Monday, March 26, 2012

Alexander Hamilton vs Thomas Jefferson

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In the early years of America’s birth there were many controversy’s surrounding


the establishment of an effective form of government that would protect the ideals that


were fought for during the Revolutionary War. After the brief career and imminent


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failure of the Articles of Confederation a more specific and structured form of


government was created based upon a written Constitution. Although much more specific


than the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution still left a vast array of questions


unanswered. These led to conflicting opinions in government. During the Washington


administration two men with quite contrary beliefs quarreled bitterly over the


interpretation of this document; a document which they themselves had major roles in


writing. These two men, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton led to a great debate


in the political world of the United States. This debate would eventually form the first


two political parties of America, The Federalists, backed by Alexander Hamilton and The


Republicans, who were backed by Thomas Jefferson.


Hamilton’s main basis of opinion was formed on the idea that the government


should be run by the wealthy upper class. Hamilton wanted a strong central government


that would favor prosperous merchants and large landowners. He believed that the lower


class was incapable of running a successful government because they were untrustworthy


beasts. According to Hamilton, “All communities divide themselves into the few and the


many. The first are the rich and well-born, the other the mass of the people…The people


are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge or determine right.” Hamilton believed


that the vast majority of the people were so quick to change their opinions that they


couldn’t possibly run a fair, just and effective government. Hamilton’s belief in the rule


of a wealthy upper class led him to favor a strong central government. This government


would be capable of controlling such a mob.


Jefferson’s main basis of opinion was formulated on the idea that the people


should have most political power. Jefferson wanted more power based in state and local


governments. These local governments would support the vast majority of the population


which was based in agriculture. Jefferson believed in liberty and the power of the people


to rule the government. According to Jefferson, “Those who identify themselves with the


people have confidence in them, cherish and consider them as the most honest and


safe….depository of the public interest.” Jefferson trusts the people will make just and


effective strides in government. This idea is based on the fact that since, the vast


population is the lower class they should know how to govern themselves effectively.


Jefferson’s belief in the rule of the people led him to favor state and local governments.


This would take power away form a strong central government that could take away


freedoms from the people.


Hamilton’s most successful proposal was his plans to pay the debt of the nation.


After the Revolutionary War the United States of America owed nearly 54 million dollars


to both foreigners and citizens of the U.S. The U.S owed money borrowed from foreign


countries such as France and The Netherlands for supplies during the war. In addition, the


U.S government sold bonds to citizens of the U.S that were promised to be paid with


interest. The states also formed debts while fighting in the war.


Hamilton proposed that the U.S government immediately pay off the debt due to


other nations. Hamilton believed that the United States could not be independent if they


owed money to foreign nations. Hamilton also wanted the domestic debt to be paid in full.


He believed that if the bonds be paid in full then the people of the U.S could trust the


government’s promises and would therefore, support it. Hamilton also believed the state


debt should be paid in full in order to gain complete support form all states of a strong


central government.


Due to Hamilton’s support of prosperous merchants and large landowners, he


proposed many tariffs and taxes. These tariffs would protect the prosperous merchants


form foreign competition. The taxes such as his proposal form an Excise Tax on whiskey


would support his other proposals for payment of national debt. Jefferson disagreed with


these tariffs and taxes that would give more power to the central government and give


less power to the local governments.


Jefferson argued that paying the bonds in full to the people who currently owned


them was unjust. Many poor citizens who owned these bonds often sold them for lesser


than face value to speculators looking to make more money. According to Jefferson,


“The distresses of these people often obliged them to part with these for half, the fifth and


even a tenth of their value…In the bill for funding and paying these, Hamilton made no


difference between original holders and the fraudulent purchasers of this paper.”


Jefferson feels it unfair to not relinquish the money lost by the sellers of these bonds. The


payment of these bonds would be made by the people through taxation. This would make


the poor taxpayers that sold the bills poorer and the rich speculators who bought the bills


richer.


Jefferson also disagreed with the payment of debts owed by states. He argued that


many of the southern states had already paid their debts in full. The southern states did


not want to be taxed so the government could pay the debts of other states.


However, according to Article I, Section 8, Clause 1 of the United States


Constitution, “Congress shall have Power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and


excises, to pay Debts and provide for the common defence and general welfare of the


United States; but all duties, imposts and excises shall be uniform throughout the United


States.” The Constitution clearly states that these taxes and excises are quite just.


