Thomas Jefferson v Alexander Hamilton

I have been avoiding the tar baby of the debt ceiling debate, but I can at least able to say this.  I am pretty much fed up and disgusted by most the players involved.  “A Pox!”, I cry, “on both your branches!”

Now that that is off my chest, I share an interesting article from Crisis Magazine by Dr. Mark W. Hendrickson, adjunct faculty member, economist, and fellow for economic and social policy with The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College.

This article was especially of interest, because when I get to NYC I often have debates with a smart friend there about Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, whose bones rest in the bone yard of Trinity Church off of Wall Street.  One of the most memorable times was when we were on our way to a fantastic concert at Trinity of sacred music under the influence of the Sarum Rite.  That’s the time I heard music so beautiful it hurt.

Some of the points of this article provide a useful lens for interpreting the relentless news coverage of the debt crisis debate.

Jefferson Versus Hamilton: A Continuing Contest
Mark W. Hendrickson

This past Fourth of July marked 235 years since the Declaration of Independence was published. In this immortal document, the Spirit of ’76 was given its fullest, most eloquent expression. The Declaration is a timeless document, espousing eternal principles that, while forever historically identified with America, are universal in their application.

The Fourth provided an occasion to reflect on what it means to be an American. Since day one, there have been widely divergent views on those questions.

During the Revolutionary War, the colonists fell into three groups: those who desired independence from Britain, Tories who did not, and many who didn’t care or couldn’t decide.

The Second Continental Congress was so divided over the issue of slavery that the Declaration was almost stillborn. (The perfect Fourth of July movie is the musical “1776”—an excellent dramatization of that profound disagreement.) Many of the Founding Fathers abhorred slavery with every bone in their body. Those founders are sometimes condemned today for having compromised with southern slaveholders, a retroactive judgment of 18th-century men by 21st-century values. Granted, the founders didn’t create the ideal society. They knew that. They expected subsequent generations to make improvements. But they did, mercifully, lay the foundation for a republic that would go on to bring more freedom to more people than any other political entity in history.

From the start, Americans have been divided between the visions and values of Founding Fathers Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. That intellectual and political debate continues undiminished today. In fact, during a recent radio interview, the host asked me out of the blue, “Whose side are you on, Hamilton’s or Jefferson’s?”

The question is difficult to answer for two primary reasons: First, these two giants of America’s founding addressed a wide range of issues, so one may partially agree and partially disagree. Second, as Stephen F. Knott’s 2002 book Alexander Hamilton & the Persistence of Myth demonstrates so ably, subsequent American thought leaders have invented their own versions of Jefferson and Hamilton. These versions have been based on their own political convictions and biases, including which books they themselves happened to read (each of those containing its author’s own slanted view) and the tenor of the era in which they lived.

There is no definitive, indisputable interpretation of Hamilton and Jefferson, but I’ll attempt a few generalities.

Foremost among these generalities, at the most elementary level, those who favor a stronger government in Washington are more likely to be Hamiltonians and those who favor a weaker government, Jeffersonians.

In reply to that radio host’s question, I said that I leaned toward Jefferson. In this era of Big Government that is suffocating liberty, devouring our economic substance, and is joined at the hip with big banks, Jefferson’s inspiring defenses of liberty and impassioned warnings about government are timely. Nevertheless, I have my differences with Jefferson, such as his endorsement of the French Revolution. My sense is that Jefferson’s strong suit was his idealism, whereas in practice he was, at times, inapt or inept.

While I have serious misgivings about Hamilton’s vision for government, I think he gets a bum rap when some accuse him of having been an antidemocratic monarchist. Yes, he distrusted certain elements of democracy, but so did most of the Founding Fathers, including James Madison. Hamilton believed in some degree of a government partnership with business, but, like other founders, he supported a Constitution that, unlike Old World governments, did not erect barriers designed to keep poor Americans poor. Hamilton was an elitist, but he was an elitist by accomplishment, and not (at all) by birth.

One of the ironies of the Jeffersonian/Hamiltonian divide today is that the two major political parties have flip-flopped on their historical positions. Up until the 1950s, Democrats tended to be Jeffersonian. They opposed tariffs and other government favors for moneyed interests. Republicans, who tended to be Hamiltonian in their use of government to shape economic development from the party’s founding through Herbert Hoover’s presidency, now have many leading figures with strong Jeffersonian sympathies. Today’s Republicans generally share to some degree Jefferson’s aversion to Big Government, the great threat to liberty and prosperity.

