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Jeffersonian anti-federalism triumphs Hamilton's Federalism

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 7/25/2014 Category: Politics
Updated: 7 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 3,549 times Debate No: 59529
Debate Rounds (4)
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Thomas Jefferson's ideology on the federal government was the most supportable. The idea that the federal government should be stronger than the individual states' governments is a fault. The key to liberty is to decentralize the governing authorities, and leave governing decisions up to the local governments. The 10th amendment strongly supports this idea, that the federal government must be strongly limited. A central banking system also is a fault, for it centralizes the power of the federal government and risks the liberties of the people.


I accept. My compliments to Pro for creating a near-perfect debate proposition. I only wish I had thought of it first. Best of luck Pro. This should be fun.
Debate Round No. 1


Volcanoes13 forfeited this round.


So let me concede a couple of important points to my opponent by way of contrasting Jefferson and Hamilton and their legacies.


Jefferson was a brilliant writer; the continued interest among academics speaks to both his political and his literary genius. The Declaration of Independence stands out as a document that appeals to everyone that believes in universal rights. Jefferson’s eloquence and articulation of liberty and freedom explains why both liberals and conservatives have both attempted to claim Jefferson as their own. Thomas Jefferson’s embodies, and his best writing embraces liberty, democracy, and equality. People continue to visit Jefferson's residence at Monticello and monuments at our capital honor his legacy. Suffice to say, I like Jefferson as a political theorist and believe hold him in the highest regard.


Hamilton by contrast lacks the appeal. Critics accused of aristocratic sympathies, even sympathetic to monarchy. Hamilton’s writing is very direct and devoid of any accolades for the masses. Hamilton saw human nature as mercurial, and he distrusted the masses, believing they were ignorant and prone to support despotism or anarchism. Hamilton had little appetite for lofty ideals. Hamilton wrote about the concrete. His writing focuses on the concrete, rather than abstract. Hamilton was a man of policy, how to devise it, how to best implement and best administer it in an imperfect world.

With all that said, Jefferson’s anti-federalism is problematic, and even more problematic is the assertion it trumps Hamilton’s Federalism. First, there is the contradiction between Jefferson and Jefferson’s ideals, best exemplified by record as Secretary of State, Vice President, and President.

Amendments to Constitution

Before getting into Jefferson’s record, we need to be clear about what Hamiltonian Federalism is and what Hamiltonian Federalism is not. Now my opponent claims the Tenth Amendment embodies the Jeffersonian ideal. At best, this claim is a partial truth. Although, initially the Federalists and here I am talking about Hamilton specifically, did not consider the Bill of Rights necessary. Not because adding the Bill of Rights conceded too much to the government, but rather because he worried the Bill of Rights would mean these are the only rights people.

His attitude is discernable in Federalist No. 84, when Hamilton/Publius asks, “For why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do? Why, for instance, should it be said that the liberty of the press shall not be restrained, when no power is given by which restrictions may be imposed? Hamilton says that while personally he does not believe would confer a regulatory power, but….as he goes on to say “but it is evident that it would furnish to men disposed to usurp, a plausible pretense for claiming that power.” [1] Hamilton, a practical political theorist was more interested in the ratification of the Constitution than he was preventing the Bill of Rights on grounds of potential threats to liberty itself.

Competing Vision in Practice: Or Why Hamilton had the Upper Hand

Hamilton as a practitioner of [Dual] Federalism vs. Jefferson’s KY & VA Resolution [Nullification]

[Dual] Federalism is an arrangement, a balancing act between the power of the Federal government and state governments. This is manifest in the Federalist in the Federalist Papers No. 28. Federalism believes that states have do have rights and independence but from the federalist perspective; each individual state has the right to resist the federal government but is opposed to the idea states have the right to nullify federal law or act as its interpreter. Who then has the power to resolve issues related what is Constitutional or Unconstitutional. For Hamilton said in Federalist, No. 78, this responsibility rests on the courts, with the final arbiter being the highest court, The Supreme Court. In Federalist, No. 80 Hamilton rejects the idea that states have the authority to declare a law unconstitutional. He rejects the notion states have the power nullify federal law. And Hamilton’s view was upheld by the Supreme Court under Justice Marshall in influential decisions including, McCulloch v. Maryland. However, Jefferson did not share this belief, as evidenced in the Kentucky and Virginia resolutions that held the states have the authority to review and nullify federal law.

