Tale of the Tape: Antifederalists versus Federalists

Antifederalists and Federalists found common cause in comprehending human nature. That said, each faction responded to this comprehension in widely conflicting ways, establishing an unassailable gulf over the vision of America’s future, the scope and scale of the national government, and conceptions of virtue and vice. Where Antifederalists sought to enforce virtue by establishing an Agrarian Nation and providing for increased yeoman membership in the House of Representatives, Federalists preferred to harness the vices in human nature. By exploiting vice, Federalists dreamt of an expansive, diverse, and formidable America that enticed only the best and most deserving into government service.

Read the rest here.

As always, see my graduate work here.

Hamilton versus Jefferson: Commentary, Part 13

In Chapter 11 Holloway shifts from the domestic to the international with the French Revolution. New to me was the revelation Alexander Hamilton was not an immediate opponent of said revolution at its outset. He wasn’t a proponent of it either, but his vehement opposition would not come until 1792/93. For an individual often maligned as a monarchist this is a shocking disclosure. Even for someone reticent about revolution in general, his early willingness to “wait and see” indicated the overarching concern for liberty and justice Hamilton valued almost above all else, politically. This concern for liberty and objectively ordered human flourishing engendered within Hamilton a desire to hope for the best of the events in France…but expect the worst.

In short, Hamilton’s Augustinian perception created his bleak outlook. While, as Holloway remarks, he “approved of the movement to establish liberty in France” (p. 208), he was very much afraid that once roused, the people could not be checked – the principle fear of Hamilton and the Federalists, again reflecting Saint Augustine’s theological understanding of humanity. Interestingly, Hamilton is also highly critical of the intransigence of France’s nobles, making them equally at fault. Summarizing Hamilton, Holloway writes, “The people were inclined to demand too much, and the nobles were inclined to give too little” (p. 209). While many still propagate the notion Hamilton was a lackey to the “elites,” this is further evidence he was more than willing to call everyone to account in the cause of justice regardless of their status.

Although anxiety over the American “plebiscite” was ever-present among Hamilton and the Federalists, they were ultimately balanced out (for a time at least) by the fact America’s “patrician” class did not behave with the obstinacy of their counterparts in France. For example, whether Hamilton was serious about his suggestion of the President serving for life pending good behavior, and regardless of its merits, such a proposal gained no traction regardless. The point being, while delegates such as James Madison and James Wilson proposed what we know as a Popular Election to determine the President, a compromise was reached with implementation of the Electoral College so the people have an indirect say. In other words, the plebiscite wasn’t simply cast aside (which some assert), but was considered, vigorously so, unlike in France, and a middle-ground was forged in an attempt to curb the worst extremes on both sides, the very thing Hamilton was seeing in far-off France: the people “demanding too much,” and the nobles “giving too little.”

Hamilton likewise castigated the leaders of the French Revolution, but castigated for possessing a worldview inauthentic to “‘human nature’” and spearheading an irrational and subsequently doomed cause (p. 210). Contrasted with America’s leaders – even the Unitarian rationalist Jefferson – the difference couldn’t have been more stark to someone like Hamilton. America’s leaders not only went out of their way to justify and ground their revolution in religion, but relatedly, in the natural law tradition unique to the Christian West and the related comprehension of the nature of Man. This natural law tradition was the entire rationale for revolt to begin with! The French rationale, meanwhile, was the subjective notion of their own autonomous reason, as John Courtney Murray characterized it.

Similarly, what finally transitioned Hamilton into the aforementioned opposition was its “‘atheism’” (p. 212). Hamilton contended the French abandonment of, and assault on, religion and Christianity was an affront to their “‘ancestors’” and “‘reason’” itself. Here, Hamilton conspicuously referenced the Christian tradition that built and sustained France and the whole of Europe and affirmed its relationship to reason – the Divine Logos. This is all the more noteworthy today given Europe’s rejection of this heritage, so much so it rather infamously makes no mention of it in the charter document of the European Union, and instead opts for a vague reference to the “religious inheritance” of Europe from which the “inviolable and inalienable rights of the human person” originate from….

Consequently, while many, such as Thomas Jefferson, argued the French Revolution was a continuance of the American uprising (and still do), Hamilton thus indicated there was “‘no real resemblance between what was the cause of America and what is the cause of France’” (p. 212). For those who downplay the significance of Christianity and religion in the American Revolution (and the founding generally), they need to consider the Revolution’s contemporaries and how Christianity and religion was the litmus test to distance ourselves from the nominally same cause in France. If there was any doubt, Hamilton elucidated Americans are “‘a sober temperate and humane people, friends of religion, social order, and justice, enemies to tumult and massacre, to the wanton and lawless shedding of human blood’” (p. 213).

