(Note: this excerpt has nothing to do with Wall Street.)
It has come to pass – friends came over for dinner, my head is full of wine, I want to go to bed but I have to do my homework. It’s a recipe for perfunctoriness but it somehow builds character -- as these Ivy League schools were reputed to do back in the day. The kind of character that you couldn't get by going to college with a lot of Jews and Catholics. But I digress...
Today is “Hamilton: Father of Wall Street.” Hamilton was born on this day in 1757; I hope you spent a 10-dollar-bill, or were shot by someone in a duel, to commemorate this. It is introduced in the reading guide by this sentence, which I find obscure: “He penned most of the Federalist papers, which were greatly influential in bringing New York into the Union - the first step toward its eminent position in national and world finance.”
I guess it’s the antecedent I don’t get – or maybe it’s, because I am an ex-New Yorker, I resent the idea that New York owes something to the Union, instead of the more natural position of the other way around.
Okay, here we go, Federalist #1, (Vol. 43, pp. 199-207):
Right from the start he echoes Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address:
“It seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not, of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend, for their political constitutions, on accident and force.”
I also like this: “Happy will it be if our choice should be directed by a judicious estimate of our true interests, unperplexed and unbiased by considerations not connected with the public good. But this is a thing more ardently to be wished, than seriously to be expected.” Hamilton really like the “x and x” formulation – no “omit needless words” devotee he! Of course, they had nothing else to do in those days but read pamphlets, so you wanted to make sure people got their money’s worth.
Further on...I challenge the reader to drink some wine and then read this sentence:
“I am well aware that it would be disingenuous to resolve indiscriminately the opposition of any set of men (merely because their situations might subject them to suspicion) into interested or ambitious views: Candor will oblige us to admit, that even such men may be actuated by upright intentions; and it cannot be doubted, that much of the opposition which has made its appearance, or may hereafter make its appearance, will spring from sources, blameless at least, if not respectable; the honest errors of minds led astray by preconceived jealousies and fears.”It’s not as easy as I make it look. Of course, in Hamilton’s day they had beer for breakfast, a tradition I hope they continue at Columbia.
In the next paragraph, which I am not going to quote, Hamilton comes out and says that big government is the true guardians of the liberties of the public. Big Government! And he’s on the 10, people!
Okay, now we have #2, by John Jay (of the high school whose football players I used to see on the F train). And, perhaps appropriately, it’s about teamwork – we should all be one country rather than a bunch of separate states, an issue that, as we know all too well, still burns unto our own time.
“Nothing is more certain than the indispensable necessity of Government, and it is equally undeniable, that whenever and however it is instituted, the people must cede to it some of their natural rights, in order to vest it with requisite powers.” Does the Federalist Society know that this stuff is in the Federalist?
Okay, I’ve done my work, and so to bed (which I don’t think is in the Harvard Classics).