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J e f f e r s o n a n d H a m i lt o n

BY THE SAME AUTHOR The Ascent of George Washington: The Hidden Political Genius of an American Icon Almost a Miracle: The American Victory in the War of Independence A Leap in the Dark: The Struggle to Create the American Republic Setting the World Ablaze: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and the American Revolution The First of Men: A Life of George Washington Adams vs. Jefferson: The Tumultuous Election of 1800 John Adams: A Life Struggle for a Continent: The Wars of Early America Independence: The Struggle to Set America Free


The Rivalry That Forged a Nation




Copyright © 2013 by John Ferling All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information address Bloomsbury Press, 1385 Broadway, New York, NY 10018. Published by Bloomsbury Press, New York All papers used by Bloomsbury Press are natural, recyclable products made from wood grown in well-managed forests. The manufacturing processes conform to the environmental regulations of the country of origin. library of congress cataloging-in-publication data Ferling, John E. Jefferson and Hamilton : the rivalry that forged a nation / by John Ferling. — First U.S. edition. pages cm Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-1-60819-528-2 (alk. paper) 1. Jefferson, Thomas, 1743–1826—Political and social views. 2. Hamilton, Alexander, 1757–1804—Political and social views. 3. United States—History—1783–1815. 4. United States—Politics and government—1789–1797. 5. United States—Politics and government—1797–1801. I. Title. E332.2.F47 2013 973.09'9—dc23 2013000824 First U.S. Edition 2013 1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2 Typeset by Westchester Book Group Printed and bound in the U.S.A. by Thomson-Shore Inc., Dexter, Michigan

To Lorene Flanders and all those in the Irvine Sullivan Ingram Library who have provided so much assistance over the years








Coming of Age Chapter 1

“To make a more universal Acquaintance”: Unhappy Youths


The American Revolution Chapter 2

“The galling yoke of dependence”: Becoming Rebels


“Is my country the better for my having lived”: Making the American Revolution


Chapter 4 “If we are saved, France and Spain must save us”: The Forge of War


Chapter 5 “Our Affairs seem to be approaching fast to a happy period”: Glory for Hamilton, Misery for Jefferson


Chapter 3

Postwar America Chapter 6

“The inefficacy of the present confederation”: Grief and Intrigue

Chapter 7 Chapter 8


“They will go back good republicans”: Jefferson in Paris


“To check the imprudence of democracy”: Hamilton and the New Constitution



CO NT E N T S The Struggle to Shape the New American Republic Chapter 9

“The greatest man that ever lived was Julius Caesar”: The Threshold of Partisan Warfare

Chapter 10


“Devoted to the paper and stockjobbing interest”: Unbridled Partisan Warfare


Chapter 11 “A little innocent blood”: To the Mountaintop and to the Top of the Mountain


Chapter 12

“A colossus to the antirepublican party”: The Election of 1796 Chapter 13


“The man is stark mad”: Partisan Frenzy


Chapter 14 “The gigg is up”: The Election of 1800


Chapter 15 “This American world was not made for me”: A Glorious Beginning and a Tragic End




Select Bibliography









The sun struggled to peek through the scudding winter clouds as Bill and Hillary Clinton strode briskly up the steps of Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s majestic mountaintop home outside Charlottesville, Virginia. It was January 17, 1993. Just three days away from becoming America’s forty-second chief executive, Clinton had chosen to embark on his inaugural festivities at the residence of his namesake, the nation’s third president. The visitors were given a tour of the mansion, after which they joined a motorcade for the journey to Washington. When Clinton took office in a festive ceremony on January 20, he spoke of Jefferson in his inaugural address, describing the Founder as an apostle of change. Jefferson, said President Clinton, had believed in democracy and knew that periodic “dramatic change” was essential in order to “revitalize our democracy” and “preserve the very foundations of our nation.” To endure, Clinton said, America “would have to change,” but the changes must come within the framework of “America’s ideals” as set forth by Jefferson: “life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness,” and the equality of all humankind. As it had been during Jefferson’s time, Clinton continued, each generation was compelled to “define what it means to be an American.”1 Clinton returned for a second visit to Monticello only seventy-five days into his presidency, and throughout his term he spoke so often of his predecessor that a national news magazine referred to Jefferson as “Bill Clinton’s muse.” Clinton even enlisted Jefferson in the fight for national health insurance, avowing that Jefferson would be shocked to learn that not every American had access to affordable health care. As had Jefferson, Clinton said that he believed “democracy would rise or fall not on the strength of some political elite, but on the strength of ordinary people who hold a stake in . . . how our society works.”2 Clinton’s successor, George W. Bush, said little about Jefferson. Bush was drawn more toward a different founder, Alexander Hamilton. On May 30, 2006, a spring-soft morning in the capital, Bush walked from the Oval Office



