Alexander Hamilton

Hamilton the Whimsical: the Liberal Recreation of Alexander Hamilton

“Hamilton – The Musical” or perhaps more accurately, “Hamilton – The Whimsical” now playing on Broadway has given new life to a long-held progressive belief that Alexander Hamilton was a kind of prototype progressive facing off against all odds with the stern conservatives of the day. They would be James Madison, John Adams, John Jay, and Thomas Jefferson, to name a few.

While it is true that Hamilton foresaw a larger role for the federal government than the others, he was no progressive. Hamilton advanced the idea of a central bank, for example, not because he believed the government needed to provide more services to the citizenry, but rather because a central bank was necessary for our fledgling nation’s security and to uphold the promise of liberty for us all.

That it would help stabilize the economic foundation was a bonus rather than a goal. He believed we faced dangers from outside forces and the federal government needed to be able to quickly raise cash to respond in the event of a war or national emergency. Raising taxes would just take too long. In other words, a central bank was not created because government needed to provide more services to the people, but rather because the security of the people demanded it.

Another progressive idea Hamilton advanced was that of government providing critical businesses with subsidies. He did NOT propose them to control the economy (as they have come to be used) but rather for two completely different reasons. He believed, rightly, that our young nation needed to jump-start a manufacturing economy so we could compete on a world stage with existing world powers that almost universally assisted their manufacturing businesses with government protections and capital infusions.

Hence, Hamilton believed, we needed a strong manufacturing business climate as a matter of national security. And secondly, to compete with the economic power of Europe, American business needed corresponding governmental help. By providing that help at the government level, our capacity to produce much-needed products would grow at a much faster pace than if left to its own devices. And what kinds of manufacturing did Hamilton think most vital? Weapons. Guns for you. Guns for me. Not hunting rifles, but rather guns to defend ourselves against tyranny, both foreign and domestic. I’m guessing progressives never mention this Hamilton quote: “The constitution shall never be construed…to prevent the people of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms.” or this: “The best we can hope for concerning the people at large is that they be properly armed.” 

Despite Hamilton’s elevation in the eyes of progressives, he differed from the other founding fathers only in degree. In Federalist 68, writing as Publius, Hamilton set out the basic structure of the same electoral college that progressives are up in arms about today. The electoral college was conceived in the same fashion as the senate and for the same reason; to deflect the inevitable “tyranny of the masses”. Absent the electoral college (or senate), Hamilton foresaw big populous cities imposing their rule on rural America long before it became a practical reality.

In a recent article by Theotis Robinson, Jr. in the Knoxville News Sentinel, he correctly points out that if California had the same per-capita representation in the electoral college as Wyoming, it (CA) would have 199 electoral votes. True enough… care to guess where all of California’s landfills would be located? Robinson conveniently forgets the Senate is similarly “flawed”. Imagine for a millisecond the virus 199 californicated Senators would spread.  Wake up progressives! We don’t, and never have, lived in a mob-ruled democracy. This is a Republic of 50 states. Inasmuch as Hamilton recognized the danger of mob rule, he helped to design and he supported the electoral college (and Senate) which, to this day, protects the rights of demagogues to be heard on the public stage. Theotis is a smart man. He knows this. He apparently chooses to promote discord for some mysterious personal gain.

While it’s true that Hamilton was more liberal than most of his contemporaries with respect to the size and reach of the federal government, he clearly recognized and promoted the power of states to chart their own course. He would be appalled (but probably not that surprised) to learn that the federal government has burrowed its nose into almost every aspect of American life.

Hamilton believed in the fundamental diversity of the human experience. By that, I mean he knew people were different and they were destined to reach different heights. He also recognized there was, and likely always would be, good an evil inherent in humanity. This is precisely why the American government was divided into three co-equal branches. It is also why he (and virtually all of the founders) believed the government must be constrained and confounded to avoid it growing into what it is today, a nosy, intrusive behemoth continually attempting to trample states into a mushy goulash of sameness.

Hamilton was a staunch supporter of property rights. He believed the creation of the aforementioned central bank was pivotal to ensuring the government operated by the same rules of contracts and personal ownership as the citizenry. The government must abide by rules and laws, pay its debts, and honor its commitments the same as an honorable public.

While he proposed (and ushered in) significant expansions in the reach and scope of government, he did so under the guidance and in a manner consistent with the constitution’s granting of national security preeminence to the federal government. He recognized the inherent risk in the concentration of power in the hands of the few:“A powerful, victorious ally is yet another name for master.” 

His beliefs were in direct contrast to modern progressives who believe government is a tool, to be used to ever tinker with social values; ever expanding into a mystical monolith of equally happy and prosperous citizenry; all owning an equal share of the pie. Modern progressives see no inherent problem with taking money from one class of people and awarding it to another, or indenturing the next generation in order to pay for the excesses of the previous.

Progressives see no conflict in massive “public investments” in private industries irrespective of market forces. As they cheer over “green energy investments” that have failed to the tune of nearly a trillion taxpayer dollars over the last 8 years, they continue to support a healthcare boondoggle that has already cost $1.7 trillion and the cost will continue to rise. Think about that for just a second. One Thousand and Seven hundred BILLION dollars to arrange “acceptable” insurance for about 2% of the population. And this massive “investment” purchased not a single aspirin tablet.

Anyone who thinks the creator of the Central Bank to ensure we pay our collective debts would be a progressive today is delusional. Anyone who thinks a staunch supporter of property rights would be a progressive, today, is ignorant of history. Anyone who thinks Hamilton was the respected voice that firmly anchors the progressive ideology in the wisdom of our founding fathers is blinded by self-serving ideology.

Hamilton knew, as surely as all of the major contributors to our unique constitutional republic, that there could never be a monolith of rainbow-covered equally prosperous people. There would always rise to the suffocating top, the cream where life was richer, sweeter, and more prosperous; where the elite lived well off the labors of others. The closest these brilliant minds could approach this nirvana, was to establish a meritocracy wherein the widest range of citizenry was given the greatest possibility of achieving prosperity: “Why has government been instituted at all? Because the passions of man will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice without constraint.” 

With all their faults, the intervening 240 years have proven the founders did a pretty damn good job.

It would appear those mucking it up are those who falsely believe Hamilton was a whimsical progressive supporter of bigger, ever-more-oppressive government.

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Alan McConnell

As a semi-retired, father of three, (Journalism - University of Southern Colorado) a supporter of Hillsdale College, and a life-long entrepreneur, my opinions come from a "floating trailer park" in Honolulu. As a constitutional conservative and former Texan, I have a difficult time referring to myself as a Republican, although Republicans most closely approach my beliefs.

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