OUR FOREFATHERS’ COVENANTS
May 8, 2020
We concluded last week’s Coffee Break beginning our discussion concerning Alexander Hamilton. Most people who study Economics and Banking know that Hamilton was essentially the father of our current economic system. What most people do not know is just how Covenant oriented he was, and how that orientation affected both his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, as well as the integral place faith had in the formation of our government.
It was in the political arena that Alexander Hamilton's skills and genius began to really shine. His somewhat interrupted writing career resumed as he authored papers correctly diagnosing the ills of the Confederation of the Colonies, and suggesting the need for more centralized government. He was among the first of our nation's founding fathers to suggest adequate checks on the anarchic tendencies of the time.
At age 27, with the end of the Revolutionary War in sight, he realized that if he was to participate constructively in the formation of a central government he needed to have a thorough knowledge of Law and its inner workings. Just as he had done when the opportunity was afforded him to get an education years before, he applied himself with his whole heart and soul to the study of law. For three months, he voraciously consumed law studies and gave himself totally to it, graduating in Albany, New York in 1783. Following the evacuation of the British Army from New York City, he opened his law office at 57 Wall Street in July of that same year.
He had been asked to serve in the Continental Congress in 1782 and 1783, and in 1784, he was officially elected to Congress. That same year, he founded the Bank of New York. His activities in Congress involved him in the preparation of the Constitution, and he began to actively promote Federalism, along with John Jay and James Madison. Writing under the pseudonym, Publius, the three of them wrote articles over a span of almost two years in 1787 and 1788 which were published in various New York newspapers. The Federalist Papers, as they were called, both promoted a Federalist style of government and ratification of the newly agreed-upon Constitution.
Federalism is drawn from the Latin word, Foedus, for Covenant. The original concept contains the idea that a body of members are bound together in a covenant relationship with a governing representative head. Within contemporary political thought, federalism is the political philosophy that underlies a system of government in which sovereignty is constitutionally divided between a central governing authority and constituent political units (like states or provinces), creating what is often called a federation. Proponents are often called federalists.
federalism is a synonym for basic Covenant Theology. It is a commonly
used term in serious theological works since the 17th century (prior to the
political use) and to this day, particularly among those we refer to today as
"Calvinists." Federalism describes the relationship between the
first representative man, Adam, and those born of the flesh (i.e. ALL
naturally-born mankind), and likewise between the second and last
representative man, Jesus Christ, and those who are, in addition, born of the
Spirit (i.e. ALL spiritually-born mankind; see
Covenant Theology was, by far, the prevailing thought within the New England Colonies, and Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison were all strong adherents and students of John Calvin's reform theology. Their objective was to incorporate the concept of covenant -- and especially, God's Covenant with us through Jesus Christ -- as the underlying philosophy for all government. The term, Federalism, therefore, somewhat masks the intent of those who advocated strong central government, with weaker state governments.
Now, I've said all that to say this. Alexander Hamilton was easily the most prolific among the three primary proponents of Federalism, and writing under the pseudonym, Publius, he penned not less than 52 of the 85 essays that were published in the New York papers. James Madison wrote 28, and John Jay authored the remaining five.
Hamilton never got the opportunity to be a part of the central discussions in Congress that ultimately led to the adoption of the Constitution because of disputes among his fellow-delegates from New York. They withdrew from the Constitutional Convention, leaving New York without its delegation. Hamilton remained, but couldn't vote because of the absence of his delegation. He did, however, deliver a remarkable speech on June 18, 1787 in which he attacked the states' rights proposal of William Paterson, advocating instead for an almost-coercive, strongly centralized but representative union with built-in protections for class and property.
Twelve days later, after it became clear that he would not have the opportunity to cast a vote for or against the proposed Constitution, he left the Convention. George Washington sent him a note reading, "I am sorry you went away. I wish you were back." Hamilton returned in response to George Washington's note at the close of the Convention to sign the Constitution on New York's behalf.
