Chambless on Hamilton

Introduction

I will do this critique of Chambless’s research on Hamilton in parts. Judging by this first post, it seems like this might be a long series of post. I will critique his lecture starting from 0:07:30 and ending in 0:13:20. There is just so much wrong with his research that I feel like Chambless did the error of starting from a bias conclusion and then try to support this conclusion. The conclusion being that Alexander Hamilton was a curse. Any serious scholar of Hamilton would know that this is of course false, at least historically speaking. Hamilton was essential in the creation of the Constitution and essential in its ratification. It would simply be hard to imagine the Constitution as it is today without the influence of Hamilton. The main point that I want to get across in this post, a point which Chambless either does not know or chooses to ignore, is that Madison was very much in line with Hamilton during this time. This is to say, during the time when Madison attended the Constitutional Convention, wrote the bulk of the Constitution and participated in The Federalist Papers, he and Hamilton were philosophical allies. They understood that if America was to survive as a nation, it needed a stronger role for the central government. Madison gradually converted to a Jeffersonian point of view but this was after he wrote the Constitution and The Federalist Papers. The pre-Jeffersonian Madison was a proto-Federalist. This even makes sense by just looking at the people he worked with at the time. Look at the work he did with Hamilton and John Jay. Look at the close ties he held with the Virginian Governor Edmund Randolph. All of which were strong Federalists when the party emerged. There is clearly more evidence to support this but I am merely pointing out that it is easy to see Madison’s ‘Federalist’ side. And this fact is crucial because it shows that Madison held two major opposing views in his lifetime, so this affected how he interpreted the Constitution. I choose to hold Madison’s proto-Federalist interpretation of the Constitution as more valid than his later Jeffersonian interpretation because when he wrote the Constitution or The Federalist Papers, he was hardly a Jeffersonian.

0:07:30

First off, Thomas Jefferson had no part in the construction of the Constitution. To appeal to what he said about it is pointless. This is a clear example of appeal to authority. Now I understand that appeal to authorities isn’t a fallacy per se, but when one points out that this ‘authority’ did not know what the hell he was talking about, then it becomes a fallacy. Jefferson envisioned the Constitution as one that provides strict rules on how the Federal Government should be handled. If it does not say that the Government should specifically do X, then the Government should not do X. But this is not how the Constitution was meant to be interpreted. I cannot stress this enough, but the Constitution was meant to provide for implied powers, powers that are not specifically mentioned in the Constitution. The best source for this would be The Federalist Papers, and specifically read James Madison’s article number 44. Keep in mind that Madison at this time was aligned philosophically to that of Hamilton, which is why they work together to produce The Federalist Papers, the main defense of the Constitution (Chernow 2004: 223). Not only this, but I really do not see why we are still having this debate on ‘what the Constitution really means’. The Federalist Papers, as papers written to persuade people to support the Constitution, should be the main source as to what the Constitution means.

0:07:42

The letter mentioned here written by Madison was written in April 20, 1831, Madison died five years later. The year of which Madison wrote the letter is important here because (as I said in the introduction) I am of the position that the Madison that wrote the Constitution and provided several articles in its defense is almost completely different, philosophically, from the Jeffersonian Madison. To merge these two different Madison’s together is a fallacy because Madison changed his thinking when he started to become the head of the Democratic – Republican Party. But this is important because this means that Madison’s meaning of the Constitution changed for him. The late 1770’s Madison recognized that the United States had to have a strong central government in order for the Union to be preserved. This idea he shared with Hamilton and Jay when writing The Federalist Papers. It is the same Madison that wrote the justification to implied powers in article number 44.

0:08:05

It is also worth saying something of that Madison quote on how charity is not the duty of Government. First off, it is funny to state that Madison would contradict himself approximately 2 decades later. When Madison said this, he was debating one of the leading Federalists at the time, Elliot Boudinot, on whether aid should be provided for St. Domingo Refugees. Madison cried, “NO!” there are not explicit powers mentioned in the Constitution for this and stood his ground on the principle that Government was not a charity. Though, Madison would approve aid to Venezuela in 1812, a year that Madison was president. Secondly, this is one of many debates with Boudinot that Madison had. Another more important debate was on establishing a national bank. Of which, Madison (again) responded that the rights to establish a bank is not granted in the Constitution, therefore it should not be done. Boudinot in response quoted Madison from The Federalist Papers article 44, which shows Madison providing justification for implied powers. The bill was passed and Madison had to have felt defeated by his very own words. This is one of several examples of how Madison’s visions of Government changed drastically over time. Again, the Madison that wrote the Constitution and The Federalist Papers is not the same Madison that was aligned to the Democratic – Republican Party.

0:09:38

Also, yes, Hamilton disagreed with Madison’s Virginia Plan and the New Jersey Plan. But disagreements were common at this convention. I thought this fact would be common sense. This convention was about starting the structures of Government from scratch. I could only imagine several different propositions on the ‘right’ structure which to follow. Nevertheless, what good is it in pointing this out? By the time the Constitution was in its final form, Hamilton was a fierce supporter; why else would he write 50+ articles out of the 85 articles in support of the Constitution in The Federalist Papers? Nevertheless, Chambless makes it sound like the rest of the people at the convention had a similar view of how Government should operate while Hamilton was the odd man out and had a different view when he states, “Hamilton disagreed with the other founding during the convention.” The truth is, is that there were several ideas put on the table as to how the newly formed government should operate. And yes, this implies much debate.

