The vote is over for considering who the greatest founding father is; Thomas Jefferson and George Washington each received seven votes, Madison, Hamilton, and Samuel Adams each had one vote. Maybe Jefferson's reputation helped him, but Washington lead the vote count up until the end. Washington was an upright man, with the integrity, and character Jefferson lacked. Despite Jefferson having nothing to do with the formation or ratification of the Constitution, his popularity continues to grow.
I agree with Hercules Mulligan that Washington had the universal confidence and respect from the other framers to be first President of the early Republic; from President James Monroe's testimony, without Washington's leadership, the Constitutional Convention would have likely failed.
I have questions regarding Washington's Christianity; unlike Alexander Hamilton, whose writings tell us he believed the Christian Religion Divine, amidst his personal failures. In comparing Washington's simple genius with the brilliance of Alexander Hamilton, my allegiance is with the latter.
From his birth in the West Indies, he overcame adversity Washington, or any other framer never experienced. He also had to deal with prejudice from some framers who were born with silver spoons in their mouths, some launching assaults at his birth out of wedlock.
He was, as John Adams later claimed, "the bastard brat of a Scottish peddler." Hamilton, at the age of 13, had to prevail when his mother, who had pieced together a livelihood as a retailer, died. He prevailed again when his guardian, a distant relative named Peter Lytton, committed suicide the following year.
At 19, in the United States, Hamilton put a brigade together on his own, getting his troops and supplies himself, while being appointed a captain of the New York Artillery. Hamilton and his men fought bravely in several early battles, including the unsuccessful attempt to hold Manhattan from the British. Hamilton and his unit covered Washington's retreat across New Jersey. In the sharpest exchanges, Hamilton's artillery kept the British at bay while the bulk of the American forces crossed first the Raritan River and later the Delaware. Hamilton also took part in the successful, and famous, counterattacks at Trenton and Princeton in the winter of 1776–77.
Hamilton was not only a military genius, he was an administrative, legal, economic, and political genius as well. Washington recognized his talent, giving ever-increasing responsibility to the young officer, now a lieutenant colonel. During the next few years of fighting, when desertion was all too common, Hamilton stayed loyally by his commander's side. He was there for the frozen winters at Valley Forge and Morristown; the military disasters like the abandonment of New York City in 1776 and the subsequent retreat across New Jersey; the real treacheries of Benedict Arnold, and the perceived treacheries of an impotent Continental Congress; and the failed opportunities like Monmouth, when he was at Washington's side when the Virginia gentleman lambasted General Charles Lee in mid-battle for gross misconduct. And Hamilton was with Washington during the good times, the infrequent victories, and the secret march to trap Cornwallis at Yorktown.
Hamilton was also the first man over the wall at Yorktown, defeating the British, showing his undaunted bravery. His genius started during the Revolutionary War, when he first thought of the National Bank. Central to Hamilton's early plans were several key provisions of what would later be the hallmarks of his financial program: foreign loans, partial government ownership of a national bank, and use of that bank to provide the national government with short-term loans.
Hamilton's thought was often far in advance of that of most of his contemporaries. This is not to say that he could see the future but rather that he took positions that remained unpopular or misunderstood until well into the nineteenth century. Two episodes in 1784 demonstrate his prescience. First, Hamilton established a private commercial bank. The innovation came not so much from the bank itself, which closely followed the procedures established by its predecessor, the Bank of North America. Rather, the innovation came from the way in which the bank, the very same Bank of New York that still graces Wall Street, found legal life. The New York legislature was against his idea, so he by-passed them and started it himself; the most essential advantages of his idea: joint-stock form, negotiable shares, status as a legal entity, and limited liability. So the Bank of New York formed and began business anyway, under private "articles of association" instead of a special legislative act. Hamilton used the same technique again with the Merchants' Bank in the early nineteenth century.
Hamilton presented several monumental state papers that, when combined with the entrepreneurial talents and self-interested desires of thousands of Americans, forged a national financial system: The Report on Public Credit (January 9, 1790), The Report on the Bank (December 13, 1790), The Establishment of a Mint (January 28, 1791), and The Report on Manufactures (December 5, 1791). Taken together, Hamilton's reports were nothing short of a strategic outline for the establishment of a thriving economy rooted solidly in the bedrock of sound fiscal management, a stable monetary system, extensive short-term commercial credit, and long-term development capital. On the grandest scale, the secretary's policies helped to solidify the new government by creating incentives for wealthy individuals to invest in it, directly through ownership of its bonds and indirectly through ownership of shares in the Bank of the United States. He surmised, correctly as it turned out, that the financial system would be "the powerful cement of our Union."