He lobbied the New York Convention for ratification of the Constitution two weeks later, and won their agreement against all odds. James Kent, who later became Chancellor of New York and Chief Justice of the New York Supreme Court appointed by John Jay, who was then New York's Governor, wrote in his legal journals that "all of the documentary proof and the current observation of the time lead us to the conclusion that he [Alexander Hamilton] surpassed all of his contemporaries in his exertions to create, recommend, adopt and defend the Constitution of the United States."
A continuously close friend and confidante of George Washington, it came as no surprise that Washington appointed Hamilton as the very first Secretary of the Treasury. He was the chief architect of obtaining credit for the United States, and his January 14th, 1790 Report on the Public Credit became what many economists called "a watershed in American finance," marking the end of an era of bankruptcy and international repudiation for the newly-formed United States of America.
On December 13, 1790, Alexander Hamilton published his Report on a National Bank, advocating a private bank with semipublic functions patterned after the Bank of England. The following year, he published a Report on Manufacturers -- a report which became the epitome of modern economics. So powerfully did he argue this policy advocating a system of moderate protective duties associated with a deliberate policy of promoting our national interests, drawing from the Constitution of the United States, that he easily persuaded George Washington on the constitutionality of a National Bank. His skillful and inspired arguments were so convincing that his report became England's official economic policy, and -- later -- the primary foundation for the German economic system.
For a man with such genius and gifts (and maybe because he had such genius and gifts) Hamilton was seen by many of his peers as self-confident, opinionated, arrogant, indiscreet, "impolitic" (that's a fancy word for not being "politically correct") and even manipulative. He readily confessed to friends that his heart was the master of his judgment.
In any case, Alexander Hamilton was known as being uncompromising. If he believed in something, he believed in it heart and soul. He was a master of reading the hearts and intents of people, (in truth, he had the ability to function with that Gift of the Spirit we know as "the discerning of spirits.") and when he saw questionable methods or tactics being applied by his fellow-founders, he wasted no time in letting them know that he wouldn't stand for anything less than above-board truthfulness and integrity. When his arguments appeared to fall on deaf ears, he would go around the individual in question and inform others of those actions he considered ill-advised.
To the day of Washington's death, Hamilton remained his closest friend and advisor; and when George Washington prepared to leave office as President of the United States, Alexander Hamilton wrote his farewell address to the nation. Washington remained the titular head of the Federalist Party, and as such, wielded enormous influence over the nation even after John Adams became President. In 1798, two years after Washington left office, President John Adams was preparing for war with France. Washington persuaded Adams that Alexander Hamilton needed to be employed as active head of the military forces. GW was still recognized as the head of America's armies, and Adams wanted him to direct the war against France. He agreed to accept the title under the condition that Hamilton take the active leadership; and Adams acquiesced.
When Washington died, the Federalist Party became divided under Adams' leadership and Hamilton's. John Adams had the prestige and the national recognition because of his more than spectacular career, and his strength with the nation as a whole.
Hamilton, on the other hand, controlled all of the leaders of lesser rank, along with the majority of the distinguished men in the country. Alexander recognized that he was not a "people person," and that he lacked the ability to function in a high public profile. He saw his abilities more in the sense of policy and advice, and became the principal advisor to members of John Adams cabinet, often affecting Adams' policy without Adams' agreement.
Aaron Burr had, for many years, been a close friend of Alexander Hamilton, but his defeat of Hamilton's father-in-law, General Philip Schuyler, in 1791 in a race for the United States Senate, and the tactics he used to win, opened a rift between the two erstwhile companions. George Washington had never trusted Burr and made his distrust known to Hamilton on numerous occasions.
Burr, on the other hand, was extremely outspoken in his acrimony towards Washington, once telling Hamilton that he "despised Washington as a man of no talents, and one who could not spell a sentence of common English." Burr's comments only served to widen the rift between the two because of Hamilton's intense loyalty to Washington and absolute trust of him.
Things began to get really nasty when, following Alexander Hamilton's appointment as active head of the nation's armed forces under Washington's direction, Burr applied for a commission as a brigadier general in the war with France. Washington turned him down flatly, seeing him as nothing more than a political opportunist and a schemer. Burr continued to vie for political power.
