Hamilton’s Curse- The Rousseau Of The Right

HamiltonsCurseRecently my two oldest daughters and I were talking about a “test” they’d taken on Facebook- Which President Are You? My youngest and oldest daughters were both Millard Fillmore. My middle daughter and I were both Calvin Coolidge. This goofy little “test” sparked a deeper discussion of a series on the presidents on the History Channel. I was given a copy of this series for Christmas and had already taken note of an interesting phenomena that is quite prominent in this series.

How do you judge whether a US President is good, bad or mediocre? What are the exact criteria that you use to make your determination? Careful. How you answer that question says a lot about your philosophy of American government. It is a direct indicator pointing to whether you are a Jeffersonian or a Hamiltonian, as described in the first post of the series.

In this chapter of the book, Dr. Thomas DiLorenzo, a professor of Economics at Loyola College in Maryland, lays the foundations necessary to explain which of these two basic philosophies we either consciously or unconsciously employ when evaluating the actions of government. Dr. DiLorenzo, a self described library rat, accomplishes this with research into the writing and correspondence of both Jefferson and Hamilton as well as other important thinkers in the Hamiltonian Federalist and Jeffersonian Anti-Federalist traditions. What his research uncovers is the vast differences between these two camps regarding constitutional interpretation, the relationship between state and federal governments, presidential power and the extent of judicial authority.

DiLorenzo chronicles the tireless efforts of Alexander Hamilton from 1780 onward to create a centralized national government. As the philosophical leader of what would later, during the two-year battle to ratify the new Constitution become the Federalist faction and then the Federalist party, Hamilton proved to be a shameless propagandist. He was critical of Jefferson’s supposed adoration of French radicals but he himself adopted the ideas and language of Jean Jacques Rousseau, the  philosopher whose ideas led to the terror of the French Revolution,  regarding the existence of the “general will” which is not necessarily expressed by the public but is “sensed by the ruling elite.” Hence, the “Rousseau of the right” moniker. Terms like “the public interest,” “the general interest,” and “the welfare of the community” pepper his work which was designed to gain democratic favor for his attempts to concentrate and centralize authority. The brilliant Hamilton wrote in a fashion designed to manipulate “the general will” into demanding “more vigorous government.”

It was this talent for constructing nebulous but compelling phraseology that made him one of the chief apologists for ratification of the Constitution. DiLorenzo points out that Hamilton took great pains to reassure the opponents of centralized national authority that the states would maintain their sovereignty. He also points out that this was pure deception on Hamilton’s part. Having worked for years to get a Constitutional Convention convened, he bolted the convention in June of 1787 after it became clear that both his own nationalist plan to eliminate the state governments and appoint an executive who would serve during “periods of good behavior” and James Madison’s plan that also eliminated the state governments were completely stymied by a strong TRUE federalist faction which wanted strong state governments and wanted them to be powerful enough to resist a vigorous central governments attempts to consolidate power.

Hamilton only returned to the Constitutional Convention in September after his true federalist New York colleague delegates, Yates and Lansing, had left and he had worked out a plan by which the new Constitution could be gradually “reinterpreted” to achieve his vision for the government. DiLorenzo does a masterful job of uncovering and explaining the strategy that Hamilton used in his day and which continues even today to weaken the state governments and grow the power of the presidency and the judiciary. In short, Hamilton is the father of the “living document” philosophy of constitutional interpretation.

DiLorenzo finishes the chapter with by recounting Hamilton’s role in the suppression of the Whiskey rebellion of Washington’s second term. Hamilton’s despotic actions in dealing with western farmers, many of them Revolutionary War veterans is one of the most revealing parts of the chapter. Hamilton eschewed negotiations in favor of conscripting an army to invade and conquer the rebellious areas, marching old, sick men through the snow in chains and then attempting to force confessions including implications of others, presaging the actions of one of his philosophical direct descendents, Abraham Lincoln’s actions in the southern states 67 years later.

Next- Chapter 2; Public Blessing or National Curse?


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