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  •  I used to hate Hamilton's guts (1+ / 0-)
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    Mrs M

    Lately though, I've considerably warmed to him. It is probably true that he gave a number of sweetheart deals to business and financial interests, but at the same time he had a purpose when he did it that went beyond self-interest. I read somewhere (perhaps on here) that Hamilton's mindset was that people are going to be greedy bastards anyway, and so the best thing to do is to engineer and channel that greed so that it serves the public interest. He didn't care if someone became fantastically wealthy, so long as the overall result was good.

    Hamilton also had the advantage of understanding the long game. Strangely enough, he started out as almost a Tory, highly sympathetic to the idea of remaining a part of the British Empire. Somewhere along the way, though, he seems to have decided that the United States was better off going its own way and cutting its ties with Britain. Contrast this with Jefferson. For all his beautiful words, as the owner of a plantation that grew cash crops (tobacco), Jefferson would have naturally been in favor of free trade and continuing ties with Britain, the better to sell his cash crop to them.

    Jefferson can also be contrasted with Washington, who seems to have really believed in American independence, both political and economic. Of course, before the Revolution, Washington's plantation had also relied on cash crops, like practically every Southern plantation. After the Revolution, however, Washington realized that that would have to change. He saw that he couldn't continue to rely on selling a cash crop to England. So what did he do? He stopped relying on tobacco and had most of Mt. Vernon's planted fields with wheat. After all, everybody needs wheat to make flour, and consequently to make bread. The profit margins weren't as big, but the demand was much more steady, and the product could also be sold on the domestic as well as foreign market.

    Washington also began several side projects, including starting his own mill, a distillery (he became a major producer of rye whiskey), and a smithy. This diversification increased Mt. Vernon's profits. Contrast this with Jefferson's experience of continuing to rely on tobacco; he was at the mercy of the foreign tobacco market. If there was great demand, he had a hefty profit, but if demand was low, or if the English simply refused to buy his product, he suffered. It went on like this for several decades, years of feast and famine. It didn't help that Jefferson seemed incapable of sound financial planning; by the time of his death, he was nearly bankrupt.

    Getting back to Hamilton, Hamilton understood that for America to thrive, it needed to develop industry. Otherwise, it would forever stand in the shadow of the British Empire. A little known fact is that, for all that Hamilton was famous for his admiration of the British way of doing things, it was Jefferson who was prepared to come back under the British thumb. During the negotiations for the Louisiana Purchase, Jefferson informed his negotiators that if they couldn't get France to sell any of it, then they should go to the British government and see about making a deal, which was much more than even Hamilton would have contemplated doing. Fortunately, Napoleon only saw his American holdings as an unnecessary burden, and was perfectly happy to unload them for pennies per acre.

    Don't get me wrong, Hamilton had plenty of flaws. But he was a far better man than many people thought him, both at the time and since then. If anything, his biggest problem was a natural arrogance, born in part of being so damn smart and having risen from almost nothing.

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