In the late 1700s to the early 1800s, the United States was in need of a political philosophy that interpreted the Constitution loosely, avoided possibly catastrophic wars, and built up the economy in the easiest and most efficient way possible, all which were found best in Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton believed that the time called for a loose interpretation, or construction, of the Constitution. He and his Federalist followers invoked the idea of “elastic clause”, a way in which the people could bend exactly what the Founding Fathers were saying to help make it apply to the problems of the time.
The nation and her Constitution were still young and growing, and the ability to form the government as the country progressed was essential to having any national growth at all. Jefferson, on the other hand, believed in a strict construction of the Constitution and the rights of individual states, not federal unity like Hamilton did. Unfortunately, it was clear to many that the rights of individual states, similar to the states’ rights that they had experienced under the Articles of Confederation, were not making the nation stronger, but instead getting each state into more trouble, politically and economically.
Foreign affairs also impacted why Hamilton’s Federalist philosophy worked for the time. As the United States was just coming out of a war, we were weak: militarily, economically, and politically. The last thing that we needed was to enter into the French Revolutionary War that held enormous stakes. The Jeffersonians, however, favored honoring the 1778 French-American Alliance that we had made, in order to repay them for helping us win our freedom, even though the French had never officially called on America to honor the alliance.
George Washington, sensing that war would be too much for such a fragile nation, issued the 1793 Neutrality Proclamation warning Americans not to be partial to either side, so America would be better protected. Hamilton’s economic policies and financial system was also the most effective way to build the new economy up. Hamilton’s policies were shaped to favor the wealthy, but in such a way that the wealthy would lend the government money and give it political support, which would then cause the federal regime to strive, higher classes to fatten and grow with new wealth, and prosperity to trickle to the masses.
Hamilton believed in forming a national credit out of all the states debts, as well as creating a Bank of the United States to have the government support itself in stock. Jefferson believed, contrary to Hamilton’s more “urban” views of economic progress, that rural and private farming would be the fairest way to build up the economy – from the bottom classes up. However, this would have been a very time consuming process and was therefore not suited for the infant America, who needed to grow quickly to find its place in the rest of the world.
Jefferson also thought a Bank of the United States was unconstitutional and forbidden by the Founding Fathers instructions in the Constitution. However, Hamilton proved that the Constitution permitted it by showing how the Constitution stipulates that Congress may pass any laws “necessary and proper” to carry out the powers vested in the various government agencies, including the powers to collect taxes and regulate trade, therefore making a communal bank for the nation ideal and very beneficial to building and supporting an economy.
In today’s American, however, Jefferson’s philosophy would be much better suited. Today, it seems as though we have almost lost track of what the Founding Fathers wanted for this country, so going back to a stricter construction of the Constitution would stop many of the questionable laws passed thanks to an overly bendable elastic clause.
Also, since the United States has been caught up in meddling in so many other nations’ political affairs as of late, we need to be reminded of honoring our alliances and keeping an open mind when dealing with other countries that are in a current struggle. Now that we are an experienced nation in how to achieve and maintain independence, we are strong enough to help other countries do the same, although we would not have been in 1789 for the French Revolution.
Finally, today’s America has a very strong and stubborn upper class that, much of the time, promises to allow profit to trickle through to the extremely large middle class but does not follow through with those plans. Since it is too hard to work with the upper class to give prosperity to the lower classes, using Jefferson’s philosophy of building up from the bottom, though it make take a while, will eventually work and make the American more equal.
Overall, Hamilton’s ideas of a more loose construction of the Constitution, caution when it came to foreign affairs, and working through the wealthy to give prosperity to all Americans were well suited to the late 1700s and early 1800s. However, now that times are different, Jefferson’s ideas are more applicable to our country’s needs of a more regulated government, more positive foreign affairs and well thought out foreign policies, and an equal economy that starts with helping the lower and middle classes to expand and grow in their own way.
Courtney from Study Moose
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