Leaders f the Continental Congress (from left to right): John Adams, Morris, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson. (Photo by Wikimedia Commons).
The history of the American nation is filled with feud and misunderstanding. But perhaps there is no feud more significant than the one between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. Both men served under the cabinet of George Washington … and things got ugly.
It started out well enough
Even before they were part of President Washington’s most trusted group, they were already men of high political status.
Jefferson was the secretary of state, while Hamilton was the secretary of the treasury. But … they did not really know each other.
Their relationship had a cordial enough start. They shared many opinions during their first year working with the administration. Jefferson even invited Hamilton to dinner.
It is possible that the heart of the problem was their 12-year age difference. In 1790, Hamilton was only 35 years old, while Jefferson was already 47. Their personalities were also very different — evident in documents from the time, as well as from their own writings. Hamilton was opinionated and outgoing. He dominated every conversation, room, or group he was in. On the other hand, Jefferson was intellectual, mild mannered, and quiet.
However, it was not their different dispositions that fueled their feud. (Tongue twister!) It was their philosophical differences. This became apparent when Hamilton drafted the first economic policy.
Jefferson deemed Hamilton’s drive to strengthen the presidency and central government as dangerous. He feared that by centralizing power in the form of the presidency and congress, the new nation’s government would become just like the government the nation had just fought like hell to break free from in the Revolutionary War.
In protest, Jefferson organized the Republican Party. The feud got so intense, Jefferson openly denounced Hamilton to Washington. He claimed that Hamilton sang praises for the British government and that he had described the Constitution as a “shilly, shally thing.” The tenacity!
Meanwhile, Hamilton also established his own political party — the Federalist Party. He went on to deny allegations that he was out to establish an American monarchy, and basically accused Jefferson of the same thing that Jefferson had accused him of: wanting to be president and going against the Constitution.
The feud would have some of the furthest-reaching consequences in our nation’s history. To this day, the major political parties echo the sentiments of these two men and their rivalry. Even then, Jefferson and Hamilton their political philosophies would shape the future of the young nation.