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The differences between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton are voluminous, but they essentially boil down to a vision of government: whether America would become a centralized industrial producer or a decentralized republic of educated, yeoman farmers.

In his defense of the Bank, Alexander Hamilton advocated a loose interpretation of the Constitution. Hamilton wrote, “Every power vested in a government is in its nature sovereign, and includes by force of the term a righto employ all the means requisite . . . to the attainment of the ends of such power.” In other words, Hamilton knew that the Constitution did not specifically authorize a bank, but believed the ends justified the means. Though Hamilton’s economic system triumphed over its opponents at first, it was later defeated by the Jeffersonian Republicans and the Jacksonian Democrats until it was revived as the “American System” of Henry Clay, and ultimately implemented by the Republican Party in the1860s.


Hamilton’s financial system divided Americans as much as the Constitution had. Jefferson and Madison led the opposition party, the Republicans, while Hamilton and Washington led the Federalists. Much of Jefferson’s support came from the South, and much of Hamilton’s came from the North. Hamilton’s taxes on whiskey and tariffs on imported goods were felt more acutely in the agricultural South; and Southerners suspected Hamilton’s system of promoting urbanization and commerce, two trends that Jefferson and other Southerners feared. Hamilton was in many ways a traditional mercantilist who viewed government as the primary engine responsible for driving commerce and industry for the “national” good. He loved the “corruption” of the British financial system because he believed it was patronage and the government’s encouragement of financial speculation that made the system work.

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