It should also be noted that yes, no one supported Hamilton’s plan but that does not mean it wasn’t influential. For example, Hamilton’s plan introduced the idea that supreme judges should be there for life to minimize conflicts in regards to politics, this is to say, so they did not have to fear to be elected. The Articles of Confederation provided no such authority for federal judges.  It is also worth pointing out that just because no one agreed with Hamilton’s plan full heartedly does not mean that the other delegates just ignored what Hamilton had to say. Gouverneur  Morris (a founding father that wrote parts of the Constitution) stated of Hamilton’s speech as “the most able and impressive he had ever heard”.  William Samuel Johnson stated that Hamilton’s plan won “praise by everyone.” Though I am sure Johnson exaggerated a bit (Chernow 2004: 233).

Also believing that the executive should serve for life does not mean that he supported a monarchy. This does not follow at all. Sure it might be a description out of many of a monarchy but to support a life term executive is completely different than supporting a monarchy, which Hamilton never did. Actually, this criticism (that the executive was equal to a King) was used by the Anti-Federalists when talking about the Constitution. They felt that the President’s powers extended too far in the Constitution, so far that they saw no difference between a President and a King. Starting at Article 67 of The Federalist Papers (which Hamilton wrote), the Federalists discuss the nature of the executive power, and they also try to make clear that to consider the executive the same as a King is a gross misrepresentation. As Hamilton states early in the article:

Here the writers against the Constitution seem to have taken pains to signalize their talent of misrepresentation. Calculating upon the aversion of the people to monarchy, they have endeavored to enlist all their jealousies and apprehensions in opposition to the intended President of the United States; not merely as the embryo, but as the full-grown progeny, of that detested parent.

It is also worth pointing out that Madison, George Mason, and Edmund Randolph approved of Hamilton’s presidential proposal during the Constitutional Convention (Chernow 2004: 234).

It seems that Chambless mentions the point that Hamilton never returned to the convention because of the lack of success of his speech.  But it was pretty common for delegates to return home.  Only about 30 of the 55 delegates were present much of the time (Chernow 2004: 229). It was typical for delegates to return home for business.  Though there is another explanation for why Hamilton had a small influence in the convention.  Hamilton was part of the committee that made the rules for the convention. Hamilton proposed that every individual vote be recorded, but instead the small committee denied his proposal and decided to have a one vote one state policy (Chernow 2004: 228). This was a problem for Hamilton since the other two delegates from New York were John Lansing Jr and Robert Yates, both political rivals of Hamilton. Thus, Hamilton’s voice would not be heard because both Yates and Lansing disagreed with Hamilton about 99.9% of the time. So it was pointless for Hamilton to stay at the convention because his vote was always outnumbered. Though keep in mind that Hamilton was the only one of the three delegates from New York to sign the Constitution.

And I am not quite sure that Chambless knew Madison’s position on states’ rights at the time. I say this because Chambless makes the claim that Hamilton disagreed with the other founders on states’ rights (as if the delegates all thought the same on states’ rights). But if we look at some of Madison’s work, Madison, too ,had the opinion that federal authority dampens states’ rights. For example, look at Madison’s piece “Vices of the Political System of the United States” and specifically part 4. Here is Madison:

Paper money, instalments of debts, occlusion of Courts, making property a legal tender, may likewise be deemed aggressions on the rights of other States. As the Citizens of every State aggregately taken stand more or less in the relation of Creditors or debtors, to the Citizens of every other States, Acts of the debtor State in favor of debtors, affect the Creditor State, in the same manner, as they do its own citizens who are relatively creditors towards other citizens. This remark may be extended to foreign nations. If the exclusive regulation of the value and alloy of coin was properly delegated to the federal authority, the policy of it equally requires a controul on the States in the cases above mentioned. It must have been meant 1. to preserve uniformity in the circulating medium throughout the nation. 2. to prevent those frauds on the citizens of other States, and the subjects of foreign powers, which might disturb the tranquility at home, or involve the Union in foreign contests.

Please Chambless, if you are going to down play Hamilton on states’ rights, then at least to the same with Madison. Or what about this statement by Madison (I take this from Bowen’s book Miracle in Philadelphia):

“Let the national government be armed with a positive and complete authority in all cases where uniform measures are necessary. Let it have a negative, in all cases whatsoever, on the legislative acts of the states,  as the King of Great Britain heretofore had,” (Bowen [1966] 1986: 14).

“… as the King of Great Britain heretofore had?!” What a nasty monarch that Madison was, huh.

0:10:00

Again, Chambless appeals to the claim that the Constitution was meant to only provide those rights that are only explicitly mentioned, even though it was Madison that wrote the defense for implied powers in article 44. General Welfare was meant to be loosely interpreted. Though finally Chambless makes his first correct statement about Hamilton (and one of the purposes of the Constitution), that current powers of the Government granted by the Constitution should not restrict future Governments to improve the lives of its citizens.

0:13:20

Chambless claims that The Federalist Papers were written to seem it was in support of a limited government, and that Hamilton differed from the other writers. This is not so. I highly doubt that Chambless has even read The Federalist Papers now. The whole point of The Federalist Papers was to give support for a much larger authority for the central government to do its duty than what was proposed in the Articles of Confederation. I seriously do not know where Chambless makes this assertion. He is either pulling stuff out of his ass or a really bad scholar on Hamilton (or The Federalist Papers for that matter). He makes it seem like there is this Hamiltonian conspiracy for a return to a monarchy and total power to a central government. Chambless is ultimately trying to make the Constitiution into a libertarian document, but as the facts show us, the Constitution is a Republican document (thank god).

That is enough for now. This lecture is going to make me pull out my hair if I keep listening to this, and I have a lot of hair.

References

Bowen, Catherine Drinker. [1966] 1986. Miracle at Philadelphia: The Story of the Constitutional Convention, May to September 1787. Boston: Little Brown.

Chernow, Ron. 2004. Alexander Hamilton. New York:The Penguin Press.

Hamilton, Alexander, John Jay, and James Madison. [1787] The Federalist Papers. New York: The Modern Library.

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