Finally, in the Hamilton/Jefferson debate, one of the few points that enjoys nearly universal acceptance is that both men were geniuses. They both played defining roles in the founding and formation of the United States of America. However much we may disagree with one or the other, they were great Americans and we are blessed to have had them both as Founding Fathers.

I suspect some of the smart readers here will want to chime in.  Whenever I have posted anything in the past about economic theory (e.g., Austrian school) some very smart people get involved in lively discussions and I wind up learning a lot.

The Jefferson/Hamilton diptych above may present another such learning opportunity.

At this point, may I add that I think we are all deep in serious trouble?

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. AnAmericanMother says:

    The tension between Hamilton and Jefferson has always been central to politics in the U.S.

    I agree with the author that Jefferson was something of a totty-headed idealist . . . his notions were by and large good ones but he lacked the ability and judgment to put them into practice.

    Hamilton didn’t lack for ability, judgment, or resolution, but some of his notions were in the final analysis bad ones.

    And certainly right now we have run much further in that direction . . . we caught up and passed Hamilton’s wildest dreams long ago . . . so a corrective dose of Jeffersonian democracy may be needed.

    Understatement of the article: “He was an elitist by accomplishment, and not (at all) by birth.”

  2. moon1234 says:

    This country needs neither Jeffersonian nor Hamiltonian styles of government. We need the fiscal policy of Andrew Jackson (not the social policy of Jackson, that was disgraceful).

    Without DRASTIC cuts in spending and programs coupled with drastic domestic policy changes this country WILL go bankrupt.

    The two bills proposed by the house BOTH allow the debt ceiling to be raised (i.e. spend more) and couple that with cuts in spending. Do people really fall for this? If you analyze the bill at ALL you will see that BOTH bills allow for up to 40 trillion of new spending over the next decade and only about 1.5 trillion in cuts. So it is really a bill to authorize an additional 38 trillion worth of spending.

    This current administration has spent more money that ALL previous administrations COMBINED. They want to spend more. They are attacking MORE countries who have never threatend the US. (Lybia, Pakistan, Syria, etc.). Does this remind anyone of ROME before the Germans invaded and Rome fell?

    People need to pull themselves out of political parties. Democrats=Republicans for the the last 50 years. The only difference is some nuanced lies to the public.

    The media is trying it’s hardest to blame the tea party republicans. THEY are the only ones who are trying to prevent more spending.

    Hey Dad if you loan me 20 dollars I will cut .05 dollars of my spending each week for the next 10 years. Who would fall for that? Yet that is what the politicians are telling people and some people actually believe it.

  3. JeremyB says:

    Much has been written about the two sides of this issue, usually characterized by saying that Jefferson trusted the common man and that Hamilton distrusted democracy and thereby distrusted the common man. In my understanding, the Hamiltonian position was not a distrust of the common man as such, but rather distrusting the propensity for a democracy to degenerate into a rule by the mob. As Alexis de Tocqueville said, “The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.” I believe that we are at this point. Our economic woes are merely a reflection of our moral woes. Our immorality (and not just sexual) has finally caught up with our pocketbooks.

    Concerning the article above, the last phrase makes me pause. The author said, “However much we may disagree with one or the other, they were great Americans and we are blessed to have had them both as Founding Fathers.” While I may agree with this statement, I think that today we try to be “reasonable” in compromise by saying the same thing about each party. Yet the Republicans are no Jefferson and the Democrats are no Hamilton. Both of these men stood on principles, while the majority of our elected officials today do not. I think that we have too high a regard for political compromise, seeing it as the Holy Grail of politics. The result is a system that doesn’t work because there is no coherence and each side can point to the other as a reason for that incoherence. Instead of a rule of law, we have rule by committee.

  4. wmeyer says:

    A serious commitment would be something like a 20% across the board cut in spending for each of the next three years. That cumulative 50% cut (roughly) would return us to 2001 levels, more or less.

    You really need to read The Ruling Class: How They Corrupted America and What We Can Do About It for an excellent, clear analysis of what we really are facing.

