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Vigilance & Responsibility Alexander Hamiltonís strategic sobriety.
NRO ^ | January 13, 2006 | Mackubin Thomas Owens

Posted on 01/13/2006 10:09:12 AM PST by neverdem

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Vigilance & Responsibility

Alexander Hamilton’s strategic sobriety.

This past week (January 11) marked the 251st anniversary of the birth of Alexander Hamilton, whom Richard Brookhiser described as the greatest of the Founders except for George Washington. Hamilton's detractors, beginning with Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and John Adams did not deny his greatness, but feared his motives. They described him as a lover of monarchy whose goal was to corrupt the republican virtue of the American people by means of his economic schemes. Since then, many writers, reflecting the view of his contemporary adversaries, have depicted Hamilton as the "prince of darkness" in a Manichean struggle with Thomas Jefferson for the soul of the American republic or as a "militarist," a Caesar or a Bonaparte, bent on tyranny at home and conquest abroad.

But the struggle between Hamilton and Jefferson was not between bad and good, vice and virtue, or darkness and light, but between responsibility and vigilance, two virtues necessary to sustain republican government. And what many describe as Hamilton's militarism was really strategic sobriety, the essence of which is the recognition that one must prepare not only for the expected, but also for the unexpected. Hope is not a realistic strategy.

Let us recollect, that peace or war, will not always be left to our options. . . . To judge from the history of mankind, we shall be compelled to conclude, that the fiery and destructive passions of war, reign in the human breast, with much more powerful sway, than the mild and beneficial sentiments of peace; and, that to model our political systems upon speculations of lasting tranquility, is to calculate on the weaker springs of the human character.

Strategic sobriety is a mode of thought that republics require as much as any other regime. Unfortunately, it is one that republics all too often discourage.

As my friend and Naval War College colleague, Karl Walling, observed in his 1999 book Republican Empire: Alexander Hamilton on War and Free Government, throughout the history of the American republic, a tension has existed between vigilance and responsibility. The former is the jealousy on the part of the people that constitutes a necessary check on those who hold power lest they abuse it. As Jefferson wrote, "it is jealousy and not confidence which prescribes limited constitutions, to bind those whom we are obliged to trust with power."

But while vigilance is a necessary virtue, it may, if unchecked, lead to an extremism that incapacitates a government in carrying out even its most necessary and legitimate purposes, e.g. providing for the common defense. "Jealousy," wrote Hamilton, often infects the "noble enthusiasm for liberty" with "a spirit of narrow and illiberal distrust."

Responsibility is the statesmanlike virtue necessary to moderate the excesses of political jealousy, thereby permitting limited government to fulfill its purposes. Thus in Federalist 23, Hamilton wrote that those responsible for the nation's defense must be granted all of the powers necessary to achieve that end. Responsibility is the virtue necessary to govern and to preserve the republic from harm, both external and internal. The dangers of foreign and civil war taught Hamilton that liberty and power are not always adversaries. The "vigor of government is essential to the security of liberty."

This debate is alive and well today, as civil libertarians speak in terms of vigilance while the administration and its defenders stress responsibility in the face of an alien threat, a vast, foreign-based conspiracy that seeks to destroy the United States and kill its citizens. Today, as in his own time, it is certain that Hamilton would stress the importance of responsibility, believing that while we should always be vigilant when it comes to the Constitution and our civil rights, a prudent assessment of the threat created by terrorism tilts the balance toward responsibility.

Accordingly, Hamilton would be as appalled by the ideology of radical Islam, or what Walter Russell Mead calls "Arabian fascism" as he was by the ideology of the French Revolution. Both are "governed by a spirit of proselytism, conquest, domination, and rapine" constituting nothing short of a universal declaration of war. He would be appalled as well by the naiveté of our modern Jeffersons whose utopian vision denies the reality that war is a fact of international life or who fear executive power more than they fear our adversaries. Hamilton, now as then, would understand that the survival of the republic depends on developing, maintaining, and implementing the potential to make war.

