Alexander Hamilton: Portrait in Paradox

By John C. Miller | Go to book overview

21.
The Opposition Emerges

Had Alexander Hamilton been content to be the spokesman of the majority of the people of the United States and to reflect faithfully their ideals and aspirations, he would never have written his reports or, had they been written, they would have been dedicated to furthering the immediate interests of agriculture. The prevailing ideas of the day were hostile to the kind of financial and economic planning that emanated from the office of the Secretary of the Treasury: Hamilton's plans were conceived by a minority, designed to benefit a minority and carried into execution by a minority. With characteristic audacity, he undertook to run a farmers' republic for the immediate profit of businessmen.

No wonder, therefore, as the planters and farmers beheld the landmarks of agricultural America slipping away, to be replaced by monuments to the "greed and cunning" of businessmen, speculators and bankers, they became increasingly distrustful of the federal government. The "energy" displayed by that government under the direction of the Secretary of the Treasury seemed directed wholly to the furtherance of commerce, manufacturing and the "fiscal faction." 1

For southern planters, the enemy was essentially the same antagonist that they had always faced. In place of British merchants and manufacturers, they were now obliged to do battle with northern merchants and manufacturers--which could hardly be accounted a victory, they lamented, for men who had fought a seven years' war for freedom. And, as they quickly learned, the "fiscal interest" led by Hamilton was an overmatch for the "agrarian interest." "The Bank has a flush of trumps," exclaimed John Taylor of Carolina. Since Taylor did not credit the farmers with holding more than a pair of deuces, he predicted that the Bank would take over the country--at which time it would presumably be known as the "United States of the Bank."2

In some degree, this was a struggle between different kinds of aristocrats. The planters of the South represented the old, established, landed wealth of the country, whereas Hamilton's capitalists and speculators were to a

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