Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Alexander Hamilton’ Category

For most younger folks today the Alexander Hamilton-Aaron Burr duel is probably best, and perhaps only, known from a popular television commercial.  When first viewing that commercial myself, as a young high school student, I remember having only a vague idea of who Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr were; that vague idea coming from having read Edward Everett Hale’s The Man Without A Country in English class a year or two before.  So I knew there had been some kind of duel that involved the two men, though I had no idea of their significance to American history or why they felt the need to shoot at each other from ten paces.

Burr and Hamilton had both served in the Revolutionary War and had achieved high ranks; Burr a colonel and Hamilton a general, though the generals commission was granted long after the Revolution during what is known as the Quasi-War with France.  Both were integral in the early Republic holding important offices at various times, and mostly friendly at the start.  But the seeds of rivalry were planted in 1791 when Burr beat Hamilton’s father-in-law, Philip Schuyler, in the race for the Senate seat from New York.  From there the animosity festered.  Hamilton saw Burr as a political opportunist and a bit of a flip-flopper, to use today’s language, and was often very critical of him in public.  Burr was in fact a bit of a schemer, or as some might see it, politically shrewd.  Either way, he didn’t much care for Hamilton’s opinion of him and they were constantly at odds.  So much so that when the Presidential election of 1800 ended in a tie between Thomas Jefferson and Burr, Hamilton used as much of his influence as he could among more moderate Federalists–who  would have preferred Burr to Jefferson as President, though they were both Republicans–in the House of Representatives–which was responsible for breaking the tie–to see that Burr lost.  This might not seem like that big of a deal except for the fact that it was well known that Jefferson and Hamilton were bitter political enemies.  So strong had the feud between Hamilton and Burr become that Hamilton would prefer to see his greatest political opponent reach the presidency, than the more moderate Burr.

Burr did serve as Vice President under Jefferson, as the runner-up did at the time, but it was rumored that Jefferson would attempt to replace him in the next election in 1804.  Burr decided to run for governor of New York, but was again thwarted, again largely due to Hamilton and his allies.  During the course of the campaign a letter surfaced that had been written to Philip Schuyler, Hamilton’s father-in-law, by a Dr. Charles D. Cooper which described “a still more despicable opinion which General Hamilton has expressed of Mr. Burr” at a dinner.  According to the code of honor of the day, attacks on someone political views, even very harsh ones, were fair game, but to impugn on a man’s personal character was viewed as out of line.  Burr demanded an apology from Hamilton, or at the very least, an explanation.  Hamilton refused, claiming not to know specifically what Dr. Cooper was referring to and therefore could not offer an explanation or an apology.  Through a series of letters delivered through proxies, Hamilton and Burr continued to spar over the issue, eventually to the point where Burr demanded an apology for every negative thing Hamilton had ever said about him and Hamilton refusing because it was, basically, all true.

Finally, in an effort to regain his honor, Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel.  Hamilton, feeling his own honor was at stake, accepted.  Both men had fallen on hard times politically in recent years; Burr’s virtual dismissal as Vice President (though he was still the current VP in 1804) and loss in the New York gubernatorial election had damaged his reputation and ego and Hamilton had not served in public life in any real capacity for at least four years and his Federalist party was diminishing in influence.  Perhaps they both saw in the duel a chance, not only to settle old scores, but to reclaim former prestige, if not politically, then at least personally.  They agreed to meet at Heights of Weehawken, New Jersey on July 11th, 1804 to settle things once and for all.

Coming Soon:  The Duel:  Part Two

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

hamjeff.jpg

I had intended to post Part II of the WWI question last night, but got caught up doing movie reviews on Life of Ando.  So to slake your ravenous historical thirst in the meantime, here is my assignment from my history class this past week.  If you’re really into American history and how the politics of the early Republic shook out, Jefferson vs. Hamilton is a great study.  It’s also a little, I guess comforting, to know that as bad as we think today’s politicians are,  politics was always a very dirty game.  Like Bismarck said, “Laws are like sausages.  Better to not see them being made.”  And as Ecclesiastes says, “There’s nothing new under the sun.”