Which brings us to Hamilton's strategic sobriety: For the United States to survive and prosper in a dangerous world, he believed that it was necessary to 1) keep war at a distance by creating a "republican empire" possessing a government strong enough to deal with the exigencies of international threats, and 2) prepare for the worst, guided by prudence.

Most of Hamilton's contemporaries considered a "republican empire" an oxymoron. The prevailing political tradition held that republics and empires were incompatible. Republics were free but short-lived because of instability arising from the presence of factions. Empires were secure, but security was achieved at the cost of freedom.

It was Machiavelli who suggested that security required republics to transform themselves into empires, as Rome had done. Hamilton agreed, but unlike Machiavelli, he sought to achieve this transformation by consent rather than force or fraud. Hamilton believed that such a republican empire, in the form of a powerful, indissoluble Union, would keep war at a distance, thus avoiding the militarization that had led to the downfall of earlier free governments.

Unlike Jefferson, Hamilton assumed that force ruled relations among nations in the New World as well as in the Old. Nonetheless, he expected that if America could survive as an independent nation, consent would replace force in the New World. In the meantime, the volatile and uncertain geopolitical situation required that America take the steps necessary to defend its rights and honor. These included the establishment of credit and a national bank, the encouragement of manufactures, and the creation of an expansible standing army and an ocean-going navy.

A crucial instrument of Hamilton's strategic sobriety was a government capable of taking action when confronted by a threat. He firmly believed that the Constitution could not logically become an instrument in its own destruction. Hamilton makes this point most clearly in Federalist 23:

These powers ought to exist without limitations, because it is impossible to be foreseen or define the extent and variety of national exigencies, or the correspondent extent and variety of the means which may be necessary to satisfy them. The circumstances that endanger he safety of nations are infinite and for this reason, no constitutional shackles can wisely be imposed on the power to which the care of it is committed. This power ought to be co-extensive with all the possible combinations of such circumstances; and ought to be under the direction of the same councils which are appointed to preside over the common defense.

. . . the means ought to be proportional to the end; the persons from whose agency the attainment of any end is expected, ought to possess the means by which it is to be attained.

The key to exercising the power described here is a strong executive. In Federalist 70, Hamilton wrote:

There is an idea, which is not without its advocates, that a vigorous Executive is inconsistent with the genius of republican government. The enlightened wellwishers to this species of government must at best hope that the supposition is destitute of foundation, since they can never admit its truth without at the same time admitting the condemnation of their own principles. Energy in the Executive is a leading character in the definition of good government.

Hamilton gives as his primary reason for this claim that "[the executive power] is essential to the protection of the community from foreign attacks."

Hamilton believed that the president, as the only official elected by the people as a whole, had not only the constitutional but the moral responsibility to act on their behalf — in the interest of the salus populi. Hamilton rejected the claim that republican government required the executive branch's "servile compliancy" to the legislative. The executive possesses his own constitutionally based power and is not, as some people seem to argue today, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Congress or at least "a kind of independent agency under the ultimate control of Congress."

During the Civil War, Lincoln took his bearings from Hamilton on the need for broad executive power in times other emergency. As he argued in an 1863 letter, certain actions that are unconstitutional in the absence of rebellion or invasion become constitutional when those conditions exists — in other words, "that the Constitution is not in its application in all respects the same in cases of rebellion or invasion involving the public safety, as it is in times of profound peace and public security."

In the current debate over presidential powers in the war on terror, Hamilton would come down on the side of those who argue that Congress can pass no law that restricts the president's inherent constitutional power. He would also reject the idea that a judge has the authority to render the president — the constitutional officer responsible for security — powerless.

But even good institutions are not always enough to ensure safety. Leaders must also possess the will and courage to use them when they believe the situation requires it. Thus as inspector general during the Adams administration, Hamilton prepared for the worst case, a land war against Revolutionary France. He especially feared France because, as noted above, he believed that the French Revolution had spawned a type of war for which the United States was ill-prepared.

Hamilton was not the only member of the founding generation who believed that American independence could be secured fully only if European influence was ultimately expelled from the region. But the steps he took to ensure this outcome caused some of his contemporaries, including Adams, as well as many historians, to label him a potential dictator and military adventurer.

