A Biography of Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804)

Jefferson and Madison create a party - summer 1791

The passage of the bank plan immediately set off alarm bells in the Madison/Jefferson opposition camp. The scope of power inherent in the position of Treasury Secretary had begun to hit home, as well as how much the vision and predilections of the officeholder influenced the country's future, financial and otherwise.

Madison and Jefferson began increasingly to see Hamilton's victories as serious losses for themselves and the interests of their constituents, the southern planter class. They viewed the Secretary of the Treasury as an uncontrolled force with the backing of powerful, monied men from the northeast. Cries of a monarchical conspiracy by Hamilton were heard and most likely originated from anti-Hamiltonians, like Madison, who were present for Hamilton's speech at the constitutional convention. They determined that emergency measures needed to be taken to prevent Hamilton and his "monarchists" from taking over.

For statesmen of the eighteenth century, political parties were anathema. They were seen as unruly bodies of men run by demagogues, reeking of excess and eventual tyranny. However, parties were acceptable in the face of a demonstrable crisis, and, in the summer of 1791, Hamilton and his policies were considered by Jefferson and Madison as a threat to liberty of crisis proportion warranting an organized resistance.

In the summer of 1791, under the ruse of taking a botanical study trip, Madison and Jefferson traveled to New England and New York to rally support for their anti-Hamilton cause. They returned with a party--which would shortly become the Republican party-- complete with a national network of supporters and functionaries, including a journalist named Philip Freneau, recruited from New York to begin publishing the official party newspaper. Jefferson and Madison had properly girded themselves to battle the "colossus" when congress reconvened in the fall.

Hamilton and Madison: the Partnership that Never Was (1783-1789)

The Federalist Papers, considered a political classic and the definitive statement on the principles underlying the United States constitution, appear on the surface the product of two minds in complete concord about the subject at hand. Indeed, the ratification of the constitution was a goal of absolute importance to both authors, which is why Hamilton called for Madison's help on the project; and why Madison agreed to do it. Both ambitious and brilliant, equally knowledgeable on a wide variety of subjects, Hamilton and Madison sparked immediately when they met in the continental congress in 1783. They agreed that the confederation government was ineffective and were dedicated to creating a system which would solidify the union and make the United States a viable and great nation. On an intellectual level they were perfectly matched; politically, however, they were diametrically opposed. The issue on which they differed was to become the most divisive in American politics: states' rights.

Their disagreement was a matter of experience. Hamilton, the immigrant with no grounding in a particular state, understood only the destructiveness of localist politics from his time as a staff officer in the war, and during his tenure as a government employee and congressional delegate. He felt that, at most, states could be helpful in the administration of federal objectives on the local level, but state sovereignty had long been an absurdity to him.

Madison, on the other hand, was from the proud landed gentry of Virginia. Virginians were notorious for their loyalty to their state--even Washington had referred to it as his "country"- -and Madison felt likewise. Madison and other Virginians saw their state as a model for the planter/yeoman society, insular and self-reliant, which they projected upon the whole of the country. In contrast, Hamilton was from a cosmopolitan background, having been an insider to the international trade community during his time in St. Croix, and choosing to settle in the commercial metropolis of New York City when he came to America. The wealthy, slave-owning planter community, among which he lived in the West Indies and with whom his own impoverished situation direly contrasted, had no attraction to him, and no particular virtues that he could see.

Madison's intrinsic disagreement with Hamilton's ideas can be seen emerging as early as the Constitutional Convention where he registered his opposition to Hamilton's plan of government by countering with a speech of his own emphatically endorsing state' rights. During the course of the Federalist project, Hamilton sent a letter to Madison, then back in Virginia, which indicates Madison's concerns about certain aspects of states' rights. Hamilton offers a conciliatory response assuring Madison that "The states retain all the authorities they were before possessed of . . . but this does not include cases which are the creatures of the New Constitution." Madison's letter is not extant, but it can be reasonably assumed that he had conveyed his Virginian colleagues' concerns about states' rights. Eventually, the states' rights question congealed into the north/south debate, which made Virginia's concerns tantamount to the moral and economic concerns of the south as a whole. Although Madison was committed to a strong union with authority over the individual states, he came under increasing pressure to protect the planter society of the south. That pressure, coupled with his own deeply entrenched Southern mores caused his initial wariness to transform into outward and vehement opposition to Hamilton and his policies.

The two also differed immensely in their personal styles which likely had an abrasive effect. Hamilton was naturally passionate, emotive; Madison tended to be shy and reserved. Hamilton was opinionated. He was a stranger to subtlety, and much to his misfortune later on. As he admitted to his friend John Laurens in 1780: "The truth is I am an unlucky, honest man, that speak my sentiments to all and with emphasis." Hamilton depended upon what he perceived to be the truth and rightness of his opinions to sway others. To a seasoned Virginia politician and backroom insider like James Madison, such straightforwardness was as distasteful as it was imprudent. Madison's involvement in the Federalist project was to him a political expedient, a necessary project to generate the support needed to ratify the constitution in a critical state. He dealt with Hamilton only as much as he had to; the rest of the time he put as much distance, physically and ideologically, between himself and Hamilton as was possible.

That Hamilton did not perceive these differences early on is puzzling and probably due to a combination his own self-absorption and Madison's characteristic evasiveness. Finding what he considered Madison's change of opinion unfathomable, Hamilton blamed Jefferson for stealing Madison away from him. He explained his theory to a friend in 1792:

"I cannot persuade myself that Mr. Madison and I, whose politics had formerly so much the same point of departure, should now diverge so widely . . . Mr. Madison had always entertained an exalted opinion of . . . Mr. Jefferson. A close correspondence subsisted between them during the time of Mr. Jefferson's absence from this country. A close intimacy arose upon his return."