to the Rose Garden to announce the appointment of a new secretary of the Treasury. In his remarks, the president said that he hoped his appointee, Henry Paulson, would follow the example of Alexander Hamilton, the first Treasury secretary, in overseeing the “management of public finances” that were crucial to “the health and competitiveness of the American economy.” Above all, Bush desired that Paulson would, like Hamilton, use his talent and “wisdom to strengthen our financial markets and expand the reach of the American Dream.”3 George Washington was the one who made things happen, but while he was the prime mover in Revolutionary America, it was Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, more than any others, who shaped the new American nation. The strong central government, our system of finance, and the industrial vigor of the United States are Hamilton’s legacy. America’s bedrock belief in equality, its quest for novelty, and the continental span of the nation were bequeathed to succeeding generations by Jefferson. Hamilton’s and Jefferson’s contrasting views on the shape of the new American republic—its government, society, and economy—sparked a bitter rivalry. Furthermore, the ideas and issues that divided those two Founders have persisted from generation to generation in American politics. Their opposing views are like the twin strands of DNA in the American body politic. In the nineteenth century, partisans clashed over banks, tariffs, the money supply, and workers’ rights, among other things. In subsequent generations, political parties have battled over issues such as regulation of trade, the distribution of wealth and power, and government’s role in health care. Always, however, the divisions in these battles stretch back to the fundamental differences that separated Jefferson and Hamilton: faith in democracy, commitment to civil liberties, trust in the wholesomeness of market forces, the availability of individual opportunities and security, toleration of dissent, the scope of the military, and above all, the depth and breadth of government intrusiveness. Jefferson’s and Hamilton’s standing in the minds of Americans has hardly been constant. For decades following Jefferson’s election to the presidency in 1800, a contest that spelled political ruin for Hamilton, the Virginian captured the hearts of Americans. All the while, Hamilton slid, if not into oblivion, at least into the dark shadows of history. The Democratic-Republican Party, or Democratic Party, as it was known by the 1820s, had been Jefferson’s, and it was largely predominant until the mid-nineteenth century. A succession of Democratic presidents kept alive the memory of Jefferson as the



author of the American creed—which he had articulated in the Declaration of Independence—while portraying their administrations as locked in battle against latter-day Hamiltonians. Andrew Jackson, who was often called the “second Jefferson,” saw American history as a struggle between those who feared the people and those who resisted “the selfishness of rulers independent” of the people. Jackson called his foes “the Monarchical party,” as had Jefferson, and he depicted his administration as battling the anti-democratic tools of wealthy merchants and financiers. Jacksonians toasted the “PLANTER – JEFFERSON” for sowing the “Democratic Tree of Liberty,” which they insisted Jackson had brought to “blossom like the Rose.”4 But a great shift occurred in the second half of the nineteenth century. The reputation of Jefferson, a Southerner and a slave owner, suffered nearly mortal wounds in the hearts of many Americans in the wake of Southern secession, civil war, and the repudiation of slavery. The standing of Hamilton, who had been a proponent of a strong national government, soared, and he ascended even higher in America’s pantheon of heroes as the country entered the Industrial Age later in the century. While treasury secretary, Hamilton had offered an alternative to Jefferson’s agrarianism, ultimately making possible the explosive growth of the American economy. As the century ended, Hamilton was touted as the creator of modern capitalism and the first American businessman, and in 1900, when New York University established a Hall of Fame to honor eminent Americans, Hamilton was the first inductee.5 Industrialization was a double-edged sword. It provided new social, cultural, and material opportunities, but wealth and power were soon concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. Giant corporations and important financiers exercised nearly unmatched political clout, while unprecedented numbers of Americans lived in squalor and coped with dangerous and exploitive working conditions. Jefferson’s reputation rebounded, especially in the South and the Great Plains, home to farmers who saw themselves as victims of railroads, tariffs, and the fiscal policies of a national government in the grasp of corporate and financial giants. Jefferson’s image took on renewed luster among those who feared his vision of an Arcadian America was vanishing before new hordes of Hamiltonians. William Jennings Bryan, the foremost spokesman for the oppressed farmers, was saluted in the 1890s as “the Jefferson of today.” In hundreds of speeches, Bryan exhorted his followers to espouse “Jeffersonian principles with Jacksonian courage.” He proclaimed that Jefferson had stood for “equal rights for all, special privileges for none.” Others who resisted privilege, monopolies, and centralized authority reminded their followers of Jefferson’s “sympathy with popular rights” and his belief