Perceptively, I believe, Holloway posits atheism was a tipping point for Hamilton because, no longer were the means illicit, but so too were the actual goals now. For Hamilton, the attack on religion was an assault on reason because it rejected the wisdom tradition had to offer, regardless what an individual may hold about faith. Atrocities such as the regicide of Louis brought “ignominiously to the block,” of which Hamilton also devoted fair space in his letter, are additional components of this hubris, this untethering from tradition and the past. It’s no coincidence Hamilton links these two concurrently: regicide and atheism.

What we see in this chapter is a desirous Alexander Hamilton for the cause of liberty and human fulfillment, yet an Augustinian-infused one that expects the worst of the French plebiscite, because, well…they’re the plebiscite. But the French nobility and “philosophers” are equally guilty: the nobility for their stubbornness and the so-called philosophers for their disordered leadership. And in the end, Hamilton would reject the events in France over the assaults upon Christianity and religion, which he considered assaults upon reason and history, respectively, because of its disregard for the wisdom of the past.

Hamilton versus Jefferson: Commentary, Part 9

Part 8

Part 7

Part 6

Part 5

Part 4

Part 3

Part 2

Part 1

In Chapter 7 Holloway transitions to Hamilton’s Report on Manufactures. What I find most striking is Hamilton’s repudiation of authentic capitalism – partially defined by a true free market as the determiner of the value of goods and services and operating as the engine of economics and industry. In an age when the United States is shifting further left politically, when one of the two major political parties of the country openly advocates policies and politicians that would stand them in anathema even as recently as ten, fifteen years ago for their socialist-like overtones, Hamilton’s Report is as pertinent today as it was in the early 1790s.

Holloway summarizes how the first portion of Alexander Hamilton’s Report on Manufactures is essentially a defense of the misunderstood concept of laissez-faire. Hamilton very much advocated for “natural processes,” i.e., a free and open market, to carry on without artificial interference. “‘Quick-sighted guidance of private interest’ would, ‘if left to itself, infallibly find its own way to the most profitable employment,’ which would also turn out to be the employment most conducive to the ‘public prosperity’” (p. 120). Thus, to have government, or any other outside entity meddling in the market would “shift ‘industry’ from its ‘natural current’” (p. 120). This reads very much like a conservative or libertarian position today.

That said, Hamilton conceded while authentic capitalism was in the best interest of Man, it also worked against Man’s nature and thus did require external intrusion unfortunately. This is again related to Hamilton’s Augustinian conception of humanity – that left to its own devices, humanity does not orient itself toward the Good and True, and instead orients toward, in this context, the path of least resistance. “‘Experience teaches that men are often so governed by what they are accustomed to see and practice’ that they they will only with ‘reluctance’ adopt ‘the simplest and most obvious improvements’ in their ‘ordinary occupations’” (p. 121); in other words, the risk taking authentic capitalism requires is contrary to human nature. Parsing through Hamilton’s words, Hamilton scholars have therefore suggested “Hamilton did not believe that the desire to better our condition was a natural and spontaneous growth” and some outside agency was necessary to spur such innovation (p. 121).

Part of Hamilton’s explanation for observing “experience” demonstrates people will invariably take the path of least resistance, ergo snuffing out creativity and innovation, is the “fear of failure” (p. 121). Sure, there will be the occasional individual that rises above his nature, as Hamilton accepted was possible vis-à-vis morality and virtue (see here once more), but such rarity fails to sufficiently develop the economy as a whole (p. 121). This was Hamilton’s way of saying that such individual creativity and innovation has limited effect unless it is part of a much larger system of creativity and innovation that is society-wide. Further, because risk taking required “not so much the energy of the impulsive” but the virtue of “‘cautious,’ ‘sagacious capitalists,’” Hamilton argued government was necessary to instill confidence in the sorts of individuals Hamilton envisioned as the risk takers because their very virtue would make them wary of “experimenting” (pp. 121-122). In short, government needed to interfere in the market – the “natural currents” – to encourage sufficient numbers of virtuous individuals to take creative, innovative, entrepreneurial risks in the marketplace, in business, in industry, to engender a societal growth that would be lacking without such collective action.

A third reason why the government has to obstruct a free and open market is that the deck is stacked against some players – the playing field isn’t equal. In the context of the Early Republic, Hamilton was specifically referring to established Old World industries that would obviously put nascent American industries at a severe disadvantage. Therefore, the government would have to level this playing field to some extent for the parties involved until there was some semblance of an equal footing (p. 122). Another way to examine this: in the 21st Century no one from Alexander Hamilton’s day or the most ardent capitalist could have ever envisioned globalization – it’s even unfathomable to many people today living it. But globalization, free and open markets on a global scale, can only have exclusively positive benefits when everyone is playing by the same rules and adhering to the same worldview. This was Hamilton’s point in his Report.

