Several great men contributed to the founding of the United States and many were great thinkers as well. On analysis, it is clear that George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson contributed greatly to the American political system and to American society. However, to determine which of these men was most important to the development of our political system and our society as a whole requires analyzing the men’s writing, their speeches and their contributions to the American way of life.
To do such, we will first look at the individual contributions of each man, their lives and their behaviors and then at their accomplishments to reach the conclusion that though George Washington is widely regarded as the Father of the Country, his contributions are outshined by both Hamilton and Jefferson.
In the end, Hamilton, with his Federalist Papers did more to influence the development of the national political system than Washington and Jefferson’s contributions to architecture, science and political thought, in addition to his actions as President, not the least of which is the Louisiana Purchase, clearly contributed more than the other two men to the development of American society. Alexander Hamilton is the least known of these men, but in many ways the most important to the development of the United States as a nation.
Hamilton served in public office as the Secretary of the Treasury during the presidency of George Washington. He is often remembered in American history for his duel with Aaron Burr which resulted in his death. However, he is in many ways the most interesting of the characters as well, known to be the child of unwed parents and to have conducted at least one extramarital affair in an age when such things were unheard of. Some speculate that he may also have had an affair with his wife’s sister, but proof of that affair does not exist. (Hamilton Page, 2007).
The woman that it is known that Hamilton had an affair with, Maria Reynolds was the wife of a con man and counterfeiter who blackmailed Hamilton. Maria’s husband proved to be a man of no small aspiration and when he found out about the affair, threatened Hamilton with exposure. (DiCarolis, 2007) Hamilton would later tell investigators that Mr. Reynolds had insisted on wither a job with the federal treasury or that Hamilton pay him $1,000 and continue the affair with Maria. The affair with Maria, would, of course, mean additional payments.
(DiCarolis, 2007). The affair, which Hamilton would later admit to James Monroe and others, investigating allegations that he had misuse federal funds, came to be one of the points that Thomas Jefferson used against him in his effort to have the Secretary of the Treasury removed in 1793. Jefferson went so far as to ask Congress to impeach Hamilton, but the vote failed (DiCarolis, 2007). Questions about Hamilton’s character also extend to his choice of a wife when he instructed a compatriot to find him a wife that was pretty, nice and above all, wealthy.
(Hamilton Page, 2007). Eventually, Hamilton and his wife Eliza would have many children, though there is some dispute of whether they had 8 or 10. Some historians argue that they had ten, but had two Phillips and two names John C. In terms of political thought, Hamilton likely had no equal, except for his chief rival, Thomas Jefferson. Hamilton was responsible for 55 of the Federalist Papers, a series of letters to New York newspapers which were largely responsible for the adoption of the United States Constitution.
The papers are still considered to be among the best authorities on the Constitution and its interpretation (“Federalist Papers E-Text, 2007). “The Federalist Papers remain today as an excellent reference for anyone who wants to understand the U. S. Constitution,” (“Federalist Papers E-Text”, 2007). Hamilton argued for the adoption of the constitution and explained his vision for how the newly formed federal government would run. That alone should be enough to guarantee his legacy as the greatest contributor to the American political system.
However, some will argue that Jefferson, by virtue of writing the Declaration of Independence, had a greater impact on the developing country. In that regard, it is fair to say that Jefferson, even more than Washington is the father of the country. Without the eloquent reiteration of John Locke’s premises in the Declaration of Independence, the country might not have broken from England and developed in the first place. However, it was Hamilton’s insistence that the new nation have a strong federal government and his instructions on how to run it that have most influenced the development of the country.
Likewise, Hamilton’s influence over the developing nation was great during the Washington presidency. As the Secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton exerted a great deal of influence on Washington and perhaps more directly influencing the developing nation, he wrote proposals for a federal mint and helped outline the manner in which the federal government would be funded in his outlines to Congress on the proposal for public credit (DiCarolis 2007).
By asking Congress to create bonding authority for the federal government, Hamilton had more influence on the public funding system and therefore on the government operations than any other American public official. Hamilton’s career in public service began as a soldier and aide to Gen. George Washington during the Revolutionary war. Then, he served as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in 1787, where he presented the Hamilton Plan for the creation of a federal government with two legislative bodies, an executive branch and a judicial branch.
Though modifications were made in the drafting of the Constitution, Hamilton’s Plan formed the basis for the new country’s governing document. Once the Constitution was written, he and James Madison and Supreme Court Chief Justice John Jay wrote The Federalist Papers explaining how the system would work and why voters, especially those in New York, needed tor ratify the Constitution. George Washington’s role in American history is indelibly written on the American psyche because of his role as a General in the American Revolution and as the first president after the adoption of the United States Constitution.
