Hamilton, Burr and Birth of American Politics

Things written remain. –Aaron Burr (Quoted in Wood, p. 230)

Hamilton“In light of he inexperience of eighteenth-century Americans with positive state power, Hamilton’s program was truly breathtaking.  He worked his remarkable program out in a series of four reports to Congress in 1790 and 1791 on credit (including duties and taxes), on a national bank, on a mint, and on manufactures.  These reports, powerfully written and argued, are the sources of most of Hamilton’s greatness as a statesman….Beyond the borders of the United States his aims were even more grandiose….More than anything, Hamilton wanted some of the honor and glory that would come to the United States as it assumed its rightful place in the world as a great military power.” (Wood, pp. 233, 239)


Burr“[Henry] Adams in his History of the United States of America seems puzzled that such bitter enemies [as Hamilton and Jefferson] could unite in a circle of hostility against Burr, but he should not have been.  In their minds, Burr posed far more of a threat to the American Revolution than either of them ever thought the other did.  Burr threatened nothing less than the great revolutionary hope, indeed, the entire republican experiment, that some sort of disinterested politics, if only among the elite, could prevail in America.  Because of this threat, Hamilton and Jefferson together eventually brought Burr down.” (Wood, p. 242)


1796 –Washington, Hamilton and the famous “Farewell” Advice

Below: “One Last Time” from musical “Hamilton,” performed at the White House in 2016, a musical rendition of Washington’s Farewell Address (1796)

The unity of government … is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquility at home, your peace abroad; of your safety; of your prosperity; of that very liberty which you so highly prize. But as it is easy to foresee that, from different causes and from different quarters, much pains will be taken, many artifices employed to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth; as this is the point in your political fortress against which the batteries of internal and external enemies will be most constantly and actively (though often covertly and insidiously) directed, it is of infinite moment that you should properly estimate the immense value of your national union to your collective and individual happiness; that you should cherish a cordial, habitual, and immovable attachment to it; accustoming yourselves to think and speak of it as of the palladium of your political safety and prosperity; watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety; discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion that it can in any event be abandoned; and indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts.

Timeline for the Alien & Sedition Crisis 

Election of 1800

In the end, the contest came down to a tie between two Republicans, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia and Aaron Burr of New York, who each had seventy-three electoral votes. (Adams had sixty-five.) Burr was supposed to be a candidate for vice president, not president, but under the Constitution’s original rules, a tie-breaking vote had to take place in the House of Representatives. It was controlled by Federalists bitter at Jefferson. House members voted dozens of times without breaking the tie. On the thirty-sixth ballot, Thomas Jefferson emerged victorious. —American Yawp, Chap. 6: Sec. X

Discussion Question

  • What critical details of the disputed election does this passage from the Yawp textbook leave out?

But every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists. If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it. —Thomas Jefferson, March 4, 1801