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Alexander Hamilton & Thomas Jefferson: Relationship & Differences

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  • 0:04 Alexander Hamilton:…
  • 1:03 Division Within the Cabinet
  • 3:50 Partisan Politics & 1800
  • 5:10 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson, you'll learn about the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. These two Founders were bitter political enemies and had very different views on how the young American Republic should be governed.

Alexander Hamilton: New Interest

Maybe some of you have heard about the recently popular musical Hamilton. The Broadway play focuses on the life of Alexander Hamilton, one of America's leading ''Founding Fathers''. The play won numerous awards, including the Tony Award for ''Best Musical''. It has also sparked a renewed curiosity in Alexander Hamilton. Several major biographies have recently been published. Over the past few years, Hamilton has been all the rage.

Hamilton was certainly an interesting man. Some people mistakenly believe he was a president. He was not. During the Revolutionary War, he was an aide to General Washington. Later in life, he held the position of Secretary of the Treasury, and he was the man responsible for setting the foundation of the American economic system. He met a tragic end: he was shot and killed by Vice President Aaron Burr in a pistol duel in 1804. Burr wasn't the only one who didn't get along with Hamilton. Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton were lifelong rivals and political enemies. Let's dig deeper and learn about their bitter relationship.

Division Within the Cabinet

President George Washington served between 1789-1797. Washington's cabinet included brilliant leaders, like John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Alexander Hamilton, and was basically nothing less than a ''Dream Team'. But it was also marked by division: mainly division between Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton.

Early in their relationship, the two men got along fairly well. Although their personality differences were profound, the two men were cordial in their interactions with one another, and on occasion, even dined together. Think of it like dining with a co-worker. You and this co-worker are not necessarily super close, but you're on the same ''team'' so you sit together and try your best to be nice to one another. That is how it was between Jefferson and Hamilton. This would not last, however.

By 1791 and 1792, as the two secretaries got to know one another more fully, intense divisions broke out. Most of these divisions were political, although it is worth mentioning that there were sharp personality differences between the two men as well. In fact, they couldn't have been more different. Jefferson was reserved, even shy, and very calculated; whereas Hamilton loved being in the spotlight and was aggressive, direct, and ambitious. Jefferson favored agrarianism, whereas Hamilton put his faith in commerce and urbanization. Jefferson supported a close relationship with France, whereas Hamilton was more inclined to cultivate a close relationship with Great Britain. In meetings with the president, the two men constantly pitched different ideas and were typically at odds with one another.

One issue the two men disagreed about most was economics. Hamilton's proposal for a national (or state) bank was accepted by Washington. The First Bank of the United States received its charter in 1791. This infuriated Jefferson who believed that a state bank gave the federal government too much power. Jefferson was also dismayed at Hamilton's willingness to accrue national debt.

Both Jefferson and Hamilton basically wanted to be the president's most trusted advisor and they each could not stand the other having an influence. As time went by, Jefferson came to the conclusion that Washington was too easily influenced by Hamilton. Jefferson saw his own influence with Washington declining, while Hamilton's was increasing. The tension between the two men became so intense, that during his first term as President, Washington penned a letter to Jefferson, stating:

''How unfortunate, and how much is it to be regretted.., that whilst we are encompassed on all sides with avowed enemies and insidious friends, that internal dissensions should be harrowing and tearing our vitals. Without more charity for the opinions and acts of one another in Governmental matters... I believe it will be difficult... to manage the Reins of Government...''

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