The Economic Genius of Alexander Hamilton
By Nancy Spannaus
Nov. 7, 2021—I will be conducting a two-part class series on The Economic Genius of Alexander Hamilton at the Long Island University’s lifelong learning institute, Hutton House, on Nov. 16 and 23 of this year. The classes will be conducted over Zoom and are therefore available to people anywhere over the Internet. Registration is still available and can be carried out online at liu.edu/huttonhouse/courses, or by calling 516-299-2580. (There is a fee.)
The two-hour sessions will be held between 10 AM and noon, and allow time for plenty of discussion. I encourage you to sign up.
Bringing a Nation out of Bankruptcy
At the conclusion of the Revolutionary War, the 13 colonies were devastated physically and financially, and had very dim prospects for continuing to survive. The question posed was stark: How could you go about creating a viable society out of a bunch of squabbling, bankrupt, besieged ministates?
In large measure, the answer to that question came from Alexander Hamilton. From the late 1770s on, even as he served as George Washington’s chief aide-de-camp, he threw himself into studying political economy, with an eye to solving the pressing, potentially fatal problems of the nation-in-process. His task was both political and economic: indeed, the very creation of the Constitution was inextricably tied up with not only the defense of the liberties won from the British Empire, but also with establishing the economic basis for a unified, prosperous republic.
While many claimed that these two goals were contradictory, Hamilton was convinced that they were dependent upon one another. To defend our liberties, we had to develop our economy.
Of course, Hamilton was not tackling this problem alone. But, as his role as the individual who wrote the call for the Constitutional Convention, conceived the project and wrote most of the Federalist papers, coordinated the ratification fight which brought the recalcitrant New York into the Union, and served on the Committee on Style which wrote the final document attests, his ideas for how to frame the economic and political structure of the new nation were highly influential.
As George Washington’s Treasury Secretary, Hamilton had the ability to lay the foundation for implementing his vision of a thriving agro-industrial nation. He established the principles of the American System of Economics and his economic genius in doing so is writ large in the successful growth of our nation.
The Crucial Ideas
In the two sessions, we will home in on Hamilton’s principles of political economy as they were outlined in his major economic policy papers. We will start with his Report on Manufactures, since it is the most “theoretical” and presents his ideas with the greatest scope and depth. We will subsequently deal with his two reports on public credit, and the defense of the Constitutionality of the National Bank, all of which contain crucial concepts for a viable economy.
The success of Hamilton’s program in his time will be outlined, as well as the spectacular success of its revival after the devastating years of Jeffersonian policies, and in the Lincoln and FDR administrations.
It will become evident that the re-adoption of Hamiltonian principles remains a vital question up to the present day.
This class will serve as a supplement to the material in my book, Hamilton Versus Wall Street: The Core Principles of the American System of Economics. Class members are encouraged, but not required, to read the book.