Tag Archives: Hamilton

Mr. Madison’s Mind

Historians are often baffled by James Madison… In 1787, there was no stronger voice for nationalism and strengthening the federal government; yet, by 1790 he was battling one-time ally, Alexander Hamilton over the very powers they helped create.  Madison had become an advocate of limited government in less than a Presidential term.  What happened?

With friends like these...

With friends like these…

Madison was the “Father of the Constitution”… and creator of the Bill of Rights-  the commonly held description of our most overlooked Founder.  We view this change in his political outlook as inconsistency, or even a problem.  This opinion hangs on the assumption that Madison was responsible for the final draft of the Constitution.  He authored the Virginia Plan, the radical framework that altered the course of the 1787 Convention.  Of the document produced in September, Madison said,  “It ought to be regarded as the work of many heads and many hands.”  Most historians assumed Madison was being modest- in fact, he was expressing his displeasure with the process.  Madison wanted a Federal government that could control the wildly inconsistent passions of state governments, but he did not advocate a massive consolidation of power.

Author of the Virginia Plan

Author of the Virginia Plan

Federalist #10 is Madison’s warning aboutthe dangerous passions that consumed state governments.  From 1784 to 1787 he toiled in the Virginia legislature, witnessing the worst governance(or lack thereof) he could imagine.  The Federal government he envisioned would temper these passions(and blunders)  and provide the regulation to help the Union move forward. Madison opposed Hamilton’s financial programs because he feared they brought the same economic passions driving policy in the states  into Congress. The very threat Madison looked to alleviate caused his split Hamilton.  Madison remained consistent to the end. 



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Defining Misdemeanors

Madison and Hamilton allowed the grounds for impeachment of the President… open to necessary judgments and deliberations in the House of Representatives.  Madison’s original draft suggested only the term “maladministration” of the duties of the office.  Later amended to “misdemeanors” it is clear that the Framers were not only discussing indictable crimes- public men of this order would be above petty larceny and the like-  abuse of the office and the neglect of official duty is what concerned them.

You doubt our words?

Hamilton explained the difference in Federalist #65:

“Those offences which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated POLITICAL, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself.”

Impeachment applies to political abuses of the office… not necessarily criminal acts.  Delegates at the ratifying conventions were concerned about the President interfering in the legislative or judicial processes.  Madison responded to the concerns by equating such Constitutional misconduct with criminality:

“Were the President to commit any thing so atrocious… he would be impeached and convicted, as a majority of the states would be affected by his misdemeanor.”

Failing to discharge the duties of his office

The President cannot abuse or misuse the powers of his office… without risking impeachment.  The term “misdemeanor” as applied by the Framers establishes a standard extending far beyond simple criminal acts.  Public men should be held to a greater standard.



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On Impeachment

Supporters of corrupt Presidents, from Andrew Johnson to Bill Clinton… all use the same erroneous argument about the Impeachment provision of the Constitution.  “But he didn’t commit a high crime!”   


If only our Framers had specific indictable crimes in mind when they included… the all important Impeachment provision.  The historical record clearly shows “High crimes and misdemeanors”  is a standard based on all facets of public conduct.

Listen to this rap

In Federalist 65, Hamilton writes : “those offences which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated POLITICAL, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself.”


Madison argues in the Convention debates that impeachment can be used if the President “fails to discharge the duties of his office.”  

The Framer

“it will make him in a peculiar manner, responsible for [the] conduct” of executive officers. subject him to impeachment himself, if he suffers them to perpetrate with impunity high crimes or misdemeanors against the United States, or neglects to superintend their conduct, so as to check their excesses.”


Should we scrutinize the current occupant of the White House more diligently? 

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Great American Duels #1

Challenger:  Aaron Burr-  Vice President of the United States

Challenged:  Alexander Hamilton-  Former Secretary of the Treasury

The Offense:   Burr had been dropped from Thomas Jefferson’s ticket in 1804 and was seeking the Governorship in New York.  Alexander Hamilton’s opinion of Burr (“a most dangerous man not to be trusted with the reins of government”)  had been made public is several private letters that were published in Albany newspapers.  The concerted efforts of Hamilton and his allies cost Burr the election.   Burr protested, “political opposition can never absolve gentlemen from the necessity of a rigid adherence to the laws of honor and the rules of decorum.”  Hamilton accepted Burr’s challenge. 

