Two of the founding fathers that deserve more attention are Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. While the Hamilton musical provides us with some perspective and entertainment, I would recommend the book by Jay Cost, The Price of Greatness: Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and the Creation of American Oligarchy. Jay was on the Point of View radio program to talk about his book.
These two men belonged to a political movement with three fundamental foundations. The first was the commitment to liberal government that emphasized the protection of individual rights. The Declaration of Independence argued that “governments are instituted among men” in order to secure certain “unalienable rights.” That idea, written by Thomas Jefferson, was influenced by the writings of John Locke.
The second foundation was a belief in self-government, often referred to as republicanism. A republic allowed the citizens to be governed by laws that they actually had a hand in creating. A monarch did not hand down these laws. They were established by “we the people.”
The third foundation was nationalism. The 13 separate colonies agreed to bind themselves together in a national union of 13 states. This is where there was the greatest division between the Federalists and the Antifederalists. And they ended up dividing Hamilton from Madison.
Hamilton emphasized national vigor and was eager to promote the Bank of the United States and other programs that would grow the national government. Madison, on the other hand, wanted to pursue what could be called “republican balance.” He feared that Hamilton’s policies favored the wealthy.
In reading this book by Jay Cost, I was struck by the reality that many of the debates in the founding of this country continue to this day. Many of the ideas put forward by Hamilton and Madison are still debated today in the halls of Congress.