Washington was a member of the Church of England and cited deeply religious perspectives throughout his life, but did not push his religion off on others. He married the widow Martha Curtiss when they were both 27 and adopted her two children. They had no children of their own. Washington served as an English soldier in the French Indian War and as a general in the American Revolutionary War. Eventually, he became commander-in-chief of the American forces. He served as presiding officer at the second Constitutional Convention and was unanimously elected by the Electoral College to the Presidency of the United States.
He is largely considered a man of peace because of his efforts in the Jay Treaty, making peace with England, but further historical research shows that the treaty, as negotiated by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Jay under the direction of Alexander Hamilton (DiCarolis 2007). Washington’s big contribution to the nation’s history was as a military leader and as the first president. Widely regarded as a gentleman and a scholar, Washington set the tone for presidents to follow, with leadership through action and bringing together opposing forces for the better of the country. (“George Washington” 2007).
Thomas Jefferson was a landed Virginian, almost nobility in the New World. He was well-educated and a follower of enlightenment, relying heavily on the influence of French philosophers such as John Locke. He is considered to be the principal author of the Declaration of Independence and the father of Jeffersonian Democracy, a theory of representational democracy with the emphasis placed on the power of the people. His wife’s name was Martha and genetic testing tends to confirm allegations that he had a long relationship with one of his slaves named Sally Hemings (“Biography of Thomas Jefferson” 2007).
Jefferson served as ambassador to France after Benjamin Franklin and served temporarily as Secretary of State under George Washington. Because the Constitution did not allow for President and Vice President candidates to be elected together, Jefferson accidentally became vice president in the election of 1796 and in 1800 won election as the third president of the United States. His contributions to the nation began with his authorship of the Declaration of Independence and continued well past his presidency.
However, the accomplishments of his presidency are among the biggest of any President ever. In 1803, Jefferson agreed to buy the Louisiana Territory from France in a move that many argued exceeded his authority as president. However, his purchase of the territory and sponsorship of the Lewis & Clark Expedition are among the greatest accomplishment of his lifetime. Jefferson was a true renaissance man with interests ranging from architecture and archaeology to political thought and philosophy.
(“Biography of Thomas Jefferson” 2007) After his retirement, Jefferson continued to contribute to the new nation, most notably by his founding of the University of Virginia. Jefferson also designed many of the buildings on the Virginia campus. He is widely held responsible for the doctrine of the separation of church and state. As author of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson is arguably one of the biggest contributors to the founding of the American political system.
His war with Hamilton helped found the American political party system and his admiration of the French Revolution helped contribute to his thoughts on populous democracy. However, it clear that while Jefferson was a thinker, Hamilton was the architect of American political processes. He designed the three branches of government as adopted in the U. S. Constitution. He created the propaganda that got New York, then one of the country’s most influential states, to adopt the Constitution and helped design the manner in which the new government would operate.
Hamilton’s belief in a strong central government, similar to a monarchy, helped to lead to the reduction of state rights, contributing to the federal system and to the development of the nation. His contribution of ideas, the development of a federal mint and federal bonding power, led to the development of a federal budget and a means of keeping the government together. He also instructed John Jay in negotiations with the British, securing England as the primary ally of the new nation and creating an alliance that has been the most significant of any in American history.
Alexander Hamilton is clearly the greatest contributor to the American political system. Thomas Jefferson on the other hand is greatest contributor to American society. In addition to his underlying belief in equality, a fundamental belief of American society, Jefferson contributed in his developments in agriculture and in architecture and in the development of a state university, making education more accessible to Americans, Furthermore, he doubled the size of the young nation with the Louisiana Purchase.
In many ways this is his greatest legacy. The Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark Expedition helped develop the American concept of Manifest Destiny. It contributed to the American love of wide open spaces and the theory that we owned the continent. Whether he wanted it to or not, it also contributed to an expansion of powers of the presidency. Jefferson clearly is the greatest contributor to American society.
“Biography of Thomas Jefferson” < http://www.whitehouse. gov/history/presidents/tj3. html>, October 31, 2007. DeCarolis, Lisa Marie. “A Biography of Alexander Hamilton” http://www. let. rug. nl/usa/B/hamilton/hamil28. htm, October 31, 2007 “Federalist Papers E-Text” http://www. foundingfathers. info/federalistpapers/ October 31, 2007. “George Washington,”, http://sc94. ameslab. gov/TOUR/gwash. html, October 31, 2007. “The Alexander Hamilton Page” http://www. lambda. net/~maximum/hamilton. html, October 31, 2007.