  5. chcrix says:

    Jefferson was a theoretician – not a man of action. That’s why he was not a military man.

    Jefferson may have endorsed the French Revolution, but his first recommendation to the French was that they adopt a constitutional monarchy similar to England’s. Even his trust of the common man was not unlimited.

    I’m not a fan of Hamilton, but I think even he would recoil in horror at what the Federal government has become.

    Hamilton’s greatest error is his Mercantilism not his distrust of democratic man. Remember the government was not to be a ‘democracy’ and the term democracy appears nowhere in either the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution.

    One glaring error in the article: “Up until the 1950s, Democrats tended to be Jeffersonian.”

    The 1950’s! The author has to be kidding. The party of Woodrow Wilson and F. D. Roosevelt Jeffersonian! The last Jeffersonian Democrat to hold office was Grover Cleveland.

  6. Supertradmum says:

    I have read a great deal on this subject, and have, despite being a radical state’s rights person, come down on the side of Hamilton, who never envisioned the type of big brother government we have today. He was firmly on the side of individual rights and a believer in the true independence of the working man (and woman). Hamilton was a true intellectual and a financial genius. His view of a financially secure central government is very far from what we have today. I have never fallen for the myth of “Jeffersonian democracy” as the man was too radical, even in his day, for realistic government. Despite agreeing that Virginian and the South had a right to secede from the Union, I think that the myths surrounding Jefferson’s real lack of understanding on the evils of anarchy and the evils of the “mob”, which de Tocqueville understood perfectly well, being a Catholic and a great intellect than Jefferson, have been covered by Jefferson’s supposed amiable personality. He has won the personality, star-status game over both Hamilton and de Tocqueville, but his ideas are closer to anarchy and government without God than the other two. Remember that Jefferson was a hypocrite concerning slavery and had a mistress of the black race for years, only giving her and her son freedom in his will, and one wonders at the glorious view most people have of him concerning freedom. He seems to me to be a person who thought he was “outside the law”, like so many of today’s politicians, as opposed to Hamilton and de Tocqueville, who believed in, at least, the effects of original sin and had a healthy doubt concerning the “rule of the people”. I highly recommend de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America as not only a shrewd view of the new country, but a prophetic book. As to Hamilton, he understood where the illiterate, selfish mob could take the republic. Myths endure, but a careful reading of Hamilton can only lead to great respect for his mind and integrity of thought. We need more elitism, not less, as American democracy has fallen into the hands of the selfish and anarchy is not far from the gates….

  7. Philangelus says:

    Moon1234, our country has reminded me of the final age of the Roman empire for a long time. My understanding is that most empires have existed (in their peak form) for about 250 years before they’ve declined or fallen. I suspect we’re going down. Maybe not right now (I also think they’ll pull a rabbit out of the hat at the last possible second this time) but in the next ten years. May God have mercy on all of us.

    As an aside, I’m distantly related to Alexander Hamilton and therefore I love him. :-) But it may well be that Hamilton-Jefferson together was a far better thing than either one of them apart, the way iron sharpens iron.

  8. AnAmericanMother says:

    I don’t disagree with most of what you say, and heaven knows I hold no brief for Thomas Jefferson, but the story about his supposed mistress and child is probably untrue.
    The DNA tests only established that one individual (not the four reputed by family tradition) had male Jefferson parentage, not that Thomas was the responsible party. There are as many as 8 possible candidates, and the historical record indicates that his brother Randolph was the most likely progenitor.
    He couldn’t have run a one-car funeral, to tell the truth, and I agree that his ideas were too radical to put into practice. But they provide a necessary pull in the opposite direction from a powerful central government. Call him a back bench bomb thrower if you like.

  9. Centristian says:

    @Philangelus: “…our country has reminded me of the final age of the Roman empire for a long time. My understanding is that most empires have existed (in their peak form) for about 250 years before they’ve declined or fallen. I suspect we’re going down. Maybe not right now (I also think they’ll pull a rabbit out of the hat at the last possible second this time) but in the next ten years. May God have mercy on all of us.”

