an amazing job focusing on Hamilton’s experience during the War of Independence, as a classroom teacher it is the second act that I feel could help illuminate the differences between the Jeffersonians (Democratic-Republicans) and the Hamiltonians (Federalists). Two of the songs in particular, “Cabinet Battle #1” and “Cabinet Battle #2” directly highlight the foundational differences between the beliefs of Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson.

The image of the hat was lovingly taken from and added to Mr. Hamilton by me!

For this lesson, I am going to focus on “Cabinet Battle #1” which focuses on core economic differences between the two secretaries. In this rap battle, President Washington mediates a discussion regarding Hamilton’s economic plan. The lyrics are fast and full of history! As my students would be overwhelmed with this at first, I need to back up and discuss the differences between the two men.

After an overview of the two men (as listening to Miranda’s performance at the White House above), my students completed a graphic organizer to help them understand the major differences between the two parties that the men led.

While students have a general understanding of the differences, the Enduring Debates activity from the Social Studies Techbook has students go a bit deeper into the ideals of the two parties. Students begin by looking at the central issue between the two men (which is also highlighted in Cabinet Battle #1) – the role of the federal government over the states.

After a brief biography, students hear from Jefferson and Hamilton on three aspects dealing with the central question.

Students then choose to align themselves with one of the men and explain their reasoning.

At the end, students look at the scorecard to see where they align. For the record, I always saw myself as a Hamiltonian (I even got married at a place called Hamilton Hall to celebrate that fact. And also my marriage.)

Now that students have a better understanding of the issues, students are ready to listen to and break down the lyrics from Cabinet Battle #1. The song is available on Amazon Prime (and can be easily found on YouTube). Disclaimer: There is also one curse word in this song. In the lyrics for students to annotate, I put “sh—“ and during the song, I made an audible “beep.”

If you haven’t yet listened to the song, please do! I’ll be right here.

Now for this activity (link to the Google Document), I am using two columns to provide support for students as they make it through the document. Students are answering the questions on the side as they read and making notes on the document to provide context for the history behind the lyrics. Students may work alone, in groups, or partner up and then compare and compile information. I have included the activity here which is freely available for download so you can modify it to work in your class!

Once students feel they have gotten as much as they can, you can compare your students work Lin-Manual Miranda (and others) work annotating the song on I recommend previewing the website annotations on the site before deciding which you would like to share with them.

As a final activity, based upon their understanding of Hamilton and Jefferson’s opposing view students identified other areas of disagreement between the two. My students highlighted their feelings about a strict versus loose interpretation of the Constitution and their feelings towards France. For extra credit, students have the option of writing another verse illustrating those differences.

I am sure that many have different ideas for discussing Hamilton and Jefferson and for using music in the classroom. Let’s talk!

Watch the video: APUSH Review: Alexander Hamiltons Financial Plan (December 2021).

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