Alexander Hamilton, alongside such luminaries as Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and James Madison is rightly considered as a founding father of the United States of America. In the second half of the eighteenth century, when British colonies in America entered a period of fervent political change, intellectuals such as Hamilton played pivotal roles in guiding and influencing this process. This essay will argue the following thesis: Not only was Alexander Hamilton the leading contributor to the Federalist Papers, he had also played a pivotal role in the establishment of U.S. Treasury and his ideas continue to influence economic policy even today.
Although lesser studied when compared to other Founding Fathers, Hamilton’s contribution in shaping the new American republic is substantial. For example,
“The most practical nation builder of the Founding Fathers, Hamilton (1755-1804) fought tirelessly for ratification of the Constitution, played a pivotal role in creating a centralized and powerful nation-state, and argued persuasively for a strong presidency and an independent judiciary. It was Hamilton, at the beginning of the nation’s history, who provided a prophetic vision of the United States as a global power stabilized by capitalism and with a military second to none.” (White 2000, 186)
When one makes an analysis of Hamilton’s biography, some pertinent links between his childhood experience and later political development can be made. Even going by the upbringing standards of the late 18th century, Hamilton has had a chaotic and tumultuous early life. The discord and separation between his parents Rachel Faucett Lavien and James A. Hamilton; and the fact that he was an illegitimate child seemed to have left a profound mark on the formative psyche of young Alexander Hamilton. Having been brought up by his mother during his early years, he was adopted by his cousin upon her sudden demise in 1768. But his cousin Peter Lytton too committed suicide subsequently, essentially leaving Hamilton as an orphan. It is perhaps, these traumatic early events in life which shaped Hamilton’s view of family and society and drew him closer to capitalist ideology and the material security it promised. Seen in this backdrop, it is easy to understand some of Hamilton’s later political ideas, especially in the domain of economic systems and the role of the treasury. (Sylla, et.al., 2009, p.61)
While Hamilton contributed to all aspects of government formulation, he is best remembered for his role in designing the young nation’s economic system. During and after his lifetime Hamilton was overshadowed by his more popular adversary Thomas Jefferson. While Jefferson’s dominant image persists today, “the irony is that Hamilton’s concept of the federal government, not Jefferson’s, is what has evolved and endures” (White 2000, 186). This is particularly valid with respect to the country’s economic system and the organization of its constituent agencies such as the U.S. Treasury. Hamilton could rightly be considered a visionary, who saw the importance of economic growth and technological innovation. His state papers on the subject of economy is considered by modern scholars to be a monumental effort “toward establishing a rational basis for planning and legislation; his Report on Manufacturers and his advocacy of federal public works are remarkably modern descriptions of the relationship between government and technology” (White 2000, 186).