    If the USA is the modern day equivalent of the Roman Empire, is it really necessary that we always be? Is the USA really “going down” by ceasing to be “the Empire”. Personally, I don’t think we need to be “the Empire” anymore. Frankly, the USA was alot better off before it became “the Empire”. Let someone else be “the Empire” for a change. Let some other country drain all its resources policing the world and getting it wrong time and time again. Let some other country get stuck in Afghanistan and caught up in all the craziness of the Middle East.

    The USA hasn’t got to rule the world to be a great nation. I don’t think either Jefferson or Hamiton envisioned for America the role of “Empire”.

  10. Supertradmum says:


    Thanks for your comments. However, there seems to be a large community which meets for family reunions who would vehemently disagree that they are not descendants of TJ. Having said that, whether is it true or not, his ideas are definitively too idealistic and Hamilton remains the “realist” regarding human nature in my estimation. Having studied history my entire life, and having it as one of my degrees, I would state that oral history usually has a grain of truth and sometimes more than a grain…That TJ was not a religious man colored his ideas on human nature, as those who are aware of evil are also more realistic as to the good. He would be classified as a “soft, leftist liberal, social worker type” today, with or without the mistress.

  11. Both men were heretics. May God grant rest to their souls.

    How can you order a society without love? Without recognition that we are fallen creatures of the all-good God? Ordering a system based on pride and power is doomed to failure.

    However, I used to be more of a Hamiltonian and Washingtonian, but have shifted more towards Jefferson. Among the Founding Fathers, Franklin used to be my favorite, but now I admire John Adams more. Aaron Burr is the most despicable, in my opinion, but alas! he is the model for contemporary American politicians.

  12. wmeyer says:

    While Jefferson was no paragon on the social side, Hamilton was dangerous on the economic side. He favored protectionism, government intervention, and a central bank. Today, he would not find the Democrats very strange bedfellows, once he got past the number of zeroes involved.

  13. Supertradmum says:

    Dear Mark,

    Hamilton was, mostly, a nominal Christian, until towards the end of his brief life, when he showed distinct signs of a conversion of sorts. He was not a Deist as was Jefferson, and seemed to have come back to the belief in Christ and His Church, albeit in the Episcopalian interpretation, at the end. One historian writes: “He sent for Bishop Richard Moore, Episcopalian bishop of New York, and begged to be united to the church by receiving Holy Communion. “Do you sincerely repent of your sins past? Have you a lively faith in God’s mercy through Christ, with a thankful remembrance of the death of Christ? And are you disposed to live in love and, charity with all men?” Yes, yes, yes. “I have no ill-will against Colonel Burr. I met him with a fixed resolution to do him no harm. I forgive all that happened.”(60)

    I suggest further reading on Hamilton’s faith.

  14. Martial Artist says:


    You wrote:

    Both of these men stood on principles, while the majority of our elected officials today do not.

    I must respectfully disagree. I think the problem is not that our current elected officials (with few exceptions) stand on no principles, but rather that the principles that they stand on are fatally flawed.

    My perception is that the overwhelming majority of our elected Federal Congressmen and Senators have as their first principles that:

    (1). I am the only available candidate for my seat who knows what the morally correct stance is to take on each of the issues, and will do all in my poser faithfully to support that stance;

    and, therefore,

    (2). It is critically important, irrespective of what may be required of me to assure it, that I be re-elected in order to provide what may be the critical vote in any vital question that comes before the body of which I am a member.

    Of course, what they are really saying is that the most important objective is that they be returned to their seat. This principle easily and quickly becomes ingrained in their moral processes and consequently they lose sight of the price that they are paying in order to be re-elected. It becomes self-serving. And in doing so, the very justification becomes self-deceiving, by which I mean that they can then hide from their own self-awareness that portion of whatever personal covetousness for the position they have behind the camouflage of their “honest and noble intentions.”

    If you disagree with that assessment, I would ask you just how many of these too B&I(*) elected politicos would actually live up to any claim that “he (or she) would rather be right than be President.” I have the distinct impression that Ron Paul subscribes to such a principled view, and suspect he may have some companions in each house of the Congress, but I also strongly suspect that the total number among those currently serving is a distinct (and small) minority. Being an elected official in Washington is a near occasion of sin, particularly with regard to the sin of Pride, as is frequently manifest in their self-aggrandizing sound bites.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

    (*) Microsoftese for “too Big and Important.”

