How effective were the policies of Washington and Hamilton?
Creating a new government on paper was difficult. The framers of the constitutional convention fought long and hard over the format and function of our government. Putting it in practice was difficult as well. In 1790 Madison wrote “We are in a wilderness, without a single footstep to guide us.” As our founding fathers walked through the wilderness of democratic government, alone and without a real model, many obstacles would have to be overcome and many precedents would be set.
The Domestic Policy of Washington, Hamilton and Jefferson
How did Washington define the Presidency?
As hostility rose between Hamilton and Jefferson, Washington tried to “soothe” things between them.
Washington wanted to keep the presidency formal and thus set precedent by establishing Presidential protocol. He held regular morning receptions as well as formal evening dances and dinners. He had servants in uniforms and always dressed properly. Critics thought that these occasions seemed to cold but George felt that they were necessary for the dignity of the office.
Washingtons other precedents included running for two terms, the creation of a cabinet and a foreign policy of neutrality.
What was Hamilton’s economic plan?
Hamilton re issued bonds sold by the Constitutional Convention. This was done in an effort to organize the nations outstanding debt and build trust in the new nation with the wealthy investors that now owned the bonds. The problem was that many bonds had been sold to wealthy speculators during hard times. These speculators would now make an enormous profit. This act was seen as another Hamilton plan to help the rich.
Assumption of State Debt:
In an effort to solidify the national debt and appear more united Washington, under Hamilton’s direction took on the debt of all the colonies. The federal government would pay the debt from the war, not the original colonies. The debt would be paid with tax money. The problem was that the South had already repaid most of its debt. Southerners saw this as another way Hamilton protected his wealthy northern friends.
Build a New Capital:
Hamilton felt that a new federal city would increase respect for the new nation and build investor support. Land was donated by Maryland and Virginia and the swamps were turned into Washington D.C.
Establish a National Bank
Hamilton wanted to build and create a national bank with the power to issue paper money, handle tax receipts and other government money. Hamilton felt this would stabilize currency, and tie the economy to wealthy investors who would own 80% of bank.
Excise (sales) Tax on Whiskey
Hamilton urged a tax on Whiskey. The tax was passed not necessarily as a way to gain money but as a way to demonstrate the new nations power. Hamilton and Washington knew the poor whiskey maker would revolt and they did. The so called “Whiskey Rebellion” was easily crushed by the new federal army proving the new nations power and willingness to remain united.
How did Jefferson change policy?
- Tried to cut down costs of government wherever
- Reduced the size of the army
- Halted expansion of the navy
- Lowered expenses for government social functions
- Wanted to simplify the government’s financial affairs and to tear down Hamilton’s financial program
How did Jefferson change the judicial system?
The Federalists tried to increase their hold on the judiciary and passed the Judiciary Act of 1801 which increased the number of federal judges.
In the waning days of the Adams administration President Adams appointed 67 Federalist judges. These were known as the “Midnight Judges.”
This led to the case of Marbury vs. Madison which established the principal of judicial review
Hamilton Duels with Burr
1804 Burr ran for governor of NY. He accepted the side of some Federalists who wanted to establish an independent
northern confederacy of NY and NJ. Hamilton found out about the scheme and exposed it.
Burr lost and was furious. Between this and Hamilton’s past brokering of the election of 1800 Burr felt that Hamilton was out to personally destroy him. He challenged Hamilton to a “gentlemen’s duel” with pistols.
July 11, 1804, Burr fatally wounded Hamilton and lost all of
what was left of his political dignity.
A Deeper Dive on the Effectiveness of Washington and Hamilton as Policy Makers
George Washington and Alexander Hamilton are two of the most iconic figures in the formation and early years of the United States. Washington, as the first President, and Hamilton, as his Secretary of the Treasury, implemented numerous policies that set the stage for the nation’s growth and stability. Their collaborative efforts aimed at consolidating federal authority, fostering economic prosperity, and establishing a sense of national unity. This essay aims to delve into the effectiveness of their policies and evaluate their long-term implications.
Consolidating Federal Authority
Perhaps the most salient feature of Washington and Hamilton’s tenure was their shared belief in a strong central government. Washington’s experiences during the Revolutionary War, where he grappled with the disparate and often non-cooperative state governments, had shown him the limitations of a weak federal structure. Thus, upon becoming President, Washington leaned on Hamilton’s genius to create a robust federal machinery.
Hamilton’s financial plan was at the forefront of this endeavor. He believed that a strong federal economic system would cement the young nation’s credibility, both domestically and internationally. The assumption of state debts by the federal government was a strategic move. Not only did this action make the states financially beholden to the central authority, but it also transformed the fledgling government into a key player in the American economic landscape.
The establishment of a national bank furthered this goal. Despite being a contentious proposal, with luminaries like Thomas Jefferson opposing it on constitutional grounds, the First Bank of the United States became instrumental in providing fiscal stability. By giving the federal government the power to issue a uniform currency and regulate state banks, Hamilton effectively centralized monetary policy, further consolidating federal authority.
Fostering Economic Prosperity
Hamilton’s background as a clerk in the Caribbean equipped him with an acute understanding of trade and commerce. His economic vision aimed at transforming the largely agrarian America into an industrial powerhouse. He proposed protective tariffs to shield domestic industries, and these tariffs also provided a substantial portion of the federal government’s revenue.
Furthermore, Hamilton’s Report on Manufactures detailed an ambitious plan to promote American industry. Although not all of its recommendations were adopted, the mere presentation of such a roadmap indicated a significant policy direction.
Establishing National Unity
One of the greatest challenges of the early United States was maintaining unity in a landscape of divergent interests and regional allegiances. The Whiskey Rebellion of 1794 was a pivotal event in this regard. Farmers in western Pennsylvania revolted against Hamilton’s excise tax on whiskey, which they saw as a direct and burdensome tax on their livelihood. Washington’s decision to personally lead a militia to quell the rebellion was a strong assertion of federal authority. It demonstrated that while the government respected the right to protest, armed insurrection was intolerable.
Similarly, Washington’s Proclamation of Neutrality in 1793, backed by Hamilton, was a bid to keep the young nation out of foreign conflicts, specifically the ongoing war between Britain and France. This decision was rooted in the understanding that the fledgling nation was not yet robust enough to handle international warfare, and that unity and stability at home were of paramount importance.
Critiques and Long-Term Implications
While Washington and Hamilton’s policies were largely effective in achieving their immediate objectives, they weren’t without their detractors. The very act of consolidating federal power and promoting industrialization alienated certain sections, particularly agrarian interests in the South. The Jeffersonian vision of an agrarian republic stood in stark contrast to the Hamiltonian model, leading to deep-rooted political divisions.
However, the test of any policy’s effectiveness is its long-term impact. The United States, in subsequent decades, blossomed into an industrial and financial giant. The seeds of this transformation were sown during the Washington-Hamilton era. The emphasis on a strong central government, while contentious, ensured that the union remained intact even when it faced existential threats, most notably during the Civil War.
George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, through their policies and actions, laid the foundational bedrock upon which the edifice of the American Republic was built. They navigated the uncharted waters of nation-building with a visionary zeal. Their belief in a strong federal government, while contentious at times, provided the stability the young nation desperately needed.
The effectiveness of their policies can be discerned from the fact that many of the institutions they championed – a national bank, a system of tariffs, and a centralized monetary policy – became cornerstones of American economic policy. While no policy endeavor is without its challenges or critiques, the overarching goals of Washington and Hamilton’s policies – national unity, economic prosperity, and consolidated federal authority – were largely realized, shaping the trajectory of the nation for centuries to come.