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The debate over a national bank raged on for many years. These two selections illustrate the raging debate between two of the nation’s most vocal politicians. They illuminate a common theme throughout American history, namely the debate surrounding the strength of the federal government. To be sure, the focus is on the creation of a national debate, but the underlying debate about federalism underlies much of early American history. Thomas Jefferson’s states rights approach to government could not be more evident in this selection.
Jefferson expresses concerns about affording too many powers to the national government.
Per Jefferson’s usual rhetoric, he makes the threat of a totalitarian regime seem almost guaranteed. Jefferson cites the Constitution to show that those duties not specifically given to the federal government ought to be given to the states. Hamilton takes the contrary view. He suggests that all powers not given to the states should logically fall back to the national government. Alexander Hamilton was a staunch supporter of a strong national government and his quest for a national bank is perhaps the apex of his political leanings.
Hamilton concludes that interpreting the Constitution liberally allows for service of the public good. These documents combine to underscore the fiery passions of the men deciding the course of the nation. To this day, the debates over the federal government’s powers rage on. Now we see debates about the re-regulation or de-regulation of industry, the ability of the federal government to legislate on a variety of social issues, and the role of legal preemption. Some debates never die down, they simply change form.
In these pieces we also see the formation of a clear political ideology that will characterize political debates between the nation’s two major political parties: Democrats and Republicans. States rights and federal powers underlie much of the current political debates seen in the papers and on television. Jefferson is taking what would now be characterized as a Republican position, supporting less federal involvement in favor of giving states the right to decide their own policies. The formation of the Republican Party began years ago with debates much like this.
The Democratic Party prizes a strong national government that looks out for the citizenry. Alexandria Hamilton cites the popular Democratic mantra of “public benefits. ” One can see this rhetoric in debates over national health care policies and education policy. To think, early on these issues defined a nation and were not afterthoughts in larger partisan battles. This is perhaps where Jefferson was correct. He may have been quick to jump to conclusions about tyranny, but it may have been that bombastic rhetoric that kept society cognizant of what was at stake.
The historical record is replete with a deeper understanding of issues that is so often lost in today’s world of sound bites, press conferences, and blogs. Jefferson and Hamilton’s speeches illustrate just how important the basic concept of life, liberty, and justice were. They also illustrate how these ideas are forgotten in today’s debates. Jefferson and Hamilton represent two opposing forces in American history. The debate over a national bank was the focal point of this debate for some time. The national bank debate represents a window into the past that can illuminate the present. Federalism is still a significant concern today.