His ideas on the National Bank Jefferson and Madison despised, making Virginia pay the debts of other states, as well as a threat to Republican Government. Hamilton had no loyalty to any state, but to the Constitution. Hamilton saw paying the debt a blessing rather than a burden, in addition to aligning the interests of the wealthy with those of the government, his funding plan would increase the nation's credit overseas, making it cheaper and easier for both the government and private enterprises to obtain foreign financing. Finally, funding would create a form of liquid capital that would help the economy to allocate resources more efficiently.
Madison's solution on paying the debt was insufficient, and discriminatory; Madison wanted to group the original debt holders at the expense of current debt holders; Hamilton eventually crushed the discrimination argument with his usual barrage of logic and first principles. The debt instruments were simply a species of property, the value of which fluctuated with the government's fortunes and interest rates. They were, moreover, fully negotiable instruments. In other words, exchanging them was perfectly legal. The original holders had not been coerced into selling and had received a valuable consideration for the ownership of the obligations. Only the current owners of the bonds, Hamilton concluded, could be compensated. For those who could not follow his reasoning, Hamilton offered the Continental Congressional resolution of April 26, 1783, authored ironically enough by Madison, that solemnly pledged that there would be no discrimination against those who obtained government debt in the secondary market.
Thinking through the matter of the Bank being owned and operated by the government, or being privitized, in Hamilton's view, independent managers would prevent abuse by the government and provide a necessary check against its possible perfidy, much like judicial review did for courts and legislatures. The private status of the Bank would ensure that the government could never use it as a tool of oppression. As Hamilton noted, governments were never "blessed with a constant succession of upright and wise Administrators." But the Bank, as a private institution, would have a "magnetic sense" of its "own interest ... the prosperity of the institution" and thereby prevent the government from succumbing to "the temptations of momentary exigencies."
Today's corruption, and greed of man is a totally different animal compared to 18th century America. It seems the longer the nation exists, the more wicked it becomes, throwing off the Biblical fundamentals the Founding Fathers grew up with. Of Hamilton,
Chancellor James Kent called him, a lawyer that had no superior. (emphasis added)
Politically, if he would have been more sympathetic, and understanding, the Federalists would not have lost the Presidency of 1800. If he could have united the Federalists, rather than splitting them up, Adams would have beaten Jefferson in 1800; even with Hamilton's death, the Federalists would still have been the most powerful party. But Hamilton had enemies, and helped divide the party.
In the end, Hamilton fell mortally wounded on the dueling grounds at Weehawken, the financial system was thriving. Joint-stock banks were rapidly multiplying, as were other types of joint-stock companies, not all of which, thanks to Hamilton's insight, needed formal incorporation to begin operations. The credit of the U.S. was among the best in the world; U.S. bonds and stock in the Bank of the United States regularly traded in London as well as in the active securities markets of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Charleston. The nation's credit was so good that it easily borrowed to purchase Louisiana and to fight wars. The first Bank helped to keep the macroeconomy on an even keel by checking the note issue of state banks. The entire nation had a single unit of account, the U.S. dollar, that was firmly defined in terms of gold and silver. Fire and marine insurance was almost fully formed; life insurance lay just over the horizon, as did trust companies, savings banks, and building-and-loans. Great leaps in manufacturing—ultimately funded by banks and capital markets—began just a few years after Hamilton's death. Most importantly, economic growth, increases in real per capita output, was picking up steam, soon literally as well as figuratively.
Alexander Hamilton was the creator of the U.S. financial system, the engine of America's remarkable nineteenth-century economic and political transformations. Wall Street, and our modern banking system, was designed by him. His legacy will always be with us. I consider him one of the great geniuses the United States has produced.
"I consider Napoleon, Fox, and Hamilton the three greatest men of our epoch, and if I were forced to decide between the three, I would give without hesitation the first place to Hamilton. He divined Europe." --Charles Maurice de Talleyrand