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August 2015 Brief: Volume 22, Number 24

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The Forgotten Alexander Hamilton

 

by John Hendrickson

 

 

Instead of removing Alexander Hamilton from the $10 bill, it would be better for Americans to rediscover the principles and philosophy of one of our greatest Founding Fathers. Alexander Hamilton, who served as one of our nation’s prominent Founding Fathers and first Secretary of the Treasury under President George Washington, was a hero to many political leaders. As a close adviser to President Washington, Hamilton was the “chief architect” of the administration’s policies.[1] It is said that Hamilton is the “Father of American Capitalism,” and as historian Forrest McDonald wrote, his fiscal policies “breathed life into the Constitution.”[2] McDonald also argued that Hamilton’s economic program “was an example of conservatism — of constructive, prudential change — at its best.”[3] President Calvin Coolidge, who was influenced deeply by the American Founding, was influenced by Hamilton’s political and economic thought.

 

Hamilton’s influence on policy leaders during the 1920s and even into the 1930s can be seen clearly through the many speeches and references made to him by individuals such as President Warren G. Harding, President Calvin Coolidge, Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon, President Herbert Hoover, and Senator Arthur Vandenberg. President Harding, early in his political career, gave a popular lecture on Hamilton to various audiences, while Senator Vandenberg wrote a book on Hamilton, The Greatest American. Andrew Mellon, who was considered to be the best Treasury Secretary since Alexander Hamilton, praised him in his book Taxation: The People’s Business.

 

Calvin Coolidge also joined in the admiration for Hamilton. In a 1922 speech before the Hamilton Club, then-Vice President Coolidge stated that “when America ceases to remember his greatness, America will be no longer great.”[4] Coolidge reflected on Hamilton’s role during the formation and debate over the proposed Constitution, which emerged from the Philadelphia Convention of 1787. He praised Hamilton’s defense of the Constitution with his “masterly” contributions to The Federalist.[5] Coolidge argued that Hamilton “played a leading part in the framing of the Constitution,” and without his leadership “the American nation would not have come into being.”[6]

 

In addition to his role in securing the ratification of the Constitution, Coolidge argued that another aspect of Hamilton’s genius was his economic program, which was the foundation for the success of American capitalism. As Treasury Secretary, Hamilton was confronted with serious economic problems, and “his tremendous task was to provide for funding the national debt, establish the public credit, and provide for the government revenue.”[7] Some of Hamilton’s initiatives that Coolidge specifically found crucial to the American economy included the establishment of the First Bank of the United States and his Report on Manufactures, which he [Coolidge] argued to be “a great contribution to political economy.”[8]

 

Coolidge argued that Hamilton’s Report on Manufactures developed a sound doctrine that would create a strong and diverse American economy. As Coolidge stated:

 

He believed in protection [tariffs] in the first place as a means of national defense. He desired his country to be self-sustaining and self-sufficient…After national defense he advocated protection as the method by which the nation would increase its power to produce wealth.[9]

 

“For most of the 19th century, the nation followed the economic policy of Hamilton and the foreign policy of Washington — and was richly rewarded. By the first decade of the 20th century, America was the most independent and self-reliant republic in all of history,” wrote Patrick J. Buchanan.[10] The results of Hamilton’s economic philosophy were described by Buchanan when he wrote:

 

For 12 decades, America followed Hamilton’s vision. On the eve of World War I, the 13 agricultural colonies on the eastern seaboard had become the richest nation on earth with the highest standard of living, a republic that produced 96 percent of all it consumed while exporting 8 percent of its GNP, an industrial colossus that manufactured more than Britain, France, and Germany combined.[11]

 

Coolidge argued that “the measure of the strength and the enlightenment of a people is the measure of their appreciation of their great men, their devotion to their memory and the defense of the institutions which they have established.”[12] He also warned that “when the reverence of the nation for its great men dies, the glory of the nation will die with it.”[13]

 

Alexander Hamilton is a forgotten conservative statesman, whose ideas can help us solve the great national problems that we face today, especially dealing with our escalating $18 trillion national debt and poor trade policy. It would be wise for the Treasury Department to leave Hamilton on the $10 bill and not change any of our currency just to appease forces of political correctness.

 

Endnotes:

[1] Forrest McDonald, “How Conservatism Guided America’s Founding,” Imprimis, Vol. 12, No. 7, July 1983, Hillsdale College, Hillsdale, Michigan, 1983, p. 5.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Calvin Coolidge, “Our Heritage from Hamilton,” Address on the Anniversary of the Birthday of Alexander Hamilton, Before the Hamilton Club, at Chicago, January 11, 1922, in The Price of Freedom: Speeches and Addresses by Calvin Coolidge, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1924, p. 101.
[5] Ibid., p. 105.
[6] Ibid., pp.105-106.
[7] Ibid., p. 106.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Patrick J. Buchanan, “The Loss of Independence,” Human Events, July 4, 2008, <http://humanevents.com/2008/07/04/the-loss-of-independence/> accessed on July 17, 2015.
[11] Patrick J. Buchanan, “Death of Manufacturing,” The American Conservative, August 11, 2003, <http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/death-of-manufacturing/> accessed on July 17, 2015.
[12] Coolidge, p. 101.
[13] Ibid.

 

John Hendrickson is a Research Analyst with Public Interest Institute, Mount Pleasant, Iowa. Contact him at Public.Interest.Institute@LimitedGovernment.org.

 

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