that “all civil power should be . . . exercised that the interest and happiness of the great mass of the people would be secured.” In the shadow of the first laudatory biographies of Hamilton, two editions of Jefferson’s papers were issued beginning in the 1890s. They were accompanied by several favorable life histories. A veritable army of historians portrayed Jefferson as having stood for advancing the liberating tendencies unleashed by the American Revolution while Hamilton had represented the forces of reaction. Busts, statues, and memorials of Jefferson sprang up across the landscape. Democratic Clubs sponsored a Jefferson celebration at Monticello in 1896, and the next year the Democratic Party inaugurated its Jefferson Day Dinner, which thereafter has been held annually on the anniversary of the Founder’s birthday. Attendees sang a song with lyrics proclaiming Jefferson the “symbol of the nation” who had stood for “the Universal Brotherhood of Man.” Many of the tributes to Jefferson portrayed each federal law that aided Wall Street and corporate America as “a monument to the memory of Alexander Hamilton.” In the 1920s, countrywide fundraising efforts, including “Jefferson Week” in April 1924, raked in money as part of a generation-long campaign to make Monticello a public memorial. During the Independence Day celebrations in 1926, the sesquicentennial of America’s break with Great Britain, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation formally dedicated Monticello and opened it to the public. In 1927, the gigantic sculpture at Mt. Rushmore was dedicated, a shrine to Jefferson, Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt as the greatest Americans. Hamilton did not fade away during the reawakening of appreciation for Jefferson. President Theodore Roosevelt was the first occupant of the White House to openly extol Hamilton, calling him “the most brilliant American statesman who ever lived.” Roosevelt also praised Hamilton as having possessed the “loftiest and keenest intellect” among the Founding Fathers, touted his “constructive statesmanship,” and asserted that he had “a touch of the heroic, the touch of the purple, the touch of the gallant.” Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts was of like mind. A biographer of Hamilton, Lodge praised his subject as an exemplary American nationalist. Roosevelt and his followers understood that the national government had to play a role in coping with the harshness and inequities ushered in by industrialization and urbanization. Hamilton, the exponent of a strong executive branch and broad federal powers, was their hero. Some turned their scorn and malice on Jefferson, suggesting that a Jefferson government was a do-nothing government.



Roosevelt and his adherents were also ultranationalists who longed to extend the reach of American power, influence, and economic interests. They were drawn to Hamilton, the exponent of a robust, powerful United States capable not only of defending itself but also of expanding its borders. Early in the twentieth century, the admirers of Hamilton erected statues in his honor in numerous communities, organized a movement to preserve his home in Manhattan, the Grange, and in 1904 commemorated the centennial of his death. In the 1920s the Coolidge administration put Hamilton’s image on the ten-dollar bill (and Jefferson’s on the seldom-seen two-dollar bill).6 Nevertheless, Hamilton never eclipsed Jefferson in popularity in earlytwentieth-century America, and admiration of the nation’s first Treasury secretary vanished almost entirely during the Great Depression. In the 1930s, Franklin Delano Roosevelt governed through a New Deal coalition of farmers and urban industrial workers seeking relief from the economic collapse and eager for social and economic reforms, and he openly embraced the legacy of Jefferson. Indeed, FDR was sometimes called the “new Jefferson.” FDR saw the battle waged by the New Deal against “the moneyed class” as similar to Jefferson’s struggle against Hamiltonianism. “Hamiltonians we have today,” FDR said, pointing to them as his implacable adversaries. Time and again, FDR decried these Hamiltonians as exponents of dominion by Wall Street and America’s economic elite. New Dealers characterized their programs as built on a Jeffersonian template of opposition to oppression. They were kindred spirits of Jefferson, they said, with the similar design “to promote the interests and opportunities of the people.” In hyperbole seldom matched by an occupant of the White House, FDR even labeled Jefferson the “great commoner.” New Dealers willfully styled Hamilton as a “fascist” as well as “a great beast” who had evinced only loathing for ordinary citizens. Admiration for Jefferson peaked during those years. The Jefferson postage stamp and nickel appeared in 1938, the latter with his profile on one side and an image of Monticello on the other. In 1943, on the chilly, windy bicentennial of his birth, the Jefferson Memorial in Washington was officially dedicated to America’s “Apostle of Freedom” who had “sworn . . . eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the minds of men.” Merrill Peterson, a Jefferson biographer, remarked that the memorial was “the most important thing to happen to Jefferson” since his death in 1826 and proclaimed Jefferson as “the heroic voice of imperishable freedoms,” standing in the “radiant center” of the American ideal.7 In the past half century Hamilton’s reputation has been on the uptick while Jefferson’s has plunged once more. As the shroud of the Cold War fell over America, Hamilton was venerated as a foreign policy wizard who had



