Constitution of the United States

At a time when more people distrust government and disapprove of the way in which the business of the government is being handled, it would behoove every frustrated American to retreat to a time and place, where for a time, political genius ruled the land. Never before had so much genius came onto the political stage in American history then when perhaps, we needed it the most. At no time was the formation of an independent country, able to break away from its English oppressors, was the United States of America a sure thing. There were so many obstacles involved in the winning of the war and then in helping to sustain this “noble experiment.

”[1] Although far from perfect, there were two men at that time that did a great deal in forming the United States of America: Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. Despite their hatred for each other, both had a number of similarities. Both were political geniuses who dealt with their own impediments. Both help conflicting ideas about slavery and Jefferson even owned two hundred slaves for most of his life. Both had adulterous affairs that were either discovered while they were in office or, in the case of Jefferson, was not made public beyond his own immediate sphere of influence, more than two hundred years after the fact.

Both were present at the formation of this country: Jefferson, the 3rd President of the United States who advocated small government yet was a strong supporter and chief architect, with the help of Napoleon of course, in the purchase of The Louisiana Purchase. Jefferson advocated an agrarian society in which every American would work the land since to Jefferson, being a farmer was the best way one could get close to God. Hamilton was a capitalist who was one of the most important, if not the most important figure in American economic history.

It would be his vision of an industrial society, although he would not live to see the full affect of his policies which would help to make the United States of America, the richest country in the history of the world. Also, both began the first and second political parties ever in American political history. Jefferson and Hamilton are great because not only did they possess a unique insight into the wants and needs of the people and were brave enough to put it down on paper, at the risk of their very lives, but as it is the case with most great individuals, they were also present at the time when the country needed them the most.

Alexander Hamilton came to New York City at the age of eighteen and knew that this was the place for him. Ever since 1624, when the first permanent white settlement was formed by the Dutch, not for the purpose of worshiping God or in expanding the Christian religion as was the motivation for the rest of the country, but their motivation was to make money and the Dutch would not even get around to building a church for the next seventeen years.

[2] As New Amsterdam as it was called, became the New York that the country knows today; founded on trade, commerce and in slowly becoming the capital of the United States and then the world, The British Empire realized this and sought to destroy the stronghold of the American strength. New York and the United States would pass that test and the United States of America was allowed to remain independent.

The next question, although no less important and no less in doubt as to its future success, was whether or not this experiment in democracy, would have the durability necessary in order to remain active in representing the people of the United States. George Washington was sworn in as the first President of the United States in 1789. [3] Alexander Hamilton was appointed at the first Secretary of the Treasury; a post that he would hold until 1795. [4] It would be then that the name and efforts of Hamilton would become synonymous with the economic success of the American economy as many of his policies, are still in use today.

His first proposal was the First report on the Public Credit. This stated that the debt that each respective state incurred during the American Revolution would be absorbed by the federal government. The states had incurred the debt in an honorable fashion and it would only be the right and proper thing to do. At least this was, on the surface, the motivation of Hamilton. He advocated a strong central government. It would be a belief that would lead to the formation of the first political party in the United States: the Federalist Party.

A weak government, as seen under the Articles of Confederation; America’s first Constitution, horrified and angered Hamilton. The formation of Hamilton’s various economic policies would not have been possible, he believed, if there was not a strong federal government in which to encourage the states to adopt. Jefferson saw the motivation of Hamilton. The possibility of a strong government horrified Jefferson. Jefferson, despite being in public life as a politician for many years, held a general distrust of elected officials and of government.

Before his death, Jefferson dictated what was to be on his tombstone. The fact that he was president for two years was not mentioned. “It was for Jefferson, a time in which he simply served the people. He did not feel it to be his lasting legacy. Jefferson would only agree to such measures if the capital of the United States, would be moved from New York City to a swamp located off of the Potomac River which spread malaria and disease for five months out of the year. Hamilton quickly agreed. “It didn’t matter to him where the capital was, just as long as it propelled his economic policies.

”[5] Hamilton did not stop there. He helped to found the first United States Mint as well as the First National Bank of America; two measures that Jefferson publically did not approve of and who took the opportunity to voice that disapproval any chance that he got. Not only would the two have in common, their growing hatred for each other, but there were also events in their public life which would serve as an impediment to their legacy. Sexual indiscretions plagued Hamilton when it was discovered in 1795, that Hamilton was engaging in an affair with Maria Reynolds. When Mrs.

Reynolds husband discovered the affair, he contacted Aaron Burr and James Madison, two well known enemies of Hamilton, in order to ruin the reputation of Hamilton and perhaps decrease his ability to make political trouble for Burr, Madison, or Madison’s idol: Thomas Jefferson. Hamilton would resign from political office in 1795 but would remain active in the Washington Administration. [6]However, the paths of Hamilton, Burr and Jefferson would pass again in the near future. Their paths would cross in the political theatre again. In 1800, the President was chosen by the one who received the greatest electoral votes.