Federalism is about a compromise, now no one most attractive thing or often inspire a defense but nonetheless has proven in the long-term in maintaining balance and stability while acknowledging its faults.

Jefferson: Contradictions in Action

Their familiarity reveals itself during the first controversies that erupted in Jefferson's administration. Unlike other federalists, Hamilton has not surprised when Jefferson seemed to turn away from his early ideals and notion of limited government. When Jefferson did not dismantle the Bank of the United States, an institution he condemned as unconstitutional, Hamilton was not surprised. When Jefferson used executive power to squire the Louisiana Purchase, many were awed or perplexed but bit Hamilton. When The Embargo Act used by Jefferson during his presidency causing the entire northeastern economy to collapse because of the government enforcement killed commerce and brought trade to a standstill, again Hamilton was not surprised but then again Hamilton was not a man that was easily won over by idealism, rather he was the man whose primary interest was knowing how it worked. He was a man who knew that there is a fundamental difference between making sausages and the marketing of sausages. And let’s be honest: no one cares about process, but they do care about the product, the thing you buy.

[1] Hamilton, Alexander, James Madison, John Jay, Clinton Rossiter, and Charles R. Kesler.The Federalist Papers. New York, N.Y.: Signet Classic, 2003.

Debate Round No. 2


I see that you have brought up the topic of nullification, and since I have not further seen any case of debating who Jefferson or Hamilton was, I suppose we debate on nullification. I believe that the states should be granted the right of nullification, based on its duty to protect the interest of its people. If the federal government has the power to pass laws that are not authorized by the constitution, and all states are required to abide by them, then the freedom in which the founders fought for is thereby taken away. Therefore, it is better for the interests of the individual states to enact laws, enforce the constitution and pass most legislation instead of the federal government doing so. I favor the idea of Minarchism, which is the ideology that a decentralized government is preferable, and states should be granted power over federal law thereof. The only job that the central government has is to ensure national security and that the property and unalienable rights of the people are not infringed by outside forces, (which could include a bad state government system.)
That being said, state governments are not perfect, and there cannot be any guarantee that any system of governing authorities will abide by the constitution and the restrictions it has on their power. However, tyranny can more easily be unstopped or even overlooked if the federal government posses the power to reign over. For example, if the federal government is given the authority to run healthcare, business, education, and other institutions that it has no constitutional authority over, then corruption is far more inevitable. That is why such institutions like healthcare and education ought to be decided by each individual local government, which thereby are dictated by the interests of the people most closely. One can say that local governments cannot be trusted to enact constitutionally, but one must realize that such a phenomenon can apply to the federal government as well. So what is more preferable, that an individual state makes a mistake, and others observe and learn from it, or the federal government makes a mistake, and all states thereby are impacted by such?


Again, while Con also finds value in the articulations of Jeffersonian idealism, limited government, and individual liberty, Pro has yet to make as to how it trumps Hamiltonian Federalism. In Round 3, he mentioned several ideas including his personal opinion about the role of the federal government and its appropriate role in areas among them healthcare and education. Although these are important and relevant issues, they are superfluous to the original proposition: Jeffersonian anti-federalism triumphs Hamilton's Federalism.

For Pro to make a successful argument, he must demonstrate how it TRIUMPHS.

Triumphs meaning: Jeffersonian anti-federalism [prevailed/was more successful/accomplished more] than Hamilton’s Federalism

Pro states that the only job of the federal government is national security. And Pro also states:

“laws that are not authorized by the constitution, and all states are required to abide by them, then the freedom in which the founders fought for is thereby taken away.”

Pro seems to be arguing exactly the kind of government under the Articles of Confederation. Pro already said his position is the states should have ultimate sovereignty over the federal government. He accepts the doctrine of nullification. However, while the decentralized system of government under the Articles of Confederation in theory sound appealing and it did allow states sovereignty over the federal government, it failed.

And it is not the case the Articles of Confederation or a weak decentralized government was what the Founders fought to protect and maintain in perpetuity. Do not take my word for it. Here is George Washington thoughts on this issue. On February 28, 1785, a worried Washington wrote the Confederation’s secretary of war, Henry Knox, that in the absence of a serious federal government, “we are no more than a rope of sand, and shall as easily be broken”[1].

