The Hamiltonian Scheme Was Not “Baked In” to the Constitution, It Was Manipulated After the Ratification

By: June 15, 2011


In your most recent post you made several assertions about the Constitution with which I strongly disagree. Our differences circle back to this:  To me, and I think to most Americans during the Founding Era who participated in the selection of delegates to the ratification conventions, as well as the delegates to those conventions, it comes back to this simple concept: A deal’s a deal.

By that I mean, it’s not some obscure unstated secret intent of the participants that determines what the secular covenant of the Constitution means. Instead, it’s the meaning of the plain words of the Constitution that matter.

Let’s start here, where you argue:

I think casting Hamilton as the usurper of the Constitution, and concurring in Jefferson’s and Madison’s casting themselves as its defenders, rests on a sentimental sense of early Constitutional history . . .  a view of the Constitution as essentially and fundamentally intended to do one thing — a Jeffersonian/Madisonian thing, associated with land, liberty, and decentralized authority — and to prevent another — a Hamiltonian thing, associated with money, authority, and centralized power. . .

You see Hamilton as pulling a fast one there — and I agree that a lot of what he says in The Federalist is just high-Whig blather, intended to soothe — but Hamilton had just as good reason to be shocked and dismayed at Madison’s suddenly opposing everything he did. . .

For me, the realpolitik of the framing — along with Article I, Section 10 –  makes it clear that one key part of the Constitution’s dedicated purpose was to eradicate popular schemes of public finance and empower the funding, assumption, and central-banking plan that Hamilton, Robert Morris, and the rest of the high-finance nationalists had been unabashedly working for since at least the early 1780′s. . . the Constitution came into existence, in large part, precisely to empower the Hamilton finance plan.

What you miss is that the “secular covenant” of the Constitution was not completely expressed in the arguments of Hamilton and Madison in the Federalist Papers–not even close. The “deal” that was captured in the words of the Constitution went through much longer and stronger fire than merely those rapidly penned arguments. It was more significantly formed in the back and forth of the debates at the ratification conventions in the thirteen states and in the election campaigns of the members of the House of Representatives to the First Congress.

You may recall that at the time they were writing the Federalist Papers, neither Madison nor Hamilton saw the need for a Bill of Rights. But Madison changed his mind before the secular covenant was complete, and for good reason. Unlike Hamilton, who never stood for elective office after the new government was formed, Madison went through the battles of a hard fought electoral campaign for a seat in the fifth Congressional District of Virginia against his friend, James Monroe. Madison learned an important lesson during that campaign. The people wanted a Bill of Rights. Madison, unliked Hamilton, fully recognized the sovereignty of the people from the beginning, and he listened to what he learned during that campaign. It was these kind of up front and personal engagement with the voters that formed the backbone of the Jeffersonian-Madison Democrat-Republicans. This isn’t mere sentimentality, as you suggest, but instead, an authentic reflection of the true intent of the Constitution.

These arguments were presented often and forcefully by the first national opposition newspaper, the National Gazette, during the Washington Administration, and then later by the Philadelphia Aurora during the  Adams Administration.

I will grant you this, however. Hamilton was quickly able to gain support for his extra-Constitutional schemes among some of the framers who shared his elitist views, if not his persuasiveness and energy. I point here to the example of fellow signer of the Constitution Daniel Carroll of Maryland, who in June, 1790 forcefully argued on behalf of a direct federal subsidy to his neighbor’s glassware factory. Carroll saw such federal largesse directed at a politically connected manufacturer, as Hamilton argued later in his Report on Manufactures, as Constitutional. Fortunately, Roger Sherman, also a signer of the Constitution, the Articles of Confederation, and the Declaration of Independence, quickly dismissed such actions as entirely outside the bounds of the Constitution. Thanks to Sherman and the majority of the First Congress,  the first “government bailout” of a manufacturing firm was “negatived” by the House.

But the true intent of the Constitution was never to enable a Hamiltonian quasi-monarchical financial and political elite to use the federal government to undertake any project they saw fit. The true intent was reflected by the majority of American citizens and the early defenders of the Constitution–men like Jefferson, Madison, and Roger Sherman.

Michael Patrick Leahy is the editor of the Voices of the Tea Party e-book series and co-founder of Top Conservatives on Twitter and the Nationwide Tea Party Coalition. His new  e-book, I, Light Bulb: A Death Row Testimonial, will be published in July, 2011. His new book, Covenant of Liberty, will be published by Broadside Books in spring, 2012. He can be reached on Twitter at @michaelpleahy .

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