Hamilton, Jefferson, Republicans, Federalists, Money & Power, Corruption, British, French, Neutral Shipping and Letters of Marque

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 27th, 2012

Politics 101

Hamilton trusted Men of Integrity to Govern Justly while Jefferson believed Money and Power would Corrupt Anyone

Nasty politics began back in the Washington administration.  With the seething hatred between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson.  These American greats had two different visions for America.  Based on their background.  Hamilton’s from his experience in the Continental Army and his business experience.  Jefferson’s from his books.  As different as their views for America were, and despite their hatred for each other, they both loved their country.  And wanted what was best for their country.  While absolutely sure that the other had nefarious plans for its ruin.

Both were students of the Enlightenment.  Both believed in the natural, God-given rights of the people.  And both believed vehemently in the rule of law.  In fact, both were lawyers.  But Hamilton was part of the Continental Army when its troops were barefoot, half-naked and starving.  Which were barefoot, half-naked and starving because of a weak Continental Congress that could not provide for them.  Because they were weak, impotent and could not levy taxes.  All they could do was ask the states to give them money.  The states promised little.  And delivered even less.  Threatening the American Revolution itself.

Jefferson, on the other hand, saw that history was replete with examples of corruption and oppression whenever financial centers and the seat of power got too close.  Hamilton may have seen this.  But what he was most conscious of was the British Empire.  The greatest empire in the world.  Which became the greatest empire in the world by bringing the financial centers and the seat of power together.  Which is what Hamilton wanted to do.  Trusting in the integrity and moral character of gentlemen of the Enlightenment.  Who would rule with selfless indifference.  Principled men with strong Judeo-Christian values.  These were the men that would rule America.  Men like the Founding Fathers.  Who they could trust with money and power.  Who America should trust with money and power.  To make an American Empire to surpass the British Empire.  This is what Hamilton wanted.  While Jefferson believed that money and power would corrupt anyone.  If not in their generation then surely in the generations to follow.  And the best way to prevent this was by giving government as little money and power as possible.

An Outbreak of Yellow Fever in Philadelphia nearly settled the Quarrel between Hamilton and Jefferson

So Jefferson opposed Hamilton at every opportunity.  Such as the Bank of the United States.  And Hamilton’s funding system.  Making matters worse was that Hamilton’s Treasury Department was the largest department in the federal government.  While Jefferson’s State Department was one of the smallest.  So Jefferson tried to transfer some parts of Treasury to his State Department.  The Post Office.  Which he failed in getting.  But he did succeed in transferring the Mint from Treasury to State.  Hamilton even learned that James Madison and Jefferson met with Robert Livingston and Aaron Burr to conspire against Hamilton to remove him from office.  Hamilton saw an ambitious Jefferson.  Who wanted the kind of power Jefferson accused Hamilton wanted for himself.

So these gentlemen began a campaign to force the other from office.  Hamilton had an ally in the Gazette of the United States who championed his policies.  To counter Jefferson hired Philip Freneau into the State Department to help finance a new paper.  The National Gazette.  Whose sole purpose was to attack Hamilton while praising everything Jeffersonian.  Hamilton wrote anonymous attacks published in the Gazette of the United States.  While Jefferson left his dirty work to Freneau.  And the attacks grew uglier.  The attacks were not just on policy or the future vision of the nation.  But these were personal attacks on each other.  Where accuracy was not a major requirement.  Such as when Hamilton took Jefferson out of context.  Quoting selective excerpts from a 1787 letter to suggest that Jefferson wanted to rob the Dutch to repay the French.  Hamilton and Jefferson became like two quarreling children in Washington’s cabinet.  Each running to ‘father’ tattling on the other.  Insisting that Washington demand the resignation of the other.

An outbreak of yellow fever in Philadelphia nearly settled the question.  By almost killing Hamilton.  But he survived.  Unlike some 4,000 others in Philadelphia.  Even Hamilton’s illness was seen through a political lens.  Hamilton sought the medical advice from an old college buddy.  As opposed to following the good advice of Dr. Benjamin Rush.  Who recommended massive bloodlettings.  When Hamilton recovered he publically thanked his friend (who had nothing to do with his recovery) and encouraged others to follow his recommended treatment.  Which didn’t include bloodletting.  Dr. Rush was infuriated.  Accusing Hamilton of killing countless others through this quackery instead of the sensible bloodletting that was established medical practice.  Of course, this was a personal attack on Dr. Rush.  Because he was not a Federalist.  But a Republican.  And a friend of James Madison and Thomas Jefferson.