Washington frequently mentions throughout his correspondence and in his battlefield journal. Quoting from Washington journal from May 1781 Washington summarized the problem of relying on the state governments to provide support during the war:

Instead of having everything in readiness to take the field, we have nothing; and instead of having the prospect of a glorious offensive campaign before us, we have a bewildered and gloomy defensive one—unless we should receive a powerful aid of ships, land troops, and money from our generous allies…[2]

Addressing the fears of Southerners that warned that a stronger Union would mean “tyranny,” Washington wrote, “If we are afraid to trust one another under qualified powers, there is an end of the Union” [3].

The reality of the situation, according to Washington and Hamilton if the country wanted to be a union, it had to rid itself of the Articles of Confederation. Perhaps the Articles had the potential to last for years or decades, but congresses had no authority to tax, settle disputes between states, or engage in essential government functions without the unanimous approval by all thirteen states.

The system designed by the founders, championed by the Federalists gave new meaning to federal. The federal government is supreme and sovereign within its sphere; but that sphere is defined and limited by the Constitution. The states are co-equally sovereign within the sphere of their reserved powers. The balance Federalists stuck in the Constitution has been successful. It is still imperfect, creaky in vital spots, as moments in our history have shown.

[1] Fitzpatrick, John C. The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources 1745-1799 Volume 28 December 5, 1784-August 30, 1786 . Best Book [available on Google Books], 1936.

[2] Morison, Samuel E. The Oxford History of the American People: Volume One: Prehistory to 1789. New York : Penguin , 1994. Washington excerpt on Page 344

[3]Washington, George. "A Letter from George Washington November 30, 1785." Smithsonian Albert H. Smith Documents Gallery. n.d.

Debate Round No. 3


As I have stated before, the idea of anti-federalism triumphs over a strong central government. This we can see with our corruptive central banking system. The ideas of Hamilton on a central bank and nullification were very dangerous. I do not care how Jefferson might have contradicted himself and went against his principals, I still stand with the idea that a decentralized banking system and government system is run the best. One well known disadvantage of our current centralization on banking has created the Federal Reserve, which is a monster that needs to be audited.
"As we have advised, the Federal Reserve is currently paying the Bureau approximately $23 for each 1,000 notes printed. This does include the cost of printing, paper, ink, labor, etc. Therefore, 10,000 notes of any denomination, including the $100 note would cost the Federal Reserve $230. In addition, the Federal Reserve must secure a pledge of collateral equal to the face value of the notes."
- William H. Ferkler (Manager Public Affairs, Dept. of Treasury, Bureau of Engraving

The Antifederalists warned us that the cost Americans would bear in both liberty and resources for the government that would evolve under the Constitution would rise sharply. That is why their objections led to the Bill of Rights, to limit that tendency (though with far too little success that has survived to the present). Antifederalists opposed the Constitution on the grounds that its checks on federal power would be undermined by expansive interpretations of promoting the "general welfare" (which would be claimed for every law) and the "all laws necessary and proper" clause (which would be used to override limits on delegated federal powers), creating a federal government with unwarranted and undelegated powers that were bound to be abused. One could quibble with the mechanisms the Antifederalists predicted would lead to constitutional tyranny. For instance, they did not foresee that the Commerce Clause would come to be called "the everything clause" in law schools, used by centralizers to justify almost any conceivable federal intervention. The 20th-century distortion of the clause's original meaning was so great even the vigilant Antifederalists could never have imagined the government getting away with it. And they could not have foreseen how the Fourteenth Amendment and its interpretation would extend federal domination over the states after the Civil War. But it is very difficult to argue with their conclusions from the current reach of our government, not just to forcibly intrude upon, but often to overwhelm Americans today.

As we can see pretty clearly, the Anti-Federalists knew what they were talking about. They wanted to protect the individual states from a tyrannical government, and over history this has played out as so. Federalists may pretend to support states' sovereign rights, but history has played that out otherwise. One of the most insightful of the Antifederalists was Robert Yates, a New York judge who, as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, withdrew because the convention was exceeding its instructions. Yates wrote as Brutus in the debates over the Constitution. Given his experience as a judge, his claim that the Supreme Court would become a source of almost unlimited federal over-reaching was particularly insightful. Brutus asserted that the Supreme Court envisioned under the Constitution would become a source of massive abuse because they were beyond the control "both of the people and the legislature," and not subject to being "corrected by any power above them." As a result, he objected to the fact that its provisions justifying the removal of judges didn't include making rulings that went beyond their constitutional authority, which would lead to judicial tyranny. Brutus argued that when constitutional grounds for making rulings were absent, the Court would create grounds "by their own decisions." He thought that the power it would command would be so irresistible that the judiciary would use it to make law, manipulating the meanings of arguably vague clauses to justify it.


