Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Hamilton in His Own Words

It is a well known fact that Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury, was the favored cabinet member of President George Washington. Hamilton was a leader of the Federalist Faction in the Constitution Debates. Hamilton railed against the ineffective Articles of Confederation and also opposed the Anti-Federalists on the grounds that these entities did not create a central government that was energetic enough.

On June 27, 1788, Alexander Hamilton gave a speech in which he discussed the distribution of powers in the new federal government. Hamilton said,

"The great leading objects of the federal government, in which revenue is concerned, are to maintain domestic peace, and provide for the common defence. In these are comprehended the regulation of commerce; that is, the whole system of foreign intercourse; the support of armies and navies, and of the civil administration...Every one knows that the objects of the general government are numerous, extensive and important...This principle assented to, let us enquire what are the objects of the state government. Have they to provide against foreign invasion? Have they to maintain fleets and armies? Have they any concern in the regulation of commerce, the procuring of alliances, or forming treaties of peace? No: Their objects are merely civil and domestic; to support the legislative establishment, and to provide for the adminstration of the laws."

It is true that the Constitution reserves for the federal government the power to regulate interstate commerce and commerce with foreign powers and to initiate war and conclude peace treaties.

What Hamilton discounts completely is the notion of a federated republic; the idea that the states themselves created the federal government for expressed benefit of the states themselves. Under this theory of a federated republic, the states then have the power to alter, abolish or leave the federal government should the federal government no longer committ to the original contract. Hamilton sought to turn the sovereign states into mere appendages of the federal government.

This is an argument that helped create the conditions for the initiation of the Civil War. The Civil War decided the fate of states' rights forever, the federal government was supreme in all matters, even those of a truly intrastate flavor.

From even before the ratification of the Constitution, there were those that sought to undermine the Constitution for personal gain and power.


  1. Are you saying Hamilton was undermining the states from the get go? He was a bigger government guy but I believe he was saying theseare the specific and sole role of the federal government, and the states have other powers specified.

    I believe he was a freedom of the press guy so his inconsistency in intellectual pursuits is obvious. He was a big economy guy who was driven by a rough childhood and a need to succeed and be accepted.

    I agree with you thoughts on a federated government where the states organized the federal government so the states are above the federal government.

    Well done sir.

  2. I'm surprised that the "commerce clause" exists at all in the Constitution. All the founding fathers had Smith's "Wealth of Nations" in their bookshelves and it seems that if you give the federal government discretion in providing for economic matters, you will have mercantilism. It's just backwards. And if you go back in history, Adams and Jefferson employed pretty heavy mercantile policies for a few years.