active hamilton and passive jefferson -- 5/17/21

Today's selection -- The Founders and Finance by Thomas K. McCraw. Thomas Jefferson was opposed to “energetic government.” Alexander Hamilton was the embodiment of that very thing:

"As secretary, Hamilton cared a great deal about 'energy' in administration. In his outline of the long speech he gave at the Constitutional Convention, he had written, 'It is said a republi­can government does not admit a vigorous execution,' then had argued that this need not be true. He made the same point in The Federalist Papers, which are full of references to 'energy' and effective organization.

"Having risen against great odds by means of his own talents, Hamilton was a meritocrat who believed that nothing of sig­nificance could be left to chance. He never ceased to emphasize the importance of energetic government and constant monitor­ing. At the New York Ratifying Convention, he had said, 'There are two objects in forming systems of government -- Safety for the people, and energy in the administration. When these ob­jects are united, the certain tendency of the system will be to the public welfare.'

"His thinking contrasted with that of some other founders, especially Jefferson. Whereas Hamilton extolled activism, Jef­ferson remained preoccupied with the virtues of agrarian living and the need for quiet reflection as prerequisite to correct deci­sion making. In 1787, when Madison sent him a copy of the new Constitution, Jefferson replied from Paris, 'I am not a friend to a very energetic government. It is always oppressive.' He went on to say that 'I think our governments will remain virtuous for many centuries; as long as [the people] are chiefly agricultural; and this will be as long as there shall be vacant lands in any part of America. When they get piled upon one another in large cities, as in Europe, they will become corrupt as in Europe.' Two such differing views of the nation's future represented seeds of dissension between Hamilton and Jefferson that were certain to sprout once the new government began doing business.

"In the case of Hamilton, the question naturally arises: ener­getic administration toward what end? Here his answer was the good of the nation as a whole, not of any particular state or sec­tion. His thought centered on national economic aggregates -- ­in agriculture, industrial production, and finance. In addition, he understood better than any other founder -- indeed, better than any other American of his generation who left enough rec­ords to judge -- how everything in the national economy was related to everything else. A first-class student of both econom­ics and administration, he saw that in the construction of grand strategy, every move must be coordinated so as to make the whole of public policy exceed the sum of its parts. And this is what he proceeded to do as secretary."



Thomas K. McCraw


The Founders and Finance


Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press


Copyright 2012 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College


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