Alexander Hamilton: Forefather of the American Dream

Stephen Ontko

Washington, D.C., is adorned with grand monuments memorializing the greatest of America’s founding presidents. Yet one founder, though not adorned through the same perspective as the other founders and never a president, was absolutely essential in forging the constitutional democratic republic and economic system which the United States has inherited.

The PBS series “American Experience: Alexander Hamilton” accounts the life of Hamilton from his beginnings, where, unlike the other founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton was born outside the American colonies.

Hamilton’s original home of the West Indies was the setting for the sugar trade, a powerful source of economic might for the European superpowers of the day. This was a system that was built off some of the most brutal slave labor imaginable, and a backdrop of Hamilton’s childhood.

He studied at King’s College (now Columbia) as the American Revolution was underway, issuing essays in defense of the revolutionary cause.

As America declared independence, George Washington discovered Hamilton’s talents and assumed him as his aide-de-camp. While petitioning the Continental Congress for critical war supplies, Hamilton learned of the dangers from ineffective government when supply requests go unanswered in critical times.

Hamilton was instrumental in calling for the Constitutional Convention, defending the need for a strong, central government, eventually writing the Federalist Papers and providing valuable insight in interpreting the Constitution.

Once the new government was established, Washington appointed Hamilton as our nation’s first treasury secretary. Hamilton greatly influenced the direction of American policy with Washington approving Hamilton’s proposals.

Hamilton arranged for each individual states’ war debt be assumed by the federal government, to both further unify the states and to pay off the great war debt which was amassed. Due to this war debt, America was in terrible credit standing, undermining the credibility of the new country.

Alexander Hamilton built a system of commerce based on banking, stock ownership and bonds. Biographer Ron Chernow remarked that Hamilton was the only founding father to have correctly and fully established America as an economic power, and had the vision necessary to fulfill it. Hamilton established the national currency and encouraged developing industrial complexes before the industrial revolution gained steam.

Alexander Hamilton’s vision so significantly reverberated through American society that the first political parties of American politics emerged: the Federalists and Republicans. The world of industry, trade and commerce, which Hamilton established under the Federalists, is based on merit whereby the millions of immigrants who were able to improve their lives from their abilities, forging the concept of the American dream.

The agrarian society of the Jeffersonian Republicans, however, wasn’t based on one’s merits, but on that of the slaves that one owned, which Hamilton regarded as an egregious violation of human honor and elimination of talent, unable to advance based on their own merit. Unlike many founders, Hamilton never owned slaves and co-founded an abolitionist society in New York.

His achievements allowed the nation to arrive to where it is today. Hamilton’s success in reducing the national debt allowed the U.S. to have one of the highest credit ratings in the world. Hamilton’s opponents themselves benefited from his policies, this newfound credit of the U.S. allowed Jefferson to pursue the Louisiana Purchase.

Finance, industry, the market economy and union around a strong federal government are all of Hamilton’s pursuits and is the world we live in, not an agrarian economy dependent on slave labor. These achievements may not manifest themselves into monuments in our nation’s capital, but as historian Richard J. Payne notes, the United States we live in itself, is the mighty monument to which attests to the memory, and the accomplishments, of one of the best leaders this nation ever had.

Stephen Ontko is a senior economics major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].