Pro claims: the Jeffersonian economic system trumps the Hamiltonian system

First, we need to be clear about the economic system Jefferson favored. Jefferson’s economic vision was one of agrarian self-reliance, one largely designed to suit the needs of farmers and the self-employed. Such a system, feasible in the past but is not viable today. Richard Lehne, a professor at Rutgers that specializes in government and business, notes in his popular textbook that the early years of the American experience most Americans “were in business for themselves—they were entrepreneurs rather than employees.”[1] Lehne goes on to say “The United States was still a rural society, and as late as 1850, 20 million of the 23 million Americans lived in rural areas. The great majority were farmers, and most owned the farms they worked. Those who manufactured goods did so by hand at home or in small shop.”[2] When the largest businesses had fifty employees or less and most people were farmers or self-employed, maybe an agrarian economy would work. But frankly it would not be a viable way to run the economy.

We have to remember the Constitution was pre-capitalists and pre-industrial. However, of the two men, Hamilton saw the need to structure a country about finance, industry, and manufacturing rather than an economy based largely on agriculture. Their economic vision stemmed largely from their familiarly with their states. Hamilton lived in New York. Jefferson lived in Virginia. The northern economy relied on manufacturing, shipping, and high finance. The southern economy in contrast relied on agricultural based on the labor of slaves.

Even though the Hamiltonian economic system remains imperfect, no one disputes it won out over the vision of Jefferson.

Hamilton’s plan to deal with debt

After the Revolution War, every state and every citizen benefitted equally from the Revolution. Therefore, since the benefits were collective, so too should be the debt. If state debts were unequal, so were the sacrifices made during the fighting. Ron Chernow, Hamilton also made a subtle, sophisticated argument that without assumption, indebted states would have to raise their taxes, while healthy states would lighten their tax loads. This would trigger a dangerous exodus of people from high-tax to low-tax states, producing “a violent dislocation of the population of particular states.”[3]

Hamilton economic trumped over Jeffersonian system

The problems left in the wake of the Revolutionary War were serious. However, Hamilton as Secretary of Treasury, helped organize and rational economic system out of the chaos. His success is not speculative; you can look at the economic data when Hamilton left office in 1795. Dr. Robert E. Wright points out, that Hamilton’s “policies, combined with the political stability provided by the Constitution, had dramatically transformed the U.S. economy.”[4] He also goes on to say the Hamiltonian economic system, keep allowed farming to “predominated…banks, bridges, canal and harbor companies; insurers; manufacturers; mining companies; and turnpikes—increasingly dotted the countryside.”[5]

Jefferson’s election and presidency = TRIUMP of Hamiltonian economic policy

Hamilton advocated from the beginning the use of government bonds to strengthen in national government. He argued government bonds would keep the country together. Jefferson’s presidency shows that while philosophical he quibbled with such policies; in reality, he came to see their necessity as demonstrated by the use Hamiltonian-style bonds to purchase the Louisiana. Hamilton economic system favored neutrality in trade and predicted any trade war with countries like Britain would wreck the economy. Jefferson disagreed, using the Embargo Act to start a trade war, a policy that almost single-handedly ruined the American economy. Later the trade war, the main contributor to the War of 1812, proved disastrous.

Hamiltonian Banking: examples of its triumph

Pro derides central banking; he claims it is antithetical to the Jeffersonian vision. We agree here. However, again there is no reason to conjecture as to whether the Bank of the United States led to good or bad outcomes, given the result of what occurred when its charter expired. In 1811, the First Bank of the United States expired, making it difficult for the government to raise enough revenue to fight an invading British army and navy. And in the years following its expiration, the national debt grew while monetary policy fragmented and disorganized. Jefferson’s successor, James Madison, who initially vetoed chartering the Second Bank of the United States in 1814, eventually came to see its value, signing into law a bill that charted the Second Bank of the United States.

