alexander_hamilton_portrait_by_john_trumbull_1806
Alexander Hamilton. By: John Trumbull.

It is no secret that Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton disliked each other. That rivalry culminated in the infamous duel in 1804, leaving Hamilton to die just days later. However, prior to that, Hamilton’s dislike of Burr led Hamilton to pontificate on which individuals would make the best politicians in America. See Gordon Wood, Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different, 237.

As a preliminary matter, the classical republican thinking was that only the wealthiest individuals in society who did not need to work could truly achieve the disinterestedness and impartiality required for making wise decisions in governing. Id.

Hamilton had other ideas. He acknowledged, in The Federalist, No. 35, “that mechanics, merchants, and farmers were deeply involved in the marketplace and that because they had interests to promote, they could never be trusted in politics to make disinterested judgments.” Id. quoting Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist, No. 35. However, he believed that members of the learned professions were capable of making disinterested judgments. See Gordon Wood, Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different, 237 citing Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist, No. 35.

In his mind, members of the learned professions “made the best kind of political leader[s].” Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist, No. 35. They would be more capable of being “an impartial arbiter” as they “will feel a neutrality to the rivalships between the different branches of industry.” See Gordon Wood, Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different, 237 citing Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist, No. 35.

Little did Hamilton realize what his remarks would create. Even now, lawyers and other professionals are viewed as “better equipped for disinterested political leadership than are merchants and businessmen.”Gordon Wood, Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different, 238.

While some may question whether the preferred virtues in a politician remain impartiality and disinterestedness, the learned professions have become necessary, but not sufficient, for an individual to be in elected office. The classical republican ideal of only the wealthiest individuals who were monied to the point where work was completely optional is obsolete in modern times. Working class individuals regularly are elected purely by their reputation and accomplishments.

Nonetheless, reflecting on Hamilton’s beliefs during the formative years of the Revolution and Early Republic reveals the extent of the transformation of republicanism in America. Rethinking old ideals, as Hamilton was doing, has led to more widespread equality and has inspired others to rethink other ideals that are antiquated. Through constantly updating America’s ideals, Americans can adapt while still ensuring equality and justice.

Advertisements