Chambless on Hamilton: Round 2


This is part 2 of my critique of Jack Chambless’ lecture on Hamilton titled, “The Curse of Alexander Hamilton”. I should note that it would help to listen to this lecture and then read what I have to say about specific points. It might be less confusing to follow this way. On with the show…


Necessary is a matter of opinion

Chambless goes to say that there is this objective definition of what necessary means, sure we can go to dictionaries and pick out definitions all day but Hamilton is not necessarily arguing that this word is a matter for subjectivity. What he means is that the implications of necessary action is different for a lot of people, it is a matter of opinion.

For example, the early Democratic-Republic party did not want to see the rise of American industry for they believed this would lead to unintended consequences that they did not want to face. The Federalists wanted to promote American industry, and for them, to achieve this goal, they needed a national bank, among other things. So to Democratic-Republicans, it was necessary for them to strike down national bank policies because they had a different goal than the Federalists, to promote solely the agricultural sector, and also they saw the encouragement of industry bad for the country. For the Federalists, this was of course different, so the Union doesn’t crumble, they felt they needed the encouragement of industry to make America more independent. So it was necessary for them to call for banking policies to be put in place.

And this is exactly how the Necessary and Proper clause is defended in The Federalist Papers, but instead uses the example of taxation and how government action can be justified to achieve the end of getting taxes by the Necessary and Proper clause. Here is a passage from The Federalist Papers No. 33:

What is a power, but the ability or faculty of doing a thing? What is the ability to do a thing, but the power of employing the means necessary to its execution? What is a LEGISLATIVE power, but a power of makingLAWS? What are the means to execute a LEGISLATIVE power but LAWS? What is the power of laying and collecting taxes, but a legislative power, or a power of making laws, to lay and collect taxes? What are the proper means of executing such a power, but necessary and proper laws?

To put this passage and article in context, we have to look at why this was written. The authors of the Federalist Papers had the tough task in trying to convince people that a stronger role for government was necessary. Most were still used to the limited role of the central government in the Articles of Confederation. The authors remind the citizens that a true government is one that has the ability to pass binding legislation, otherwise, the government is not really a government (like the central government of the Articles of Confederation). A strong government was needed to preserve the Union, thus the ratification of the Constitution was needed to preserve America.


“Everything that Hamilton stands for was indeed what Madison warned about.” -Chambless

Ah, but historical facts presents a much different story. Part of the lecture till this point focused on Hamilton’s economic recommendations. The two biggest recommendations being the establishment of a national bank and the introduction of (moderate) tariffs to encourage industry. These, I guess, fall under as part of the things that “Madison warned about”, at least according to Chambless. Well, it should then shock Chambless to know that Madison signed into law the Second Bank of the United States and also introduced tariffs laws while Madison was president. And not only did Madison sign tariffs into law, but he went further than Hamilton’s moderate tariffs proposals, Madison supported protectionist tariffs , hence the signing of the first protective tariff is by none other than Madison. So it looks like even Madison ignored his own warning, right?


You’re trying to show us that no where in the Constitution did the Congress say anything about providing for healthcare. Prof. Chambless, how could the Congress possibly have known what healthcare was going to be like in 2012?

The above is a view that Chambless claims some of his students have. Very smart objection too. Chambless responds to this by saying that the Founders did know because of the tyranny they experienced with King George III. They had a long time to think of these principles in other words. But this is merely appeal to emotion and not historical analysis.

This also goes to show that Chambless does not know the basic reasonings to why the Constitution was put in place, and why it is so vague and short. Ambiguity was used because the Constitution was written to provide for a general structure of government. It was not supposed to go into details about how every little thing in the government was supposed to be ran. It was written like this so it can be adapted to provide for solutions to problems we will have as time goes on. Thats it. They did not know of the problems we would face today, nor did they pretend to know, which is why the Constitution was general and short.


Lets take a look at Chambless’ example on this segment. Chambless asks his students whether they want the President to obey the oath of office, which is an oath to uphold the Constitution. Most students would say, “Of course.” Chambless goes on and tells the students to imagine Cuban refugees that come to the Miami and government approves of giving aid to these refugees. The students would then respond, “What does this have to do with the Constitution?” Chambless goes on to say that Madison disapproved of giving aid to St. Domingo refugees saying, “I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on the objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.” So Chambless asks again whether they agree that the President should stay true to the oath of office because granting aid is supposedly unconstitutional. Two big problems with this:

  1. He is appealing too much on Madison, as if what Madison says about the Constitution, goes because he is the “principle author”
  2. Madison contradicts himself because he approved of giving aid to foreigners during his presidency.

On 1: he is just appealing too much on Madison. Chambless is basically saying, “If the principle author of the Constitution is telling you it is unconstitutional, it is such!” But not even Chambless believes this premise. As I have stated, Madison approved of protectionist tariffs and signed into law the 2nd Bank of the United States. Is the libertarian Chambless ready to admit that National banks and protection tariffs are constitutional because Madison approved of them? I highly doubt it.

On 2: This basically destroys Chambless example because Madison approved of giving aid to foreigners. He did not apply the same “lay my finger on that article” logic that he did with the St. Domingo refugees. Madison approved of the first foreign aid policy in US history, 1812 Venezuela, look it up.

Thats good enough for now, I’ll stop here.


2 responses to “Chambless on Hamilton: Round 2

  1. In defense of libertarian scholars, you dont see a problem in having a liberal interpretation of the Constitution? These are strict rules put in place on the central government, how can you just have a liberal interpretation and ignore some of the most fundamental rules that limits the government to protect individual rights?

  2. Pingback: But I am a Strict Constitutionalist | The Radical Subjectivist

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