Jefferson Vs Hamilton Or Compact Vs Consolidation

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    Both were Founding Fathers, but Thomas Jefferson believed that the USA was a compact and Alexzander Hamilton believed the USA was a consolidation. What puzzles me is what caused the difference? How could they have arrived at different interpretations? They were both there at the very beginning so what could have caused them to have different interpretations?


    To me the simplest answer would be perspective. One can read into the document what one see’s. It did give the government wide ranging powers. I would think Hamilton beliefs would have led him to seek power in the document where there was none to justify what he wanted done. I am sure one of the Professors can give a better answer but that is what I see when I look at it.



    You’re assuming that both men were approaching the Constitution with good faith–with an intention to exercise only the power the Constitution was supposed to grant the government. There is no reason to believe that Hamilton behaved that way.

    Hamilton said in The Federalist that the Federal Government would have a few defined powers. Once he was secretary of the treasury, he seems not to have found any way in which those powers were few or defined.

    This isn’t surprising. In fact, much of the discussion in the ratification contest was over the likelihood that federal officials would grab at more power than the Federalists were saying the Constitution was going to give them. The Preamble to the Bill of Rights, which you can find in the Appendix to Tom Woods’ and my Who Killed the Constitution?, says that was the reason for the Bill of Rights.


    So Professor Gutzman, would you say Hamilton knew the USA was compact but acted otherwise? It seemed there was always a fierce debate between Jefferson and Hamilton over this issue.


    Of course he knew it. I think he was a usurper: he said one thing during the ratification contest, then behaved as if the Constitution meant another once it had gone into effect.


    Usurper is a great term. Liar is another. That is what Yates called Hamilton at the New York Ratifying Convention. Elliot mentions this in his famous Debates series, but you can find a full description of the big fracas between Yates and Hamilton in the Documentary History of the Ratification volumes concentrating on New York.


    You’ll get no argument from me.

    Nowadays, our Hamiltonians tend to say that it doesn’t much matter what the people consented to (Thurgood Marshall), that no one can tell what the Ratifiers understood the Constitution to mean (William Brennan), that although the Federalists said one thing consistently during the ratification struggle, a reasonable , uninformed bystander might have understood particular language to mean something else (Antonin Scalia), or that a democratic society would function better if we took the Constitution to mean x (Stephen Breyer).

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