What factors led the US to follow Hamilton's vision of a market based economy over Jefferson's vision of an agrarian based society?
Thomas Jefferson who was born in 1743 always favoured a strong agrarian approach in his politics. The third President of the United States is also remembered as the mastermind who negotiated the Louisiana Purchase and was also the chief author of the Declaration of Independence.
While Thomas Jefferson sought about sending Lewis and Clarke on their expedition to explore the new west, Alexander Hamilton foresaw the problems with the new Confederation and saw the necessity for centralization. In 1776 he suggested collecting federal taxes by federal agents. Hamilton pushed for the creation of the Federal Bank and the Federalist Party thus advocating a strong central government. He also helped to weaken the power of the individual states (Hamilton, Federalist Papers).
Thomas Jefferson, on the other hand, was more in favour of agriculture and against banking and the creation of banks. He had come to power by opposing Hamilton’s domestic and foreign policies. Having come from a rural background, he wanted to preserve an agrarian empire of liberty. Once in power, however, he found that he was opposed by many of the people who wanted to move on and to industrialize their country. While Jefferson championed the geographic expansion of the United States and farming, Alexander Hamilton was devising an economic program for the United States.
Being an industrious nation, the United States saw that Hamilton’s economic vision was certainly the more viable when compared to Jefferson’s ideas and agrarian vision. Industrialization was the way forward and this was embraced by the United States especially when people began moving out of the countryside and into the cities.
The Federalists were divided into two groups over financial policies with Thomas Jefferson on one side and Alexander Hamilton on the other side. Alexander Hamilton, who was the Secretary of the Treasury, favoured the financiers and the banking and seaport merchants (Adair, Douglas & Harvey, Marvin p 20). Hamilton asked congress to issue millions of dollars in securities issued by the Confederation, providing huge profits for speculators and creating a permanent national debt owned by wealthy American families. The Bank of the United States was created thanks to Hamilton’s urging and backing (Adair, Douglas & Harvey, Marvin p 22).
Thanks to the expansion of cities and further industrialization, agrarian policy was in decline and Hamiltonian policies were on the rise. American people showed more faith in Hamilton and his policies than they did in Jefferson and his policies. Hamilton and Jefferson stood on contrasting sides. Jefferson considered government to be a necessary evil. He believed in the unity one-party rule would bring. Jefferson’s initial program wanted to stop national spending and slash the national debt. He favoured expansion to the west because he thought it would sustain the values necessary for an ideal republic, he thought it would strengthen his party and America’s economic and security interests. The Louisana Purchase was significant because it illustrated Jefferson’s interest in the west as well as America’s tie to the world of politics and it also secured western access to the sea.
Thomas Jefferson argued against the incorporation of the bank because it was not an established power and the implied powers were inadmissible. Alexander Hamilton argued for the incorporation of the bank because he laid down the doctrine of the Federal Powers under the Constitution. Hamilton was an aristocrat and he favoured a government run by rich and educated people very much based on the British model which Hamilton admired. Jefferson was a liberal and strongly believed that the vote was supreme as the people who should make decisions on how they wished to be governed. He had faith in the people. Hamilton, on the other hand, called the bulk of the American people “a great beast”. Ironically, Jefferson was born into a well-off family while Hamilton was born into a family who were not so well-off.
Jefferson believed in sharing wealth while Hamilton thought that it would be better in the hands of a favoured few. He placed a great deal on public wealth with an emphasis on commerce and industry and wanted broad powers for the Federal government (Austin, Ian Patrick, p 57) .Hamilton was a man who supported industry while Jefferson supported a national government. Jefferson was in favour of mild participation in the economy while Hamilton advocated broad subsidies and heavier tariffs enabling the American people to compete in the foreign market (Austin, Ian Patrick p. 38).
Hamilton earnestly believed that the United States should be able to defend herself from her enemies economically. This was one of the reasons that he supported the bankers, manufacturers and merchants. Jefferson supported the farmers, plantation owners, shop keepers and artisans because he himself was a farmer and grew up in Virginia where plantations were a major resource at that time.
