Tag Archives: Alexander Hamilton

No one has a clue, not even the author! Part 1 of 2

I think it an object of great importance, to be kept in view, and to be undertaken at a fit season, to simplify our system of finance, and bring it within the comprehension of every member of Congress. Hamilton set out on a different plan. in order that he might have the entire government of his machine, he determined so to complicate it as that neither the President or Congress should be able to understand it, or to controul him. he succeeded in doing this, not only beyond their reach, but so that he at length could not unravel it himself.
To Albert Gallatin, April 1, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Great leaders SIMPLIFY.
A year into his Presidency, he hoped to up-end the incomprehensible financing system created by a previous Treasury Secretary, Alexander Hamilton. He wanted Gallatin, now in that role, to simplify that system to the point where every member of Congress could understand it.

There was no love lost between Jefferson and Hamilton. The new President thought the former Secretary wanted to control the entire government. To do that, Hamilton had deliberately created a system so obtuse “that neither the President or Congress should be able to understand it.”

It followed that no one would be able to control the one person, Hamilton, who understood the whole process. Eventually it backfired, Jefferson claimed, becoming so convoluted that Hamilton “could not unravel it himself.”

“On behalf of the Missouri Council …
I would like to express my deepest gratitude for your inspirational presentation …”
Conference Chair, Missouri Federation Council for Exceptional Children
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They have problems? WE had bigger ones! Get over it.

the dissensions between two members of the cabinet are to be lamented. but why should these force mr Gallatin to withdraw? they cannot be greater than between Hamilton & myself, & yet we served together 4. years in that way. we had indeed no personal dissensions. each of us perhaps thought well of the other as a man. but as politicians it was impossible for two men to be of more opposite principles. the method of separate consultation, practised sometimes in the cabinet, prevents disagreeable collisions.
To Joel Barlow, January 24, 1810

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders need wisdom to manage talented but feuding subordinates.
Barlow (1754-1812) was a lawyer, editor, acclaimed writer, public official, friend and confidante. He reported on a dispute between two men in President Madison’s cabinet. The disagreement had reached the point where the Secretary of the Treasury, Albert Gallatin, was about to be driven out by the Secretary of State, Robert Morris.

Jefferson asked why a disagreement should force Gallatin to withdraw? He cited his own example of continually butting heads with Alexander Hamilton in President Washington’s cabinet, yet the two of them co-labored for four years. (Hamilton and Jefferson held the same two posts as Gallatin and Smith.) Their differences were political and philosophical but not personal, and they respected each other as individuals. Couldn’t Gallatin and Smith reach the same accommodation?

Jefferson suggested the practice “of separate consultation” with cabinet members. Rather than having opponents in the room together, Mr. Madison could confer with each man separately. He would have the benefit of each man’s counsel while avoiding the conflict that would inevitably arise if opponents were face-to-face.

It had been 16 years since Hamilton and Jefferson had served together in Washington’s cabinet and 5 1/2 years since Hamilton’s death in a duel with Vice-President Aaron Burr. Time must have softened Jefferson’s judgment or his memories. In the early 1790s, Jefferson had nothing positive to say about Hamilton. One of the reasons Jefferson resigned from Washington’s cabinet at end of 1793 was his continual conflict with the other man.

“You were great as President Jefferson …
Your remarks … could not have been more impressive or appropriate …”
Interim Director, Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center, Nebraska City, NE
Mr. Jefferson will be both appropriate and impressive for your audience!
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Should facts or fears govern us?

For observe, it is not the possibility of danger, which absolves a party from his contract: for that possibility always exists, & in every case. It existed in the present one at the moment of making the contract. If possibilities would avoid contracts, there never could be a valid contract. For possibilities hang over everything.
Opinion on the French Treaties, April 28, 1793

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders should govern by what is, not what might be.
President Washington asked Secretary of State Jefferson and Secretary of Treasury Hamilton to submit opinions on whether the United States was still obligated by its treaties with France. Those treaties were made when France was a monarchy, and the king had since been beheaded. In fact, it wasn’t clear what kind of government would result from all of France’s internal turmoil.

