Peter McNamara, Political Economy and Statesmanship: Smith, Hamilton, and the Foundation of the Commercial Republic. (DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press, 1997). 256 pp., $35.00 hard.
Public administration scholarship cannot ignore the remarkable accomplishments of Alexander Hamilton, a man who contributed more to the design of American governance but received less public recognition than perhaps any other. The most practical nation builder of the Founding Fathers, Hamilton (1755-1804) fought tirelessly for ratification of the Constitution, played a pivotal role in creating a centralized and powerful nation-state, and argued persuasively for a strong presidency and an independent judiciary. It was Hamilton, at the beginning of the nation's history, who provided a prophetic vision of the United States as a global power stabilized by capitalism and with a military second to none.
Arnold Rogow, John Gordon, and Peter McNamara offer three new books that increase our understanding of the energetic but complicated Hamilton. Each of the authors contributes a unique perspective on Hamilton's personality, accomplishments, and political and economic thought. Rogow provides a rather harsh portrait of Hamilton in his treatise on the relationship with his political nemesis, Aaron Burr, who killed him in a duel in 1804. Gordon gives a much more favorable view of Hamilton in his lively history of taxation and the national debt, as does McNamara, who compares the economic theories of Hamilton and the legendary economist, Adam Smith. While not true biographies, all three books clarify the rather vague image of an exceptional public servant.
An Ambiguous Place in History
Despite the efforts of scholars to describe the complicated Hamilton, his image in the American consciousness. remains cloudy and somewhat negative. This obscure role is in part due to the overpowering iconic status of Hamilton's political enemy, Thomas Jefferson. A tour of Jefferson's home at Monticello highlights Hamilton's rather ancillary place in American history. When one enters Monticello, one of the first and more obvious sights is a large portrait of Jefferson hanging on the left side of the hallway. Just opposite and to the right of the portrait, but less conspicuous, sits a bust of Hamilton. Jefferson reportedly placed Hamilton's bust facing his own portrait so that the two rivals would be "opposed in death as in life." Jefferson's dominant image persists today, as politicians are fond of quoting Jefferson and, regardless of political leanings, claim to be Jeffersonian. Few, if any, admit to being Hamiltonian. The irony is that Hamilton's concept of the federal government, not Jefferson's, has evolved and endures.
During their lives, the two men waged an epic ideological struggle over the form of the government and its relationship to society. The debate between Jefferson's "strict constructionist" theory of decentralized democracy, where "government that governs best governs least," and Hamilton's opposing image of a centralized federal government with significant "implied" powers continues unresolved. The debate frames the perpetual issue of American politics, the power relationship between the national and state governments. Recent Supreme Court decisions that are more sympathetic to states' rights and policy trends toward devolution, deregulation, decentralization, and privatization illustrate the constantly changing federal/state relationship and the …