Federalists and Democratic Republicans

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How did Jefferson and Hamilton's views differ on concepts of the American government and democracy?

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The primary debate between the two was over the power of the new federal government and how the constitution should be construed to define that power.

Alexander Hamilton was a brilliant lawyer with a vision of a great American government Although he was a self made man, he became quite...

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The primary debate between the two was over the power of the new federal government and how the constitution should be construed to define that power.

Alexander Hamilton was a brilliant lawyer with a vision of a great American government Although he was a self made man, he became quite wealthy from his law practice and believed that the country should be governed by people of means. His opinion was almost one of Social Darwinism: that the rich and well-born had always dominated the weak, and the government could best survive if it were controlled by the rich. For that reason, he supported a strong central government with far reaching powers. His belief in this type government is illustrated by his plan to have the federal government assume the debts of the states from the Revolution and pay them at face value. Admittedly, this would favor the holders of the bonds, mostly rich men and many of whom were Hamilton's friends. His argument, however was that this would establish the credit of the country and thereby strengthen the government. Hamilton also supported the establishment of a Bank of the United States to be a depository of the funds of the U.S.

Although Jefferson and James Madison originally opposed payment of the states debts, they relented in exchange for an agreement that the new capital of the U.S. would be built in the South. They dug in on the bank issue, however. They believed that the constitution should be construed strictly and narrowly; that the federal government should have no powers not specifically and explicitly granted to it by the constitution. Remaining powers would remain with the states. They believed that if one loosely and liberally interpreted the constitution, then one would soon face the very type abusive government from which the country had so recently freed itself. Their opposition was based on the belief that the country would be stronger if it were an agrarian society comprised of small farmers. Jefferson once famously wrote:

Those who labor in the earth are the chosen people of God, if ever he had a chosen people, whose breasts He has made His peculiar deposit for genuine and substantial virtue

Hamilton argued that a Bank was necessary and proper, and therefore within the context of Article I Section 8 of the Constitution. Since Congress had the power to collect taxes and pay the debts of the U.S, a bank was necessary and proper.

The arguments of Jefferson and Hamilton on the bank issue illustrate their contrasting views of government. Hamilton wished a strong central government; Jefferson a republic of small farmers. Neither man, however was a proponent of direct democracy.

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