Last week a radio political talk show host said the following (as always I am paraphrasing):
“The federal government is too big. Our founding fathers would be appalled at the size and scope of our current federal government. Even Alexander Hamilton (a Federalist), who preferred a strong central government would be appalled that the federal government is considering banning texting while driving – that should be a state rights issue, like speed limits.”
In an attempt to justify their viewpoints both conservative and progressive talk show hosts commonly claim a ideological lineage back to the founding fathers. The hope is to connect their line of thinking to the line of thinking that birthed this great country. I have always been particularly interested in the attempt to link the current conservative philosophy with that of the Federalist. And the most famous federalist is Alexander Hamilton.
Hamilton preferred an Aristocracy not a Democracy. As with most participants of the Constitutional Convention, he felt the Constitution was not the best document but the best compromise among so many competing interests. Most participants left the convention feeling that they had not gotten their preferences and voices heard. Hamilton more so, because of issues with his state’s delegatory make up. Hamilton expressed that he was content with a democracy, in that its weaknesses would eventually give way to his idea of an aristocracy.
Our first Secretary of Treasury was Hamilton. During the Revolutionary War, the federal government could only request states contribute to the federal war chest. Often states would contribute only pennies on a requested dollar. The states did have a somewhat valid excuse because they were funding individual state militias. Hamilton pushed vigorously for federal taxation of states. When his plan to tax alcohol was passed, the citizens rebelled. Hamilton reacted by not merely sending armed troops to arrest the dissenters, but joined them for the mission in what is known as the Whiskey Rebellion.
The idea for a National Bank to be run by the federal government came from Hamilton and met stiff resistance. When others argued that the Constitution did not allow Congress that authority, he argued that it could be done because the Constitution did not prohibit such an action.
Hamilton was anti-regulation, but not in how current conservatives are anti-regulation. Hamilton argued that if the federal government was empowered to regulate activity, it would be far better for the government to just take over the activity and do it itself. He argued regulating watchdogs would be horribly inefficient. Their only power would to be a deterrent to negative activity through threats of punitive fines. Why try to stop bad activity and wait to punish, when the government could just do it right the first time. As part of the government the regulated process would be open, transparent, and accountable directly to Congress.
Hamilton was an immigrant. Most politicians of the time spawned their careers in the states. Hamilton had no such ties/constraints, either financial or political. Being foreign born, his patriotism and motives were often criticized.
So now that we know some facts, read the hosts comments again. The host relies on us not knowing these facts to justify his rational. He stated that “even” a “strong government” advocate would be appalled at our current situation. That is of course impossible to know for sure, but Hamilton was a big government radical back then, what reason do we have for assuming that now his views would be different.
The host then makes a classic radio talk show move, and dumbs down the entire “big government” problem to speed limits and texting while driving. Why doesn’t he mention regulation, national banking system, or federal taxes? Because we already know what Hamilton’s views were on those issues. The host picks minor issues that were non-existent during Hamilton’s time so that he can’t be proven wrong.
The liberal radio hosts do the same thing, only in reverse. They champion Hamilton as a forward thinking progressive that would argue for national banking, for increased government take over of crucial industries, and for more taxes. It is the the other side of the same coin….the exact same coin.
There is no way to tell what Hamilton would say about our current government. Speculating about it, by actively ignoring the facts, is manipulation and disinformation.