  15. AnAmericanMother says:

    Wrote my thesis on aspects of the Civil War, including property management in the absence of most heads of household — with a lot of reliance on letters, court records, and some family recollections. I did not use any family recollections that could not be confirmed through some sort of actual written record, because family traditions are just about the most unreliable historical source there is, especially when the traditions deal with somebody or something famous.
    I wish I had a dollar for every family tradition that some ancestor was “a captain in George Washington’s Honor Guard” that turns out upon an examination of the land grant records etc. to show that the poor moke was just a buck private in South Carolina somewhere. You’d think people couldn’t get something as relatively recent as the activities of their Civil War ancestors wrong . . . but they do, and always in the direction of puffing up the importance of their ancestor.
    I commend one of my gg grandfathers who remarked that he had met so many Majors, Colonels, and Captains in the post Civil War years that he concluded he was the only private who had survived the war!
    Of course 3/4 of the folks at those family reunions (the descendants of Hemings’s 3 older children) were shown by the DNA tests to have absolutely no connection with any Jefferson — including the descendants of the child conceived in Paris, which was the only child as to which Thomas would have been the sole possible Jefferson male parent.
    Start with the temptation to latch on to a famous ancestor, add the lure of political correctness, accusations of racism, and the opportunity to tear down a Founding Father, and you have a recipe for inaccuracy . . . at best. The Jefferson Association just surrendered and quit fighting, it wasn’t worth it to have the media and the misinformed public beating them up 24/7.
    Religiously speaking TJ was completely problematic and hubristic (his “edited Bible” just makes my mouth drop open), he was improvident, and politically tone deaf to boot. Nevertheless, accusing him of being as soft a liberal as a social worker is doing him a disservice. Some ideas that he put forward have been distorted into far more liberal positions than his original intent . . . the best example probably being the “separation of church and state” which was a private letter intended to assure the Danbury Baptists that the Congregational Church would not be established as the state church of Connecticut.
    I’m definitely more in Hamilton’s corner, and I do believe that he could never have imagined anything like the current behemoth in Washington. From the point of view of someone observing the states’ inability to function under the Articles of Confederation, his ideas are understandable. And from a character point of view he was much more admirable, having risen from the despised and abandoned bastard child of an adulterous relationship, who wasn’t even allowed to attend school in the West Indies.

  16. disco says:

    Even if the government cut all of its expenditures besides defense and entitlements (social security and Medicare), the government would still operate at a deficit. We as a society must make a decision. Either we continue to care for the elderly and raise taxes to cover the debt service or we cut social security and Medicare and pay off the debt. We can’t have it both ways without severely cutting defense, which won’t happen.

    A note on taxes:
    While most pro-business types shudder to think of the days when the highest tax bracket was above 70%, they often forget that back then a write-off was really a write off. The government actively encouraged the wealthiest to spread their wealth. It’s far more enticing to invest one’s money when 70¢ of every dollar would go to uncle Sam if you didn’t. Just sayin.

  17. PostCatholic says:

    Not sure if it will make a difference to some, but Hamilton was a Christian believer (Episcopalian) and an organizer of the “Christian Constitutional Society.” Jefferson was something of a proto-Unitarian.

  18. Chris Garton-Zavesky says:

    Picking between Jefferson and Hamilton is a bit like picking between Stalin and Hitler in the sense that both had horridly wrong ideas — for starters they believed in not recognizing any authority but themselves.

    In the case of both men, getting the Republic to come, ex nihilo, into existence was more important than any other issue. See further historical examples in Archbishop Anibale Bugnini, Earl Warren…..

    (taking cover for the bombshells which will be launched my way).


  19. irishgirl says:

    All the talk in Washington is driving me nuts-I say, ‘A plague on both their Houses!’

  20. AnAmericanMother says:

    I call Godwin’s Law! :-D

    Seriously, I don’t think you can paint them with so broad a brush, or even the same brush. Jefferson and Hamilton were light years apart from a religious point of view.

    As others have noted above, Hamilton was a Christian – postcatholic, he was a “New Licht” Presbyterian not an Episcopalian, although he was attended at his death by an Episcopal bishop who heard his confession and gave him the viaticum . . . (as a former Episcopalian the thought of all those faithful who thought they were Catholic and receiving valid sacraments gives me the grues). He went through a period of falling away – although he was never a deist like Jefferson – but he realized (somewhat belatedly) that Christianity was a necessary part of American governance and straightened himself out.

