April 14, 2008 4 Comments
If I took the time to research a reply, I’d probably never respond, and it’s a fair question he asks, so here’s my off-the-cuff response:
When I was in 3rd grade, we were taught that Jefferson and Hamilton were not only political rivals, but that they represented opposite tendencies in the early American republic: Hamilton representing strong central authority and Jefferson representing decentralization.
So far so good, and even at age 8, I sided with Jefferson.
But since then I’ve heard other claims from modern Hamiltonians (e.g., Ric Burns, brother of Ken, in his documentary series about the history of New York): that Jefferson was for aristocracy while Hamilton favored meritocracy, that Jefferson was opposed to capitalism and opposed to industry — a sort of primitivist agriculturalist, where Hamilton was all about the power of the market and promoting commerce. These claims are misleading to say the least. A free-market Jeffersonian might even insist that they are backwards.
Then, just recently, Stephan Kinsella posted “Catoites on Hamilton v. Jefferson,” which tells us of claims that “Jefferson was also a slaveholding racist — in contrast to Hamilton, whom Wilkinson says ‘was against slavery’.”
Tom DiLorenzo replies:
Hamilton was not the moral role model that Wilkerson apparently believes he was. He owned “house slaves,” returned several runaway slaves to their owners, and once purchased six slaves at a slave auction (biographer Ron Chernow says they were for his brother-in-law). He never advocated abolition per se. He was also a notorious adulterer.
Anthony Gregory will tell you that Thomas Jefferson was not the great libertarian hero some of us sometimes make him out to be. He was especially bad in office. But I think Anthony would agree that in the context of his ideological battles with Hamilton, Jefferson was heroic, and (out of office) he was good on theory and principle as well. He wasn’t against industrial capitalism; he was against corporate welfare. There’s nothing incompatible with a hard-money free-market advocate having a fondness for farming and a suspicion of Anglo-American capitalists, who were already hand-in-glove with the State before, during, and after the War of Independence.
Hamilton, in contrast, was not in favor of capitalism (not in any free-market sense), but rather the very mercantilism that Adam Smith was denouncing in The Wealth of Nations. He was friendly to big business and industry, not the market. And Hamiltonian meritocracy resembles the Mandarin variety, whereby merit can advance you within a centralized system of privilege. It isn’t something that should be confused with individualism or liberty.