What Was Hamilton's Opinion of the American People?
Born to a single mother in 1757 in the West Indies, Alexander Hamilton was one of history's most ambitious, controversial constitutional framers. He was also a child prodigy with little formal schooling until a benefactor funded his travel to America, where he trained in law. Hamilton fought in the Revolutionary War, and later joined President George Washington's administration as Treasury Secretary. There, he participated in a rivalry with Thomas Jefferson and publicly maligned framer John Adams. At 49, Hamilton was killed in a duel with politician Aaron Burr.
1 Unfavorable Opinion of Americans
During the Revolutionary War, Hamilton became disillusioned with American people, whom he felt were too politically apathetic, and American politicians, whom he felt were ineffective. Though he fully supported American independence, Hamilton nevertheless felt that Britain was a superior society, one he declared the greatest in the world. His major policy contribution -- the establishment of a National Bank -- was modeled on Britain's own central banking system.
2 Uninterested in Common Good
After the war, Hamilton thought that the American people had become selfish. He saw Thomas Jefferson's populism as his major ideological challenge in the Washington administration and campaigned fiercely to influence the president. Unlike Jefferson, Hamilton did not think Americans would govern well in a loose confederation rather than a strong central -- or federalist -- system. He fought for a strong federal system that could circumvent the so-called "tyranny of the majority" as needed.
3 Americans Are Uneducated
Brilliant from childhood, Hamilton had little patience for a public he thought undervalued knowledge. Though he married into wealth, Hamilton first came to prominence from nothing. He was viewed with suspicion as a "bastard" child and immigrant. It took both intellectual muscle and single-minded work for Hamilton to become successful. It is unsurprising that he saw lack of education and ignorance as reasons for limiting the influence of the masses in politics.
4 Rule by Elites
Due to the wealth and prestige he enjoyed later in life, Hamilton is sometimes viewed as an aristocrat, though he was never one in a traditional sense. He was an elitist in the sense that he thought the best and brightest Americans should steer the government, not the highest born as in aristocratic England. And though his federalism supported strong checks on the power of individuals, Hamilton also opposed slavery. Jefferson's more populist approach would have put matters like slavery up for popular vote, ultimately creating what Hamilton saw as a clear example of majority tyranny.
- 1 Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Federalism
- 2 U.S. History: Hamilton's Financial Plan
- 3 Alexander Hamilton - A Biography; Forrest McDonald
- 4 U.S. National Archives: America's Founding Fathers
- 5 Alexander Hamilton - Founding Father and Statesman; Brenda Haugen
- 6 Alexander Hamilton and the American Republic; L. U. Reavis