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Friday, August 24, 2012

Hamilton's Revenge II

This continues my discussion of Alexander Hamilton and the authorship of the constitution. As noted in the previous post, he was a Republican, but also a man who was an Anglo-phile and admitted that he preferred the British form of Government. This shouldn't be surprising. American Republicanism was partly a reaction to the extreme Parliamentarianism that was in turn a reaction to the "Glorious Revolution" which defenestrated the Stuart Kings and replaced them first with a Royal Line from the Netherlands, and then with an obscure German Family. The Revolutionaries also concentrated power in Judicial and Parliamentarian hands; and had trouble conceiving of the notion that English people outside the Home Country would want "representation" in Parliament eventually. As a warrior Hamilton fought the British, as an able warrior he understood them.

Madison Notes:

..."In his private opinion he had no scruple in declaring, supported as he was by the opinions of so many of the wise & good, that the British Govt. was the best in the world: and that he doubted much whether any thing short of it would do in America."

I can put myself in his shoes. As a man who understood the British Government and openly admired its constitution, he was steeped in British Common law and its tradition of Representation, preservation of rights, and order. Compared to the other countries in Europe it was the best government of the time.

"He hoped Gentlemen of different opinions would bear with him in this, and begged them to recollect the change of opinion on this subject which had taken place and was still going on. It was once thought that the power of Cong[res]s. was amply sufficient to secure the end of their institution. The error was now seen by every one."

Hamilton understood an important principle of reality: One should never throw out the baby with the bathwater. There are gems in the British system; Common law, the concept of rights, the principle of "constitutionality" which predates our written constitution, and the principles that no man is above the law and that all men should be subject to "ordinary courts" rather than special treatment -- when charged with a crime:

"...The members most tenacious of republicanism, he observed, were as loud as any in declaiming ag[ain]st. the vices of democracy. This progress of the public mind led him to anticipate the time, when others as well as himself would join in the praise bestowed by Mr. Neckar on the British Constitution, namely, that it is the only Govt. in the world "which unites public strength with individual security."

Few of the leaders of his time were out and out Democratic Republicans. Madison argued for that, but even he was afraid of "faction" and the power of demagogues and mob rule. But Hamilton also admired monarchy. And that is a different animal.

-"In every community where industry is encouraged, there will be a division of it into the few & the many. Hence separate interests will arise. There will be debtors & creditors &c. Give all power to the many, they will oppress the few. Give all power to the few, they will oppress the many. Both therefore ought to have [FN6] power, that each may defend itself ag[ain]st. the other."

This sounds remarkably like Madison's argument in Federalist 10 except that Madison comes around to the side of Representative Democracy as the least evil of all available systems. But here is where he diverges from James Madison and Thomas Jefferson:

To the want of this check we owe our paper money, installment laws &c. To the proper adjustment of it the British owe the excellence of their Constitution. Their house of Lords is a most noble institution. Having nothing to hope for by a change, and a sufficient interest by means of their property, in being faithful to the national interest, they form a permanent barrier ag[ain]st. every pernicious innovation, whether attempted on the part of the Crown or of the Commons."

Of course this assumes that the wealthy people in the house of commons are genuinely neutral and disinterested. Hamilton is admiring economic royalty here and assumes that all "pernicious innovation(s)" will come from the commons. His Point Of View is entirely that of an economic royalist. Indeed by the time he participated in the Constitutional Convention he was already turning his attention towards commerce and banks and played an indirect role in founding the Bank of New York.

"No temporary Senate will have firmness eno'[ugh] to answer the purpose. The Senate [of Maryland] which seems to be so much appealed to, has not yet been sufficiently tried. Had the people been unanimous & eager, in the late appeal to them on the subject of a paper emission they would would have yielded to the torrent."

For Hamilton a stable banking system, a system that favors the accumulation of wealth, and as little Democracy as he could get away with was his goal. Never mind that the kinds of banks he was founding would be a leading source of **instability**

"Their acquiescing in such an appeal is a proof of it. -Gentlemen differ in their opinions concerning the necessary checks, from the different estimates they form of the human passions. They suppose seven years a sufficient period to give the senate an adequate firmness, from not duly considering the amazing violence & turbulence of the democratic spirit. When a great object of Govt. is pursued, which seizes the popular passions, they spread like wild fire, and become irresistable.

Madison here is summarizing Hamilton's arguments;

"He appealed to the gentlemen from the N. England States whether experience had not there verified the remark."
To Hamilton, like Burke, the common folks involving themselves in politics was a horror that could only lead to violence and turbulence. From this speech it is pretty obvious that Hamilton, whatever lip service he might have given the commons, or democracy, was no democrat:

"-As to the Executive, it seemed to be admitted that no good one could be established on Republican principles. Was not this giving up the merits of the question: for can there be a good Govt. without a good Executive. The English model was the only good one on this subject.

To Hamilton there were no examples of successful Republican executives. His feelings went to promoting royalism in the executive area as well. Indeed, he doesn't sound that different from any of his well to do contemporaries. In many Latin American Countries the "executive" quickly became an unstable succession of dictators. His heart pined for the stability of hereditary monarchy:

The Hereditary interest of the King was so interwoven with that of the Nation, and his personal emoluments so great, that he was placed above the danger of being corrupted from abroad-and at the same time was both sufficiently independent and sufficiently controuled, to answer the purpose of the institution at home. one of the weak sides of Republics was their being liable to foreign influence & corruption. Men of little character, acquiring great power become easily the tools of intermedling Nei[gh]bours.

Of course the reality is not so cut and dried. There are instances of Kings being corrupted from abroad (The Polish Kings come to mind), and there are many examples of Kings being pure tyrants simply because placing the roles of Judge, Jury and Executioner in the same top down organization and/or person invites tyranny. As to "men of little character" we see that set of traits scattered from top to down in every country and community. Hamilton only need have looked objectively at the then occupant of the English Throne, who was totally unsuited for it.

But the main point is that, an analysis of this speech, recorded by his friend Madison (there are other even less flattering versions of the same speech), demonstrates that the two main authors of the constitution had widely divergent beliefs about the value of Democratic Republicanism. Hamilton is the true founder of Undemocratic Republicanism, while we can yet give credit to Madison for founding the principles of our republic.

A secondary point is that, nevertheless, it was important to represent Hamilton's view in the founding of the country. His intrinsic fear of paper money, demagogues, and mob actions, is one that most of us ought to fear as well. Aaron Burr was a demagogue and a populist, and it is no accident that he's also the one who killed Hamilton and in the process destroyed his own political career.

This is a reprint of a post originally at Fraught With Peril The first part of this series is here:

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