    Jefferson on the other hand never publicly did so. As to whether he repented on his deathbed, that’s between him and God.

  21. PostCatholic says:

    Thanks for that correction, AnAmericanMother. I will do a bit more reading on Hamilton. I confess I know a great deal less about him than about Jefferson.

  22. AnAmericanMother says:

    He’s a fascinating man. I first encountered him as a young child in an article in American Heritage magazine — the old magazine, when it was edited by Bruce Catton and was published in hardcover.
    The article was about his extremely hard childhood and his struggles to make something of himself. Eventually he showed himself to be such a scholar and such a competent business clerk that the planters on St. Croix clubbed together to send him to New England to be educated. And the rest is history . . . .
    Too bad he didn’t repent of duelling before he got hammered by Burr (did you know that Georgia still has an anti-duelling code? they left it out of the most recent codification, but it’s never been repealed.)

  23. Chris Garton-Zavesky says:

    For “An American Mother”:

    I didn’t know Godwin’s Law before you mentioned it, although I have often been a victim of a similar kind of stereotyping.

    What I mean is this: picking between these two (Hamilton and Jefferson) is like picking between Hitler and Stalin because one should want a better choice, and because the ideas of both are wrong not because of specific applications but because they begin from wrong-headed premises. In this specific instance, Hamilton’s attachment to the Episcopal Church doesn’t change my point, since this ecclesial community was founded by those who rejected legitimate authority (Henry VIII didn’t think the Pope could tell him, so he founded a ‘church’ which would follow his dictates; the Episcopal Church in America was founded by Scots, precisely NOT to recognize any authority or continuity with England.

    In any event, I wasn’t hurling the epithet “Nazi” on either man, which is why I immediately moved on to Bugnini and Earl Warren, both of whom seemed to believe that previous authority served as sufficient reason to do something different.

    God bless,

  24. JeremyB says:

    @ Martial Artist:

    Au contraire, I do agree with your assessment. The need for re-election is still a principle, even if it is not a principle that we would typically called “principled.” Delusion of self is a temptation for all of us and is especially tempting for those in power. However, we can make a similar statement about the overused word “bias.” In a strict sense, we all have a bias in the sense that we approach a question with a certain world view, even if that view is not explicit or even conscious. Bias as such does not constitute a barrier to the pursuit of truth. In fact, without it there would be no pursuit of truth. Bias is nothing more than a set of first principles from which we make an argument. If there is a clear statement and understanding of those first principles, the pursuit of truth can continue honestly. In the political arena the same holds true. Every politician has a set of principles. Yet very often the principles that they extol in public are not the ones dearest to their hearts.

    My point in saying that few stand on principle, however, comes from a different angle. We see too many politicians who stand on a principle, in particular one that is called “conservative” (regardless of whether it may be flawed in some way), only to undermine themselves after taking an initial strong stance in the name of “compromise.” By this I mean that the principle of compromise supersedes and undermines other principles. Said otherwise, the principle of “getting something done” is more important than “what is done.” Is this done from a more deep-seated principle of getting re-elected? Perhaps. Probably.