Hamilton’s opinion was that the U.S. made treaties with a government that no longer existed. Either we were not bound by them, or we had a right to suspend them until the issue of their government was settled. He raised a lot of “what ifs” and speculated what future danger those treaties might pose to America.

Jefferson didn’t buy it. He described the “what ifs” as possibilities of danger, not danger itself. Those possibilities existed when they treaties were made. They still existed. He said we should governed by the facts and the commitments we had made (the treaties), not by fears of what might happen.

In a larger sphere, Jefferson would advise one to be governed by what is, not what might be. Very late in life (1825, age 81) he would write as #8 in his Decalogue of Canons, “How much pain have cost us the evils which have never happened.”

“… your command of Mr. Jefferson’s persona and mind
and your facility in answering complex questions were impressive.”
Louisiana Purchase Bicentennial Three Flags Festival, St. Louis
Your audience will find Mr. Jefferson impressive, too.
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Can an honest man be a dishonest politician?

The [My] room being hung around with a collection of the portraits of remarkable men, among them were those of Bacon, Newton and Locke, [Alexander] Hamilton asked me who they were. I told him they were my trinity of the three greatest men the world had ever produced, naming them. He paused for some time: “the greatest man,” said he, “that ever lived, was Julius Caesar.” Mr. Adams was honest as a politician, as well as a man; Hamilton honest as a man, but, as a politician, believing in the necessity of either force or corruption to govern men.
To Dr. Benjamin Rush, January 16, 1811

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Honest leaders are both honest people AND honest politicians.
Jefferson recalled a working dinner he hosted at Monticello several decades earlier for the Cabinet secretaries and Vice-President Adams. Dinner and business accomplished, the conversation, “sitting at our wine,” turned to other topics. Here, in a nutshell, Jefferson explained the difference between himself and Treasury Secretary Hamilton.

Jefferson’s heroes were Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton and John Locke, men of intellect, reason, merit and integrity. Hamilton’s hero was the dictator Julius Caesar.


Jefferson believed men capable of self-government,  employing the same talents as his heroes. Hamilton believed men incapable of leading themselves, that they had to be coerced or bribed into following.


John Adams was honest both as a man and a politician. Hamilton was credited with honesty only as a man, not as a leader.

“[One] board member … wrote, ‘Well done, enjoyable, and timeless.’
That sums up what I was looking for in a closing speaker and what you provided so well.”
Conference Manager, Nebraska Association of School Boards

Would “Well done, enjoyable, and timeless” inspire your audience?
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Can ANY group, especially Congress, be truly impartial?

As to a coalition with Mr. Hamilton … it was impossible. … principles conscientiously adopted, could not be given up on either side. My wish was, to see both Houses of Congress cleansed of all persons interested in the bank or public stocks; and that a pure legislature given us, I should always be ready to acquiesce under their determinations, even if contrary to my own opinions; for I subscribe to the principle, that the will of the majority, honestly expressed, should give law …
The Anas, February 7, 1793

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Idealistic leaders hope (unrealistically) for a level playing field.
Jefferson was President Washington’s Secretary of State, Hamilton his Secretary of the Treasury. The two lieutenants butted heads on practically every subject, and neither would back down.
In this instance, Jefferson believed that financial speculators in Congress, Hamilton partisans, were voting their own pocketbooks. Jefferson wanted impartial Congressmen, ones who would make decisions on the merits of an issue, not because of any personal interest. He ascribed to majority rule, “honestly expressed,” and was willing to accept decisions from an impartial body, even if he disagreed.
Jefferson could be idealistic! To “cleanse” Congress of certain partisans and create a “pure legislature,” unaffected by personal interests or those of their constituents was not realistic in 1793. Nor is it 220 years later.
The Anas was a collection of Jefferson’s personal notes on a variety of subjects.

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the insight…the motivations and values…make your performances so exceptional.”
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