According to this section of the Constitution, Congress has the delegated power to lay


these taxes and impose them evenly throughout the entire United States. These are words


that were helped to be written by Thomas Jefferson himself. How could he put up an


argument to oppose them?


The answer lies within how each person tended to interpret the Constitution.


Hamilton had a loose interpretation of the Constitution. Jefferson tended to have a strict


interpretation of the Constitution. Hamilton’s strict interpretation will tend to make him


follow it exactly. Therefore, these obvious powers vested in Congress should be put into


effect. However Jefferson’s loose interpretation of the Constitution allowed him to


overlook this clause and deem it inexistent apparently.


Another conflict had raised dealing with the establishment of a national bank,


also stirring debate about interpretations of the Constitution. Hamilton proposed that a


national bank be established as a place for federal government to deposit its taxed


receipts, loans could be made and issue paper money backed by gold. Jefferson argued


that Congress had no right to establish a national bank because it wasn’t specifically


mentioned in the Constitution. Jefferson believed giving the government power over a


national bank would give too much power to the central government. According to


Article I, Section 8, Clause 5 of the United States Constitution, “{The Congress shall


have the power to}… coin money, regulate the value thereof, and of foreign coin, and fix


the standard of weights and measures.” Hamilton argued that all of the jobs mentioned in


this clause would be the explicit job of a national bank and that Congress was simply


using a means necessary to perform its functions. He argued that the powers to establish a


national bank were implied powers of the Constitution.


Despite disagreements on domestic issues Jefferson and Hamilton also disagreed


on the government’s foreign policy. At this time in history France had gone to war with


Britain and The United States was debating on whether to side with a country or declare


themselves neutral. Hamilton was a pro-Anglican and believed the U.S should support


the British. He argued that the British were their most valued trading partner and would it


would be devastating to the economy if they were to lose England in foreign trade.


Hamilton also argued that being somewhat close relatives to Britain due to, political


structure, language and culture; Britain should be supported. Hamilton supported a


Proclamation of Neutrality proposed by Congress which would declare the U.S neutral


during the war.


Jefferson was in support of the French. He argued that since France was allied


with the U.S in the Revolutionary War, then the U.S should ally with France in their war.


He believed that The United States should support former allies. Jefferson also believed


that the U.S should be able to relate with France due to their similar circumstances. They


both started revolutions in order to gain more freedoms and liberty. Jefferson disagreed


with the Proclamation of Neutrality.


The constant debate of Jefferson and Hamilton created two opposing sides


of people that formed the first political parties known as, The Federalists and the


Republicans. In today’s world the debate in the government seems to fall between two


sides, the Liberals and The Conservatives.


Today, Liberals have a loose interpretation of the Constitution. Liberals


tend to favor reform or progress; especially political reforms leaning toward democracy.


Liberals believe in a strong central government. This government should have enough


power to redistribute wealth from the wealthy to the poor, encourage employers to hire


woman and minorities and regulate product quality and working conditions.


On the contrary, Conservatives tend to have a strict interpretation of the


Constitution. They favor preserving established institutions, methods and values. The


oftentimes believe in the power of the wealthy upper class. Conservatives believe the


national government should be strong enough to provide defense and protect national


interest however, they tend to favor power more in local and state governments.


The Federalists and Republicans have much in similar with the two groups


debating opposing sides in government today. However neither group uniformly fits or


parallels the other perfectly. Liberals are similar to Jefferson’s Republicans in that they


both believe in that the government’s power should come from the vast majority of


people and that they both favor the working class. However, Liberals also relate to


Hamilton’s Federalists in that they both believe in a strong central government that holds


most of the power. Conservatives are similar to Jefferson’s Republicans in that they both


believe that power should be vested mostly in state and local governments. However,


Conservatives also have similarities to Hamilton’s Federalists in that they both believe


the power in government should be granted to the wealthy or educated people and seem


both seem to favor the upper class.


The constant debate between Jefferson and Hamilton sparked a vast interest in


government issues that would continue throughout America’s history. They created an


important precedent in the government by establishing political parties and creating a


healthy input of conflicting ideas into a government to be judged. Without Jefferson and


Hamilton’s conflicting disagreements perhaps, the Untied States wouldn’t be as healthy


and improved as it is in today’s world.








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