championed a firm hand in the conduct of diplomacy. Furthermore, with the first signs in the 1960s of the resurrection of conservatism from its Great Depression near-death experience, Hamilton reemerged to become what one magazine called the “patron saint” of the political right wing. His ser vice on behalf of the financial sector and his commitment to a free market economy were applauded. The bicentennial of Hamilton’s birth was widely celebrated in 1957, and five years later Congress approved a bill making the Grange a national memorial. Meanwhile, Jefferson’s reputation suffered during the civil rights era. He came to be viewed in many quarters as a hypocrite who had posed as an exponent of human rights while owning slaves and espousing racist sentiments. In the wake of DNA testing in 1998 that appeared to confirm long-standing charges that he had fathered at least one child by one of his slaves, Jefferson’s reputation sank further. Many thought of him as the lecherous exploiter of a helpless woman that he owned. In some circles, Jefferson came to be seen with such contempt that movements arose to rename schools that bore his name. In 2012, an opinion essay by a prominent scholar in the normally sober New York Times called Jefferson the “monster of Monticello.”8 Before President Clinton, John F. Kennedy was the last Democratic chief executive to speak often of Jefferson. Kennedy supposedly reread Jefferson’s first inaugural address on the evening prior to his own inauguration and pronounced it “better than mine.” At a 1962 dinner to honor Nobel Prize winners, Kennedy famously remarked that the honorees were the “most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever gathered at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.” 9 By 1980, when Ronald Reagan was elected to the presidency, nearly every vestige of Jefferson’s America had disappeared. Cities had swelled. The number of farmers had shrunk to less than 5 percent of the nation’s population. Jefferson’s America seemed as remote as powdered wigs and silk stockings. Moreover, with Reagan’s presidency, and the accompanying triumph of neoconservatism, adulation of Hamilton soared to heights nearly as lofty as reverence for Jefferson had been half a century earlier. Reagan spoke of the “wisdom of Hamilton’s insight” and the “ever perspicacious Hamilton.” Another wave of admiring biographies appeared, most proclaiming that the America of the late twentieth century was Hamilton’s legacy. Modern-day Hamiltonians maintained that the United States’ emergence as the world’s greatest industrial power and the global center of high finance and central banking was due to Hamilton’s creative genius and the forces he had set in motion. A PBS documentary in 2004 christened Hamilton the “forgotten father” of America. That same year the New-York Historical Society unveiled



an exhibit on Hamilton’s life and work. Conceived by an editor of the National Review, a leading conservative magazine, the show was titled “The Man Who Made Modern America.” George Will, the conservative columnist, had enunciated a similar view years earlier, writing that there was “an elegant memorial in Washington to Jefferson, but none to Hamilton. However, if you seek Hamilton’s monument, look around. You are living in it. We honor Jefferson, but live in Hamilton’s country.”10 If history is a guide, the loft y ascent of Hamilton’s reputation and Jefferson’s corresponding decline will not last forever. But one thing seems certain. Politics in its broadest framework is likely to witness continuing divisions over the competing ideas that set Jefferson and Hamilton at odds. This book about Jefferson and Hamilton explores what shaped the thinking and behavior of each man. It inquires into their activities during the American Revolution and the war that accompanied it, their hopes for the new American nation, and the political warfare that each waged against the ideas of the other. But the book is about more than ideology and political confrontations. It aims to discover what shaped these men’s temperament, to understand the character of each, and to explain the role of character in the choices that each made. It also seeks to answer not only what made each a leader but also how each met the hard tests of leadership. Finally, the book seeks to peel away their public personae to discover the private sides of Jefferson and Hamilton. When I began this book some three years ago, I held Jefferson in higher esteem than I did Hamilton. I had not always had such a high opinion of Jefferson, but I had grown more positive toward him in the course of working on several books on the early Republic. My admiration grew as I followed the thread of his social and political thought through decade after decade. I wasn’t surprised by that, but what I did find a bit startling was that I grew far more appreciative of Hamilton. I saw much that was noble in his sacrifices and valor as a soldier, much that was praiseworthy in his political and polemical skills, and much that was especially laudable in his vision for the nation and the nation’s economy. As I was beginning this project, Don Wagner, a political scientist and longtime friend, remarked to me that it would not be easy to get inside the heads of Jefferson and Hamilton. “Men like that think differently than you and me,” Don said. He was correct. It was never easy, but the challenge to come to grips with men of such soaring ambition and legendary objectives, men who played for the highest stakes, made working on the book all the more exciting.