Thus the American people seemed to accept that industrialization was the way forward for the country and this was principally due to the fact that the people were changing their location, from the countryside and into the cities. There were more opportunities for work in the cities and this led to a reduction in agricultural prowess of the nation, thus the US adopted Hamilton’s economic vision.
The two contrasting visions of government of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton showed two different views of American power and the American nation (Austin, Ian Patrick p 76). According to Hamilton, America’s strength lay in its commerce. He believed in an America of businessmen entrepreneurs, bankers and financiers. Jefferson disagreed with Hamilton about the make-up of the American people. He considered Hamilton’s financiers to be commercial elites and therefore the government had no obligation to help them. Jefferson stressed that if the government were to help anyone, it should help the farmers by allowing them to have the real power close to them in their state governments and keep the federal government out of their way (Austin, Ian Patrick p 88). Their main disagreement was about who should rule in the name of the people: Hamilton said it should be the few while Jefferson said it should be the many.
The United States developed considerably both politically and economically in the antebellum years. The growth of the population meant that several new states joined the union and since most of them came from the South, political power especially in the Senate was controlled by the Democrats who were very much in favour of keeping slavery. The economy especially in the cotton sector was also booming for the South which became a powerful power broker in debates and other issues such as the Missouri compromise. However with the rise of industrialization in the North and centre of the country, slavery became less important although the Kansas-Nebraska Act still kept this institution in force. The next big question was immigration which fuelled the economic boom especially in heavy industry and mining. However the new Republicanism which was approaching and which culminated in the election of President Lincoln was also another boom for capitalism.
Slavery as an institution in the antebellum South
Slavery was a most despicable institution in the United States and as everyone seemed to accept it until it boiled down to a Civil War, the Deep South lorded it over millions of black Africans who suffered greatly and terribly due to their exposure to slavery. Thomas Jefferson was himself a slave owner yet he was also a realist and wrestled with his conscience all the time regarding this issue over which he was in conflict with Alexander Hamilton who did not believe in slavery especially for the young. This was due to the fact that young children were not inherently exposed to slave life at so early an age so they were not so affected by the institution. But that immediately dawned upon them when they were more than six years old as then they suffered all the horrors and injustices of a slave life with all its trials and tribulations. The slave Harriet Jacobs’ childhood was a happy one as her household was inherently a kind one but as she was then sold and her master was unkind and quite a despot who worked his slaves to death. She then suffered unduly and was consistently abused and tortured and even made to work in the fields from dawn to dusk without any form of respite. This situation continued to prevail so her years of childhood appeared nothing less than a distant memory. This example is typical of the debate which became second nature after the Dredd Scott case where a slave was regarded as being three fifths human. Thus this problem continued to rear its head periodically and although the US pursued Hamilton’s path, the question of slavery was still anathema in the South from which Jefferson came.
The Constitutional Convention:
Generally one may argue that the Constitutional Convention was a series of compromises which were made to balance the interests of the various states with the strength of a new central government. How effective that was remains to be seen as even today problems still arise.
The constitution was actually a rather interesting compromise in creating a balance between what the smaller and larger states wanted. Initially in the Virginia Plan it became apparent that the large states wanted more representation but this was also tempered by what the smaller states wanted for themselves too. James Madison also came up with the idea of a bicameral parliament with a Congress or House of Representatives and the Senate which was to be made up by two representatives from each state thus guaranteeing that even the smaller states were equally represented in government’s highest body. According to the 1790 Census, larger states were initially favoured however whilst according to the New Jersey Plan, the smaller states wanted representation to be equal amongst the states themselves. Patterson then suggested a single house of congress for each state thus giving rise to local representation and each state was to receive one vote but this idea was then abandoned. After much argument and ado it was eventually decided that the Senate would be composed of two representatives from each state whilst the House would base its voting system on population and elect members to Congress according to the size of that population with each state split into Congressional districts.
Thus, the Great Compromise balanced the needs of small states and large states and created an effective system of representation for a powerful central government. Still that remains a thorny issue as states’ rights often impinge on central government rights which at the end of the day are just as important but the system of checks and balances imbued in the Constitution makes life slightly easier.
