You’ve seen him on the ten dollar bill, you have also probably heard the soundtrack from the Broadway musical. All around us in pop culture Alexander Hamilton is praised as a hero. But when we look closely at what he has done, is he a hero or a villain of liberty?
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Here’s a transcript of our conversation:
Brittany: Hi, Connor.
Connor: Hey, Brittany.
Brittany: So, I don’t know if I’ve actually talked about this with our listeners before, but I am a huge musical theater fan, and about five or six years ago, I became obsessed with the musical Hamilton, just like many other people in this country. I even got to go see it on Broadway before it became popular. I like to brag about that. So, it was awesome, right? I love that experience. Now, if we’re talking about the music, the musical’s great. I like old-school rap, and so there’s like old-school rap in it. I thought that was very clever. The acting and the actors are great. There’s just one small problem, and that is that the whole musical glorifies someone who doesn’t really deserve to be glorified. And that’s Alexander Hamilton, who was one of our country’s framers. Now, Connor, will you remind our listeners what a framer is and how it’s different from a founder? And maybe just tell us a little bit like a baseline of what you know about Alexander Hamilton.
Connor: Yeah. A lot of people sometimes use these terms kind of interchangeably. They, when referring to the founding fathers, they might say the framers or vice versa. So the founding fathers, you might argue, are the delegates to the Second Continental Congress. These guys are committing treason, you know, first passing the articles of Confederation, right? Like, and so the folks that are involved in breaking away from Great Britain, from King George, right? These are the founding fathers. They founded a new country. They said we are no longer part of Great Britain. We are part of a new country, you know, the United States coming together, all these different colonies, forming a government, creating the articles of Confederation and kids If you don’t know what the Articles of Confederation is, it’s kind of the constitution before the current Constitution. Yep. Was the first attempt by the founders to create a government between these different colonies or these states. So those were the founders. They founded the new country, the framers. This is typically a term that’s, reserved for the individuals who created the new Constitution, which happened, you know, like a decade and a half later. And there were some similar, you know, folks involved. There’s some overlap, but the framers, they framed the Constitution. Think of framing like a house. You have the wood and you’re creating the walls and the frames that you’re then gonna build the rest of the home around. it was that way with the Constitution. They felt that the articles of Confederation were inadequate. It wasn’t doing everything they wanted to. And so they wanted to create a constitution. So they framed this new government, and that’s why we call them the framers. Now, as it stands for Alexander Hamilton, I’ve seen the, I guess I watched it on like Disney plus or something. Yep. I’ve never been in person, but I watched the show. My wife made me watch it. So I willingly obliged and you know, everyone’s like, Hamilton. And it’s so fun and kind of glorifying this person. But Alexander Hamilton, especially as it concerns like economic, liberty-free markets, he was a bit of a disaster. And so I’m excited to talk about it today.
Brittany: That is a little bit of an understatement. But now, before we dip into all his faults, and believe me, there are many, I do wanna highlight some positives cause I want people to understand why Hamilton became such an interesting story and why, what is his name? Lin Manuel Miranda. I pretend I didn’t know his name. I knew it why he decided this would be such a compelling story for the stage. And we all love the story of the underdog, right? And Hamilton was born into nothing. Most of his childhood was filled with tragedy. It was filled with poverty. I mean, I could rap the whole song for you. I will spare you. I will not. I thought about it. But, so he was born out of wedlock, which means his parents weren’t married. And this was a huge deal. I mean, if this happened to you, you were pretty much destined to be a social outcast forever. And so he and his mother and his brother lived in the Caribbean islands, and his father was somewhere in Europe. So the family was impoverished. His mother ended up dying when he was just a little boy. He’d move him with a cousin. The cousin then killed himself. Like, this was not a happy childhood. Yeah, yeah. Not great. I wanna rap. Every time I’m reading it, I’m like, I could just rap the song. But that’s what, he was very driven, right? And ambition is really great. It helps people get out of their circumstances, like if they’re were born into poverty, for example. But it can also make a person power hungry, and it can make them crave power in ways that, are not very good. So Hamilton was self-taught. He was a brilliant writer. He taught himself, had to book keep for a trading company. And he was very young so that he could bring in some money. But his words are what really brought him to Mainland America. There was, what was it? There was a terrible hurricane where he lived, and he wrote a poem about it. I think. I spoke link to it. I read it once. So his whole town is touched by this poem. They’re, sobbing and they’re like, you know what? This kid is too good to sit here. And, you know, rotten poverty, they all pitched in. They send him to America to be educated. I mean, this is, this sounds like a great story, right? Like, I’m, sitting here, I’m like, yeah, I’ll read this. But just because somebody has a good origin story does not mean they’re politically principled.