Is nullification an example of triumph?

In Round 3, Pro defended nullification but again failed to develop how it speaks to a Jeffersonian triumph. First, US history and specifically the US Civil War is a perfect case in point of trying of problems likely to arise if nullification became a legitimate principal. Again, Hamilton’s view expressed in Federalist No. 80 for why countries with multiple territories and regions fair better, when there is an impartial institution to resolve disputes. Here is Hamilton’s appeal to reason: “History gives us a horrid picture of the dissensions and private wars which distracted and desolated Germany prior to the institution of the Imperial Chamber by Maximilian...inform[ing] us, at the same time, of the vast influence of that institution in appeasing the disorders and establishing the tranquility of an empire.”[6] Thankfully, the periods of violence and uprising, conquest and aggression witnessed throughout Europe over centuries not threatened the Union of the United States, with the exception of the Civil War, an event that tested the soundness, even the sanity of nullification as an actual legal principal.

Questions Pro failed to resolve:

Pro states he is not concerned about Jefferson’s own contradictions:

If Pro’s argument rest on showing Jeffersonian anti-federalism triumphs over Hamiltonian Federalism it would seem Jefferson’s contradictions and/or adoption of Hamiltonian economic principles as President would be an area that deserves at the very least a counter argument. However, Pro avoids what I consider a serious flaw in his argument.

Pro states that State government and local government are imperfect, susceptible to the same problems of the federal government, and then he claims this is still preferable than opening the door to the tyranny of the federal government. As already made clear, the system of dual federalism built from the ideas of Hamilton in the Federalist Papers ensures the federal government and state governments will act to provide a balance.

Pro states he believes the role of the federal government should protect property rights and national security. However, when a state can nullify federal law it believes are unconstitutional, then the Union is threatened by the same problems experienced during the Civil War. Southern States said the federal government infringed on their right to property, specifically human beings. As a result, they left the union, unsuccessful and at a great cost.

Nullification is a system that failed. What do you do if the national security problem is a state or states threatening another state or states? It is easy to think of hypotheticals: imagine if states could nullify. Say Florida for example, at some point in the past seceded. And for the sake of the argument imagine because of hostility from other states it joined an alliance with neighboring Cuba and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Then with the help of the USSR, Florida gained access to several nuclear weapons and threatened to use them if the remaining states of the Union attempt to invade or enforce economic sanctions. How would the system purposed by work fix such problems? It is unclear. Fortunately, at least according to Con, the US has avoided the complications that would inevitably occur under a system of nullification. The reason, at least in part, derives from a realistic outlook espoused by Alexander Hamilton and the Federalists—and the history of the United States clearly demonstrates the Hamiltonian vision triumphed. Please vote Con!

[1] Richard Lehne, Government and Business: American Political Economy in Comparative Perspective Third Edition (New York: CQ Press, 2013), 5.

[2] Richard Lehne, Government and Business: American Political Economy in Comparative Perspective Third Edition (New York: CQ Press, 2013), 5.

[3] Ron Chernow, Alexander Hamilton (New York: Penguin Group, 2005), 323, Kindle.

[4] Robert E. Wright. “The Framers and the Roots of Economic Prosperity.” Insights On Law & Society 10, no. 1 (Fall 2009): 4-7.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay. The Federalist Papers. Edited by Clinton Rossiter (New York, N.Y.: Signet Classic, 2003). 476

Debate Round No. 4
2 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Posted by Oromagi 7 years ago
Hi Volcano- I'd be willing to argue that Jeffersonian Republicanism is outdated (as Jefferson himself promised it would be) and that although the dynamic between state and federal power is still valuable a strong fed is essential for global competition, civil rights, etc. I have no interest in advocating for Hamilton's likewise moribund Federalism or his embrace of an American aristocracy. If you are okay with me just pointing out the limitations of Jeffersonian Republicanism without necessarily defending Hamiltonian Federalism, I will accept this debate.
Posted by DeletedUser 7 years ago
Fantastic topic, Volcano.
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by RobertMcclureSmith 7 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: I believe Pro had a good case to make based on Jefferson?s writing, but he only argued for his personal ideology of Minarchism. Plus, the FF in round two. Con used for sources and stuck with original proposal.

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