Compare and contrast the Hamilton and Jefferson debates. What was the conflict?
Hamilton and Jefferson were both appointed to Washington’s cabinet. Hamilton was the secretary of the treasury and Jefferson became the secretary of state. Creating a cabinet was only one of several precedents set by Washington in areas where the Constituton was silent or unclear.
Hamilton and Jefferson had very different opinions. This undoubtedly caused them to debate heavily during the times they served this position in the government. However, it also gave Washington a wide range of ideas coming from his closest advisors.
During this confusing time of a new government finally in power, political parties also came about. By the election of John Adams, two factions had arisen with very different political values. The Republicans were led by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. The Federalists were guided by Alexander Hamilton and counted President John Adams among their members.
Hamilton, as a Federalist, believed primarily in a strong central government run mainly by upper-class citizens and the commerce of the nation. He characterized the general public as “selfish, unreasonable, and violent.” He idealized that the federal government should encourage the development of American industries. Hamilton proposed a plan to manage the countries debts and to establish a national banking system. Hamilton also proposed to pay off the foriegn debt and to issue new bonds to replace the old bonds. One of the most significant things Hamilton did was propose the idea of a national bank that would be funded by the federal government and private investors, and that would also issue money and handle all government funds. During the XYZ affair, the Federalists prefered to fight the French than to pay or negotiate, as the Republican position confirmed. The Federalists also agreed with and helped pass such laws as the Naturalization Act, the Alien Act, and the Sedition Act.
Jefferson, as a Republican, believed in a society that distrusted the rich and that was run by farmer-citizens. He was a strong supported of not the upper class but, “the people”. A defender of human liberty, Jefferson believed in a minimum of government and favored power at the local level. Jefferson also believed that if people were given the opportunity, they would be decent and reasonable. Jeffersons supporting party disagreed with many of the things that Hamilton and the Federalists proposed and passed as laws, including the idea of the national bank. Madison, in fact, argued on behalf of the Republicans that the federal government had no righ to establish a federal bank because it was not among the enumerated powers of Congress found in the Constitution. The Republicans also ignored the Naturalization Act, nor did they ever enforce the Alien Act. The Republicans, which are in actuality the ancestors of todays Democratic party, formed around key issues such as the power and the size of the federal government in relation to state and local governments.
The two party system, fueled by the conflicts between to cabinet chiefs, became well established by the time Washington left office, even though many leaders, including Washington, viewed the parties as a danger to national unity.
If I were living during these times, I would probably have agreed with the Republicans. I believe that during these times, the government was too new and fragile to support a seeming heirarchy of officials all coming from and relying on the esteemed upper class. The upper class does not represent the majority of the people, nor does it represent even the larger influx of the people. I believe that even though Jefferson came from a high society of persons, that I would wholeheartedly agree with the ideas expressed by himself and the other Republicans, that what really truly matters in a working, balanced democracy is what the people want. Not what the government officials want, not what the rich politicians want, but what the people want. Thats what this country is all about, because if it was about the rich people than why would anyone besides them be able to vote or participate at all?
Even though today is much different than during the Hamilton and Jefferson debates, the past and history of the political parties and the beliefs of their founders did help shape what our country is like today. The Hamilton and Jefferson debates were fueled by strong beliefs and conflicting ideas, even though up to the point we are at, it seems like only Hamilton made the significant changes. But, as we learn the history of our country, we also support the notion that you cannot make the future better without knowing what has happened in the past.