Alexander Hamilton: Portrait in Paradox

By John C. Miller | Go to book overview

18.
The Bank of the United States

The funding of the national debt and the assumption of state debts had become law, but the price in the form of sectional and personal ill will came high. The national debt, instead of cementing the union politically, acted as a divisive force, and alarming fissures began to appear in the united front that the Federalists had presented to the Antifederalists in 1788. 1

From a purely financial point of view, Hamilton was entitled to be regarded as one of the greatest benefactors of the states: he had arranged for the federal government to assume their debts and he had paid them handsomely. Seemingly, he acted upon the maxim that nothing was too good for the states; yet he gained no honor in Virginia, where the funding-assumption law was regarded as a victory of northern speculators over the honest part of the community. One of the most forceful of Patrick Henry's objections to the Constitution was that it would make the southern states "the milch cow out of whom the substance would be extracted." The legislation adopted by Congress in the summer of 1790 appeared to many Virginians to be a milking machine invented by a Creole for the enrichment of the northern "moneyed interest."*2

These discontents found expression in two resolutions adopted by the Virginia House of Representatives late in 1790 in which certain aspects of the funding system were condemned as "dangerous to the rights and subversive of the interests of the people" and the assumption of the Virginia state debt pronounced to be "repugnant to the Constitution of the United States." For these reasons, the Virginia House of Representatives petitioned Congress to amend the funding act and to repeal the assumption law. 3

This call for action by the Virginia Assembly affected Hamilton like an alarm bell in the night. When urging the adoption of the Constitution, Hamilton had pictured the state legislatures as sentinels who would "sound the alarm if any thing improper should occur in the conduct of the national

____________________
*
There was more truth in this charge than Hamilton liked to acknowledge. In 1795, citizens of Massachusetts received over $300,000 in interest on United States securities, whereas citizens of Virginia received only $62,000.

-255-

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