This research examines differences between the political ideas of Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. The research will set forth the context in which Hamilton's and Jefferson's concepts of government and civil society emerged and then discuss ways in which their different views determined the shape and substance of the U.S. government in its formative stages.
Jefferson's authorship of the Declaration of Independence is a commonplace of U.S. history, but the philosophy that Jefferson brought to the enterprise was key. He viewed the Declaration as the opportunity "to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent" (Fleming 53). Hamilton's force in US politics began with his contributions to The Federalist Papers, which systematically provided the rationale for national Constitutional government that would subsume the inadequacies of and implicit state-to-state and sectionalist rivalries embedded in the Articles of Confederation (Hamilton 159-60).
Differences of background between the two somewhat belied their mature political views (Miller passim). Jefferson was plantation owner, architect, lawyer, student of Enlightenment political philosophy, a man possessed of serious purpose. He was also born into some comfort as a landed Virginia agrarian, but he articulated populist ideas. Hamilton's background was quite different. An illegitimate child born in the British West Indies, he attended college in North America, but did not acquire a formal degree. He developed an elitist philosophy, and articulated a powerful, executive-oriented national government and modification or suppression of state governments. What was innovative about Jefferson's Declaration was the codification of revolutionary thought for practical political purposes. It was a project that ultimately bore fruit in the Constitutional Convention and the Constitution ratification debate.