  25. AnAmericanMother says:

    He was actually a Presbyterian, which I’ve always thought of as the “anti-Catholic” – Episcopalians and Anglicans being basically “wannabe-Catholics”. But he had fallen away, and since he was dying at the time (thanks to being reckless enough to stand up with Burr), he had to take what he could get, which was an Episcopal bishop.
    Speaking as a former Episcopalian, though, I don’t think it’s fair to hammer the rank-and-file or your average pew-sitter in that denomination at the time with any conscious desire to emulate Henry VIII. A good number of them had no idea of the historical background in anything but the vaguest sense, most were simply members of that church because their parents were, and were not consciously rebelling against anything. Of course Hamilton and the rest of the colonial rabble were rebelling against George III, but not for any religious reason.
    And, by the way, “the Episcopal Church in America was” not “founded by Scots, precisely NOT to recognize any authority or continuity with England.” The Anglicans, who became Episcopalians, were overwhelmingly resident in Virginia and the South in general, and comprised a large part of the planter class and were not Scottish – in fact they were overwhelmingly of English stock. Washington, Madison, Monroe, were all Anglicans.
    The New Englanders were by and large Congregationalists.
    The Scots in the Americas were overwhelmingly Presbyterian, and they settled primarily in the middle Atlantic states and North Carolina (which are still covered up with Presbys). There are a few what are called “non-juring Episcopalians” in Scotland — they have a loose affiliation with the Anglican Communion but are independent on account of the events of 1688 and thereabouts. Their numbers have been steadily shrinking since the Jacobite Rebellions . . . .
    Anyhow, the Episcopal Church after the American Revolution had to find itself a bishop to ordain ministers, confirm the children, etc. The Anglican bishops in the American colonies had been overwhelmingly Loyalists, and most of them headed back to England. Samuel Seabury (although he was a Loyalist) stayed and was elected bishop of the new American nation, and actually travelled to London to be consecrated — but the English bishops refused to consecrate him because he could not swear an oath of allegiance to the king. So he lateraled to Scotland and the Scottish bishops consecrated him at Aberdeen with the instruction that he use the Scottish prayer book rather than the 1662 English (that’s the source of some of the variation in the 1928 BCP).
    This turned out to be a good thing for the Church of England, because the possibility of the American church being aligned with the non-juring Jacobite Episcopal Church of Scotland scared the Whigs into making provision for the future ordination of American bishops. . . . which is what Seabury wanted all along, since he was a Loyalist.
    The Episcopalians are certainly naughty in many respects, but let’s not blame them for stuff they didn’t do! They used to be fairly straight up Christians, and many were so Catholic that it was hard to tell the difference. Three cheers for Anglicanorum Coetibus!

  26. BLB Oregon says:

    I think what this country needs the most is a Dolly Madison, so the politicians can go back to statecraft with the starting point of having actual meals with their adversaries and talking to each other like human beings.

    If Republicans could eat out on Friday nights with Democrats without either being voted out of office in the next election, we might not have quite so much gamesmanship, and far less that is of such a harmful variety.

    Otherwise, we may as well throw our hands in the air and let them go back to dueling….preferably with whoever is paying for their votes situated exactly in-between.

    (to the officers of the Secret Service: That was a frustrated hyperbole. I am not threatening any members of Congress; neither do I do want them to shoot themselves or anyone else. I would just like them to get their hands out of cookie jars that don’t belong to them, and play nice.)

  27. pjthom81 says:

    Of course what is missing so far is a discussion of how Hamilton favored a commercial republic and Jefferson an agrarian republic. Most of Hamilton’s policies….such as protective tariffs, more relaxed bankruptcy laws, and the establishment of a national bank….make sense for a commercial republic, and all eventually triumphed in the second half of the 19th century. Protective tariffs eventually did more harm than good when the US became the world’s leading manufacturing power, but the policy made perfect sense in the USA of 1800.

    Jefferson’s thoughts tend to be more endearing when it comes to manners. Our use of the handshake is an example. Perhaps the easiest way to tell the difference between a high Federalist and a Republican (Jefferson’s party…not the modern one) was to view their dress. The Federalists tended to keep the whigs and embroidery of the high classes. The Republicans tried to look more like the common man. By the 1830’s, the Republican dress and manners had won out. As many pointed up above, Hamilton was for a meritocracy. The dominant cultural impulse in the US has however been against any form of pretense….whether acquired by birth or merit. Instead the “regular guy” who can do extraordinary things but does not appear all that different from his fellow citizens is more admired.

    Many seem curious as to how the Jeffersonian Republican party morphed into today’s Democratic party….so I thought there was no harm in explaining the evolution.

    The Democratic Party was a more populist derivative of the old Republican Party, and it became the home of Jeffersonian ideas on everything except for defense….where the party went Jingoistic with Jackson. It remained a rural based small government party until its members were wiped out of Congress in 1894. This left the Democratic Party easy prey for the Populists, who favored direct government intervention. The Populists then merged with the Democratic party by nominating the same man…William Jennings 1896. Bryan went on to be the nominee for the Democrats in three elections…1896, 1900, and 1908. Since the merger…this Populist-Democratic Party has been a big government party.