Connor: Well, and Hamilton, I want to be fair to him, right? He wasn’t like this evil person that did no good. Like he had some redeeming.
Brittany: He did.
Connor: holidays about him. You know, he was a very firm believer in breaking away from the British crown before, you know, independence. He was supportive of this cause to separate, stand up, and create a new country. He fought in the American Revolution. He was a close aid, like a helper to General George Washington. And you know, but, when it comes to the Constitution as a framer, right? This is where the story starts to go from interesting and maybe even sympathetic to a little bit scary. You know, like, he was an author we’ve talked before about the Federalist paper, essays. these were a series of essays that were written by a few, individuals supporting the Constitution. Before it was ratified, they were saying, we need the Constitution, and here’s why. And then made all these arguments across all these papers, Hamilton. So they’re 85, essays, I believe.
Brittany: 85, I believe. Yeah.
Connor: He wrote 51 of them. So he was a very good writer. He clearly, his education paid off. He was trying to persuade people to support the Constitution. So, you know, that’s all impressive. But we’ve said before, there’s the Federalist Papers, which kids often will read about in school and learn about, but they’re never taught about the anti-Federalists papers. These were the essays written by people on the other side of the argument who were worried and warning other people saying, yeah, this constitution sounds great, but it’s not gonna be enough to restrain big government. It’s not gonna protect our rates. And, you know, looking at this like 250 years later, I think it’s fair to say that it was the anti-Federalists who won, and Hamilton and others who were all rosy-eyed about, the constitution will save us and it’ll be great. You know, it didn’t end up quite working out that way.
Brittany: No, you’re right. And even though I droned on about his ambition, cause I really do find that admirable, again, he had many faults, even in his personal life. He was very self-aggrandizing, which means very self-promoting, right? He thought very highly of himself, which made it hard to like him if you were one of his enemies. Because when there are people are smart and they’re humble about it, you know, you think like, oh, how great. They don’t realize how smart they’re, Hamilton knew how smart he was and he wanted you to know it. And his writing, you can see that come through. He knew what he was doing. and so that’s probably why people think that this financial system, which we’ll get to in a minute, that he put into place was so brilliant. But it really wasn’t.
Connor: And I wanna talk about that financial system cuz he was kind of put in charge of, trying to help create this new American kind of economic system. And there was a person with the Mises Institute who wrote this line, we just had, recently Jeff diced on, who’s the president of the Macy’s Institute. So they teach a lot about free markets. And so this individual wrote, he said, Hamilton has perhaps done more damage to the United States than any other American figure, even Woodrow Wilson and Abraham Lincoln. And of course, we often are taught that Abraham Lincoln was this a wonderful person. Even if you look at how he impacted our rights and the Constitution, there was a huge problem. Woodrow Wilson getting us involved in the war, you know, federal Reserve and all the income tax and all these problems that really grew government, both of those presidents were really involved in growing government and creating kind of the modern state that is just oppressive and powerful. and so we can get into that on a future episode. But for this guy at the Mises Institute to say that Hamilton has done more damage to the United States than those guys. He’s basically saying, this guy has caused a ton of problems. And why? Well, I feel like it’s because of Hamilton’s vision, his idea was a central authority, right? He wanted weak checks and balances. He didn’t, he wanted the government to have a lot of power. And you know, I think his views were in many cases against the principles of self-ownership that the country was founded upon. In other words, you own yourself, you have rights and you should be able, to do you know what you want. I mean, he advocated for what’s called the general welfare clause and the Constitution, right? This part of the constitution that says, and whatever Congress thinks is in the general welfare of the people, right? And it wasn’t even written in a way that actually says, Hey Congress, go do whatever you want. Yep. he was trying, it was an attempt to kind of describe what the powers of Congress were for rather than saying, oh, here’s a catch-all power to do whatever you want, as long as you can claim it’s for the general welfare of the people. And yet that’s exactly what has happened, today, even though it’s not in the Constitution in a way that gives Congress power, still, plenty of people, including the courts have said, okay, well, you know, there’s the general welfare clause. So as long as Congress thinks it’s an okay idea, as long as they think that it’s in our best interest, our welfare, they can do it. It’s like that, wait, what? That totally runs af foul of the Constitution and its purpose to limit government and protect our rights.