In fact, the war Hamilton feared did not materialize. While many credit Adams' diplomacy for establishing peace, there is substantial evidence to suggest that the main reason a Franco-American war did not occur was mainly due to the role of chance in preventing Napoleon from carrying out his grand plan to occupy Louisiana. It could have occurred later but for the slave revolt in Haiti that diverted the army destined for New Orleans. It was Jefferson's good fortune that Napoleon subsequently needed hard cash and was willing to sell Louisiana to the United States.

But chance is a slender reed upon which to base a nation's strategy. Indeed, as Walling writes, "By the end of the War of 1812, Jefferson and Madison had learned the hard way, at the cost of several humiliating defeats, that Hamilton generally had been right...those policies that had seemed instruments of corruption in the hands of Hamilton now seemed the essence of prudence." Critics of President Bush might profit from this example.

Some have suggested that Hamilton was a militaristic state-builder along the lines of Frederick the Great or Bismarck. In fact he was an 18th century liberal who never lost sight of the necessity to remain within the bounds established by the Constitution. "Let us not establish a tyranny," he wrote in 1798. "Energy is a very different thing from violence." He recognized that war is the great destroyer of free government, unleashing the accidents and passions that undermine liberty, and that liberty is endangered by too little as well as too much power. His goal was to establish a republican regime both fit for war and safe for liberty.

By creating the institutions that minimize the inevitable tension between the necessities of war and the requirements of free government, the Founders bequeathed to the United States the unprecedented ability to wage war while still preserving liberty. As Walling points out, "More than anyone of his time, [Hamilton] envisioned and set in process the chain of events that would enable the United States to lead the free world against twentieth-century regimes far more militaristic and dangerous to the rights of man than Revolutionary France."

Without the institutions that Hamilton was instrumental in creating and the strategic sobriety that he taught, the United States would be hard pressed to defend its interests in a dangerous world while maintaining liberty at home. Just ask Thucydides. Happy birthday, Mr. Hamilton.

Mackubin Thomas Owens is an associate dean of academics and a professor of national-security affairs at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I. He is writing a history of U.S. civil-military relations.


 

 
http://www.nationalreview.com/owens/owens200601131053.asp
     



TOPICS: Constitution/Conservatism; Editorial; Foreign Affairs; Government; News/Current Events; Politics/Elections; US: District of Columbia; War on Terror
KEYWORDS: alexanderhamilton; americanhistory; foundingfathers

1 posted on 01/13/2006 10:09:14 AM PST by neverdem
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To: neverdem

Still, I always kind of leaned toward Burr on the duel question.


2 posted on 01/13/2006 10:16:49 AM PST by Chi-townChief
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To: Chi-townChief

It always kind of saddens me that there are people who claim interested in American political history but when they hear the name "Alexander Hamilton," the first thought that comes to mind is his soap-operatic duel. Hamilton was the greatest conservative this country ever produced.


3 posted on 01/13/2006 11:17:19 AM PST by Great Communicator
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To: Great Communicator

IMHO, Hamilton is a little problematic for conservatives. And I love the guy.

On the one hand, he's the clear voice of capitalism among the Founders. And in a sea of dreamers and speakers, he was the pragmatist, who rolled up his sleeve and actually made much of the new country work. Our economic power is largely built on the foundation he laid in the earliest days of the Republic.

On the other hand, no other single figure was more instrumental in consolidating Federal power and giving the Federal government authority over the states.

Still, an amazing man. What he could have accomplished had he not died on that cliff in New Jersey....


4 posted on 01/13/2006 12:58:05 PM PST by highball ("I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have." -- Thomas Jefferson)
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To: neverdem

bttt


5 posted on 01/13/2006 6:55:03 PM PST by Tailgunner Joe
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To: Chi-townChief

Burr was a smuck. He never did anything for our new nation and was as dangerous a leader as we ever had. All big city political machines are the descendents of Burr's NYC's crooks. Daley and boys would proudly call Burr "brother".