Surprising to 21st century partisan American politics, the person who received the second most votes, became the Vice President. Hamilton was adamant in his hatred for Burr as well as for Jefferson. Both of them were running a close campaign. Hamilton was campaigning actively for Charles Pinckney. However, it would be Hamilton’s support of Jefferson, which would break the tie that was the reality of the 1800 election. Hamilton disliked Jefferson but he hated Burr. Jefferson, Hamilton believed, was taking the country in the wrong direction but at least he was honest.

Burr, Hamilton contended, was not to be trusted and lacked certain traits that he felt, were needed as a gentleman. The legacy of the 1800 election would not end when the final tally was counted. The election had been one of the dirtiest in American political history. Both Burr and Jefferson hired newspapers at a time when it wasn’t even being attempted to be impartial, to write scandalous accounts of the personal lives of one another. It was then that the first reports of an affair that Jefferson might be having with one of his slaves, Sally Hemming, was reported in the paper.

Due to the racial attitudes of the day, such reports were seen as so outrageous, that the charges was not taken seriously and eventually forgotten by most people. Hamilton would also try his hand at this and published scandalous accounts of the private life of Burr. Accounts which angered Burr to such a point, that the two would eventually attempt to settle their arguments with a duel. What is ironic about the most famous duel in American history is that both had to travel to New Jersey because in the state of New York, dueling was against the law.

Hamilton had championed the criminalization of the act because his own son had died from a duel. This did not seem to affect Hamilton to the point of refusing to accept the challenge or to even give it in the first place. Both Burr and Hamilton exchanged numerous letters, trying to size up the other person as it related to the courage that they possessed or lacked, that would create or disallow the possibility of a duel actually coming to fruition. At times, the two warring parties only had to show up and with such a display of courage, the argument would have been considered to be settled. Hamilton seemed to adhere to this policy.

He fired first, hitting the tree branch above the head of Burr. Firearm technology was primitive at best but it seemed unlikely that the miss was not on purpose. Burr took this chance to fire straight into the abdomen of Hamilton who died the next day. Hamilton was given a hero’s burial and Burr would be vilified for the rest of his life What is important in helping to gauge the success of one’s life, is to decide how important their life really was to the people around them, as well as in some rare cases, the ways in which their efforts helped the change the lives of generations to follow.

This is no doubt the case when dealing with Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton understood finances and believed that a strong federal government was needed in order to support a capitalist country. The formation of the National Bank and the U. S. Mint, as well as helping to put into place, policies that would help to increase the economic trade and other capitalistic policies, helped to usher in the Industrial Revolution by the middle of the 19th century. His policies while the Secretary of the Treasury is immeasurable.

The French Diplomat, and the one who was instrumental in the creating the most lopsided land deal in American history: the Louisiana Purchase, said of Hamilton: “I consider Napoleon, Fox and Hamilton the three greatest men of our epoch, and if I were forced to decide between the three, I would give without hesitation the first place to Hamilton. ”[7] This was the regard that many of Hamilton’s countrymen held for Hamilton there are two social policies that Hamilton held and which served as some of the defining issues for his political nemesis: Thomas Jefferson.

There were race and religion: still two of the most controversial subjects in America today. Hamilton, like Jefferson, helps to make it difficult for contemporary Historians to decide their exact beliefs on the subject. In 1779, Hamilton, was instrumental in advocating the formation of allowing African Americans to fight for their freedom and for the freedom of the American people. [8] This helped to portray a dubious distinction because of the self evident fact that African Americans were fighting for the freedom of the same people who would continued to enslave them.

However, Hamilton advocated the capability of these soldiers as well as the fact that the British would not hesitate in using America’s own slaves against them during the American Revolution. Jefferson also never supported foreign emigration of slaves back to their homes in Africa. Hamilton also refused to help capture the runaway slave of a friend and attended meetings in New York which advocated the freeing of the slaves. What constitutes the hypocrisy is the belief, while void of concrete evidence, that Hamilton himself had owned slaves.

The evidence is inconclusive but what is known, is that in comparison to the popular and widespread beliefs of the day, the efforts that Hamilton made were relatively progressive. Also, Hamilton, like the majority of his fellow statesmen at that time, were strong Christians who advocated to one degree or another, a blending of the religious and political beliefs of the nation. Hamilton did fall short of advocating the forced payment of tithes as well as the establishment of a state church which was the belief of Patrick Henry.

However, Hamilton’s beliefs in Christianity were formed relatively late in his life as he began to examine the meaning of life and the motivations behind men. It also was the faith and charitable efforts of his wife that helped to form a religions belief in Hamilton and advocated that the Christian religion would help to make more fit elected representatives of the government. This was a belief that even the Deistic Jefferson held. Thomas Jefferson had enjoyed a meteoric rise in power in the years before the formation of America. He was involved in Virginia politics at an early age.

