Ronald Reagan's America - Vol. 1

By Eric J. Schmertz; Natalie Datlof et al. | Go to book overview

5
Ronald Reagan's Public Philosophy: Strands of Jefferson and Hamilton

Andrew E. Busch

From the earliest days of the republic, American political discourse has largely consisted of a dialogue between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. The two men were harsh antagonists in life, and the first party system was derived from the conflict in George Washington's cabinet between Jefferson and Hamilton, and subsequently between supporters of the two men in Congress, over questions of debt assumption, constitutional interpretation, and policy toward revolutionary France. 1 After they passed from the scene, their ideas have continued to dominate national debate. Indeed, Daniel Boorstin remarked, "Today it is still taken for granted the proper arena of controversy was marked off once and for all in the late eighteenth century: we are either Jeffersonians or Hamiltonians. In no other country has the hagiography of politics been more important." 2 However, while Jeffersonianism and Hamiltonianism still serve as the bedrocks of American political thought, they are seldom found in unadulterated form; and it is worth remembering that they can be so readily intermixed precisely because they are not antithetical dogmas but rival tendencies within a common frame of constitutional republicanism. 3

It seems clear in retrospect that Ronald Reagan's political successes can be attributed in no small part to the way in which his public philosophy wove together strands of each tradition in an appealing fashion. This can be seen in Reagan's approach to a variety of issues that will be examined below: the role of government in society, the role of the federal government vis-à-vis the states, the role of the presidency, the role of commerce, the role of tradition in society, and the role of the United States in the world.

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