Abraham Lincoln’s Debt to Alexander Hamilton

D.C. Lincoln Birthday Commemoration features Spannaus talk

By Nancy Spannaus

Feb. 14, 2024—I was honored to have the privilege of addressing this year’s Lincoln Birthday dinner of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States (MOLLUS). My topic was Abraham Lincoln’s Debt to Alexander Hamilton, a theme which is featured in both my recent books: Hamilton Versus Wall Street, The Core Principles of the American System of Economics (2019), and Defeating Slavery: Hamilton’s American System Showed the Way (2023).

Lincoln's Debt to Alexander Hamilton
Nancy Spannaus addresses MOLLUS Lincoln birthday dinner.

In my talk, I showed how Lincoln’s economic policies can be traced directly back to Hamilton, starting from his very first foray into politics in 1832. In fact, one could say that Lincoln’s signature accomplishments – from the reshaping of the American economy to the abolition of slavery – were the fulfillment of Hamilton’s vision for the future United States.[1]

The Washington, D.C. Commandery of MOLLUS holds a Lincoln birthday dinner every year, as part of the annual commemoration of Lincoln’s birthday. The highlight of that commemoration is a gathering at the Lincoln Memorial on February 12, organized by the Lincoln Birthday National Commemorative Committee. The event, open to the public, includes greetings from various organizations dedicated to preserving Lincoln’s legacy, a recitation of the Gettysburg address, music by a brass quintet from the U.S. Navy Band and soprano Kristy Bay of Lincoln Memorial University, and wreath-layings by a host of organizations.

The Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. (national park service)

This year’s Memorial event was better attended by the public than in previous years. It also saw participation by the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR) and a representative of the U.S. Colored Troops (for the second year). The Gettysburg Address was recited by David J. Kent, president of the Lincoln Group of the District of Columbia.

Lessons from Lincoln

In my view, the present situation of the United States cries out for serious study of Abraham Lincoln’s life and legacy. Faced in his own time with an existential crisis for the country, Lincoln turned to in-depth study of our nation’s history and searched out the principles which he believed could preserve the Union. He found those in the Declaration of Independence. Read his speech in Philadelphia on his way to his inauguration:

… I have often inquired of myself, what great principle or idea it was that kept this Confederacy so long together. It was not the mere matter of the separation of the Colonies from the motherland; but that sentiment in the Declaration of Independence which gave liberty, not alone to the people of this country, but, I hope, to the world, for all future time. It was that which gave promise that in due time the weight would be lifted from the shoulders of all men.

This is a sentiment embodied in the Declaration of Independence. Now, my friends, can this country be saved upon that basis? If it can, I will consider myself one of the happiest men in the world, if I can help to save it. If it cannot be saved upon that principle, it will be truly awful. But if this country cannot be saved without giving up that principle, I was about to say I would rather be assassinated on this spot than surrender it.

Lincoln understood, however, that the principles of the Declaration needed to be carried out in the economic policies of the country.  Thus, he also devoted himself to intensive study of economics, and learned – with the crucial help of Henry C. Carey – that those principles were to be found in the American System of Economics, founded by Alexander Hamilton.  And during his short administration, he devoted himself to putting those into action. Preserving the Union itself was the first achievement, a goal he saw as integrally connected with the abolition of slavery. Beyond that, we can find them in our national banking system, the Department of Agriculture, the nationwide transportation system, and our system of land grant colleges, to name a few.

Both of my books, of course, deal with the Hamiltonian policies Lincoln fought for. In Hamilton Versus Wall Street, there is a chapter entitled “Lincoln, Hamiltonian”; in Defeating Slavery, I present the argument for how Hamilton’s industrialization policies, if fully carried through, could have eliminated slavery without a Civil War, with particular emphasis on the thinking of Lincoln’s major economic advisor, Henry C. Carey. (To get a copy of Defeating Slavery, click here.)

Carrying on the Legacy

There is a plethora of organizations seeking to preserve Lincoln’s legacy today, but MOLLUS is rightly considered the pre-eminent one. The Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States was founded on April 15, 1865, by commissioned officers of the Union forces who were concerned about a possible coup attempt in the wake of Lincoln’s assassination. The organization organized the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial on February 12, 1922, and has committed itself to commemorating Lincoln’s birthday every year, in coordination with the National Park Service and the Military District of Columbia.

Lincoln's Debt to Alexander Hamilton
Ed Gantt represented the 23rd Regiment, PA, of the U.S. Colored Troops at the ceremony

Playing a prominent role in the ceremonies as well is Lincoln Memorial University, which is located in Harrogate, Tennessee. LMU was founded in 1897 by General Oliver Howard in fulfillment of the wish expressed to him by President Lincoln that something be done to thank the people of eastern Tennessee, who had proven their loyalty to the Union throughout the harrowing days of the Civil War.

[1] A general outline of my presentation can be found in this post.

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