What are conservatives to make of Hamilton’s newfound fame? Let’s clear this up; Hamilton was NO LIBERAL. Some who know the history of Thomas Jefferson, regarded Hamilton as a subverter of limited government. In his own day, Hamilton was not so much known as a proponent of limited government as he was considered a proponent of energetic government. In other words he would not have been known as a Libertarian today, but he was no Liberal. Hamilton argued for a broad interpretation of the national government’s powers precisely with a view to enabling the energetic government he thought necessary to the newly formed republic’s security and for it to flourish. What does that mean?
Hamilton argued for a broad interpretation of the Necessary and Proper Clause in order to justify the constitutionality of the first national bank, which he thought a crucial support for the government’s ability to borrow money. He argued for a broad reading of the General Welfare Clause in order to justify the constitutionality of bounties (or subsidies) paid to manufacturers, which he thought essential to building an American manufacturing sector. As argued at length in a new essay entitled “Alexander Hamilton and American Progressivism,” Hamilton was not a progressive. I know the Broadway play likes to portray him as such but he was not an ancestor, of the kind of expansive central state that modern liberals support in their quest to achieve social justice. He was instead a pragmatic conservative statesman, seeking to build a government and economy that would make America an independent, prosperous, and powerful nation. Does that remind you of anyone else? Donald J. Trump has also been described as a pragmatic who seeking to build a government and economy that would make America an independent, prosperous, and powerful nation.
The correct way to interpret the Necessary and Proper Clause was the subject of a debate between the Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson. Hamilton argued for an expansive interpretation of the clause. His view would have authorized Congress to exercise a broad range of implied powers. On the other hand, Jefferson was concerned about vesting too much power in any one branch of government. He argued that “necessary” was a restrictive adjective meaning essential. Jefferson’s interpretation would have strengthened States’ Rights. George Washington and James Madison favored Hamilton’s more flexible interpretation, and subsequent events helped to foster the growth of a strong central government. Their debate over the Necessary and Proper Clause between Hamilton and Jefferson came to a head in a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, mcculloch v. maryland, 17 U.S. 316 (1819).
A Government Can Be Both Limited and Energetic. Contemporary conservatives reject Hamilton because of his call for an energetic national government. This call was consistent with the purposes of the American founding and not a betrayal of them. The Constitution was written and ratified, after all, because the government of the United States was too weak, unable to pay its bills and defend the country.
Hamilton is quoted as saying “If we must have an enemy as the head of government, let it be one whom we can oppose, and for whom we are not responsible, who will not involve our party in the disgrace of his foolishness and bad measures,” Hamilton told it like it wasvery much like ou own President Elect. For thise who love Hamiton the Briadway show; I submit to you would LOVE President Trump. If you dont think so, then I recommedn learn your history.
The aim of the Constitution, then, is to create a government that is both energetic and limited. And Hamilton’s career reminds us that this is what we should want: a government that energetically executes its proper functions but does not go beyond them. It is true that Hamilton was accused by Jefferson and Madison of pushing the powers of the national government beyond their proper limits. His response to such charges showed a proper respect for the Constitution that is often lacking among contemporary progressives.
Hamilton replied to to these accusations by arguing that his policies were in fact justified by a correct interpretation of the Constitution. He certainly did not respond by suggesting, as contemporary liberals sometimes do, that the Constitution could be ignored because it is supposedly inadequate to the needs of a dynamic and changing nation.
In summary, the debate between Hamilton and his opponents was a debate over how to understand the limits on government imposed by the Constitution, not a debate about whether those limits should be respected. I think the same debate still goes on, but make no mistake. If you liked Hamilton; you will love a President Trump.
H/T Daily Signal