A Republican by any Other Name – Hamilton, Not Lincoln, Founded the GOP

What does it take for Alexander Hamilton to be adopted by the Republicans as one of their great historical figures?

By itself, the fact only the electoral college (one of Hamilton’s most beloved pet projects in elitism) saved the Republicans’ Presidential bacon twice in two decades warrants ranking America’s first and greatest Treasurer alongside Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Coolidge, and Reagan.

Federalist was the name of Hamilton’s party; it’s party emblem is proudly displayed on our frontpage.  But the name should not deceive anyone into believing the GOP isn’t the rightful successor to the Federalists.

The policy lineage from the mid-19th century Republicans back to the Federalists is easy enough to trace:  Hamilton’s Federalist Party followed Hamilton’s National System.

After the dissolution of the Federalists that followed their crippling public relations disaster at the Hartford Convention, their cause embodied in the National System was picked up by the Whigs led by Henry Clay and Daniel Webster; with slight modifications, Hamilton’s System was rebranded by Clay as the American System.

When pre-Civil War sectional differences ended the Whigs, Clay’s great admirer, Lincoln, along with other former Whig members enshrined Clay’s version of Hamilton’s National System into the Republican Party platform where it remained at the heart of the GOP until the New Deal.

The core constituents of the Federalists – Northerners, urbanites, bankers, manufacturers, merchants, Western settlers, Unionists opposed to secession, those in favor of a strong military, and trade protectionists – were inherited from the Federalists to the Whigs, and, finally, from the Whigs to Lincoln’s Golden Age Republicans.

The surprising resistance to placing Hamilton prominently in the Republican and Conservative pantheon has largely come from Jeffersonian elements, especially Libertarians.  Their reasons for denying Hamilton his due, however, amount to incoherent strawman arguments that he was both a crypto-Royalist and an early Progressive on account of his inclinations for centralizing governmental power that has been so heavily abused by the Progressive movement ever since the Progressives came into existence.

Pragmatically Distributed has many lessons to teach about Royalism and Progressivism.  At the risk of sounding like boasting, I would say you will be hard pressed to find anyone who knows more about both topics than I.

And I can assure you, the reader, that Hamilton cannot be both simultaneously.  Of the two charges, his Monarchical biases carry the most truth; but they also exonerate Hamilton from being a Progressive.

The ideal American government envisioned by Hamilton was no more powerful (probably less) than Louis XIV’s France.  But the Sun King was no Progressive.  All of the essential competencies Hamilton assigned to the Federal Government – military, economic, trade, infrastructure, central banking, diplomacy, budget, legislation – were roles every European Monarchist of his era considered properly handled in a powerful national capitol.

Hamilton’s philosophy of human nature was also incompatible with Liberalism.  To Hamilton man possesses fixed, perpetually conflicting, virtuous and sinful characteristics that make man’s perfection through earthly measures impossible.

Although he did not get his way entirely at the Constitutional Convention, Hamilton’s elitism reflects itself in the Constitution’s numerous safe guards against the “tyranny of the majority” that he so often warned against.   For the great Utopian project of his age, the French Revolution, he offered nothing but truthful and prescient condemnations, whereas the other founding father of American Conservatism, Jefferson, got the French Revolution wrong at its outset .

Hamilton’s place is no less essential to the American Right because he is the founding father most responsible for setting the policy foundations that transformed America into the greatest power in history.  Other founders like Jefferson created aspects to American governance that would have secured it a stable existence, but these aspects were insufficient to make America a world power.

Hamilton’s securing of the nation’s credit rating, in addition to centralizing trade and diplomatic policy within the Federal government, saved the newly created United States from the risk of early economic and diplomatic fragmentation into different nations (some of which may have voted to rejoin the British Empire if American Unionism failed).

His credit reforms also provided an environment to raise investment capital for America’s embryonic manufacturing industry:  Under Hamilton our credit rating quickly came to be seen as safe an investor haven during the Napoleonic Wars as Great Britain’s.

Hamilton’s trade tariffs and infrastructure improvements were Republican dogma until the New Deal.  Hamiltonian industrial policy attracted millions of white laborer immigrants (the only acceptable type of immigrant) to urban centers.  These industrial triumphs built the military industrial complex that won both World Wars.

Perhaps no statesman in the last 200 years has left a more impactful legacy on world history than Alexander Hamilton, and the Republican Party is not complete until it formally counts him as their own.

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3 thoughts on “A Republican by any Other Name – Hamilton, Not Lincoln, Founded the GOP”

  1. Interesting, never knew much about Hamilton. Raises a few questions though. It is not true that by Lincoln’s time, the Republicans were the party of the Left, compared to the Democrats? I would assume the Whigs to be considered the Left as well. Or were the coalitions that made up early US political parties more even in terms of left & right wings? Is Hamilton then a father of a strain of conservatism/rightism within the Whigs/Republicans even when they weren’t necessarily conservative parties per se?

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  2. Then again, I guess a party for conservative elites =/= a party for conservative commoners (Democrats), so I could see elitism being more of a unifying factor in the Federalists/Whigs/early-GOP.

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  3. It is not true that by Lincoln’s time, the Republicans were the party of the Left, compared to the Democrats?

    Both were Conservative parties because they served the economic interests of different elites.

    Jefferson-Jackson Democrats were on opposite ends of the Hamilton-Clay-Lincoln economic consensus (if Lincoln had lived his post-War economic governance would have been Hamiltonian due to the great influence of Clay on Lincoln’s thinking). In general, Antebellum Democrats was a platform for the politics of the Southern elite which endorsed free trade, militaristic expansionism, agrarianism and slavery, opposed central banking, and was skeptical of “internal improvements”/infrastructure.

    These differences had not fully matured during the Federalist-Whig period. Initially, especially at the time of the Federalists, there was overlap between Southern and Northern elites; on some occasions the South went along with tariffs because it was affordable for them, other times they agreed to internal improvements.

    Steadily this initially mild polarization between elites increased in proportion to the rate the North industrialized. Eventually the two systems became so incompatible that Lincoln’s Republicans and the Southern Democrats settled into completely regional entities.

    But early Republicans were not Liberals. They were Conservative because they represented the long-established economics of the North. That they ultimately clashed with the economics of the South does not make early Republicans Liberal: Conservative nations can and have waged war against other Conservative nations.

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