Brittany: It’s also gotten us, like you said, into a lot of trouble. I mean, that’s helped grow the welfare state too, because you could say, oh, but it helps the people. It helps people. So not a good thing, another bad aspect to Hamilton, to put it bluntly as he was a liar. So if you go back and forth through his, pamphlets, cuz he was definitely a pamphleteer before he became a real framer, and actually helping, you know, craft the constitution, he would say one thing to the public and then contradict it and do something else. So, in the instance I wanna bring up, he once claimed that the judicial branch, which is, you know, Supreme Court, the courts, that they were gonna be the weakest branch, that nobody should worry about them, it’s gonna be fine. And then years later, he actually helped organize the judiciary branch to become superior to both Congress and the States. So whether he meant to lie or not, which I think there’s some evidence that says he did, he did do it. He just said whatever was in his interest to get people to do what he wanted. And he was very charming, unfortunately. So it worked.
Connor: All right. But I feel like we still haven’t gotten to the worst offense, right? Our readers of anyone out there, right? All you listeners out there, you know about the creature from Jekyll Island, right? This, the Federal Reserve, it’s the bank that kind of controls our money, right? And it prints new money outta thin air. And so what you may not know is that Hamilton helped lay the foundation for the creature from Jekyll Island as the first Secretary of Treasury. In other words, this, you know, the constitution was passed, the new federal government was created. George Washington is elected as president and he gets to pick his, it’s called a cabinet, right? Kind of the leaders of the different parts of the executive branch in the government. And so George Washington picks his aid, his helper, Alexander Hamilton to run the treasury, right? Printing money.
Brittany: Big mistake.
Connor: Yeah, Way to go, George. And so as the secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton creates the first central bank, he even suggested that the bank should be able to borrow from itself. He went so far as to say that public debt was a public blessing. Which, you know, is totally false, but you know, with much of how he sees the economy, like high taxes and even a bit of crony capitalism, which is when like the businesses are getting benefits from the government and they’re getting favors. So he would feu he would, battle with Thomas Jefferson a lot, right? In the play, Jefferson has portrayed as a bit of like this a bumbling fool. Yep. but this is totally not the case, right? There was very much this division right at the outset of the new government between kind of the mercantilists, which are kind of like the crony capitalists who want to, like, with Alexander Hamilton create a system that benefits them and enriches them and they want to use the government to benefit them versus kind of the classical liberal, individuals like Thomas Jefferson who wanted, you know, freedom, they wanted government restraint. They didn’t want central banking and central power. They wanted decentralization. They didn’t want, you know, power to be controlled like this. And so Thomas Jefferson was a fierce advocate for that idea. And Hamilton and others, arguing on the other side for more central control. And so yes, so much of this damage was done and set in motion by what Hamilton was pushing for this brand new country to do right at the very beginning and it’s awkward too because these guys were advocating separation from Great Britain cuz of all these problems. And yet now that they’re in control, they’re creating many of the same problems.
Brittany: I think you’re absolutely right. And so, I mean, that brings us to the original question, you know, is Hamilton a hero or villain, does he deserve all this credit that he’s given because of this really popular play? And I think, no, not really. I mean, that doesn’t mean I’m not going to like belt out the soundtrack in my car. I’m going to but I don’t, have to like the man, right? We can separate the art from this person. But I always laugh. I think it actually makes perfect sense that he’s on the $10 bill because of somebody who was pro-inflation, right? Was just printing ourselves out problems like that. Actually, yeah, that checks out. So I think that Hamilton is not the hero that we think he is. I think that he probably deserves to have more light cast on him, on what he really did.
Connor: I think that’s true. And I’m gonna make sure we link on the show notes page to a book called How Alexander Hamilton Screwed Up America. Pretty, provocative title written by a friend of ours, Brian McClanahan. because it’s one thing to watch a fun show and kinda learn about Hamilton, but the truth often requires a little bit more digging. And all of our listeners, Brittany, I know that they’re people who, they like the truth, they want to kind of peel back the layers of lies and misrepresentations. And so check out that book. We’ll link to that on the show notes page along with a couple of articles from the Mises Institute, one of which we quoted earlier. this is worth looking into more cuz it’s not just about learning about, oh, this random guy, Alexander Hamilton, what did he do? What he did is happening today. Yeah. People, who believe the same way he did are in charge of the government today. And it’s important that we understand how these people thought in the past and how they acted and why they did because it’s better gonna help us understand what’s happening today and more importantly, what you and I can do about it. So guys, make sure you head to Tuttletwins.com/podcast. Check out the show notes page for this particular episode. You’ll find the links we mentioned really important to learn this stuff. Great conversation, Brittany. And until next time, we’ll talk to you later.
Brittany: Talk to you later.
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