Hamiltonians versus Jeffersonians

This is a banner day for interesting articles.  Dr. Mead has one in which he points out that both President Obama and Mr. Gingrich have declared themselves to be in the tradition of Theodore Roosevelt, and that Roosevelt himself would have told you he was in the tradition of Hamilton.  The Jeffersonians, though one is in the race, aren't really in the hunt:
That fight was essentially over three things that divide us intensely today: the role of the federal government, the nature of the credit system, and the future of the social hierarchy. Alexander Hamilton favored a strong federal government at home and abroad, a centralized credit system similar to the British one with a Bank of the United States acting as our central bank, and believed that the best educated and most widely experienced people in the United States constituted a natural aristocracy and should play the leading role in our politics. Thomas Jefferson disagreed with virtually everything Hamilton believed. He wanted a weak federal government, detested Hamilton’s banking system, and feared that the alliance of a social elite with a powerful government and a strong central bank would turn the US into a European-style aristocratic or monarchical society.
I've always thought of myself as a member of the Jeffersonian tradition in this regard.  For reasons laid out yesterday, I don't think my side has any hope of recapturing the Presidency at any nearby point.  I wouldn't have picked Ron Paul as the guidon-bearer for Jeffersonianism, though; after all, Jefferson was an expansionist, and fought the Barbary States.


Cass said...

Thomas Jefferson disagreed with virtually everything Hamilton believed. He wanted a weak federal government, detested Hamilton’s banking system, and feared that the alliance of a social elite with a powerful government and a strong central bank would turn the US into a European-style aristocratic or monarchical society.

The OWS crowd would certainly agree with that last :p

The question is, is it true? Is America a 'monarchical' society? Not according to any definition of monarchy I've been able to find.

Is America a European-style aristocratic society, then? I suppose that depends on which definition of aristocratic one chooses:

1. govt by best or small privileged class
2. power vested in minority of those believed to be best qualified
3. governing body/upper class made up of inherited nobility

One could argue that power is vested in a minority in America, but that could justifiably be said of every single form of government out there.

Was Jefferson right in his fears? Moreover, is America more or less of an aristocracy now than it was in the time of the Founders, who were mostly well to do white men who owned considerable land/property and were of the gentry class?

I think there's some danger in taking Hamiltonian policies or Jeffersonian policies out of their historical context. They existed relative to the conditions of the times. The DNC seems to be using Jeffersonian rhetoric (priority for the worker/common man, anti-elitism, anti-wealth) to justify big government, which is anything but Jeffersonian.

And the Jeffersonian values the DNC is touting 24/7 are anything but Hamiltonian.

Mark said...

Have I mentioned Cassandra is the Devil? She is, trust me on this. Yes, this is fun, Grim stomps around his farm, Cass moonbats, I am above all this.

Grim said...

He seems to be talking about Ron Paul as the Jeffersonian, which is to raise a different complaint than the one you're rejecting. Ron Paul's analysis of the Fed is genuinely Jeffersonian; and there's something to be said for its accuracy, even.

The danger of aristocracy isn't that it's a small group -- that is just as true of oligarchy -- but that it is hereditary. On one level America has resisted that tendency pretty well, with the notable exceptions of the Kennedy family and the Bush family.

On another, though, President Obama is a cousin of George Washington. In fact, all the presidents are related to Washington.

That suggests that there is more hereditary influence than is immediately apparent. We hear a lot about Barack Obama's father, but his mother (and particularly his grandparents) may have been far more important in assuring his road to power. The connections that got him into Ivy League schools, for example, are not available to everyone. Those schools are the recruiting grounds for the wealthy banks and hedge funds as well as for government agencies like the State Department that shape American policy.

One doesn't want to make too much of this, since obviously some Congressmen and Federal Judges don't come from this hidden aristocracy. Still, it does seem to be a real thing, even if it operates mostly below our levels of consciousness. No one voted for Barack Obama because he was related to Washington -- just the opposite, people who voted for him because of his heritage were voting for him because they thought he was black. Yet those connections that pushed him forward and upward all his life were there for reasons of heritage and inheritance, rather than merit as such.

