Saturday, August 25, 2007

Alexander Hamilton (1757-1804)

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Those who stand for nothing fall for anything.


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Lecture: Federalist Papers
Powerpoint Presentation: Federalist Papers
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Alexander Hamilton was born on the West Indies Island of Nevis on January 11, 1757. He went to New York in 1772 for his formal education, beginning with grammar school. Later he attended King's College, which is now Columbia University. Hamilton's great qualities of mind and spirit revealed themselves early. While in his teens, he took a firm stand on the side of the patriots, and became a leader in the movement advocating independence. Before he was 20 years of age, Hamilton commanded artillery troops in several important battles, and from 1777 to 1781, served as aide-de-camp to General Washington. He left Washington to take command of an infantry regiment that took part in the siege of Yorktown. At the age of 25, he served as a member of the Continental Congress from 1782-1783, then retired to open his own law office in New York City. His public career continued when he attended the Annapolis Convention as a delegate in 1786. He also served in the New York State Legislature and attended the Philadelphia Convention in 1787. That convention studied and subsequently adopted the Constitution of the United States on September 2, 1789.

Hamilton served another term in 1788 in what proved to be the last time the Continental Congress met under the old Articles of Confederation. President George Washington appointed him to be the first Secretary of the Treasury when the first Congress passed an Act establishing the Treasury Department. He served as Secretary of the Treasury from September 11, 1789 until January 31, 1795. As Secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton's term was marked by bold innovation, statesmanlike planning, and masterful reports. His financial program provided public credit where there was none before, and gave the infant Nation a circulating medium and financial machinery. After being in office for barely one month, he proposed the idea of a seagoing branch of the military to secure the revenue against contraband. The following summer, the Congress authorized a Revenue Marine force of ten cutters. The Revenue Marine is now the United States Coast Guard. He also played a crucial role in creating the United States Navy (the Naval Act of 1794). Hamilton also proposed the creation of a Naval Academy, an idea ahead of his time.

He published Report on the Public Credit on January 14, 1790, (although some reports put the date at January 9, 1790), which amounted to a watershed in American history, marking the end of an era of bankruptcy and repudiation. The plan provided for assumption of both the domestic and the foreign debts. Both James Madison and Thomas Jefferson strongly opposed Hamilton's plan, but it passed overwhelmingly. He advocated assumption by the Federal Government of the debts of the States. Madison and Jefferson also opposed this plan, but they settled the contest in a private meeting on July 21, 1790. During this meeting, Hamilton agreed to the future location of the Nation's Capital on the Potomac River, in return for Jefferson's support of assumption. Hamilton's perceptive and creative mind coupled with his driving ambition to set his ideas in motion resulted many proposals to the Congress. His proposals included a plan including import duties and excise taxes for raising revenue, funding of the revolutionary debt, and suggestions on naval laws. He also developed plans for a Congressional charter for the first Bank of the United States, and for placing the revenues on firm ground. Strong opposition to collection efforts of his excise tax on spirits erupted into the Whiskey Rebellion in Western Pennsylvania and Virginia in 1794. Hamilton felt that compliance with the laws was very urgent. He accompanied General Henry Lee and his troops part of the way in an advisory capacity to help put down the insurrection. Hamilton's resignation as Secretary of the Treasury in 1795 did not remove him from public life. With the resumption of his law practice, he remained close to Washington as an advisor and friend. Hamilton was fatally wounded during a duel with Aaron Burr on July 11, 1804. He died in New York City the following day. [This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License and uses material adapted in whole or in part from the Wikipedia article on Alexander Hamilton.]

Federalist Papers
Russell McNeil, PhD (Copyright 2005)
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note: These are raw notes for an overview lecture on the Federalist Papers.

Russell McNeil
Oct 6, 2005


The context for the 1787 Federalist papers is the US Constitution ratified in that same year by the newly independent United States of America. The United States of America had been only eleven years earlier been a collection of thirteen British colonies stretching along the eastern seaboard of North America from Florida to Nova Scotia.

The United Stated Declaration of Independence of 1776 set the stage for and was the model of the enlightenment energy and thinking behind the US Constitution and the Federalist Papers.