Hamilton, on the other hand, was the greatest American of his generation other than Washington, who admired and advanced him at every opportunity.


6 posted on 01/17/2006 7:19:21 AM PST by justshutupandtakeit (Public Enemy #1, the RATmedia.)
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To: highball

It was not Hamilton who cemented federal power over the states but the Constitution. He and Marshall were the greatest interpreters of the Constitution we ever had with the latter examining every issue through the thought of the former (as he admitted.) Had Hamilton been able to defeat Jefferson's political machine and become president I do not believe the Civil war would have occurred.


7 posted on 01/17/2006 7:24:06 AM PST by justshutupandtakeit (Public Enemy #1, the RATmedia.)
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To: justshutupandtakeit

"It was not Hamilton who cemented federal power over the states but the Constitution."

The Constitution that Hamilton championed. He was as responsible as any other single man for the Constitution being ratified, with his tireless work on the Federalist Papers. He felt that the Articles of Confederation, with its weak federal government, was a wholly inadequate foundation on which to build the mighty industrial nation he foresaw.

Hamilton was certainly a proponent of Federal power as a guarantee of liberty. He also favored a strong Executive branch (as did Washington), which led his critics to call him a monarchist.


8 posted on 01/17/2006 7:52:34 AM PST by highball ("I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have." -- Thomas Jefferson)
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To: highball

Hamilton was as responsible for the enactment and ratification of the Constitution as any American as you say. However, the "strong" federal government which he helped implement was in no way "strong" it was weak to the point of imbecility compared to the government we know. Hamilton knew that the real power was with the states and was determined to change that so that a real Union could be created.

But there is no doubt that this strenghtening did not really occur till this century. It was tiny in size until the Civil War and even the increased power required to fight the war was reduced drastically afterwards. What passed as a federal government in 1800 would not even compare to a small state government today and compared to a large city would be considered tiny.

Had an ideological crank like Jefferson been the first president I have no doubt the nation would have failed. It was only because we had far-sighted statesmen like Washington and Hamilton in power that we have the greatest nation in the world to live in today.


9 posted on 01/17/2006 12:36:51 PM PST by justshutupandtakeit (Public Enemy #1, the RATmedia.)
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To: justshutupandtakeit
Had an ideological crank like Jefferson been the first president I have no doubt the nation would have failed. It was only because we had far-sighted statesmen like Washington and Hamilton in power that we have the greatest nation in the world to live in today.

True enough. Both Hamilton and Washington were practical men. While Jefferson was dreaming of America as an agrarian paradise, they realized that the future of the nation was in trade, industry, businesses and banks. They worked for the America that didn't take full flower until the 20th Century.

Not a coincidence that only upon becoming the nation that they foresaw did America become the greatest power in the world....

Have you read Chernow's biography?

10 posted on 01/17/2006 1:19:38 PM PST by highball ("I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have." -- Thomas Jefferson)
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To: justshutupandtakeit
"However, the strong federal government which he helped implement was in no way strong it was weak to the point of imbecility compared to the government we know. Hamilton knew that the real power was with the states and was determined to change that so that a real Union could be created."

Actually, Hamilton could put today's politicians to shame. As the architect of the Revenue Cutter Service, he caused the establishment of a new federal agency/authority that trumped states rights and even effectively superseded provisions of the Constitution. Revenue cutters had the authority to stop citizens and, if deemed appropriate, cease their private property WITHOUT a warrant (a power that the U.S. Coast Guard still has).

The original purpose of the Revenue Cutter Service was to "force" the payment of tariffs on a reluctant citizenry, including many of our founding fathers who had made an art out of avoiding paying "English" taxes and continued the practice. Think of an early version of the IRS with guns and cutlass...our founding jack booted thug.

11 posted on 01/17/2006 1:36:52 PM PST by CWOJackson (tancredo? Wasn't he the bounty hunter in the Star Wars trilogy?)
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To: CWOJackson

Hamilton knew that the government must have revenue and, contrary to the false view you present, that government had all the authority in the world to tax imports to provide it. There was NO states' right to import goods without paying the tariff. Nor was there anything he was involved in collecting revenue that was unconstitutional. When there is a tariff you have no right to possess property brought into the country without paying that tariff. Anymore than today you can bring goods in without declaring them even when there is no tariff.