In the days leading up to the elections of 1800, Hamilton made the mistake of circulating a private and highly confidential memo opposing some of John Adams' policies among his cabinet members. In the memo, he included a considerable amount of confidential cabinet information. By some unknown scheme, Aaron Burr obtained a copy of Hamilton's memo and published it in the newspapers with the objective of doing political damage to both Adams and Hamilton and furthering his own ambitions.
In 1800, following the election, he was tied in the Electoral College with Thomas Jefferson at 73 votes apiece. Though Hamilton was no great friend of Thomas Jefferson and often decried his political arguments, his distrust of Burr was such that he simply could not see Burr as President of the United States. He considered it his patriotic duty to block Burr's ambitions. When the election was handed off to the House of Representatives for a decision, Hamilton argued strongly in favor of Jefferson's Presidency. The House quickly decided in Jefferson's favor, and Burr became Vice-President instead.
When Burr subsequently failed in his attempt to gain the Republican nomination for Governorship of New York, he sought the aid of the Federalist Party. Alexander Hamilton denounced Burr to the party as "a man of irregular and insatiable ambition … who ought not to be trusted with the reins of government." Burr had had it with Hamilton. He falsified his conversations with Hamilton, made spurious accusations against him by Hamilton public, and then forced a duel between them.
Alexander Hamilton felt that he had no personal quarrel with Burr. He simply felt that Burr's personal ambitions had run away with him, making him unfit for public office, public trust and leadership. Prior to the duel, Hamilton wrote his last essay stating that "a compliance with the dueling prejudices of the time was inseparable from the ability to be in the future, useful in public affairs." His personal opposition to dueling was well-known. His son, Philip, had died as the result of a duel in 1801.
He made known his intentions not to fire his pistol prior to the duel, although his pistol discharged as he fell. The minister who attended him later told friends that Hamilton had said on his death bed, "I have no ill-will against Col. Burr. I met him with a fixed resolution to do him no harm. I forgive all that happened.”
Alexander Hamilton's personal faith in Jesus Christ was the guiding force that governed his life. His personal sense of covenant and the deep commitment that comes in covenant relationship drove him. For Hamilton, covenant was the essential means by which government could and must operate. Through Federalism he saw the opportunity to help bring about a "nation under God, indivisible, and with justice for all."
It was Henry Cabot Lodge who wrote of Alexander Hamilton, saying, "Hamilton’s mind was eminently legal. His writings are distinguished by their clarity, vigor and rigid reasoning rather than any show of scholarship. In his earliest writings of 1774-75, he started out with the ordinary pre-Revolutionary War Whig doctrines of natural rights and liberty. After the War’s conclusion, his experiences of semi-archaic states’ rights and individualism ended his earlier fervor.
"Hamilton saw the feeble inadequacies of conception, the infirmity of power, factional jealousy, disintegrating particularism, and vicious finances that marred the Confederation. No other author saw more clearly the concrete nationalistic remedies for these concrete ills or pursued remedial ends so constantly and consistently as Hamilton. He wanted a strong union and energetic government that should "rest as much as possible on the shoulders of the people and as little as possible on those of the state legislatures."
As early as 1776, he urged the direct collection of federal taxes by federal agents. In 1781 he created the idea that a non-excessive public debt would be a blessing. He conceived the constitutional doctrines of liberal construction, "implied powers," and the "general welfare," which were later embodied in the decisions of John Marshall.
“Liberty,”he reminded his fellows in the New York Convention of 1788, “seemed to be the only consideration for the new government.”Hamilton pointed out another thing of equal importance; "a principal of strength and stability in the organization … and of vigour in its operation."
Hamilton did not agree with Jefferson that the general public should control government. His far-sighted ability to see down the road to the end results of a purely democratic society caused him to err more on the side of limited democracy.
"Men,"he said, "are reasoning rather than reasonable animals."
His last letter on politics, written two days before his death, illustrates the two sides of his thinking already emphasized; in this letter he warns his New England friends against dismemberment of the union as "a clear sacrifice of great positive advantages, without any counterbalancing good; administering no relief to our real disease, which is democracy, the poison of which, by a subdivision, will only be more concentrated in each part, and consequently the more virulent."
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Blessings on you!
Regner A. Capener
RIVER WORSHIP CENTER
Temple, Texas 76502
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