Jefferson vs. Hamilton: Confrontations That Shaped a Nation
April 13, 1743 Albemarle County in the English colony of Virginia was the start of an American historical giant. Thomas Jefferson was born in affluence to his father, Peter Jefferson, a rising young planter in the Virginia colony, and his mother, Jane Randolph, who held a high status within the colony as well.
Due to his father’s prosperity Jefferson was afforded the absolute best in the ways of education, starting with private tutors at the age of five, then moving on to learn how to read Greek and Roman in there original text and finally taking his studies to the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg which he would say is “…what probably fixed the destinies of my life…” pg 5. On the other side of the spectrum, a few years later another huge American historical figure is born.
Presumably on January 11, 1755, Alexander Hamilton the bastard son of his father, James Hamilton, a Scotsman of a well-known family but never flourished on his own, and his mother, Rachel Fawcett Lavien, who had left her husband, John Lavien, to live with James Hamilton. There is very little said about Hamilton’s early life just that his father “drifted away” and his mother passed in 1768.
Lacking wealth, Hamilton’s educational opportunities in his young life were nonexistent, this is not to say though that his youth was wasted it was here that he gained a vast knowledge of business and finance that he would later use in his service to President George Washington. Even in their early lives it was easy to see the great dissimilarities between these two patriarchs, now I will discuss further more issues that Jefferson and Hamilton shared some differences of opinions.
During the Philadelphia convention of 1787, which we now refer to as the Constitutional Convention, James Madison, representative from Virginia, in his notes of Hamilton’s lengthy speech on June 18, 1787 he writes, “Mr. Hamilton, had been hitherto silent on the business before the Convention…” pg 17 Madison had added it to Hamilton’s character to be so, suggesting that it was out of respect of the men who were superior in age, abilities, and experience to him, but also making it clear that the matters before the convention were far too important for Hamilton to remain that way.
Hamilton expressed dissatisfaction with both of the plans brought forward to the convention. The Virginia plan, which was a proposal to completely abandon the Articles of Confederation, and replace it with a bicameral national legislature, an executive branch selected by the legislature, a judiciary, and a council of revision with the power veto, and the New Jersey plan, which suggested to keep the Articles of Confederation, but revise it to give Congress the power to tax, regulate commerce, and choose plural executive and members of a supreme court. Hamilton felt both these plans lacked a strong central government.
He was specifically displeased with the New Jersey plan “being fully convinced” Madison writes “that no amendment of the Confederation, leaving the States in possession of their Sovereignty could possibly answer the purpose. ” pg 18-19. He feared that either of these plans would leave the newly founded country weakened and “…would ultimately destroy the confederation…” pg 20. Finally, though Hamilton would given the federal government more power, he supported what was to be and is now the Constitution of the United States of America and he became one of its leading supporters during the ratification process.
Though Jefferson was unable to join the convention due to his duties in France as the United States Minister, he learned of its resolution in November 1787, from a copy sent to him by John Adams. After receiving a letter from Madison explaining the proceedings of the convention he articulated his likes and dislikes of the Constitution. Jefferson liked “the organization of the government into legislative, Judiciary and Executive” pg 23 and the powers given to each branch.
Among his dislikes, the greatest seeming to be “…the omission of a bill of rights providing clearly and without the aid of sophisms…” pg 23 the freedoms he felt inalienable to the human race. During the French Revolutionary war in 1789, Jefferson and Hamilton found each other on opposing sides once again. Jefferson felt that while the violence in the revolt was deplorable but he “…would have seen half the earth desolated. ” pg 109 than to see the cause of liberty fail, feeling that “the liberty of the whole earth was depending on the issues of the contest. pg 109. While Hamilton, disagreed almost wholly on Jefferson’s justification for the violence in France. He “as a friend to mankind and to liberty…” pg 106-107 rejoiced in the efforts made by Marquis de Lafayette, General of the French Revolutionary National Guard and after serving with Hamilton in 1781 a friend of his as well, but feared the steps in motion to gain the freedom that Lafayette and all of France desired. It was said that Hamilton never commented on the French revolution without it bringing the “horror,” “abhorrence,” and “repulsion” to his mind.
In the presidential election in 1800, Hamilton not being a native born citizen could never run for the presidency, but this didn’t stop him from doing a lot of work in the background to protect his big government federalist views. When he first learned of the federalist’s loss in New York he wrote a letter to Theodore Sedgwick urging him and the other federalists in the legislature “to support Adams and Pinckney, equally…” pg 130 feeling that it was their only shot at a federalist for president.
Hamilton went as far as to contact John Jay, federalist and the current governor of New York, to call a special session of the federally run legislature knowing that there were many objections to this proposal but feeling that “…the reasons for (the special session) outweigh the objections” pg 131. When it came time to vote the results ended as Jefferson 73, Burr 73, Adams 65, Pinckney 64, and John Jay 1. Hamilton now had a much different fight to make, while Jefferson was less than desirable as a candidate, Aaron Burr was an unthinkable choice in Hamilton’s mind.
Knowing now that it either was going to be Burr or Jefferson, Hamilton started contacting people persuading them to vote Jefferson over Burr because “…Jefferson is to be preferred. He is by far not so dangerous a man and he has pretensions to his character. ” pg 133. In April 1802, Spain had retroceded Louisiana to France, giving the French a valuable spot on the continent with the Mississippi river connecting the south U. S. to the rest of the commercial U. S. The big turning point was in October of 1802 when Spain invalidates the United States use of the ports on the river.
Jefferson seemed to be very torn by this predicament having been the U. S. minister to France a few years previously saying “this is not a state of things we seek or desire. ” pg 159. On April 30, 1803 James Monroe, a diplomat to France, left prepared to offer France up to fifty million livres, upon arrival he and Robert R. Livingston initialed an agreement that ceded all of Louisiana to the United States for $15 Million, the settling of which is looked on as the peak of Jefferson’s first term as president. Hamilton had a lot to say about this purchase feeling that Spain’s “…direct nfraction of an important article of (Spain and the U. S. ’) treaty…” pg 164 was a call for war and “…should we have thought it advisable to terminate hostilities by a purchase, we might then have done it on almost our own terms…” pg 164. In 1798 Congress was well on the way to signing into law two acts that they felt at the time were for internal security of the U. S. The naturalization act and a sedition act, the idea behind the naturalization act was the president reserved the right to deport any resident alien he deemed dangerous, or if the U. S. was at war with an alien’s home country.
The sedition act made it a crime to combine, conspire or to oppose any lawful measure of the government, it also made it punishable to write, say, or publish anything to defame the president, Congress or the government of the U. S. Jefferson saw these acts as a slap in the face to the constitution feeling like it was “an experiment on the American mind to see how far it will bear an avowed violation of the constitution. ” pg 115. Hamilton felt just a strongly about these acts in his letter to Theodore Sedgwick he asks “What, My Dear Sir, are you going to do with Virginia? pg 118 after he learns of Virginia’s protest to the acts. He felt as congress did that the acts were for the best of the country feeling that the government “…will not be the dupes of an insidious plan to disunite the people of America…” pg 119. To say that Jefferson and Hamilton were diametrically opposed on all subjects some would say is an over simplification, while the two disagreed on many topics there were also many things that they could come together in agreement on.
The biggest example was the way both men looked at the Constitution, not to say that it was perfect in either man’s eyes but it was definitely an area where they came to a very nice compromise with each other’s beliefs about how this country should be run. Both of these men fought hard and struggled against opposing views to make this country what it is today, there is no telling what our present would look like without these two gentlemen who did their best to make this a free nation.