There has, since before the founding, always been a deep philosophical divide in this country and the real division is best illustrated by difference between Jefferson and Hamilton since they have each given us extensive examples of articulated political philosophy. The surprise is not that we had a civil war in 1861 but rather that it took that long for hostilities to commence.
In the early days of the Republic we have an evaluation of Hamilton by Jefferson – one rendered fairly and without the antagonism of political rhetoric;
I invited them to dine with me, and after dinner, sitting at our wine, having settled our question, other conversation came on, in which a collision of opinion arose between Mr. Adams and Colonel Hamilton, on the merits of the British Constitution, Mr. Adams giving it as his opinion, that, if some of its defects and abuses were corrected, it would be the most perfect constitution of government ever devised by man. Hamilton, on the contrary, asserted, that with its existing vices, it was the most perfect model of government that could be formed; and that the correction of its vices would render it an impracticable government. And this you May be assured was the real line of difference between the political principles of these two gentlemen. Another incident took place on the same occasion, which will further delineate Mr. Hamilton’s political principles. The room being hung around with a collection of the portraits of remarkable men, among them were those of Bacon, Newton and Locke. Hamilton asked me who they were. I told him they were my trinity of the three greatest men the world had ever produced, naming them. He paused for some time: “The greatest man,” said he, “that ever lived, was Julius Caesar.” Mr. Adams was honest as a politician as well as a man; Hamilton honest as a man, but, as a politician, believing in the necessity of either force or corruption to govern men.
Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush (1811)
A century later, the ironies of history having had five generations to work their mischief, another president – the political heir of Jefferson and the philosophical child of Hamilton rendered a new judgement;
Hamilton, the most brilliant American statesman who ever lived, possessing the loftiest and keenest intellect of his time, was of course easily the foremost champion in the ranks of the New York Federalists; second to him came Jay, pure, strong and healthy in heart, body, and mind. Both of them watched with uneasy alarm the rapid drift toward anarchy; and both put forth all their efforts to stem the tide. They were of course too great men to fall in with the views of those whose antagonism to tyranny made them averse from order. They had little sympathy with the violent prejudices produced by the war standing up with generous fearlessness against the clamor of the mob.
While we can not fault their eloquence it was nearly another century before someone spelled it out simply in terms of a single syllable and with a concision that was more understandable than either;
There is an elegant memorial in Washington to Jefferson, but none to Hamilton. However, if you seek Hamilton’s monument, look around. You are living in it. We honor Jefferson, but live in Hamilton’s country, a mighty industrial nation with a strong central government.
George Will, Restoration: Congress, Term Limits and the Recovery of Deliberative Democracy (1992)
Franklin’s admonition in the Philadelphia of 1776 that the signers of the Declaration of Independence had better hang together if they were not to hang separately may have worked its magic in the moment but, like most moments, it was passing and unity was ephemeral. From the Declaration through the Civil War there was a constant antagonism between the virtues of a Republic and the dreams of power of a democratic nation state. Eventually the latter killed the former because there was profit to be had in it but even today we struggle with a government founded on principles of Republicanism, with architectonic laws based on Republicanism but with a realpolitik that is democracy creeping towards bolshevism.
America on the brink : how the political struggle over the war of 1812 almost destroyed the young republic New York, N.Y. : Palgrave Macmillan, 2005 Richard Buel, Jr. United States Politics and government 1789-1815, Federal Party Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. 302 p. ; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. -289) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG
Many people would be surprised to learn that the struggle between Thomas Jefferson’s Republican Party and Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist Party defined – and jeopardized – the political life of the early American republic. America on the Brink looks at why the Federalists, who worked so hard to consolidate the federal government before 1800, went to great lengths to subvert it after Jefferson’s election. In addition to taking the side of the British in the diplomatic dance before the war, the Federalists did everything they could to impede the prosecution of the war, even threatening the Madison Administration with a separate peace for New England in 1814. Readers fascinated by the world of the Founding Fathers will come away from this riveting account with a new appreciation for how close the new nation came to falling apart almost fifty years before the Civil War.