Sunday, August 19, 2007

Alexander Hamilton Hated Republican Government:

Strong words, but they aren't mine. Rather they are Gouverneur Morris'. I knew Hamilton was a sort of proto-monarchist, but never would I have put it in such stark terms as did Morris. Bottom line according to Morris: Hamilton hated republican government because it was too democratic. This may help illustrate the inanity of the line "The Founders gave America republic not a democracy." There is certainly a kernel of truth in the line; but the problem is most folks who utter it don't know what they are talking about. The notion of republican government, rightly understood, is contained within the broader rubric of the concept of "liberal democracy." The Founders didn't like mob rule (neither do I), and as such wanted republican checks on the democratic process, one of which was limiting what the federal government could do with enumerated powers and the second, indissolubly linked to the first, was making certain individual rights antecedent to majority rule. Anyway here is Morris on Hamilton:

“Speaking of General Hamilton, he had little share in forming the Constitution. He disliked it, believing all republican government to be radically defective. He admired, nevertheless, the British constitution, which I consider as an aristocracy in fact, though a monarchy in name. General Hamilton hated republican government, because he confounded it with democratical government; and he detested the latter, because he believed it must end in despotism, and, be in the mean time, destructive to public morality. He believed that our administration would be enfeebled progressively at every new election, and become at last contemptible. He apprehended that the minions of faction would sell themselves and their country as soon as foreign powers should think it worth while to make the purchase. In short, his study of ancient history impressed on his mind a conviction that democracy, ending in tyranny, is, while it lasts, a cruel and oppressing domination. One marked trait of the General’s character was the pertinacious adherence to opinions he had once formed. From his situation in early life, it was not to be expected that he should have a fellow-feeling with those who idly supposed themselves to be the natural aristocracy of this country. In maturer age, his observation and good sense demonstrated that the materials for an aristocracy do not exist in America; wherefore, taking the people as a mass in which there was nothing of family, wealth, prejudice, or habit to raise a permanent mound of distinction—in which, moreover, the torrent of opinion had already washed away every mole-hill of respect raised by the industry of individual pride, he considered the fate of Rome in her meridian splendor, and that of Athens from the dawn to the sunset of her glory, as the portraits of our future fortune. Moreover, the extent of the United States led him to fear a defect of national sentiment. That which, at the time our Constitution was formed, had been generated by friendship in the Revolutionary War, was sinking under the pressure of State interest, commercial rivalry, the pursuit of wealth, and those thousand giddy projects which the intoxication of independence, an extravagant idea of our own importance, a profound ignorance of other nations, the prostration of public credit, and the paucity of our resources had engendered. He heartily assented, nevertheless, to the Constitution, because he considered it as a band which might hold us together for some time, and he knew that national sentiment is the off-spring of national existence. He trusted, moreover, that in the chances and changes of time we should be involved in some war which might strengthen our union and nerve the Executive. He was not (as some have supposed) so blind as not to see that the President could purchase power, and shelter himself from responsibility by sacrificing the rights and duties of his office at the shrine of influence; but he was too proud, and, let me add, too virtuous to recommend or tolerate measures eventually fatal to liberty and honor."


Hercules Mulligan said...

Hamilton's own words clarify this issue better:

"June 26th, Col. Hamilton said: This question has already been considered in several points of view. We are now forming a republican government. Real liberty is never found in despotism or the extremes of democracy, but in moderate governments. Those who mean to form a solid republican government ought to proceed to the confines of another government. As long as offices are open to all men, and no constitutional rank is established, it is pure republicanism. But if we incline too much to democracy, we shall soon shoot into a monarchy." speech in Convention, according to Yates

"June 24, 1788.—I am persuaded that I, in my turn, shall be indulged in addressing the committee. We all, with equal sincerity, profess to be anxious for the establishment of a republican government, on a safe and solid basis. It is the object of the wishes of every honest man in the United States; and I presume I shall not be disbelieved when I declare, that it is an object, of all others, the nearest and most dear to my own heart. The means of accomplishing this great purpose become the most important study which can interest mankind. It is our duty to examine all those means with peculiar attention, and to choose the best and most effectual. It is our duty to draw from nature, from reason, from examples, the justest principles of policy, and to pursue and apply them in the formation of our government. We should contemplate and compare the systems which, in the examination, come under our view; distinguish with a careful eye the defects and excellencies of each, and discarding the former, incorporate the latter, as far as circumstances will admit, into our Constitution. If we pursue a different course, and neglect this duty, we shall probably disappoint the expectations of our country and of the world." speech in the Convention

