Apr 04, 2013 - Issue 511

 BlackCommentator.com: Abhorrence for Immigrant Founder: Alexander Hamilton - Nafsi ya Jamii - By Wilson Riles - BC Columnist

Because Alexander Hamilton is the architect of our miserable, oppressive financial system, I hold significant animosity towards him. I abhor this founder of our nation! My animosity for him is equal to my dislike of Thomas Jefferson and the other founders who were slave holders even though Hamilton opposed slavery. They all left a trail of writings and actions that I find reprehensible. As a conscious black citizen of the US – unlike some conservatives – I have no difficulty making a carefully reasoned assessment of these founders and speaking out about that boldly and loudly. I refuse to be blinded or silenced by – so-called – patriotic mythology. But I seek to also overcome my abhorrence.

My abhorrence is tempered by my understanding that there are no alternatives to “going from what you know.” We make choices based on the totality of our awareness. Western culture fails us as it failed Alexander Hamilton in that it does not place enough emphasis on the long term consequences of our immediate decisions and behaviors. There is little that is comparable in Western culture to that emphasis in the indigenous First Nations’ cultural on what is called Seven Generations awareness: the inclusion of a consideration of the consequences of what we do today on “seven generations” in the future.

A closer examination of Hamilton’s “leavings” does reveal unwise individual-human shortsightedness. Such an examination also totally destroys the conservative’s wont to make him and at least five other of the “major founders” exceptional men. This founder mythology can be discarded. That is a good thing. Discarding it is good not just because it brings us closer to the truth but also because it allows a winnowing of what deserves to be conserved as opposed to what needs to be understood and uprooted. However, the supreme goodness of this analytical approach derives from the example that it offers us. It forces us to reflect with a certain amount of empathy and it goads us to view ourselves and our contemporary leaders and heroes as – what they are – human beings. We all can consciously and thoroughly extend our ability to “go from what we know” and to NOT just let others, who are as flawed as we, lead us in to ignominy.

Every white, black, and yellow person on this land is an immigrant or the descendent of immigrants. Too much has been made, for too long a time, of the distinction between those who happen to be birthed on this land from those who walk across the border – whether in chains, whether by other means forced, or whether by free choice. Hamilton suffered from that distinction. He was one of the eight immigrants (folks not born in the Colonies) who attended the 1787 Constitutional Convention. In the book, The Founders and Finance: How Hamilton, Gallatin, and Other Immigrants Forged a New Economy, it posits that in large part Hamilton’s immigrant status influenced the decisions he made. The author, Thomas K. McCraw, writes with an element of appreciation – which I do not share. I do share the author’s developmental character assessment of the importance of immigrant status to Hamilton.

 “To this day, no one knows with complete assurance when or where he [Alexander Hamilton] was born, or even who his father was.” It is believed that he was born on the Caribbean Island of Nevis, near St. Croix. “At that time, Nevis contained about 1,000 whites and…8,000 enslaved blacks.” Alexander got the family name of a “ne’er-do-well” that his mother lived with after she abandoned her husband and an earlier child. Subsequently Hamilton Sr. abandoned Alexander and his mother. Rachel Faucett, Alexander’s mother, spent two months “imprisoned in a dank fortress” for the crime of adultery. None of the men she spent time with were punished. After her release she opened a small store in the port city of Christiansted, St. Croix, where she and Alexander worked and lived. It was where Alexander learned rudimentary lessons about business and finance. When he was nine, his mother died of yellow-fever. Hamilton had demonstrated such a facility with numbers that he had impressed his mother’s friends. He went on to work at a New York-based merchant trading house there in the Caribbean.

At fifteen this white youth got the opportunity to seek his fortune in New Jersey and to study at a Presbyterian school to complete his education. [Up until the late 1800s when Congress wanted to keep free people-of-color out, the Colonies’ borders and later the U.S. borders were completely open.] In 1773 Alexander was admitted to King’s College which is now Columbia University. “The Boston Tea Party occurred during his first academic year at King’s College…” Hamilton’s background disposed him to seek legitimacy, respect, and inclusion. His male youthfulness and penchant for numbers propelled him into the gathering storm of the War of Independence which was principally caused by differences over taxes, trading regulations, and the economic power of the wealthy.