A sketch of America’s most famous duel

Background:  The Burr-Hamilton feud can be traced to 1791, when Burr defeated Hamilton’s father-in-law in a New York Senate race.  In 1800, Hamilton used his influence in the House of Representatives to give the contested Presidential election to Thomas Jefferson over Burr.  Hamilton considered Burr an interloper whose ambition made him unfit for honorable public service.  Burr’s political career was clearly impeded by the efforts of Hamilton.  It seemed a duel was inevitable, yet historians debate the motivations of Hamilton and Burr.  Was Burr simply a murderer?  Did Hamilton have  a death wish?

The Burr-Hamilton pistols

 The Field of Honor:  July 11, 1804–  The duelists were rowed across the Hudson river to the heights of Weehawken, New Jersey.  Most historians now agree that Hamilton did not plan on firing at Burr.  Burr’s later statements indicate he had every intention of killing Hamilton.  The Seconds were instructed to turn away from the dueling ground, but the participants agree that Hamilton’s shot crashed into the tree branches above Burr’s head.  Burr took aim and struck Hamilton in the torso slashing his internal organs and lodging in his vertebrae.  Burr briefly showed concern, but his entourage rushed him back to Manhattan.  Hamilton died a day later.  Burr was never convicted of murder, though dueling was illegal in both New York and New Jersey. 

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History Wishes for the New Year

Things only a historian could wish for….

  • Paul Ryan becomes the next Henry Clay- reestablishing the power of Congress against an Imperial Presidency
  • Legitimate scholarship on the Obama Presidency
  • Completion of the Eisenhower Memorial on the National Mall- followed by greater appreciation of his Presidency
  • Congress take a leading role in preserving historical sites around the country
  • Stop destroying Confederate monuments
  • Stop flying the Confederate flag on government property
  • Stop the indiscriminate renaming of buildings and institutions- more debate, less emotion please
  • Judge historical figures in the context of THEIR time, not ours
  • A multi-volume biography of James Madison
  • More research, scholarship, and debate- fewer musicals
  • End all foolish talk of secession- 715,000 Americans died destroying that fallacy
  • A Civil War movie from the soldiers’ point of view- not politically correct drivel about race
  • More living historians- fewer PhD’s
  • Every vote counts- and the electoral process works- accept it.
Destroying history to feel "safe"

Destroying history to feel “safe”


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Some Electoral System Required

The movement for a national popular vote should never have started…. cries about democracy ring hollow in a country designed as a republic.  The election of 2016 should stand as definitive proof that a popular vote would diminish the authority of the states and make a mockery of these crucial elected offices.











Alexander Hamilton understood the dangers in allowing… the easily manipulated masses decide our paramount elections.

“Men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice.” Federalist 68


Demagogues and hucksters may be able to fool sizable groups… in specific locations(cities) but the Electoral College guards against such trickery,  “Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of President of the United States”


Has there ever been a candidate with such talent for low intrigue and the arts of popularity like Donald Trump?



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Strange Bedfellows

The election of 1800 definitively shows that politics… do indeed make strange bedfellows.  Because of vagaries in the original constitutional language, Aaron Burr tied Thomas Jefferson with 73 electoral votes.  Burr had reneged on his word to stand as Jefferson’s running mate as many states divided their electoral votes between the two candidates.  The matter was passed on to the lame-duck House of Representatives still filled with bitter Federalists.  Jeffersonians had swept the Federalists from power in the election, but the previous Congress would decide the Presidential contest.

Electoral results of 1800

Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson… were political opposites.  Their bickering in Washington’s cabinet had formed the nation’s first political parties.  Washington feared the daily conflicts “How unfortunate, and how much is it to be regretted then, that whilst we are encompassed on all sides with avowed enemies and insidious friends, that internal dissensions should be harrowing and tearing our vitals.”    Despite the rivalry, only Hamilton stood between Aaron Burr and the newly constructed Executive Mansion.  The Federalists in Congress seemed to favor Burr to their ideological opponent, Jefferson.

Final House vote, ballot 36

Hamilton did not savor the prospect of a Jefferson… presidency, but he would not have slept at night knowing he didn’t prevent Burr’s ascent to power.  Hamilton and Burr were bitter enemies in New York politics.  Hamilton understood Burr too well,   “a man of irregular and insatiable ambition … who ought not to be trusted with the reins of government.”   35 ballots were cast in the House, each one inching closer to a Burr victory.  Hamilton confronted his fellow Federalists and convinced enough of them to elect Jefferson on the 36th ballot.  This should rank as one of Hamilton’s greatest accomplishments.  He prevented one of the most dangerous people in our history from becoming President and he assured that the Jeffersonian revolution would proceed.  Strange indeed….

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