Streetwise Professor

June 23, 2015

Alexander the Great: Why Hamilton Deserves His Spot-Alone-on the Ten Spot

Filed under: Economics,History,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 7:20 pm

Last week the Treasury Department announced that in a redesign of the $10 bill, Alexander Hamilton would be replaced, joined, or supplemented by a Historical American Woman to be Named Later. Considering that Jackson, Grant, McKinley, and Cleveland also grace US Federal Reserve Notes, the decision to replace Hamilton of all people is lamentable in the extreme. Even overlooking his, to put mildly, controversial career, as a hater of paper money, assassin (and proud of it!) of the predecessor to the Fed, and an economic imbecile, Jackson in particular is a dubious choice to grace a greenback.

Hamilton, in contrast, merits sole possession of a widely circulated bill because it is hard to identify any figure, of any sex, president or no, who made a greater contribution to American history, and to its economic success. Off the top of my head:

  • A successful and brave staff and line officer during the Revolution. After long service on Washington’s staff (which led some to conclude, wrongly, that he was Washington’s brain), he took command of the Continental light infantry at Yorktown, and led the successful assault on Redoubt Number 10 which, along with the fall of adjoining Redoubt Number 9 to the French, sealed the fate of the besieged town.
  • The moving force (along with Madison) of the Annapolis Convention, which played a role in the convocation of the Constitutional Convention the next year.
  • Played a major role in the Convention.
  • Along with Madison, as the author of the Federalist Papers, provided the intellectual case for the passage of the Constitution. Worked assiduously to secure ratification of the Constitution.
  • First, and most important, Secretary of the Treasury. He righted the nation’s fraught fiscal situation, and made the nation creditworthy. He crafted a comprehensive fiscal and financial framework, including taxation, debt, and a national bank. (Even as the descendent of some Whiskey Rebels who objected to the whiskey taxes that were part of Hamilton’s system, I even understand his role as commander of the US forces sent to disperse the Rebels.) His Reports on Manufactures and Public Credit were incredibly economically sophisticated, and eminently practical. (I remember Robert Lucas in Econ 331 or 332 expressing his awe at Hamilton’s Reports.) It is not an exaggeration to say that the United States could not possibly have developed the way it did and as rapidly it did without his farsighted fiscal and economic stewardship
  • Founder of the Bank of New York, which exists to this day.
  • A man of liberal (in the Adam Smith/David Hume sense of the word) views, i.e., a lover of liberty. For all races. He was one of the few Founders who was not only a frank opponent of slavery and advocate of emancipation, but who also viewed those of African heritage equal as humans to whites.
  • A man who rose from extremely poor beginnings to become a colossus. Proof that birth is not fate, and that America has long been a land of opportunity for the able, ambitious, and hard working. (At Cal-Berkeley those sentences would be considered a “microaggression.” 1. I don’t do microaggressions. I move straight onto macroaggressions. Or maybe I pool and tranche my microaggressions to create MBS: Microaggression Backed Securities. 2. Cal-Berkeley can sod off.)

In sum: Military hero. Political giant. Political scientist. Economist. Practical manager. Entrepreneur. I defy you to find anyone with as diversified a portfolio as Alexander Hamilton. He truly was Alexander the Great.

The fact that the Treasury is even countenancing removing Hamilton is proof of the historical idiocy of supposedly educated Americans. The excuse that the $10 bill was next in line for a redesign doesn’t cut it. That sounds like typical bureaucratic cowardice, hiding behind procedure and routine to avoid defending a position that is indefensible on the merits.

So by all means put a woman on a bill. Just not the $10. And use this as an opportunity to teach Americans who know far too little about their past about one of the most remarkable figures in American history.

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11 Comments »

  1. If putting a woman on a bill is so important–bring back the $1,000 note and put Betsy Ross on it.

    Comment by The Pilot — June 23, 2015 @ 8:00 pm

  2. “I defy you to find anyone with as diversified a portfolio as Alexander Hamilton.”

    Al Gore?

    Comment by Green as Grass — June 24, 2015 @ 2:09 am

  3. @Green-I wasn’t taking ass-clownery into account. If you do, Al is a competitor.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — June 24, 2015 @ 12:50 pm

  4. I am a big fan of Hamilton, but given the current general lack of knowledge of American History, I don’t think changing the ten spot will do anything to decrease appreciation of Hamilton.