Another challenge was that Jefferson and Hamilton lived in a strikingly different period. I have sought to understand each man in the context of the time in which he lived and acted. Intriguingly, however, I found much that was surprisingly familiar, especially the ways of politics and politicians, not to mention the attraction of power and what some will do to acquire it, and keep it. As this book took shape, I realized how much my life and thought had been shaped by Jefferson and Hamilton. My maternal ancestors had followed Jefferson’s dream, one generation after another marching westward through Virginia, into Pennsylvania, and finally just across the border into West Virginia, always owning their farms and carving out for themselves the very sort of independent life that Jefferson had cherished. A third of the way into the twentieth century, my grandfather’s children—including my mother— received college educations. The Ferling side of my family, which arrived in America only in the 1870s, faced a hardscrabble future, but they made their way along the path prepared by Hamilton, working in industry. My father, the son of a glass cutter, was a hard hat who worked for a large petrochemical company. I was a member of the fourth generation of the paternal side of my family in America, and the first to attend college. In the course of writing this book, I came to think that the educational opportunities that had fallen into my lap—and the laps of a great many others like me—was one of the things that Hamilton envisaged in his plans for the American economy. A word about the book’s mechanics. First, the numbered endnotes are preceded by a list of secondary sources that were especially valuable and pertinent. See the Select Bibliography—and also the “Abbreviations” section—for the full citation of each of these works. These particular sources are not otherwise cited in the numbered notes unless the author is quoted. Unfortunately, these lists of helpful secondary works do not include Jon Meacham’s Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power (New York, 2012), an insightful biography that appeared a few weeks after the submission of this manuscript. Second, in the hope of conveying as much as possible about my subjects, I have preserved the original spelling in quotations from Jefferson’s and Hamilton’s writings. Debts accumulate in the course of writing any book. I am particularly grateful to Matt deLesdernier and James Sefcik for reading the manuscript, pointing out errors, and offering guidance. Four good friends, Edith Gelles, Michael deNie, Keith Pacholl, and Arthur Lefkowitz, answered many questions that I posed. Lorene Flanders, who has graciously supported my research and



writing, provided an office that I used daily while working on the book. Angela Mehaffey and Margot Davis in the Interlibrary Loan Office of the Irvine Sullivan Ingram Library at the University of West Georgia graciously met my frequent requests for books and articles, and Gail Smith in Acquisitions saw to the purchase of some items that were important to my work. Charlie Sicignano helped with the accession of digital copies of newspapers. Elmira Eidson and Julie Dobbs helped me out of numerous scrapes with my computer and word processing program. I owe so many debts of gratitude to Catherine Hendricks that to list them would double the length of this book. Pete Beatty helped in many ways to bring the book to completion, all the while listening to my tales of woe about the Pittsburgh Pirates. This is my second book with Maureen Klier, who has no equal as a copyeditor, and my first with Nikki Baldauf, an excellent production editor. Geri Thoma, my literary agent, played a crucial role in the conceptualization and conception of this book. This is my seventh book with Peter Ginna, a masterful editor who, along with criticism, provides encouragement and a storehouse of wonderful ideas. I don’t think Sammy Grace, Simon, Katie, and Clementine care much one way or another about Thomas Jefferson or Alexander Hamilton, but they enrich my life, which makes the often-trying work of writing a book a bit easier. And there is Carol, my wife, who has always been supportive of my writing, not to mention understanding and patient.


A spellbinding history of the epic rivalry that shaped our republic: Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and their compelling visions for...