Jefferson and Hamilton

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Bowers, Claude G. Jefferson and Hamilton: The Struggle for Democracy in America. Berkeley, NJ, United States: Kessinger Publishing Co, 2004.

The Author

American historian Claude Gernade Bowers, born Wednesday, November 20, 1878, in Westfield, was the ambassador to Spain (1933-1939) during the FDR administration. As an ambassador, Bowers successfully kept the United States out of the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). Immediately following his ambassadorship to Spain, he was assigned to fill the ambassadorship to Chile (1939-1953). Bowers arguably helped shape the Democratic Party from the late eighteenth century to at least the early 1940s. The party subsequently became a powerful force against monopoly and privilege. Between 1916 and 1964, Bowers write more than a dozen books. My Life: The Memoirs of Claude Bowers, released in 1962, and Indianapolis in the ‘Gay Nineties’: High School Diaries of Claude G. Bowers edited by Holman Hamilton and Gayle Thornbrough, released in 1964, were both posthumous publications. Bowers died on Tuesday, January 21, 1958, in New York City.

Jefferson and Hamilton: The Struggle for Democracy in America

Jefferson and Hamilton: The Struggle for Democracy in America, first published in 1925, complements perfectly The Party Battles of the Jackson Period, published some three years earlier. Both books unquestionably hold the reader’s interest, revealing a detailed understanding of historical sources. Bowers presents both Jefferson and Hamilton as champions of a democratic cause.

In his 1925 publication, Bowers presents a distinctly close understanding of Professor Charles A, Beard’s reading of Jeffersonian democracy, contrasting the approach Jefferson and Hamilton had to economics. In his efforts, Bowers vigorously attempted to remain unbiased as to the individuals he discusses within the 511-page publication.

Is it “a case for or against democracy”?

It should be understood, Bowers purpose for writing Jefferson and Hamilton: The Struggle for Democracy in America was “not to make out a case for or against democracy, but to show how it came to the Republic, sometimes blundering and making a fool of itself on the way…”[1] While it is evident Bowers did not present in his work with a substantial degree of favouritism towards any significance, there is little doubt in which direction Bowers sympathies sway. As Bowers understands the conflict between Jefferson and Hamilton, it seems from a struggle between democracy and aristocracy. The struggle was never all that well-defined, nor was it one that individuals could explain simply. There is little doubt Jefferson was a democratic humanitarian in the same way Hamilton was an aristocratic nationalist. The divergence in their perspectives pertaining to nationalism is evident in their works.

In 1804, Jefferson wrote, “Whether we remain one confederation, or form into Atlantic and Mississippi confederacies, I believe not very important to the happiness of either part.” Two years earlier, in 1802, Hamilton wrote, “There is something noble and magnificent in the perspective of a great Federal Republic closely linked in the pursuit of common interest, tranquil and prosperous at home – respectable abroad.”

Final Thoughts

In Jefferson and Hamilton, specifically from one point of view, Bowers’ voice can be heard clearly. Much of what is written is presented as a cautionary tale. In many ways, the book is one of the best examples of American political history to hit bookstore shelves during the 1920s. The ability Bowers had to present a fully realised atmosphere and portray historical figures is without a doubt superbly magnificent. In writing Jefferson and Hamilton, Bowers recreated “if possible, an heroic, picturesque, and lusty age; to make the men of steel engravings flesh and blood; to stage the drama of a day when real giants trod the boards.”[2] The author draws his work to a close by making the observation “the spirits of Jefferson and Hamilton still stalk the ways of men – still fighting.”[3] The authors closing observation remains apt, even in the early twenty-first century.

End Notes

[1] Claude G. Bowers, Jefferson and Hamilton: The Struggle for Democracy in America (Berkeley, NJ, United States: Kessinger Publishing Co, 2004), p. viii.

[2] Bowers, Jefferson and Hamilton, p. viii.

[3] Ibid, p. 511.