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed ...

The Principles section of the Declaration is influenced by Enlightenment philosophy, including the concepts of natural law - from John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau, self-determination, and Deism.

Many of the most distinguished leaders of the American revolution--Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Franklin, Paine--were powerfully influenced by English and--to a lesser extent-- French Enlightenment thought. The God who underwrites the concept of equality in the Declaration of Independence is the same deist God Jean Jacques Rousseau worshipped, not that venerated in the traditional churches which still supported and defended monarchies all over Europe. Thomas Jefferson and Franklin both spent time in France--a natural ally because it was a traditional enemy of England--absorbing the influence of the French Enlightenment. The language of natural law, of inherent freedoms, of self-determination which seeped so deeply into the American grain was the language of the Enlightenment.

Other Ideas and even some of the phrasing was taken directly from the writings of English philosopher John Locke, particularly his Second Treatise on Government. In this, Locke espoused the idea of government by consent. Locke wrote that human beings had certain natural rights.

The entire purpose of The Federalist Papers was to gain popular support for the then-proposed Constitution. Some would call it the most significant public-relations campaign in history; it is, in fact, studied in many public relations classes as a prime example of how to conduct a successful campaign.

We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The proposed constitution [written in the main by Thomas Jefferson] delineated three separate and distinct branches of government: the executive, the legislative and the judiciary. The powers given to each are in theory balanced and checked by the powers of the other two. Each branch ideally serves as a check on potential excesses of the others. This is known as "separation of powers", and was partly taken from the ideas of the Baron de Montesquieu another extraordinarily important French enlightenment figure.

The United States is federal in nature. Powers enumerated in the Constitution are given to the Federal Government, and all other, unenumerated, powers remain with the states or the people.

State governments, like the federal government, must be republican in form, with final legitimacy resting with the people.

The Federalist Papers were a series of 85 articles written under the pen name of Publius by Alexander Hamilton , James Madison, and John Jay. James Madison, widely recognized as the Father of the Constitution, would later go on to become President of the United States. John Jay would become the first Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court. Hamilton would serve in the Cabinet and become a major force in setting economic policy for the US.

Anti-Federalist Papers

The proposed constitution had created a furor within the colonies. The opposition to the proposed constitution had generated a heated and passionate series of letters and articles published throughout the fledgling union. These articles today are called the anti-federalist papers. Here are some of the criticisms as published then.

a. On Federalism Generally

"...It might be here shewn, that the power in the federal legislative, to raise and support armies at pleasure, as well in peace as in war, and their controul over the militia, tend, not only to a consolidation of the government, but the destruction of liberty ... " - Brutus

b. On the Power of the Executive

"...In the first place the office of president of the United States appears to me to be clothed with such powers as are dangerous. To be the fountain of all honors in the United States-commander in chief of the army, navy, and militia; with the power of making treaties and of granting pardons; and to be vested with an authority to put a negative upon all laws, unless two thirds of both houses shall persist in enacting it, and put their names down upon calling the yeas and nays for that purpose-is in reality to be a king, as much a king as the king of Great Britain, and a king too of the worst kind: an elective king รข€¦ If we are not prepared to receive a king, let us call another convention to revise the proposed constitution, and form it anew on the principles of a confederacy of free republics; but by no means, under pretense of a republic, to lay the foundation for a military government, which is the worst of all tyrannies ... " - An Old Whig

c. Large Republics Cannot be Free

"In so extensive a republic, the great officers of government would soon become above the controul of the people, and abuse their power to the purpose of aggrandizing themselves, and oppressing them. The trust committed to the executive offices, in a country of the extent of the United-States, must be various and of magnitude. The command of all the troops and navy of the republic, the appointment of officers, the power of pardoning offences, the collecting of all the public revenues, and the power of expending them, with a number of other powers, must be lodged and exercised in every state, in the hands of a few. When these are attended with great honor and emolument, as they always will be in large states, so as greatly to interest men to pursue them, and to be proper objects for ambitious and designing men, such men will be ever restless in their pursuit after them. They will use the power, when they have acquired it, to the purposes of gratifying their own interest and ambition, and it is scarcely possible, in a very large republic, to call them to account for their misconduct, or to prevent their abuse of power."

d. Separation of Powers is an Illusion

"Such various, extensive, and important powers combined in one body of men, are inconsistent with all freedom; the celebrated Montesquieu tells us, that "when the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person, or in the same body of magistrates, there can be no liberty, because apprehensions may arise, lest the same monarch or senate should enact tyrannical laws, to execute them in a tyrannical manner."

