Hamilton vs. Jefferson: Political Philosophies of the 1800s
by Feross Aboukhadijeh, 11th grade
Two competing political philosophies have always existed throughout the United States’ relatively short history: one seeking to increase the power of the central government, and one seeking to decrease it. During the 1800s these two conflicting philosophies were acted out by the Federalist and the Democratic Republican parties, respectively. The Federalists, led by Alexander Hamilton, advocated the importance of a strong central government in leading the country forward, while the Democratic Republicans, led by Thomas Jefferson, promoted increasing the common man’s role in government. Although both political parties had good intentions for the future of the United States, the Federalist Party was much more effective at uniting the American people, avoiding domestic faction, and keeping the best interests in mind for the future of the United States.
The early 1800s were a difficult time for the American people; they had just won their independence from Britain hardly more than twenty or thirty years prior, and the threat of failure still loomed large. The Federalist Party sought to destroy the threat of failure by strengthening the United States’ central government. As Alexander Hamilton said, “A firm Union will be of the utmost moment to the peace and liberty of the states, as a barrier against domestic faction and insurrection.” In Hamilton’s mind, strengthening the central government would ensure freedom for every American citizen by uniting the people to think and speak with a single voice. Hamilton had witnessed firsthand the political and economic confusion caused by states’ conflicting interests and corrupt taxation policies under the Articles of Confederation. He realized that the only way for the Union to survive and prosper was for the Federal government to take control of the country’s political and economic decision-making. With a strong Federal power in place, troublesome interstate conflicts could be solved swiftly and decisively, before they gained any steam and threatened the future of the United States. In order to accomplish this under the restrictive Constitution, the Federal government needed a justification to stretch its powers. The Federalists adopted the philosophy of loose construction: a flexible interpretation of the United States Constitution that granted the Federal government “implied powers”, powers that were not specifically granted to them by the Constitution. Hamilton believed that allowing the Federal government such freedoms was important to the well-being of the country because this allowed the government to act in whatever manner would best serve the country’s interests—even if the actions stretched (or, in some cases, violated) the limits of power set in the Constitution. One Federalist action that the Democratic Republicans opposed was the establishment of the Bank of the United States, modeled after the Bank of England. The Bank stored excess money, printed paper money that was valuable, and circulated cash to stimulate American businesses. The National Bank was largely beneficial to the American people, and yet it was strongly opposed by Jefferson and his followers. Was a National Bank really so bad for the United States? According to the Democratic Republicans, banks should be state-controlled on account of the 9th Amendment. However, as the past had proven, states should not be trusted to develop independent banks; such banks would circulate conflicting state currencies and create widespread economic confusion. Hamilton once said, “If all the public creditors receive their dues from one source [the government]…their interest[s] will [be] the same. And having the same interests, they will unite in support of the fiscal arrangements of the government.” Hamilton believed that if there was one bank for the entire United States, then all of the American creditors would unite in support of the government. This would bolster the American economy and eliminate domestic faction. Hamilton’s belief that “[what] is not forbidden by any particular provision of the constitution…may safely be deemed to come within the compass of the national authority” (Syrett) was ultimately the best policy for the United States; it allowed the Federal government to maintain control over interstate issues and establish a strong banking system, both of which increased the power of the central government, the effectiveness of this government, and the freedoms, securities, and comforts of the American people.
In contrast, the Democratic Republicans put large amounts of power directly in the hands of the people. Jefferson believed “in the common sense of mankind in general” and distrusted the central government. Democratic Republicans feared the tyranny of an all-powerful national government capable of operating unchecked and unchallenged without the consent of the people. However, their fears were largely unwarranted; the Constitution would not allow for such an oppressive government to exist—even if interpreted loosely—because of the numerous checks and balances put into place by the Founding Fathers. They ensured that the Federal government would always perform the will of the people. However, Jefferson would not compromise and insisted on preaching his outmoded conspiracy theories. Jefferson even went so far as to say, “Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers…alone. The people themselves are its only safe depositories.” Unfortunately, this apprehensive philosophy did not work very well for the American people at all; it encouraged the development of factions, an apparent conflict of interests, and little room for compromise. Jefferson’s flawed philosophy planted the seeds of the future Nullification Crisis where southern advocates of sectionalism believed that state legislatures had the right to “pick and choose” which Federal laws were effective in their states. Many prominent politicians at the time believed this crisis would be the end of the Union. In this situation, Jefferson’s philosophies were used to encourage conflicts between South Carolina and the Federal government. Jefferson’s agitation did not stop there. He once said “…It is her [England’s] government which is so corrupt, and which has destroyed the nation—it was certainly the most corrupt and unprincipled government on earth.” This statement insulted many Federalists, loyalists, and New Englanders. The Democratic Republicans showed time and time again that they were most adept at causing internal strife rather than solving anything. Clearly Jefferson’s uncompromising and accusatory philosophies only served to divide Americans, amplify interstate conflicts, and damage the strength of the United States.
Although both the Federalists and the Democratic Republicans did their best to lead Americans in a positive direction towards a bright future, it is evident that the Federalist Party was much more effective at accomplishing this goal. With their far-sighted yet prudent use of Federal power to control states issues and establish a strong banking system, the Federalists united the American people, resolved internal divisions within the country, and kept the best interests in mind for the future of the United States. The Federalists’ relentless belief in protecting American freedoms, securities, and comforts allowed them to accommodate nearly every American and provide for the future of this great country.
Syrett, Harold. "Article 1, Section 8, Clause 18." Alexander Hamilton, Opinion on the Constitutionality of the Bank. 23 Feb. 1791. New York and London: Columbia University Press. 6 Nov 2006 <http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/a1_8_18s11.html>
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