In the aftermath of ratification, Hamilton continued to expand on his interpretations of the Constitution to defend his proposed economic policies as Secretary of the Treasury.
Credited today with creating the foundation for the U.S. financial system, Hamilton wrote three reports addressing public credit, banking, and raising revenue.
In addition to the National Bank, Alexander Hamilton founded the U.S. Mint, created a system to levy taxes on luxury products (such as whiskey), and outlined an aggressive plan for the development of internal manufacturing.
Hamilton's political vision remained consistently at odds with the Democratic-Republican belief in strict interpretations of the Constitution and limited power of a centralized government.
A political-values system stressing liberty and inalienable rights that has been a major part of American civic thought since the American Revolution.
Hamilton's Political Vision
Alexander Hamilton was President Washington’s Secretary of the Treasury and was an ardent nationalist who believed a strong federal government could solve many of the new country’s financial ills.
Born in the West Indies, Hamilton had worked on a St. Croix plantation as a teenager and was in charge of the accounts at a young age. He knew the Atlantic trade very well and used that knowledge in setting policy for the United States. A leader of the Federalist Party, he believed that a robust federal government would provide a solid financial foundation for the country.
By 1787, Alexander Hamilton had served as assemblyman from New York County in the New York State Legislature and was the first delegate chosen for the Constitutional Convention. Even though Hamilton had been a leader in calling for a new Constitution, his direct influence at the Convention itself was quite limited; the Convention adopted very few of his proposals in the final draft of the document.
However, after signing the Constitution, Hamilton took a highly active role in the successful campaign for the document's ratification in New York. He recruited James Madison and John Jay to defend the proposed Constitution through a series of essays (known today as the Federalist Papers) and made the largest contribution to that effort by writing 51 of the 85 essays published. Hamilton's essays and arguments were influential in New York state and elsewhere during the debates over ratification. In the Federalist Papers, Hamilton argued that the separation of powers in the new republican system would prevent any one political faction from dominating another (at the state and federal level) and, therefore, preclude the possibility of tyranny. Hamilton also expressed support for the Federalists' vision of a nation of self-sacrificing men of talent who could be trusted to contribute and partake in the political process.
In the aftermath of ratification, George Washington became the first President of the United States in 1789 and appointed Hamilton as Secretary of the Treasury. In his new role, Hamilton continued to expand on his interpretations of the Constitution to defend a series of proposed economic policies.
The United States began to become mired in debt. In 1789, when Hamilton took up his post, the federal debt was more than $53 million, and the states had a combined debt of around $25 million. The United States had been unable to pay its debts in the 1780s and was therefore considered a credit risk by European countries. Credited today with creating the foundation for the U.S. financial system, Hamilton wrote three reports offering solutions to the economic crisis brought on by these problems. The first addressed public credit, the second addressed banking, and the third addressed raising revenue.
The National Bank
In Hamilton's vision of a strong central government, he demonstrated little sympathy for state autonomy or fear of excessive central authority. Instead, he believed that the United States should emulate Britain's strong central political structure and encourage the growth of commerce, trade alliances, and manufacturing. In response to the debate over whether Congress had the authority to establish a national bank, for example, Hamilton wrote the Defense of the Constitutionality of the Bank, which forcefully argued that Congress could choose any means not explicitly prohibited by the Constitution to achieve a constitutional end—even if the means to this end were deemed unconstitutional.
Hamilton justified the Bank and the broad scope of congressional power necessary to establish it by citing Congress' constitutional powers to issue currency, regulate interstate commerce, and enact any other legislation "necessary and proper" to enact the provisions of the Constitution. This broad view of congressional power was enshrined into legal precedent in the Supreme Court case McCulloch v. Maryland, which granted the federal government broad freedom to select the best means to execute its constitutionally enumerated powers. This ruling has since been termed the "doctrine of implied powers."
Hamilton's political vision, which included an aggressive expansion of federal power, remained consistently at odds with the Democratic-Republican belief in strict interpretations of the Constitution. Furthermore, Hamilton intensified this split through his public criticisms of Jefferson, Madison, Adams, and Burr in the elections of 1796 and 1800. After he maligned Burr in the 1800 presidential election, Hamilton and Burr fought a fatal duel that resulted in Hamilton's death in Weehawken, New Jersey. The Burr-Hamilton duel has since become an event emblematic of the violent political divisions between Federalists and Democratic-Repuclicans in the early years of the republic.
Alexander Hamilton's broad interpretation of Constitutional powers has influenced multiple generations of American leaders and political theorists. Though the Constitution was ambiguous as to the exact balance of power between national and state governments, Hamilton consistently argued in favor of greater federal power at the expense of the states, especially in his efforts to strengthen the national economy. Hamilton's economic policies as the Secretary of the Treasury influenced the development of the U.S. federal government from 1789 to 1800. In addition to the National Bank, Hamilton founded the U.S. Mint, created a system to levy taxes on luxury products (such as whiskey), and outlined an aggressive plan for the development of internal manufacturing, arguing that Americans needed to produce their own goods to avoid excessive dependence on European powers. His constitutional interpretation of the Necessary and Proper Clause set precedents for broad federal authority that are still upheld in courts and are considered an authority on constitutional interpretation.