Thursday, June 18, 2015

Defending Hamilton

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew's announcement last night that the $10 bill would be modified to include both Alexander Hamilton and a woman has caused a combination of head-scratching and cheers.  While many are happy that a woman will be included on #TheNew10, few have defended why Hamilton's bill had been revised (other than saying that the $10 was already up for redesign). Some activists had been calling for a revision of the $20, believing that Andrew Jackson's troubled legacy warranted a change.  No one had been calling for a revision of the $10.

The Obama administration's decision to revise U.S. currency has been criticized by people on the left and the right.  Even at Vox, Matt Yglesias writes that Treasury should have changed the $20 rather than the $10.  (It's worth mentioning, though, that, if Harriet Tubman is added to the $10, it would be appropriate because both she and Hamilton were opponents of slavery.)

However one feels about this currency change, a happy side-effect is that it has caused numerous writers today to come out in defense of Alexander Hamilton and his legacy for the United States.  A good place to start reading is Quin Hillyer's cri de coeur: "When it comes to American money, Hamilton is our history."

Over at The Federalist, defenses of Hamilton are pouring out. Ben Domenech celebrates Hamilton's heroism:
Had Alexander Hamilton died taking Redoubt Ten at Yorktown, bayonets fixed and muskets unloaded, he would have died a more significant American than his fellow Columbia student Barack Obama, who has now deigned to displace him from the ten dollar bill. To charge across that field under the flash of British artillery, rush into a hail of British musket fire, leap first over the parapet yelling for his fellow Patriots to follow and fight and by so doing win their freedom would have been enough for the man who had no father but became ours. He did not need to write and curate The Federalist; he did not need to construct the Constitution; he did not need to establish the U.S. Mint; he did not need to save the nation from financial calamity; he did not need to, in the aftermath of the 1800 election and in his dying act, destroy the political fortunes of the conniving traitor and would-be tyrant Aaron Burr.
Mollie Hemingway slams the administration's decision to focus on revising currency at this troubled time:
Yes, as the world burns from Ukraine to Iraq to the South China Sea, as we face a catastrophic seizure of data on all of our military and federal personnel, as the country faces real civil unrest and discord, the Obama administration has decided to turn its focus on the “problem” of a great immigrant Founding Father’s presence on our currency.
And Robert Tracinski outlines four reasons why Hamilton deserves a place on U.S. currency:
Alexander Hamilton was a classic American immigrant success story. Born in the West Indies, he was orphaned at about 11 years of age. As a teenager, he distinguished himself as a clerk for local exporters until friends raised money to send him to be educated in New York, where he quickly became an enthusiastic supporter of American independence.

Within months of the British withdrawal from America, Hamilton became the founder of the Bank of New York, which today is America’s oldest bank, and he became the central figure in the new nation’s financial center.
One of Hamilton's major causes after the Revolution was strengthening the union in part because he believed that a strong union was necessary to ward off foreign threats and to keep from internal chaos.  He worked to create a vibrant economy and a strong military in the belief that a vigorous nation would be one more likely to defend its liberty.  As the nation continues to struggle with economic stagnation and foreign-affairs debacles, that's an example the Obama administration would do well to learn from.

UPDATE:

Mark Krikorian reflects on the political implications of visual choices for monetary design.

Jay Cost cries, "Leave Hamilton Alone":
Though he died at the young age of 49, he did more than even the best among us could do in three lifetimes. He was George Washington’s indispensable man during the Revolutionary War. He was a key behind-the-scenes player in the movement for a Constitutional Convention. He defended the new Constitution with remarkable erudition and sophistication in theFederalist papers, of which he was the most prolific author. During his brief tenure at Treasury, he not only righted the nation’s teetering public finances, he also formulated policies that became the backbone of our political economy for the next century. He even saved the country from an economic panic in 1792 by initiating a prototype of what the Federal Reserve calls open market operations.
Above all, he was the first statesman to grasp the full potential of the new nation. Somehow, he could see beyond these thirteen fractious, misbehaved states of 1788 to a future where America dominated the world. As he wrote at the conclusion of Federalist 11: “Let the thirteen States, bound together in a strict and indissoluble Union, concur in erecting one great American system, superior to the control of all transatlantic force or influence, and able to dictate the terms of the connection between the old and the new world!”

Stephen L. Carter praises Hamilton's opposition to slavery:
Perhaps most important is the matter of his abolitionism, shaped by the horrors he witnessed in his Caribbean boyhood. Hamilton was a co-founder of one of the first non-Quaker anti-slavery societies. Ron Chernow, in the excellent biography that has inspired a Broadway musical, writes: “Few, if any, other founding fathers opposed slavery more consistently or toiled harder to eradicate it than Hamilton.” Adds his admiring biographer Forrest McDonald: “In one crucial respect ... his attitude never changed: he always championed liberty and abhorred slavery.”

Alexandra Petri notes (well, exclaims) Hamilton's virtues:
Hamilton is a hero. Hamilton built this country with his bare hands, strong nose, and winning smile. He was the illegitimate son of a British officer who immigrated from the West Indies, buoyed by sheer force of intellect, and rose to shape our entire nation. His rags-to-riches story was so compelling that if he hadn’t existed, Horatio Alger would have had to make him up. Hamilton gave us federalism and central banking and the Coast Guard! He served as our first Secretary of the Treasury. He fought in the Revolutionary War. He started a newspaper. He weathered a sex scandal! He saved us from President Aaron Burr. He successfully imagined our country as the federal, industrial democracy we have today and served as an invaluable counterweight to Thomas Jefferson’s utopian visions of a yeoman farmers’ paradise. He founded the Bank of New York! He was so good at what he did that the Coast Guard was still using a communications guidebook he had written — in 1962! He was a redhead! He should be on more currency, not less. He should be on all the currency!
Hot Air digs into the Obama administration's possible psychology behind this change.

Chris Matthews contrasts Hamilton's and Jackson's economic philosophies--and finds in favor of Hamilton.

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