However the Constitution also compromised on the issue of slavery which was later to come to a head in the Civil War. With the Southern states wanting that slaves were to be counted as two fifths of the population, there was a sticking point as the North had a much smaller number of slaves and was not intrinsically interested in unbalancing its population quotas and thus its power.
Additionally, the North wanted to count the population for representation and direct taxation so the slaves would not come into the equation. This led to the South to insist that it wanted to retain the slave trade and control all its commerce with a compromise eventually reached that the slave tr on exports although the central government could continue to tax imports. These compromises retained slavery in those areas where it was economically necessary and continued to solidify the central government’s power to regulate taxation and trade.
However the states continued to demand power with most of them running under the Articles of confederation much like smaller countries. In this respect they did not want to give up their independence to a new central government so taxation was intrinsically necessary here as many now realized that it was important to have a strong central government Adair, Douglas & (Harvey, Marvin (1955) p 329).
The Constitution split its powers up by branches to ensure that no part of government became too powerful with states being left to their own devices to regulate affairs and with its own system of checks and balances, the Constitution continued moving forward in this respect. It was also important to ensure that there was a strong central government to control against any form of rebellion and to deal with foreign powers.
However there was still difficulty in ratifying the Constitution as there were the Federalists which supported the ratification while the anti-Federalists were hesitant to do so as they feared that the central government had too much power. However with the passing of the Bill of Rights, all fell into place as this guaranteed both personal liberties and the rights of the states.
Between them they had entered into the most important conflict in American politics. They were extreme opposites in every aspect. Jefferson was well-born :Hamilton was illegitimate . Jefferson was polite and graceful: Hamilton was impulsive and insecure. Jefferson preferred farming and rural life: Hamilton lived for New York City. But apart from their personality differences, their main dispute was in their competing visions of government. At the time both individuals were important to the United States as the country needed both influences to fuse and take up their philosophies.
Thomas Jefferson’s vision for his country was of a farming community with mild laws and equal opportunity. He believed that his country should be a haven for the oppressed and that he should preserve simplicity and equality. He also favoured a westward expansion. He was pro-France in his foreign policy beliefs.
Alexander Hamilton’s vision for his country was that success was founded on commerce and wealth. Wealth was very important to him. He believed in strict laws and that the society of the rich and poor people should be based on English society. He wanted to make America the new Europe. He was looking forward to a new technological age and doing business and trading in the Atlantic. He was pro-British in is foreign policy beliefs.
Hamilton’s visionary economic programme actually set the United States upon the path to economic liberalization several decades ahead of his time.
In conclusion, both Jefferson and Hamilton had different ideas on how America should be ruled. Although they differed so much, both had contributions to give to their country and both provided American with a concrete foundation. Because of Jefferson, America had become a nation of Democracy and because of Hamilton, with a high regard for economic industry. While both serving as members of President Washington’s cabinet, they had many similar yet contrasting ideas on how American should develop.
Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton never resolved their differences although they were both aware of each others’ opinions. Thanks to this difference of opinion and conflicting ideas, American history was revolutionized. The nation listened to their different views and took them into consideration. They eventually selected the way of life that they believed would benefit them and their country the most. Introducing commerce and banking set the American nation a step forward towards modernization. The country began to look forward to a new age of commerce and industry. The nation backed Alexander Hamilton in his beliefs.
Adair, Douglas & Harvey, Marvin (1955). "Was Alexander Hamilton a Christian Statesman?". William and Mary Quarterly 12 (2): 308–329. doi:10.2307/1920511.
Austin, Ian Patrick (2009). Common Foundations of American and East Asian Modernisation: From Alexander Hamilton to Junichero Koizumi. Singapore: Select Books. ISBN 978-981-4022-52-1.
Bailey, Jeremy D. (2008). "The New Unitary Executive and Democratic Theory: The Problem of Alexander Hamilton". American Political Science Review 102 (4): 453–465.doi:10.1017/S0003055408080337.
Cunningham, Noble E. Jefferson vs. Hamilton: Confrontations that Shaped a Nation. 2000. (Short collection of primary sources, with commentary)
Federalist Papers. Under the shared pseudonym "Publius". By Alexander Hamilton (c. 52 articles), James Madison (28 articles), and John Jay (five articles).