Of course anyone who draws the scorn of meatheaded liars as Hamilton has for over two hundred years is worthy of high praise indeed. That campaign to attack him by the Left is still in full gear. Praise of Jefferson has been sung by the same meatheaded liars during this period.

Hamilton was the greatest ally Washington had and no one received more of his support and praise. Nor was any more critical to his performance as Commander-in-Chief and President. He was the most brilliant of the Founders and played a larger role in the creation of our Nation than any man but Washington. Some will never forgive him.


12 posted on 01/17/2006 2:08:52 PM PST by justshutupandtakeit (Public Enemy #1, the RATmedia.)
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To: highball

Not yet but I read about half a dozen a year. I have it ready to go. But the best I have read is Forrest MacDonald's which is simply brilliant in explaining the financial system. Hendrickson's is also terrific for the basic amazing story of his life. Of course, there are others which take on just one element of his prodigeous work. Foreign policy, political beliefs, military life, legal thought, etc.


13 posted on 01/17/2006 2:13:23 PM PST by justshutupandtakeit (Public Enemy #1, the RATmedia.)
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To: neverdem

I was reading a great bio on AH last year, but I had to turn it back in to the library after three weeks because there were so many holds on it. Never got it back....


14 posted on 01/17/2006 2:15:21 PM PST by Ciexyz (Let us always remember, the Lord is in control.)
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To: justshutupandtakeit

The Chernow one is an excellent overview. Manages to touch on so many aspects of his life, glories in his successes, but doesn't try to diminish or excuse the scandals.

Great book.


15 posted on 01/17/2006 2:18:24 PM PST by highball ("I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have." -- Thomas Jefferson)
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To: justshutupandtakeit
"Hamilton knew that the government must have revenue and, contrary to the false view you present..."

Hardly a false view at all. I never denied that it was his job to enforce revenue laws. The new nation was broke following the war and it was his job to gather the revenue to pay for it. The only way he was able to accomplish that duty successfully was through the use of force; implied and real.

As for the Conditionality of a federal agency having the authority to enter and seize private property, without a search warrant, has been being debated for over 200 years. Although the courts continue to uphold it, the very thought that armed federal law enforcement officers are able to enter and seize your property, without so much as a search warrant, is something that the average citizen believes is outside the bounds of the Constitution.

As for Hamilton himself, I always was a fan of his. How could I not be and spend over 30 years in the Coast Guard. However, your assertion that he was a limited federal power type is far from accurate. He led the way in use of strong, over-riding, federal power.

16 posted on 01/17/2006 2:22:00 PM PST by CWOJackson (tancredo? Wasn't he the bounty hunter in the Star Wars trilogy?)
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To: CWOJackson
He led the way in use of strong, over-riding, federal power.

Exactly. As I said above, Hamilton is problematic for modern conservatives.

There's the Federalism, but then there's his committment to capitalism and industry as the guarantee of liberty.

17 posted on 01/17/2006 2:24:55 PM PST by highball ("I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have." -- Thomas Jefferson)
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To: highball
I happen to be a fan of Hamiltons.

When he became the first treasurer he was faced with a large war debt and a population that wasn't very keen on paying their dues; to anyone. Many of the founding fathers had been actively involved in smuggling and some protested that paying taxes to the new government was simply changing the yoke and continued to smuggle.

He couldn't get the public to comply willingly so his only recourse was to create and use a very heavy federal hand.

18 posted on 01/17/2006 2:36:12 PM PST by CWOJackson (tancredo? Wasn't he the bounty hunter in the Star Wars trilogy?)
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To: highball

I saw him speaking about it on CSPAN last year and it sounded like him was on the same page as me. I have read Hendrickson, McDonald, Schachner, Randall, Brookhiser, Atherton, Mitchell, Lodge, Fleming, Cooke, Miller, Syrett, Rogow, Lycan, Flexner,just finished Knott and have a couple of more ready for my next foray into Hamiltonia.


