In 1786 at a convention called for the purpose of addressing changes to the commercial regulations facing the new country, Alexander Hamilton was sent to represent New York. Since many states neglected even to send a representative the only actual accomplishment of the convention was the result of Hamilton’s calling for a constitutional convention to be held the following year to address changes to the Articles of Confederation
Once George Washington was elected President, Hamilton’s political career kicked into high gear upon his becoming America’s very first Secretary of the Treasury. Hamilton’s economic vision for the country was based on a strong national bank that, through taxation and tariffs, would create a powerful economy participated in by all aspects of the population and that would eventually profit all communities. He presented an analysis of how public credit could be utilized to fund both national and international debts, including the federal assumption of the liabilities still left over from the Revolutionary War. In turn, debts incurred by the federal government would be converted into interest-bearing maturation bonds. Hamilton’s vision was one that foresaw a stabilization of the country’s finances in the pursuit of credit to be established throughout the much richer European nations .
The real reason that Alexander Hamilton is one of the few non-Presidents to appear on contemporary currency is due to his work in establishing the banking system of the United States, a system that is still essentially the same as he envisioned. Hamilton, well-aware that he was playing with fire in the form of opposition to his federalist political theories, eventually issued a detailed study that outlined the necessity for establishing a strong national bank to be based on the National Bank of England. The structure of the bank was designed to prevent the corruption that Hamilton saw as inherent in private ownership of banks by being nationalized and run by a privately elected board of governors. The details of his study also outlined how a strong national bank would provide for safe and protected deposits while also allowing for proper regulation. And, finally, a federal bank would endorse and demand a uniform currency to be recognized and accepted through the states.
Alexander Hamilton’s impact on American history is perhaps the least realized and appreciated of any of those names instantly recognizable in any elementary school. While every first grader knows George Washington was America’s first President, an argument can be made that Washington’s Secretary of the Treasury has had a greater impact on the daily lives. What is perhaps most interesting about Alexander Hamilton’s legacy is that despite the fact that he was not fully supportive of the Constitution, he played a vital role in its adoption. For Hamilton, though the Constitution was imperfect, it still represented a substantial improvement over the alternative: the Articles of Confederation.
Hamilton was a strong proponent of a forceful central government and his theories were a foundation for the New Deal programs under Pres. Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In addition, the banking system of America as practiced today is a direct descendent of Hamilton’s plans. Had the opposition to Hamilton’s centralized banking theories been successful it is quite possible to argue that contemporary economics in America would be no different today; the result of Hamilton’s plans eventually coming to be seen as infinitely superior and any alternative system being abandoned shortly after implementation.
Another, far less inspiring Hamiltonian legacy is the institution of the more republican aspects of American government over its Jeffersonian democratic principles. In accordance with his beliefs in a strong federal government, Hamilton’s desires were for a government run by an educated elite, taking power away from the uneducated masses. That vision perhaps reached its apotheosis when an elite majority of the Supreme Court overruled the will of the majority of citizens in 2000 and awarded the Presidency to the man who had garnered fewer votes in the popular election. Alexander Hamilton has often been criticized, in fact, as being a proponent of a semi-monarchical system of government. It is easy to imagine Hamilton being unpleasantly surprised to find how easily a semi-monarchical leadership practiced by idiots could become a reality.