So when it was time the country’s delegates to discuss breaking away from Great Britain, it was self evident that Jefferson was going to be included in that debate. Jefferson wrote both the Declaration of Independence as well as the Constitution of the United States. In what has constituted one of the most important openings in American literary and political history, the opening of the Declaration of Independence reads: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights. Among that are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

”[9] And with that, people all over the world, would use the words of Thomas Jefferson to advocate a variety of causes, sometimes causes which were in direct contradiction to each other. Jefferson, as Washington’s Secretary of State, advocated a small government. He distrusted government in many ways and wanted it to be kept out of the lives of the average American. Jefferson even advocated the formation of a new government every nineteen years as it was that amount of time that was needed for an individual to come into maturity. “Every constitution then, and every law, naturally expires at the end of nineteen years.

If it to be enforced longer, it is an act of force and not of right. ”[10] Jefferson defended states’ rights in the writing of his famous Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions with the help of his protege, James Madison. Jefferson was also skeptical about Hamilton’s proposal for a national bank. “I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country. ” In this, Jefferson included aspects of the government as well. This included the proposal of a national bank as well as the power that came from judges.

“To consider the judges as the ultimate arbitrators of all constitutional questions is a very dangerous doctrine indeed, and one which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy. Our judges are as honest as other men and not more so. They have with others the same passion for party, for power and the privilege of their corps.... The constitution has erected no such single tribunal, knowing that to whatever hands confided, with the corruptions of time and party, its members would become deposits. ”[11] This is classic Jeffersonian thought. The power must reside with the people.

Even though Jefferson did not include African Americans, or women in that equation, such beliefs were progressive in its day and would be copied by many future governments all over the world in the centuries to come. Jefferson, who was inspired by the French Revolution, approved of the overturning of government if it served as an impediment to the rights of the people. His words would be used as inspiration for the Southern justification of the Civil War as the states felt that the federal government was infringing upon their rights, even if those “rights” were in the pursuit in the continuation of slavery.

Jefferson famously wrote: “What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must from time to time, be refreshed with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure. ”[12] Jefferson would hold true to those principals and would aggressively oppose all those who, felt, had lost the true spirit of the American Revolution and the principles that they risked their lives to perpetuate. One of the last important aspects of Thomas Jefferson was his views on religion and its place within the American government.

As a deist, Jefferson did believe in one God and highly respected the words of Jesus but fell short of calling him, as Christians do, the son of God and the only way one expect entrance into heaven. For such views, Jefferson received a great deal of criticism. Jefferson responded: “I never had an opinion in politics or religion which I was afraid to own. A costive reserve on these subjects might have procured more esteem from some people, but less from myself.

”[13] Jefferson’s efforts to support the Christian religion as an example of the highest form of religious principles, yet in his creation of the Jefferson Bible, eliminated all of the passages in the Bible which speak to the deity of Jesus, at least for Jefferson, meant that he was set apart from the Christians who erroneously believed, at least in his mind, that Jesus did and said all that has since been attributed to him. Jefferson believed in the separation of church and state. The fact that most Americans believe that such measures exist within the Constitution, when it does not, comes from the efforts of Thomas Jefferson.

Previously, people were fined for missing church or from not paying their tithe. Also, religious tests were administered before a politician could expect to gain office. Jefferson did his best to put a stop to such measures. In Jefferson’s Bill for Religious Freedom, first introduced in 1779, Jefferson wrote: “No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, no shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions...

”[14] Such beliefs were foreign at that time in American history. However, most people today, those who go to church and those who do not, appreciate such efforts and agreed with Jefferson when he wrote: “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship.... Legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state.

”[15] Such sentiments, although still controversial, is appreciated to a large extent as one of the most important of Jefferson’s contributions. Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson are still two giants of American political history. The ability to worship God according to one’s own belief, to possess a greater percentage of power that resides with the people, and being able to reap the benefits of America’s capitalist and industrial society, Hamilton and Jefferson are the ones that we should thank. As it is the case with most events/movements in history, its origins sometimes reside decades or even centuries in the past.

Modern American society is not the exception to the rule but rather one of its greatest examples. The efforts of Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson are some of the reasons why this is the case. Their life’s work will not have passed in vain as long as an appreciative society learns from its mistakes and is motivated and inspired by their successes.

WORKS CITED

Burns, Ken Thomas Jefferson New York: PBS Productions 1997 Burns, Ric The History of New York: Episode 1 The City and the Country New York: Thirteen Productions 1999 Chernow, Ron Alexander Hamilton New York: Penguin Books 2004 Commanger, Henry Steele, Documents of American History New York: Century Publications 1947 Fleming, Thomas The Duel: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr and the Future of America. New York: Basic Books 1999 Flexner, James Alexander Hamilton Fordham University Press 1997 Kuralt, Charles On the Road: American Heritage New York: CBS Productions 1992 Jefferson, Thomas Notes on the State of Virginia New York: Scribners 1957 Randall, William Alexander Hamilton: A Life New York: Harper Collins 2003