"The highest-toned propositions which I made in the convention were for a President, Senate, and Judges during good behavior—a House of Representatives for three years. Though I would have enlarged the legislative power of the general government, yet I never contemplated the abolition of the State governments, but on the contrary, they were, in some particulars, constituent parts of my plan. This plan was, in my conception, conformable with the strict theory of a government purely republican, the essential criteria of which are that the principal organs of the executive and legislative departments be elected by the people, and hold their offices by a responsible and temporary or defeasible tenure. A vote was taken on the proposition respecting the executive. Five States were in favor of it, among these Virginia, and though, from the manner of voting—by delegations,—individuals were not distinguished, it was morally certain, from the known situation of the Virginia members (six in number, two of them, Mason and Randolph, professing popular doctrines), that Madison must have concurred in the work of Virginia; thus, if I sinned against republicanism, Mr. Madison was not less guilty." letter to Timothy Pickering, Sept. 18, 1803

"The Senate, I fear, from a similar cause, would be filled by certain undertakers who wish for particular offices under the government. This view of the subject almost leads me to despair that a republican government could be established over so great an extent. I am sensible, at the same time, that it would be unwise to propose one of any other form. In my private opinion, I have no scruple in declaring, supported as I am by the opinion of so many of the wise and good, that the British government is the best in the world; and that I doubt much whether anything short of it will do in America. I hope gentlemen of different opinions will bear with me in this, and beg them to recollect the change of opinion on this subject which has taken place, and is still going on. It was once thought that the power of Congress was amply sufficient to secure the end of their institution. The error was now seen by every one. The members most tenacious of republicanism are as loud as any in declaiming against the vices of democracy. This progress of the public mind leads me to anticipate the time when others as well as myself will join in the praise bestowed by Mr. Neckar on the British constitution, namely, that “it is the only government in the world which unites public strength with individual security.” speech in Convention according to Madison

So no, he wasn't a radical anti-republican. He saw the weaknesses of republican govt (the most dangerous of which was foreign influence, he said in one place), and thought that the British Constitution, in AH's opinion the best that had been written in the world so far, had some very useful and wise features worth imitating, because, in AH's view, they tended towards the protection of individual rights.

Jonathan said...

I think we could safely say that Morris unfairly characterized Hamilton. I just thought it was interesting to see how he put it.

On a related note, is Morris' sex life too hot for you to handle?

I try to stay current with National Review's "The Corner," esp. when Michael Novak or Richard Brookhiser chime in on the Founders & Religion. This post from last year slipped past me.

I'll feature it in a post next week, but give you a preview here. It's the way Brookhiser categorizes Washington's, Adams', and Morris' (all three about whom he wrote books) religion and illustrates the false dichotomy of asking were they "Deists" or "Christians." Instead of "theistic rationalist," he categorizes them as "active Christiform deists." And his reading of Hamilton's religion parallels mine.

Hercules Mulligan said...

On Hamilton's religion, I wrote a brief post on the quote that we have been discussing.

Sometime I hope to write a series of posts on my blog covering Hamilton's religion from the beginning to the end of his life (I have studied his writings on the subject for approx. 3-and-a-half-years).

Our Founding Truth said...

Thanks for this post Jon, I found some info on Hamilton from hercules mulligan, Awesome!

Hamilton's brilliance was beyond any of his contemporaries. He realized a monarchy was wrong, and that Republicanism was good, but that there was something better. He realized the people needed to be virtueous, and if so, a stronger executive would work.

In my opinion, he far above any other American that ever lived.

He was locked into that duel, he couldn't get out of it. He did the next best thing and fired his shot above Burr, and hoped Burr missed, he didn't miss.

Enlightened Despot said...

Here are passages from a letter Hamilton wrote in 1803, a year before his death. The letter contradicts Morris's claims and implicitly, Madison's report of Hamilton's view, Madison having become a personal as well as a political enemy after he allied himself with Jefferson. Anyway, here goes:

The highest toned propositions, which I made in the Convention, were for a President, Senate, and Judges during good behavior--a house of representatives for three years. Though I would have enlarged the Legislative power of the General Government, yet I never contemplated the abolition of State Governments; but on the contrary, they were, in some particulars, constituent parts of my plan.

"This plan was, in my conception conformable with the strict theory of a Government purely republican; the essential criteria of which are that the principal organs of the Executive and Legislative departments be elected by the people and hold their offices by a responsible and temporary, or defeasible, tenure ...If I sinned against Republicanism, Mr. Madison is no less guilty...

"I may truly then say, that I never proposed either a President or a Senate for life, and that I neither recommended nor meditated the annihilation of the State Governments....

[He protests that it was his understanding during the early days of the convention that members would offer "experimental propositions" might be made in the spirit of "free investigation."]

"Accordingly, it is a fact, that my final opinion was against an Executive during good behavior, on account of the increased danger to the public tranquility incident to the election of a Magistrate of this degree of permanancy. In the plan of a Constitution, which I drew up, while the convention was sitting, and which I communicated to Mr. Madison about the close of it, perhaps a day or two after, the Office of President has no greater duration than for three years."

Letter to Timothy Pickering, Sept. 16, 1803 (Library of America edition, pp. 1002-03