Relatedly, Hamilton’s final contention is that other countries enact various protectionist policies for their own industries, putting American industry and manufacturing at an even greater disadvantage. Government has to respond, not necessarily in kind, but government has to disrupt natural processes insofar as to ensure the goods and services of one’s country are viable (p. 122). Both reasons three and four relate to Hamilton’s understanding of human nature because we can see the provincial outlook of nations – their concern is for the industries and services within their own borders at the expense of industries and services beyond their borders.

Hamilton’s conclusion is that while authentic capitalism would be the best and soundest economic system for humanity, it is also a fallen world and we live in this fallen world and have to make compromises as a result. Henceforth, sound theory does not translate to sound practice, and Hamilton, concerned very much with prudence, was ever cognizant of when to make the compromises, based on reason, observation, and judgment. I think we could learn from Hamilton today, both sides of the political aisle, in order to have a rational and intelligent discussion about our nation’s finances and economy, just as Alexander Hamilton was able to do in his Report on Manufactures.


I’ve changed the title and ceased referring to these posts as “reviews” because they aren’t properly reviews. Instead, I am now calling them “Commentaries.” I will write up a more traditional, summative review once I’ve finished the book.

Hamilton versus Jefferson: Commentary, Part 3

Part 2

Part 1

I have previously asserted “it was inevitable Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson would contest one another” because “each held as opposing a view of human nature as there could be and these views justified every respective position they explored – for what is more elemental and pervasive than human nature?” And in Part 2 of my book review I explored this theme a bit more, suggesting one of the reasons the American states that had paid off their Revolutionary War debts were against Hamilton’s assumption plan was due to Man’s “selfish, short-sided” nature, incapable of rising above their “petty self-interest” for the greater good, nor capable of grasping how aiding the greater good benefited them, without some sort of prodding. So it’s only fitting Part 3 of my commentary series continues this trend.

Holloway begins Chapter 3 by highlighting some of the key features that distinguished Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, as men, politicians, and their particular worldviews. He posits “Hamilton took a longer view of fame, that he was willing to endure a temporary unpopularity” whereas Jefferson “took a shorter view and was unwilling to serve the people in the face of their present dissatisfaction” (p. 39). Holloway comments this explains the “commonplace view” of the two men, of the “aristocratic” and “elitist” Hamilton and the “democratic” and “populist” Jefferson. “What Hamilton might view as justifiable resistance to public opinion for the country’s ultimate good, Jefferson might view as an anti-republican effort to force policies on the people that they have a right to reject. And what Jefferson might view as proper deference to a people who have a right to rule themselves – such as resigning at the first signs of their dissatisfaction – Hamilton might view as a dereliction of public duty,” Holloway further writes (p. 39). What is lacking in these statements, though, is the cause for Hamilton and Jefferson to take these attitudes. The cause is worldview – in this case, how each understands human nature.

In short, Hamilton viewed human nature negatively; Jefferson, positively. However, Hamilton believed the individual could rise above his predisposition (toward sin, to carry the Augustinian theme to its conclusion), though perhaps it would be more accurate to say “act contrary to his nature,” and consequently Hamilton believed political leaders should be comprised of individuals of this sort. If this seems contradictory, it is akin to the axiom, the individual is rational while people are irrational. In turn, these individuals could steer the masses toward the good they would not otherwise strive for, or the good they would not otherwise be capable of comprehending. Thus, as far as Hamilton was concerned, public opinion was irrelevant, at least during the Washington Administration (this would be amended later in his life, as a necessary concession to domestic realpolitik).

Jefferson, being much more secular than Hamilton, much less influenced by the Judeo-Christian tradition, did not share Hamilton’s negativity of human nature. Jefferson believed in the plebiscite. He trusted the plebiscite. Left to its own and freed from entanglements the plebiscite would bring about a good Hamilton and those elitist Federalist couldn’t conceive. This is why Jefferson’s critics could, and can, so easily label him a demagogue; why Jefferson was so willing to acquiesce to public opinion; why Jefferson was a proponent of an agrarian nation and detested the Early Republic equivalent of “Wall Street,” banking, and industry that Hamilton allegedly curried favor with.

These competing worldviews of human nature and how best to respond to it probably is a significant factor in the verity Hamilton (and the Federalists) thought “nationally” and Jefferson (and the Republicans) thought “confederally” (p. 43). In other words, Hamilton looked beyond local provincial concerns to the greatest amount of good that can be achieved by those select few operating at odds with their sinfulness. Jefferson meanwhile almost exclusively devoted attention to these provincial concerns, arguing in effect the parts are greater than the sum. To Jefferson’s mind, if the parts are functioning free from outside interference, then the sum will naturally be addressed without the need for direct guidance or leadership.


I’ve changed the title and ceased referring to these posts as “reviews” because they aren’t properly reviews. Instead, I am now calling them “Commentaries.” I will write up a more traditional, summative review once I’ve finished the book.