Hamilton vs. Jefferson: Political Philosophies of the 1800s

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Two competing political philosophies have always existed throughout the United States’ relatively short history: one seeking to increase the power of the central government, and one seeking to decrease it. During the 1800s these two conflicting philosophies were acted out by the Federalist and the Democratic Republican parties, respectively. The Federalists, led by Alexander Hamilton, advocated the importance of a strong central government in leading the country forward, while the Democratic Republicans, led by Thomas Jefferson, promoted increasing the common man’s role in government. Although both political parties had good intentions for the future of the United States, the Federalist Party was much more effective at uniting the American people, avoiding domestic faction, and keeping the best interests in mind for the future of the United States. The early 1800s were a difficult time for the American people; they had just won their independence from Britain hardly more than twenty or thirty years prior, and the threat of failure still loomed large. The Federalist Party sought to destroy the threat of failure by strengthening the United States’ central government. As Alexander Hamilton said, “A firm Union will be of the utmost moment to the peace and liberty of the states, as a barrier against domestic faction and insurrection.” In Hamilton’s mind, strengthening the central government would ensure freedom for every American citizen by uniting the people to think and speak with a single voice. Hamilton had witnessed firsthand the political and economic confusion caused by states’ conflicting interests and corrupt taxation policies under the Articles of Confederation. He realized that the only way for the Union to survive and prosper was for the Federal government to take control of the country’s political and economic decision-making. With a strong Federal power in place, troublesome interstate conflicts could be solved swiftly and decisively, before they gained any steam and threatened the future of the United States. In order to accomplish this under the restrictive Constitution, the Federal government needed a justification to stretch its powers. The Federalists adopted the philosophy of loose construction: a flexible interpretation of the United States Constitution that granted the Federal government “implied powers”, powers that were not specifically granted to them by the Constitution. Hamilton believed that allowing the Federal government such freedoms was important to the well-being of the country because this allowed the government to act in whatever manner would best serve the country’s interests—even if the actions stretched (or, in some cases, violated) the limits of power set in the Constitution. One Federalist action that the Democratic Republicans opposed was the establishment of the Bank of the United States, modeled after the Bank of England. The Bank stored excess money, printed paper money that was valuable, and circulated cash to stimulate American businesses. The National Bank was largely beneficial to the American people, and yet it was strongly opposed by Jefferson and his followers. Was a National Bank really so bad for the United States? According to the Democratic Republicans, banks should be state-controlled on account of the 9th Amendment. However, as the past had proven, states should not be trusted to develop independent banks; such banks would circulate conflicting state currencies and create widespread economic confusion. Hamilton once said, “If all the public creditors receive their dues from one source [the government]…their interest[s] will [be] the same. And having the same interests, they will unite in support of the fiscal arrangements of the government.” Hamilton believed that if there was one bank for the entire United States, then all of the American creditors would unite in support of the government. This would bolster the American economy and eliminate domestic faction. Hamilton’s...
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