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The Jeffersonian and Hamiltonian Philosophies

After the first constitution of the United States of America was ratified, there emerged two competing philosophies about the role of the federal government. These philosophies were the Jeffersonian democracy, mainly advocated by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison; and federalism, which was advocated the then Secretary of Treasury, Alexander Hamilton. Alexander Hamilton was an American statesman who became renowned for his financial policies that facilitated the settling of debt incurred during the American Revolution. He is also remembered as the primary author of “The Federalist” publications who tirelessly advocated for a strong central government. His advocacy emphasized on the doctrine of having “implied powers” in the states, which would serve to advance the broad interpretation of the American Constitution. His views have been invoked severally to warrant the federal authority extension, also to justify some of the Supreme Court decisions.

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Thomas Jefferson is remembered as the third president of America who served between 1801 and 1809. Earlier on, he was a member of a five-man committee appointed to draft the Declaration of Independence. The committee chose Jefferson as the author of the declaration as he was considered to among the most brilliant people in history. After he had completed drafting it, he and Benjamin Franklin revised the document. Jefferson was a person with boundless interests, and this made his accomplishments varied and great. Among his other notable achievements were serving as a member of the Virginia Legislature, the Governor of Virginia (Willard 25), a congressman in the confederation, the diplomatic representative to France, the Secretary of State, the Vice President, the pioneer of scientific farming, and being among the initial advocators of democracy. His lifetime goal was to develop an American government that best assured the citizens of their freedom and well-being. He is credited for strengthening the executive arm of government who exercised great control over the congress. His great optimism for the popular rule is what led to the “Jeffersonian democracy”.

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Jefferson’s Quarrels with Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson political views were always at odds. Jefferson views were rational and optimistic, and he recommended a popular government which would safeguard the people’s rights to the land they farmed. He believed that the aim of the government should be the individual citizens of their freedom. Fearing tyranny, he discouraged the centralization of power, and promoted the idea of spreading power between the local, state, and federal levels of governance (Merrill 446).

By contrast, Alexander Hamilton warned against the popular rule. To emphasize on his views, he once exclaimed, “The People! …’the people’ is a great beast”. While Jefferson advocated for an economy that is based on agriculture, and emphasized on individual freedom, Hamilton labored to promote a powerful central government, industry, and commerce. He believed that the economy would only flourish with a strong central government (Merrill 446). His view on an orderly preservation of the alliance was that instead of a popular government, the wealthy aristocracy and the moneyed class should be allowed to hold the entire political power. Jefferson contradicted this view by noting that a man’s honesty decreases as his riches increase.

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On assuming the position of the Secretary of State, Jefferson and Hamilton disagreed on how the government ought to handle the debts that had been incurred during the revolution by the individual states. Hamilton wished that the government pay these debts. He believed that this would strengthen the central authority. Hamilton was a New Yorker, and New York had not paid her debt. Jefferson, a Virginian objected arguing that a majority of the Southern states like Virginia had already settled a considerable amount of their debts, and it would be unfair if the paid those incurred by the Northern States. The issue was resolved through a political compromise. To satisfy the Southerners, there was an agreement that the future national capital would be moved from Philadelphia to a location in the South along the Potomac River. This location is what came to be known as Washington, D.C. According to the agreement, Jefferson had to the Southern legislators into voting in favor of the proposal put forward by Hamilton. Therefore, the government assumes all the debts incurred by the states during the Revolution.

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Jeffersonian and Hamiltonians also disagreed on the formation of a national bank. Hamilton argued that such a bank would ensure harmony between the federal government and the business community (Merrill 470). This would be the case as the bank would be of common interest to both. Jefferson thought that the bank would entice people to abandon agriculture in order to engage in speculation, also make the corporations to be very influential on matters of governance.

The divergent views of the Hamiltonian and the Jeffersonian philosophies led to the emergence of political parties in America. Hamilton’s followers were known as the Federalists who later formed the Federalist Party. Those of Jefferson were Republicans, and they later came to be members of the Democratic-Republic Party. This development heightened the feelings of politicians, and dirty campaign ensured (Dumas 282). The Federalists considered Jefferson a demagogue and an atheist. Jefferson’s camp accused the Federalists of intending to set-up a monarchy like that of Britain.

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Another discrepancy was the American relationship with Great Britain. After the defeat in the Revolution, Britain declined to approve a trade pact with America. Jefferson believed that blackmailing Britain was the only solution that would address this challenge. He recommended that the American government impose and embargo against Britain, and demand that the European nation relinquish all the forts it held in the North-west Territory. Hamilton opposed the idea of imposing an embargo arguing that such an action would economically hurt America. The government failed to support the Jefferson’s idea of an embargo. It was only when he became president that the embargo was imposed.


The Hamiltonian philosophy dominated the policy formulation after the new government was formed in 1789, and in the early 1790s. President Washington had a lot of trust in him. Despite this earlier Hamiltonian success, it is hard to point out which side won because, in most cases, the disputes were resolved through compromise. The conflicting views based on the ideas of Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson still exists. On examining the American society, it is evident that the American capitalist based economy evolved along Hamiltonian views while the social aims and Political institutions developed along the Jeffersonian lines. The two viewpoints still have considerable support.

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