While the French were causing Headaches for Jefferson and his Republicans the British were doing the same to Hamilton and his Federalists

The yellow fever also claimed another casualty.  The National Gazette.  As people fled Philadelphia, or died, circulation fell.  And the paper lost money and closed shop.  About the same time that happened Jefferson resigned from the cabinet.  And returned to Monticello.  Things were looking up for Hamilton.  Until the reverberations of the French Revolution further divided the country.  The Federalists were reestablishing trade with the British.  So when the French and British were back at war with each other it caused some problems in America.  For the American people still hated Britain.  While having deep emotional ties to the country that had helped them win their independence.  France.  The United States had proclaimed their neutrality in this new war.  But being a maritime nation dependent on exports her best interests lay with Great Britain and the most powerful navy in the world.  Which further proved that Hamilton and his Federalists were secret monarchists.  And that Hamilton wanted to be king.

Meanwhile, the French had sent their new ambassador to America.  Citizen Genêt.  Who Jefferson, the Republicans and the American people welcomed with open arms.  But then he started issuing letters of marque to American captains to attack and capture British shipping.  Bringing them back to American ports to refit them.  Which was a dangerous thing for a neutral nation to do against the nation that kept the sea lanes safe for their commerce.  Then Citizen Genêt tried to raise an American army to attack the Spanish in Florida and in New Orleans.  With further aims of attacking the British in Canada.  This was too much even for Jefferson.  And it was one of the few times that Jefferson and Hamilton were in agreement.  Citizen Genêt had to go.  For Jefferson he was proving to be an embarrassing liability for the Republicans.

While at the same time the British were retaliating.  Issuing orders to blockade France and to seize any neutral shipping trying to supply France with corn.  Which was pretty much any agricultural grain product.  A major export of the United States.  So this was a direct blow against U.S. commerce.  Even though she was a neutral in this current war between France and Great Britain.  This did not make the American people happy.  Nor did it help Hamilton or his Federalists with their rapprochement with Britain.  Then the British began to seize all shipping going to and from the French West Indies.  Which were mostly American ships.  So while Citizen Genêt was causing great headaches for Jefferson and his Republicans the British were doing the same to Hamilton and his Federalists.  Further dividing the nation.  And bringing them closer to war.  In large part due to the politics dividing the nation.

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Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, Agrarian Past, Industrial Revolution, Federalists, Republicans, Reynolds Affair and Philip Freneau

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 20th, 2012

Politics 101

Jefferson could not Turn a Profit on his Plantation and was Forever in Debt Leading to a Lifelong Disdain for Merchants and Bankers

At the time of the Founding America was (and would be for a long time) an agrarian nation.  A country of farmers.  Big and small.  Rich plantations.  And lots of hard-working family farms that were far from being rich.  Yeomen famers.  Who, to borrow a phrase from Oliver Wendell Douglas, “got their hands dirty!”  For those of you too young to recognize this line it’s from the 1960s classic sitcom Green Acres.  Where Douglas was a rich New York City (NYC) attorney who moved out of NYC to Hooterville to be a farmer.  Who he called the backbone of America.  Much like Thomas Jefferson.

Douglas and Jefferson shared a lot in common.  Both were lawyers.  Both were part of high society.  And both could make a good speech (or put something great in writing).  Douglas lived on Park Avenue in NYC.  And he and his wife travelled in the top social circles.  Just like Jefferson.  They both enjoyed the best of the best.  But neither were very good farmers.  The Douglas farm was a disaster despite his best efforts.  While Jefferson could not turn a profit on his plantation.  And was forever in debt.  Leading to a lifelong disdain for merchants and bankers.  Especially merchant bankers.

Alexander Hamilton was born on the British Isle of Nevis.  And raised in St. Croix.  Hamilton was a bastard child.  Illegitimate.  A stigma that spurred him to do everything aggressively in his life to show he was not a second-class person.  He worked at an early age.  In commerce.  And he was very good.  A natural.  Very smart.  And brave.  A veteran of two American wars.  He loved America.  But having been born and raised outside of the country he had no allegiance to any state.  Put it all together and it made Hamilton a nationalist.