Cass said...

But don't those forces operate everywhere, Grim? IOW, they're human forces, not facets of "the system"?

I think you make some great points. It just struck me that people like to throw out terms like Hamiltonian or Jeffersonian, but a pure Hamiltonian or pure Jeffersonian is (and I'm willing to accept your assessment of Ron Paul on faith) hard to come by.

Oh, and Mark is also asking for a spanking. What is it with you men and spankings, anyway? :)

Grim said...

I'm sure I know nothing about women and spankings that I'd care to repeat in front of so many witnesses. :)

Yes, the forces are universal -- that's why Jefferson would have been worried about them, at the front end of an experiment with a new system of government. It's precisely because the trends are universal features of humanity that we need to set up institutions that serve to counterweight rather than reinforce them. The argument that 'the alliance of a social elite with government and a strong central bank' reinforces aristocracy seems to be true: it does.

Jefferson's idea of the yeoman farmer may be unattainable today, although government policies that favor it are not necessarily out of order: we're better off with as many of them as we can get, even if it isn't very many. I think small businesses have many of the same praiseworthy qualities. There are other systems that are of value as well. Likewise valuable is the general critique that we should try to avoid a situation in which the social elite are aligned with the government, and have a strong central bank backing their interests.

Joel Leggett said...

I find it fascinating that Mead just lumps Andrew Jackson in with the Jeffersonian school when he previously, in his book Special Providence, made such a compelling case that the they represented very separate schools of thought. While Mead admitted Jeffersonians and Jacksonians shared some basic similarities he made it clear that they diverged greatly on issues of national defense, international relations and domestic cultural issues. According to Mead Jeffersonians join the ACLU while Jacksonians join the NRA.

As a dyed-in-the-wool Jacksonian I could care less about the Jeffersonian in the race. I am disappointed by the lack of a Jacksonian, especially with Iran and China on the rise.

Grim said...


As always, it's good to see you. You should stick your head up more often.

I think you're right; though Mead's combination of the Jacksonian and Jeffersonian positions is more defensible if (as I mentioned in the original post) you remember that Jefferson fought the Barbary states.

That seems a reason to think Ron Paul is an odd choice for a Jeffersonian; but you're right to say that we have no Jacksonian candidate at all.

Joel Leggett said...

Grim, I do need to come here more often. This is a great site.

I am afraid I can’t give Jefferson full credit for the conflict with the Barbary States. Just when William Eaton and the Marines set off on the Tripolian expedition he withdrew their supplies, weapons, and reinforcements. Jefferson became overly worried about the propriety of interfering with the internal affairs of another nation, a nation that was currently holding American sailors hostage. The whole thing succeeded, amazingly, in spite of Jefferson. Afterward, Jefferson even went so far as to make sure Eaton was never compensated for his out of pocket expenses in the expedition.

Compare that incident with how Jackson dealt with the Argentinean seizure of three American schooners in 1831. Master Commandant Silas Duncan sailed the USS Lexington to the Falkland Islands, recaptured the American Seaman and their property, spiked the cannon of the local fort, and posted a decree that any more interference with American fishing rights would be considered piracy. When the Argentineans protested furiously over Duncan’s acts Jackson endorsed and approved them.

A Jeffersonian will send Hans Blix to deal with an international crisis. A Jacksonian will send the Marines.

Grim said...


I was not aware of that bit of history. Of course, that's also how Queen Elizabeth I dealt with Sir Francis Drake, who nevertheless managed to 'singe the beard of the King of Spain' and buy a needed delay in the sailing of the Armada.

I suppose the point is to Jackson, then.

Cass said...

A Jeffersonian will send Hans Blix to deal with an international crisis. A Jacksonian will send the Marines.

That is sidebar worthy.