The president and Senate would easily form "a combination that cannot be prevented by the representatives. The executive and legislative powers thus connected, will destroy all balances."

The Constitution provided no viable means of making certain that the powers of government could not be appropriated by a single faction. The Federalist Papers were penned to counter these - and other - principle objections. Here are some of their major assertions about the virtues of the proposed arrangements:

Large Federal Republic

In a federal republic, power is divided vertically between a general (federal) government and several state governments. Two levels of government, each supreme in its own sphere, can exercise powers separately and directly on the people. State governments can neither ignore nor contradict federal statutes that conform to the supreme law, the Constitution. This conception of federalism departed from traditional forms, known today as confederations, in which states retained full sovereignty over their internal affairs.

The meaning of federalism, as a political movement, and of what constitutes a 'federalist', varies with country and historical context. Movements associated with the establishment or development of federations can be either centralising or decentralising. For example, at the time those nations were being established, federalists in the United States and Australia were those who advocated the creation of strong central government. Similarly, in European Union politics, federalists are those who seek greater EU integration. In contrast, in Spain and post-war Germany, federal movements have sought decentralisation: the transfer of power from central authorities to local units. In Canada, where Quebec separatism has been a political force for several decades, the federalist force is dedicated to keeping the federation intact and adapting the federal structure to better suit Quebec interests.


A republican government is one "in which the scheme of representation takes place" (No. 10). It is based on the consent of the governed because power is delegated to a small number of citizens who are elected by the rest.

Separation of Powers

Executive: Power to appoint judges, sole power to wage war

Legislative: Power to write laws, sole power to declare war

Judicial: Sole power to interpret the law and apply it to particular disputes

The press: The press has also been described as a "fourth power" because of its considerable influence over public opinion.

"Publius" proclaims (No. 47): "The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands...may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny." So the Constitution separates powers of government among three branches according to function. But this horizontal separation of powers is not complete. Each branch has various constitutional means to participate in the affairs of the others to check and balance powers in government and prevent one branch of the government from dominating the others.

Free Government

Republicanism, federalism, and separation of powers are characteristics of free government. According to The Federalist, free government is popular government limited by law to protect the security, liberty, and property of individuals. A free government is powerful enough to provide protection against external and internal threats and limited enough to prevent tyranny in any form. In particular, free government is designed to guard against the most insidious danger of government by the people--the tyranny of the many over the few.

Bill of Rights

The Federalist papers are remarkable for their opposition to what later became the United States Bill of Rights (first 10 amendments). The idea of adding a bill of rights to the constitution was originally controversial. The idea was that the constitution, as written did not specifically enumerate or protect the rights of the people, and as such needed an addition to ensure such protection. However, many Americans at the time opposed the bill of rights: If such a bill were created, many people feared that this would later be interpreted as a list of the only rights that people had. Supporters of the bill of rights argued that a list of rights would and should not be interpreted as exhaustive; i.e. that these rights were examples of important rights that people had, but that people had other rights as well. People in this school of thought were confident that the judiciary would interpret these rights in an expansive fashion.

Specific Issues from Papers we are Reading:

Paper #1

This brilliant discourse on the Constitution is remarkable for several reasons. The question asked is this: "whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice." If the people are up to the challenge, their actions will have great worldwide significance.

Alexander Hamilton, perhaps more than any of the founders, believed in the future greatness of America; he believed that this nation could be one of power and strength, that such power and strength, far from corrupting the nation's purpose or the rights of individuals, alone could bring to realization the former and protect the latter.