    The Democrats remained suspicious of the commercial republic, and the big businesses that made the commercial republic possible. Until around 1910 they were able to rally around Cleveland’s policy of trust-busting (Shereman Antitrust Act), a practice TR brought into Republican circles. After about 1910, however, the “Progressives” as they now called themselves, became convinced that nothing could stop big business and that the battle was lost. Therefore, the only thing to be done was to create a massive government to side with those “victimized” by big business…and in particular their labor forces…in order to bring about a more equitable society. TR ran on a Progressive Platform in 1912 that encouraged this very policy, and Wilson ultimately enacted it. By the end of Wilson’s two terms, the agrarian party had become a labor party in its outlook. It would ultimately be up to FDR, the Democratic VP candidate in 1920, to enact this new labor agenda. This also brought into the Democratic party various socialist influences, and led it to take more anti-religious stances over time.

    It is also worth noting that Jefferson was largely a secularist, and that his party seems to have been more susceptible to French Revolutionary ideas when those ideas were in vogue. After 1815 they were largely in the background until the birth of the Radical-Socialist party in the wake of the Dryfuss Affair in 1901. (It would take until the 1940’s for “Separation of Church and State” to arrive at the Supreme Court….right after FDR’s terms in office.) The modern Republican party, by contrast, seems to be a party that tends to religious enthusiasm…and one can see that in the campaign against slavery and against liquor in the 1860’s and 1920’s respectfully.

    In short, there always seems to have been elements of the parties current identities, but events have brought certain characteristics to the fore. Democrats remain more influenced by the French Revolution, secularism, and distrust of business. Republicans seem motivated by enthusiasm about both religion and capitalism, and in this way resemble more the British system than the French. In a way, the Democrats have become a party of watered down French Revolutionary principles while the Republicans have become the party of more standard American Revolutionary principles. In this way, the parties do echo the Jefferson-Hamilton debates of the 1790’s.

  28. Chris Garton-Zavesky says:

    To “An American Mother”:

    You inadvertently confirm my points, while averring that you do otherwise.

    1) Essential to the “Episcopal Church” is the existence of bishops.
    2) American colonists (recently freed by treaty from subjection to the crown) COULDN’T very well take an oath of loyalty to the crown, so they went looking for some other way to get bishops. Every bit as much as in 1535, the new group refused to submit to authority.
    3) The overwhelming numbers of the “Founding Fathers” were Anglicans, born and bred in a spirit of revolution (although I was under the impression that they were mostly Deists and some were definitely Masons).

    Speaking as a former Episcopalian myself, I know that not all who profess the non-Catholic faith of Canterbury or the modernist form of Zeitgeist have intentionally separated themselves from His Holiness in Rome, but they are, nevertheless, separated from Him. Indeed, I welcomed Anglicanorum Coetibus precisely because it allowed them to come home without sacrificing anything which proceeded from a Catholic heart.

    God bless,


  29. AnAmericanMother says:


    My point was that they didn’t go “looking for some other way to get bishops” as you claim. (And I certainly didn’t confirm your idea that the Episcopalians were Scots!)

    Here are the facts: Seabury was a Loyalist, he had been opposed to the Revolution from the beginning. In fact, he served in the British Army as a chaplain during the Revolution, was drawing a pension from the Crown at the time of his election, and sailed to England in an admiral’s flagship to be consecrated! His position, however, was that the people needed a church even if (in his opinion) the states had made a terrible mistake by separating from the Crown.

    Seabury didn’t start out by going to Aberdeen looking for a way to get consecrated in Scotland, which is what you would have expected if he were actually as rebellious as you claim. Quite the contrary, he went to London expecting to be consecrated there (in fact at the instruction of the committee that elected him), and tried for over a year to get Canterbury, York, or the bishop of London to move, but they all refused, for political reasons.

    If anything, the intransigence was on the side of the English. The bishops would have consecrated Seabury but for the interference of the Whig government. Then later of course the Whigs had second thoughts and decided to allow American bishops to be consecrated after all. Bishops White and Provoost were consecrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury 3 years later — which again militates against the position you take.

    Again, there is plenty to complain about in the category of “Episcopalian Misdeeds” without abusing them for something they didn’t do. Rebelliousness against the Crown was the farthest thing from the minds of the Connecticut churchmen who sent Seabury to London.

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