19 posted on 01/17/2006 2:38:34 PM PST by justshutupandtakeit (Public Enemy #1, the RATmedia.)
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To: CWOJackson

Hamilton's view was not that the government should or did have unlimited power. Far from it (read his Essay on the Constitutionality of the Bank for a clear view of what is constitutional and what not.) What reputable figure has ever claimed that there is a right to smuggle goods into the country? Or that Hamilton's men did any more than law allowed in regards to private property? Federal forces have full authority to search vessels entering the country.

As I said the federal government during his day was tiny only the Department of the Treasury could be considered anything else. It was by far the largest employer in the government with far greater powers than any of the other departments. But until the Whiskey Tax Act its powers was pretty much restricted to the ports and coasts.


20 posted on 01/17/2006 2:47:24 PM PST by justshutupandtakeit (Public Enemy #1, the RATmedia.)
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To: CWOJackson
I happen to be a fan of Hamiltons.

Oh, don't get me wrong - I am as well. I admire the man more than my words can express.

But the fact remains that he was a greater proponent of a strong central federal government than I am comfortable with.

That in no way diminished my respect for him or his importance to America's history and her place in the world. Washington was a Federalist, too, although he liked to appear above the fray.

21 posted on 01/18/2006 7:46:52 AM PST by highball ("I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have." -- Thomas Jefferson)
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To: highball

I don't think you are giving the proper consideration to context. Hamilton was only infavor of as much Federal authority as was necessary to make the Union succeed, versus what existed at the time (which was nothing). Blaming him for the later growth of the Federal government is like blaming Jefferson for slavery.


22 posted on 01/18/2006 8:26:52 AM PST by Great Communicator
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To: Great Communicator

With all due respect, that's a terrible comparison. Slavery existed before Jefferson, while Hamilton was directly responsible for consolidating Federal power (through advocating replacing the weaker Articles of Confederation with a strong central government in the Constitution).

Again, that in no way diminishes my enthusiasm for the man. But I believe in acknowledging the roses and the thorns.

Hamilton was perhaps the most prescient Founding Father. He established the economic foundation of this great nation, and without him the country may well have fallen soon after its birth.

He was also much more comfortable with central Federal power than I am, and was at the center of the first sexual political scandal in the United States. He was an extremely complex man, and I celebrate that complexity.


23 posted on 01/18/2006 8:43:27 AM PST by highball ("I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have." -- Thomas Jefferson)
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To: highball

With all due respect, both "Federalism" and slavery existed before either Hamilton or Jefferson. The United States of America existed before neither man.


24 posted on 01/19/2006 9:00:26 AM PST by Great Communicator
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To: Great Communicator

True, but while Jefferson failed to eliminate slavery from the United States of America, Hamilton is among those most responsible for Federalizing the nation.


25 posted on 01/19/2006 9:02:40 AM PST by highball ("I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have." -- Thomas Jefferson)
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To: highball

Jefferson's understanding of slavery did more damage to this nation than the Federalism that Hamilton proposed. Hamilton wasn't trying to dissolve individual state sovereignty. He simply realized that without some concessions the Republic was doomed to failure.


26 posted on 01/19/2006 9:08:49 AM PST by Great Communicator
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To: Great Communicator
I don't think that Hamilton's Federalism can be chalked up to a concession. He made concessions to advance his Federalism.

Hamilton believed that the Federal Government could guarantee liberties better than the states. That's why he championed throwing away the Articles of Confederation (he was one of the first to suggest doing so), with its weak federal government, and passing the Constitution.

27 posted on 01/19/2006 9:16:19 AM PST by highball ("I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have." -- Thomas Jefferson)
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To: highball

I understand the point you are making, but to some extent Federalism may be required where individual states liberties are impractical. 100% rejection of Federalism starts sounding dangerously like libertarianism (that would be Jefferson's department).


28 posted on 01/19/2006 10:12:52 AM PST by Great Communicator
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