Paper #10

This is most famous paper because of the fact that it establishes a government capable of controlling the violence and damage caused by factions - special interests. He concludes they are part of human nature - the challenge then is damage control. So, the framers established a representative form of government, a government in which the many elect the few who govern. Direct democracies cannot possibly control factious conflicts. This is because the strongest and largest faction dominates. James Madison hopes that the men elected to office will be wise and good men the best of America. Theoretically, those who govern should be the least likely to sacrifice the public good to temporary condition. Representative government is needed in large countries, not to protect the people from the tyranny of the few, but to guard against the rule of the mob. These ideas were derived in the main from David Hume - another enlightenment figure - more on that later.

Paper #15

Paper #15 is a strong argument for "political safety and happiness". For Alexander Hamilton, government was created because the "passions of men" do not conform to the "dictates of reason and justice" and groups of men act with greater intelligence than individuals alone. This is another "enlightenment" notion.

Paper #22

Hamilton focuses on five basic themes, all falling under the theme of the strength of federalism, in an attempt to convince the general public of the inadequacies of the present type of government. Much of the paper examines the flaws in the present system.

Paper #51

This paper examines how "liberty" is made possible by the structure of the new government the division of powers - an important paper. Free elections and the majority principle protected the country from dictatorship, that is, the tyranny of a minority. However, he was equally concerned about the danger that he thought was more likely in a democracy, that is, the tyranny of the majority - from factions. A central institutional issue for him was how to minimize this risk. Extraordinary energy went into this structure - before the fact - the elements were not created - as had been historically the case in most other world governments - as reactions to perceived dangers. This structure was build from the ground up to rest firmly on a theory of human nature - in the long term.

Paper #70

Alexander Hamilton writes, "energy in the executive" is one of the most important parts of the executive department of the country, as defined in the Constitution. The office and power of the president was consciously designed to provide the energy, secrecy, and dispatch traditionally associated with the monarchial form.

Paper # 84

This paper is a defense of the exclusion of a Bill of Rights. So the argument advanced is that the safeguards preventing abuses of power build into the architecture of the constitution would preserve rights. Originally, bills of rights were agreements between kings and their subjects concerning the rights of the people. Kings limited their own power, either under pressure or voluntarily, acknowledging that they were not all-powerful. The best example is the Magna Charta, the character of English liberties that the barons forcibly obtained from King John in 1215. The security of Rights as such is best carried in the preamble: "We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

Significance of Federalist Papers

1. Influences John Locke, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Baron de Montesquieu, David Hume and Thomas Hobbes.

2. They acknowledged that an individual's impulse towards self-preservation, liberty, and self-interest would fundamentally come into conflict with the competing needs of
other individuals. Therefore, the best form of government balanced the selfish needs of the individual with the need to protect the whole community.

3. The theoretical idea that too much liberty can be bad for an orderly society was evidenced by the U.S government during the years of the Articles of Confederation.

4. Limiting power: Fearful of creating a strong central government similar to Great Britain, delegates placed significant power with the state governments and greatly restricted the powers of the national government.

Here is one example of how reason was so exquisitely levered to engender support for the Constitution in Madison's writing. Before these papers were penned Enlightenment figures in Europe, David Hume and Adam Smith in particular, had written extensively around the noble dream of reducing politics, economics, law, and sociology to a science.

Their vision was to inspire reformers to "reshape political, social and economic institutions progressively so as to bring them into harmony with nature's divine plan which would guarantee liberty, equality, and happiness to all men."

An underlying and guiding principle in this vision was the notion that human nature has always been the same: The same motives always produce the same actions; the same events follow from the same causes. This was in effect a science of human behavior applied to history and political structures.

James Madison - the principle architect of the Constitution - recognized this human behavior and attempts to reconcile it with the political structure by balancing class against class, [and] interest against interest. These philosophies are especially apparent in James Madison's notions of faction and the avoidance thereof, of political parties which are a result of faction, and his theories of a republican form of government in Paper #10. Also like David Hume, James Madison accepted a theory by which factional differences might be caused by three different sorts of diversities among men. These were "differences of opinion, differences of passion, and differences of interest".


Publius succeeded in articulating a uniquely American political philosophy, practical in nature, yet founded on solid historical examples, enlightenment philosophical theories, and most importantly on the experience of a nation that had actually struggled to achieve the much theorized balance between liberty and order.

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