Taking a closer look at Alexander Hamilton.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the founding fathers just as much as the next guy. However, I found a lot of what Hamilton was talking about in the Federalist 78 to be downright shady. The anti-federalists would claim that Hamilton is trying to push this large, expansive federal government upon the states and by doing so is threatening the sovereignty of the states. He is claiming that the people would have to consent and approve of this federal government, but then carries on about how several members of the federal government would have permanency of office. Outside of this paper, Hamilton mentions how he would prefer permanency of office also for the Senate and the President (Mitchell, pp. I:397 ff), while in 78, Hamilton calls for the court justices to have permanent positions as well. Hamilton in 78 also mentions that the Judiciary is to be the weakest in government, probably seen by him as  a means of protecting individual liberty, but seen by me as one less obstacle for someone with “ambition” was Hamilton put it, to step in and take the whole executive office over for life. Hamilton repeats several times inside 78 as well as outside the text that the people must be the voice above all in government, but his proposed actions are speaking much louder than his words.

How can this work? How can a government be committed to the people if they have such few means of accountability? Hamilton assures his readers that the people would be the ultimate voice in government, but stays quiet as far as how exactly they would go about flexing their force. Perhaps Hamilton saw how democratic this government was to be as compared to the rest of the world and decided to use this set up of insulated judges, senators and president as a check to how many people were getting enfranchised at the time. As discussed in the Diamond article, the rules of exclusion of the day only blocked about 25% of the white male population from voting. So at the time period, that many men having the ability to vote was really unheard of throughout the world. Hamilton could have been trying to avoid the formation of factions by insisting that the people be the highest voice, as well as making officials difficult to vote out of office. I think this is a valid counter-argument.

However, I’m still concerned. Paramount to the founding fathers, Hamilton included, was protecting the nation from foreign invasion and domestic instability. With Hamilton’s proposals for an absolute veto for the President, a weak judicial system, and a legislature that would again be weaker than the executive, are the claims by Madison of Hamilton being a closet monarchist plausible? (Mitchell, pp. I:397 ff)

Also think about the time period in which these were published. These newspaper articles are persuasion pieces. Hamilton references multiple times in 78 that the government is only legit if the people approve and consent. He states that the voice of the people is superior to both the legislature and judicial. Note the absence of the executive.

So am I crazy? Is Hamilton being a shady character with all this, or is he just doing what he believes is best to create a stable democracy? I’m looking forward to hearing everyone’s ideas.

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3 Responses to Taking a closer look at Alexander Hamilton.

  1. jwpeace88 says:

    While some of Hamilton’s proposals seem quite anti-democratic, I wouldn’t go far as to say his intent was “shady”. Rather, I think the Founding Fathers were aware of the defects inherent in popular government and sought to address this issue through the Federalist papers. What I’m saying is that Hamilton was being “realistic”, not “shady” in his approach.

    First of all, you should know that unlike today’s value-free society, the Founding Fathers believed they themselves possessed sufficient knowledge to discern what is good or bad in human conduct. So basically they were trying to prevent the majority from deciding certain political issues in bad ways. Of course, in modern society there really is no “bad” policy wrong in itself. But that’s how the intellectuals back in the day thought regarding to popular government: democracy with no doubt is the best form of government, but at the same time there has to be some sort of balance or check against possible “tyranny” of the majority.

    Although I do not completely agree with such notion, I think it is worth looking at. Say, everyone was able to participate in politics with no means of restraint. Sooner or later a great mass of people, lacking sufficient knowledge of society and politics, are going to be motivated by their own interests and make extreme demands upon the few. This is what the Founding Fathers meant when they mentioned the “domestic convulsion”: the state suffers from constant conflicts between the few and the many – or the rich and the poor. The type of society the Founding Father desired was where “the struggle of classes was to be replaced by a struggle of interests”. And they envisioned “a large commercial society the interest of the many can be fragmented into many narraower, more limited interests”. I think there can be no better description of the United States than the previous quote.

    My point is Hamilton was not being shady when he wrote the Federalist papers. He was just trying to remedy the defects of democracy/popular government with the best knowledge of politics he possessed at the time.

  2. brbarlog says:

    I think that this blog post presents a valid opinion about Hamilton and does a good job trying to connect Hamilton’s views with contemporary politics. However, I have to disagree in the connotation that he was “shady.” Indeed, to some, lifetime appointments to any positions in government can be seen as “anti-democratic.” After all, the colonies broke from a life-time ruler in King George. Shouldn’t every position in a democracy be subject to suffrage?

    Regardless, I think Hamilton’s view of the “weak judiciary” and the mere fact that federal judges would serve as lifetime appointments, draw a distinct parallel. Judges should stay as far from politics as possible. How can one safely say that objective interpretations of the law are inherently “objective” if a judge must, in the back or his or her mind, deal with political repercussions? I think this blog post ignores the extent of the political backdrop and the political climate that is now the United States. With the augmented social media and one-line news reporting, the public in their own mind would most certainly vote on the basis of party if judges were elected. Justice Scalia says it best:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tme4DEwGL3U

    Scalia is 100% correct, and in politics, judges should not be held to the same standards as politicians. Their consideration should be based on legal doctrines, not elementary opinions by media outlets and the, sometimes, ignorant. If the public voted for judges, I think there would be a lot of grey area as to the extent of political legitimacy. If a Democratic Congress were to pass laws and a Republican Supreme court were to rule that those laws would be unconstitutional, we have a problem. Hence the word of the day: Politics. Hamilton’s notion of lifetime appointments, therefore make absolute sense.

  3. jakmel says:

    While I agree with the previous post, that Hamilton’s notion of lifetime appointments makes absolute sense. I think, clearly his arguments are only sound on a theoretical basis . In actuality, it seems to me that the Supreme Court is not very far removed from usual political division that are so apparent in other branches and levels of government. I think because the justices decide so little cases each year, people do not pay attention to their political views as much as someone like Senator, who are in the news much more often.

    I feel that although Hamilton’s arguments are theoretically sound, he did miss out on a few things, due to a lack of foresight. Moreover, the things that he missed is the reason why the Supreme Court is not really that removed from partisan politics and mostly has to due with the selection process. One thing in particular comes to mind as the important factor in influencing this. I don’t believe that Hamilton realized how powerful the executive office would become. He probably thought that the Senate confirmation would be an effective check. However, the position of President has become so powerful that is extremely tough for the Senate to block a nomination and near impossible when the Senate and the President are one of the same party. This has caused, in recent years, for Presidents like Bush and Obama to pack the court with justices who share very similar political views. All in all, i think that if Hamilton would have known how powerful the President would become, he would reconsider the exact method of selecting Supreme Court justices.

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