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Jan. 11 marked the anniversary of Alexander Hamilton’s birth in 1757. During his own lifetime, Hamilton had committed defenders as well as passionate detractors, and that division continues today.
Despite the controversy he generates, Hamilton was second only to George Washington in importance to the new Republic. Although Washington was indeed the “indispensable man” of the American Founding, my friend and former Naval War College colleague, Steve Knott, and our mutual former student, Tony Williams, make clear in their important book, Washington and Hamilton, that their alliance was indeed the one that “forged America.” Hamilton should be honored for the critical role he played in three important areas: republican constitutional order; political economy and public finance; and national defense.
Regarding the American constitutional order, Hamilton, like most of the founding generation — including Thomas Jefferson — understood the American Revolution as an act of deliberation designed to establish a government limited in power to securing the antecedent natural rights of its citizens enumerated in the Declaration of Independence — “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Where they differed was over means.
Although Hamilton, like Jefferson, envisioned the American Republic as a government of limited powers, he nonetheless believed that such a government needed to be strong enough to execute those powers. As a result, he stressed the importance of an energetic executive. But as an advocate of limited government, he always understood the necessity of remaining within the legal bounds established by the Constitution. “Let us not establish a tyranny,” he wrote in 1798. Recognizing the danger of an overreaching executive, he strongly advocated a separation of powers.
Hamilton likewise played a critical role in laying the foundation for…