Jefferson wanted to hold on to the Agrarian Past while Hamilton wanted to bring on the Industrial Revolution

Hamilton was just as much a Patriot as the other Founding Fathers.  Perhaps more so as he actually served in the Continental Army.  And while serving he saw how poor military power and poor financial power made a country dangerously weak.  The Americans almost lost their Revolution because of a weak nation that could not provide for her army.  So he wanted to make America strong.  And united.  The key in Hamilton’s eyes to making America a powerful nation (like Great Britain) that could stand up against any enemy was a strong union.  And in the Washington administration he advanced policies towards that end.  Ironically, policies that would do more to drive the nation apart.

So Hamilton (Secretary of Treasury) and Jefferson (Secretary of State) could not be more different.  And as they started to push their agendas in the Washington administration they grew to hate each other.  For their visions for America couldn’t be more different.  Despite both being ardent Patriots.  Jefferson wanted to hold on to the agrarian past.  While Hamilton wanted to bring on the Industrial Revolution.  Jefferson believed in the landed aristocracy built upon virtue and talent.  Not the aristocracy money could buy you.  Or birth or a title like in a monarchy.  Which Jefferson believed Hamilton was trying to turn America into.  As did all the farmers throughout the South and in the West.  Who all hated bankers and merchants.  Those people who made money off of other people’s labors.  Investors and speculators.  While speculation in land, on the other hand, was perfectly acceptable as it was what the southern gentry did to acquire their wealth.

And so began the political parties.  The Federalists were for a strong national government that Hamilton tried to make as strong as possible.  And the anti-Federalists.  Who already felt that the national government had grown too strong.  Or as they would become under Jefferson’s leadership, the Republicans (which were NOT the forbears of the current Republican Party).  In general, southern planters.  While Hamilton led the Federalists.  In general, northern businessmen.  The game of politics was born.  And it got dirty pretty quickly.  Thanks to each party’s friends in the media.  The newspapers of the day.  Which were pretty much political arms of these parties.

The Newspapers launched Vitriol at each Other including a Lot of Lies, Slander and Libel

The Treasury Department was the largest government department.  It was huge.  With a huge budget.  Whereas the State Department was basically Jefferson and a few clerks.  Hamilton no doubt felt he was the most important man in America next to the president.  And Jefferson was sure that Hamilton was using his position to steal money from the treasury.  So sure that Jefferson and his Republicans launched Congressional investigations that turned up nothing.  Convincing Jefferson that Hamilton was a better thief than even he had imagined.  Jefferson still pressed and had a colleague introduce multiple resolutions in Congress against Hamilton hoping to get Hamilton thrown from office on a House vote.  The House voted down all resolutions.

James Reynolds was a con man who made his money by defrauding veterans.  And other criminal pursuits.  Tired of the scale of these scores he came to Philadelphia to make some bigger money.  By using his wife, Maria, to seduce and have an affair with Alexander Hamilton.  So he could blackmail him.  Which she did.  Then he did.  When Reynolds’ criminal past caught up with him and sent him to jail he talked about the affair.  Which was more than just an affair.  He told some Republicans that he and Hamilton were using treasury funds to fund speculation for personal gain.  Jefferson and the Republicans were overjoyed.  Sure that they at last had a way to get rid of Hamilton. When confronted in his home to answer these charges he fessed up and told the truth.  Which included no speculation with treasury funds.  While all the money paid to Reynolds came from his own pocket.  All treasury funds were present and accounted for.  Politicians being the gentlemen they were then were satisfied and promised to never speak of Hamilton’s marital indiscretions.

So the political battle between Hamilton and Jefferson would carry on in the press.  Hamilton contributed most of his writings to the Gazette of the United States which wrote positively about Federalist policies.  And enjoyed a national circulation.  So Jefferson countered that by setting up a Republican national paper.  The National Gazette.  Who James Madison helped kick off by convincing Philip Freneau to come to Philadelphia to edit the paper.  Which he did.  And Jefferson helped him with his finances by hiring him into the State Department.  Putting him on the payroll to attack Washington’s treasury secretary while he was the sitting Secretary of State.  Trying to undermine the very administration he belonged to.  And the war between the two men escalated.  The papers launched vitriol at each other.  Including a lot of lies, slander and libel.  Enlisting other papers to join in the journalistic malfeasance.  People who talk about negative political campaigns today have no idea how ugly it was back then.  There was no interest in reaching across the aisle.  They just wanted to destroy the opposition so they could advance their policies.   Much like it is today.  Only without it being about principle.  But advancing the privileged government class.  That other aristocracy that Jefferson hated.

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