    First of all, who uses paper money any more? Second, who looks at the images on the bills if they do? Third, who learns history from looking at images on little used bills? The use of money bills to do the work of history education is of dubious value. Perhaps we can use the discussion to review the contributions of Hamilton and make comparisons to Jackson. If so, the controversy provides some value for that education. Otherwise it seems like a diversion from the more important issues of the day.

    Comment by Margaret Aten — June 24, 2015 @ 2:10 pm

  5. Somehow I always felt Clinton belonged on something like a nine-dollar bill.

    Comment by Green as Grass — June 25, 2015 @ 1:41 am

  6. SWP:

    How about putting SCOTUS on a new $3 bill? That will generate an accurate appraisal of ‘Queer as a 3’ or ‘As queer as THE 3.’

    Ooops.

    Vlad thought this was a direct message.

    VP VP

    Comment by Vlad — June 25, 2015 @ 9:01 pm

  7. I am deeply offended by your hateful statements directed at Cal Berkeley. I am starting the movement to have the flags with your likeness on them taken down from their places of honor on public property and if you do it again, I will have to insist the statues of you that have been erected be removed.

    Comment by Charles — June 28, 2015 @ 12:52 pm

  8. I appreciated this comment. My only qualification is with the bit where you seem to lump Grover Cleveland in with the likes of Andrew Jackson.

    Cleveland was a great President himself, and deserves his place on our currency almost richly as Hamilton does. Cleveland was, for example, the last significance pro-gold (and thus anti-inflationary) leader of the Democratic Party, and while he was President he was a bulwark against the populist forces that Bryan would come to represent.

    Comment by Christopher — June 29, 2015 @ 1:38 pm

  9. Prof, are you following the Greek fiasco at all?

    From where I sit, and reading around what I take to be intelligent comment on the matter, I cannot see the Greeks exiting the euro since

    a, they don’t actually want to;

    b, the other eurozone govts don’t want them to either;
    c, the Greeks are right that there’s no mechanism for ejecting them, any more than there’s a way to throw Texas off the dollar;
    d, nothing of all that is wrong with the Greek economy is fixed by Grexit; and
    e, plenty of US local administrations have defaulted, but haven’t had to give up the dollar – ergo Greece can just default in a managed way.

    As a matter of fact – of the last of those, what is the largest US state entity to have gone bust, do you know? Greece owes $200 billion it can’t pay – has there been a comparable size public-sector failure within the US, or anywhere else that you know of, and how did it play out?

    Comment by Green as Grass — July 1, 2015 @ 2:20 am

  10. @Green-I’ve been following. I’ll comment over the weekend.

    Grexit is a red herring. The real issue is that Greece is insolvent. Grexit or no Grexit are just alternative ways of defaulting, and Grexit is probably the most damaging for both the creditor and the debtor.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — July 2, 2015 @ 8:43 pm

  11. Hi,
    Here is george smith’s from the system of liberty

    …This was the substance of the charge of “corruption” – a popular and important word in the liberal lexicon, especially during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. A government was said to be corrupt when it used its powers and financial resources to further private interests at the expense of the public good. This is what Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and other critics of Alexander Hamilton had in mind when they accused him of attempting to replicate the British system of corruption in the newly formed American government. As they saw the matter, Hamilton’s plan for a national bank and governmental support of private industries (in the form of tariffs, bounties, etc.) was a throwback to mercantilism – a system of economic regulations in which merchants, manufacturers, and other private parties profited through an alliance with the state at the expense of other private parties (mainly agricultural interests) and the public in general. This is why Jefferson and others in his tradition viewed free trade as something more than a beneficial commercial policy; it was also a “natural right,” 44 that is, an aspect of equal treatment under the law that is indispensable to the public good. Of course, Hamilton and others who supported an alliance between business and government denied that their policies were contrary to the public good. While conceding that their policies would benefit private interests (a point too obvious to be denied), they also trotted out arguments to show how their interventionist policies would strengthen the national economy and thereby serve the public good overall. The conflict between Hamilton and Jefferson is a good illustration of the basic theme of this chapter. Although Hamilton had some favorable things to say about free trade, Jefferson was committed to commercial freedom in a way that Hamilton was not. Jefferson’s belief that free trade is a natural right generated a moral commitment to this policy that Hamilton did not share…

    Not sure what to make of this and ur post…
    Kind regards
    KP

    Comment by Kirill — July 6, 2015 @ 2:36 am

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