Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Alexander Hamilton

“Oh Burr, Oh Burr, what have you done
You’ve killed the great Lord Hamilton”

He’s mostly renowned now for getting whacked in Jersey but Alexander Hamilton was a giant who strode many stages in the early days of this republic.

His achievements almost beggar belief: an intellectual giant he dashed off many of the Federalist Papers while running the US Treasury and guiding a nascent political movement, he was in the thick of every public debate and, oh by the way, he founded The New York Post

His personal bravery was beyond doubt – while still a student he publicly burned the British flag in New York City, he was General Washington’s most trusted aide and led a company of cavalry in the Revolutionary War; while at various times he was the darling or villain of the mobs that controlled the streets of America’s cities.

Though adored by his wife and family his private life was notorious – he was blackmailed and publicly humiliated by a femme fatale, while for sheer drama it would be hard to beat his bloody exit from this mortal coil.

A novelist wouldn’t dare come up with his story for he began life illegitimate and with little means on the Caribbean island of Nevis. Yet both current political parties have appropriated aspects of his legacy and claim him for their own.

He is the founding father of American corporate capitalism; but he wouldn’t be caught dead interfering with the politics of other nations, let alone fighting wars of choice half way around the globe.

Unlike Washington, Jefferson and the other slave-holding Virginian grandees, Hamilton foresaw that garrulous melting pot New York City with its eye for commerce would be the nexus of the new America.

His finest hour, however, was his insistence that the US assume and honor all state debts in the wake of the Revolutionary War - an extremely unpopular proposition in its day.
Hamilton’s belief was that a country that did not pay its way could be starved of credit, and he knew from his penurious days as a teenage bookkeeper on St. Kitts that credit greases the wheels of commerce.

The thirteen ravaged and rivalrous American states foresaw that the federal government’s accelerated repayment of debt would mean higher taxes and had little appetite for such hoists.

Hamilton had his way, however, even though it meant promising the Virginians – who had already retired most of their debt - that the US capital would be built amidst the swamps of the Potomac.

Remarkably, the crippling national debt was reduced far quicker than the naysayers had expected, and to add insult to injury Hamilton tossed in the seeds of the modern Fed with his creation of the First Bank of the United States.

Jefferson and Madison claimed that such an entity was unconstitutional and would benefit merchants and investors at the expense of the population – and so it goes.

It’s intriguing to imagine what the great Lord Hamilton would have recommended to us in our present financial crisis. You can be sure that anyone who bartered away the national capital to a swamp in DC would have encouraged, nay demanded, compromise.

My guess is that he would have taken a horse-whip to both Speaker Boehner and President Obama on their failure to close the 2011 deal for the great 3.4 trillion tradeoff on federal cuts and higher taxes.

Although a conservative at heart, he knew that commerce cannot flourish unless a strong federal government provides and maintains a stable currency, consistent business laws and an extensive and well-maintained infrastructure. He feared neither debt nor taxes feeling that in a thriving economic environment debt could be paid down gradually by rising government revenues.

This master of the possible must be turning in his grave at the current health care crisis. Costs are not only hobbling US citizenry, they continue to make many American industries non-competitive overseas. The conservative Hamilton would have had few scruples in harnessing the federal government to deliver economical health care and to hell with labels and ideology!

“Where have you gone, Alexander Hamilton, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you…”

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