1) How did the political philosophies of these men differ?

Most clear thinking Americans could probably tell you at least the rudimentary facts of who Thomas Jefferson was. Far fewer would likely have a definite idea of who Alexander Hamilton was and what his contributions as a Founding Father were. Yet his conception of an American government was just as important as that of Jefferson. Both founders foresaw the new nation as a great future power, and both had very different maps of how to get it there.

Jefferson believed the nation’s strength lay in its agricultural roots. He favored an agrarian nation with most powers reserved for the states. He was very opposed to a strong central authority and believed that the people were the final authority in government. Jefferson also encouraged active support for the French Revolution

Hamilton favored a strong central authority. He believed a strong government was necessary to provide order so that business and industry could grow. He envisioned America becoming an industrial power. To this end he sought to establish a national bank and fund the national debt in order to establish firm base for national credit. Hamilton believed that the government should be run by those who were educated and wealthy rather than by “the mob.” He opposed involvement in the French Revolution and worried Jeffersonians by appearing, and maybe even being, too cozy with Britain.

2) How was the conflict between Jefferson and Hamilton a significant factor in the emergence of political parties?

The Jefferson/Hamilton conflict helped give rise to political parties by polarizing factions on opposite political sides. Those who backed Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans supported states rights, a strict reading of the Constitution, and support for the French Revolution. Those who back Hamilton’s Federalists preferred a much stronger central government, an “elastic” reading of the Constitution, and a hands-off approach to the French Revolution.

3) Which view do you think was best for the US – Hamilton’s or Jefferson’s – and why? [This part should be several paragraphs long]

I don’t know if either view could be considered better or worse for America. Forced to choose, I would probably lean toward Hamiltonian ideas, but I believe both served a vital and necessary role in forming the government. Hamilton was a visionary and saw the potential of a great industrial power. His support of a strong central authority was a key reason the young nation was able to sustain itself in the early days, especially in such crises like Shayes Rebellion. One reason he may have felt as strongly as he did was his service in the Revolutionary War. Being one of Washington’s staff, he experienced first hand the difficulty the Continental army had with an ineffectual congress to keep it fed and supplied. The weak congress was not able to raise funds to pay for supplies because it had no real power.

For all his vision and innovation, Hamilton’s ambition may have carried him too far if left unchecked. The federal government may have become too powerful and curbed the rights of citizens, which in fact did happen to a degree during the Adams administration. Jefferson and his policies provided an important counter balance to Hamilton. Jefferson’s support of states’ rights and agriculture helped to offset the influence of the Hamilton-supporting merchants and manufacturers. However, without Hamilton’s counter-balance Jefferson’s policies may have left the government weak and ineffectual to deal with major crises both at home and abroad.

Each viewpoint needed the other to create a government that would be strong enough to protect itself and it’s people from internal and external strife, but not so strong that it would infringe on the rights of the people as enumerated in the Bill of Rights and in the Revolutionary spirit. These issues, of course, weren’t resolved or ceased to be relevant after Hamilton and Jefferson left the scene. These are still very much the issues we deal with even now, over 200 years later. As much as we might dislike, or even hate, the position of the “other” party, without some balance both sides would undoubtedly abuse their power…more than they already do.

4) List at least 3 sources in proper bibliographic format. No Wiki sources.

Frank, Mitch. “Jefferson vs. Hamilton or Group Hug.” American Partisan. Dec. 28 2006. http://www.american-partisan.com/cols/frank/111799.htm

“Hamilton vs. Jefferson.” Dec. 28 2006. http://countrystudies.us/united-states/history-41.htm

Kennedy, David, Lizabeth Cohen, Thomas A. Bailey. The American Pageant. Boston:
Houghton Mifflin, 2002.

[digg=http://digg.com/political_opinion/Hamilton_vs_Jefferson]

Read Full Post »