Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton were completely at odds in their vision on how America was to develop. Hamilton wanted to concentrate power in a centralized federal government with limited access and Jefferson wished to diffuse it among all the eligible freemen of the time. Alexander Hamilton feared anarchy and distrusted popular rule while Jefferson feared tyranny and thought in terms of liberty and freedom.
Thomas Jefferson was an agrarian soul who favored popular rule. He placed his trust in the land and the people who farmed it and desired that America would remain a nation of farmers. He emphasized liberty, democracy, and social welfare and believed that the main purpose of government was to assure freedom of its individual citizens. He had a fear of tyranny and distrusted centralized power, especially from an aristocracy or a moneyed class. Thomas Jefferson favored the spread of power ranging from the federal level to state and local levels. Jefferson stated, “I have never observed men’s honesty to increase with their riches.”
Alexander Hamilton, on the other side, distrusted popular rule and emphasized law, order, authority and property. Alexander Hamilton wanted to promote commerce and industry through a strong central government. He also would diversify American economic life by encouraging shipping and creating manufacturing by legislative directive. Hamilton also believed that a republican style of government could only succeed by the direction of a governing class. He believed that to preserve order and the alliance between business and government, the moneyed class and the wealthy aristocracy should hold all the power.
Another matter the two men disagreed on was the establishment of a national bank. Hamilton wanted a national bank so he could forge a relationship between business and the federal government. Jefferson, on the other hand, thought that such a bank would encourage people to leave agriculture for guesswork and give business interests too much power in the federal government.
Thomas Jefferson believed in the “strict interpretation” of the constitution, especially the Tenth Amendment. The Tenth Amendment states,” the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Jefferson argued that since the Constitution did not specifically empower the federal government to establish a national bank, thus it could not do so. Hamilton argued for a loose interpretation. He relied on the implied powers clause which states that Congress can make all laws “necessary and proper” for the execution of its power.
In retrospect, both men’s views had merit. Both views were necessary for a fledgling nation and both left a priceless heritage to our future. However, it is Jefferson’s faith in men and his idealism that gave more to our nation. The term Jeffersonian Democracy still means a dream of a limited government. Men in all classes from the urban workers to Western farmers and Southern planters embraced the idea and helped set up the strength of political parties.
Out of the divergent political philosophies of the two men came the first clearly defined political parties. These helped shape the nation by polarizing and unifying the electorate at the same time while providing a stability that helped this nation endure and prosper. The conflict between Jeffersonian and Hamiltonian ideas has continued out through to our present day issues. Generally, the American economy has prospered in the Hamiltonian way encouraging capitalism, while our political institutions and social aims are Jeffersonian in nature. It seems that the wisdom of the 18th century has endured clear through to the 21st. The present day issues are not all that dissimilar.