He made his “political bones” on a pamphlet he wrote at this time that attempted to make the argument that the Colonies could be economically self-sufficient. “This assertion was at best debatable, but the essay was an impressive debut for someone so young.” Hamilton went on to become one of General George Washington’s aide-de-camps. He distinguished himself in terms of his accounting and organizing skills to the extent that Washington refused Hamilton’s frequent requests to be given command fighting assignments. The mutual appreciation that developed between them became critical later when President Washington declined the request of Thomas Jefferson and others to veto Hamilton’s Bank of the United States bill.

Conservatives who uncritically swallow the mythology about the major founders might be surprised about some of the stances that Alexander Hamilton took. In some of his early writings in The Continentalist Hamilton was in “conscious opposition to the laissez-faire prescriptions contained in Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations.” Hamilton is quoted as having said that “A national debt if it is not excessive will be to us a national blessing; it will be a powerful cement of our union.” He was the friend of U.S. resident “loyalists” who were against total independence and who constantly hoped that the War would come to a negotiated end and the Colonies would remain the possession of Britain. At the Constitutional Convention Hamilton said “that the British government was the best in the world; and that he doubted much whether anything short of it would do in America.” Like too many of us in the struggle are, Hamilton admired and was jealous of the power of imperialists.

Hamilton was “going from what he knew” and from his ego needs and hunger for social status. From an early age he had been given desperately needed attention and appreciation for his facility with numbers. [He was the oppositional Paul Ryan of his day.]This channeled him to study every economic philosophy, business, and accounting text that he could get his hands on. These were texts that expounded economic imperialism. Additional appreciation of his learning and skills followed which propelled him into the elite circles of the revolutionary colonists at the age when young men seem to have the most need for external respect.

Hamilton, being a border crosser, had less attachment to any particular Colony or land than did Jefferson or the majority of the revolutionary leaders of the time. Jefferson and others were agriculturalist (albeit based on slave labor) who rejected national centralized power; Hamilton’s experiences were at urban port communities and enterprises that had ocean-spanning connections and high dependencies for “success” on the manipulation of far flung nations and communities. Alexander’s allegiance was more to the formation of a “powerful” nation (a concept) than it was to the land or to a more definable set of people.

He was allied with those who wanted to create a powerful central government. He was concerned with maintaining or reestablishing the basic colonial economic structure that was dependent on international trade, the new technologies of the industrial revolution, and the extraction of resources from local communities. His concept of national self-sufficiency was to break away from the British so-that the United States could be like Britain. [This is the natural dream of most juveniles: how can I be a daddy too.] What Hamilton knew was a Britain which had emerged out of and which was still encrusted with the culture, institutions, and understandings of feudal monarchy. Alexander Hamilton set about recreating the British national model with marginal differences but still “shot through” with much that we are told the Colonists rebelled against: militarism, imperialism, and the lack of true democracy beyond the elites. Alexander Hamilton’s creative horizon was limited.

The imperialism of the financial system that Hamilton initiated is oppressing us today. Our national government began heavily burdened with the unpaid costs of war and massive debt owed to distant governments; after more than two hundred years we still suffer from that insanity. Our national prosperity is not built on the abilities and industriousness of local farmers, merchants, and crafts-persons serving a local market as Jefferson envisioned but on the basically colonial-based economics of exports and imports that enrich a few elites and that are unsustainable. Like too many public agencies in the US, Oakland is also caught in interest rate swap deals or other extractive debt-based mechanisms that suck millions of desperately needed dollars annually out of the community with absolutely no benefit: we need a national-Anti-Goldman-Sachs Tea Party. Stockton California is only the latest city going bankrupt due to the “fractional reserve,” central-bank, monetized-debt currency systems that Hamilton craftily initiated. Detroit and too many mostly black communities across the country are being oppressed and democratically suppressed in obeisance to the centralized bankers and the debt financing of militarism. They are being saddled with colonial viceroys to make sure that the financial elites get their “pound of flesh.”

Even though I abhor him, I explore and attempt to understand the life and decisions of Alexander Hamilton and the other founders of this nation but I reject the conservatives mythologizing of them. Neither do I consider him less than human which is the mistake of reverse-mythologizing. [Buddhist culture is clear about the dangers of being entangled in reactive revulsions as no better than the entanglements in unmitigated attractions. Both lower the creative horizon and keep the focus on limitations.] Most importantly, I will submit myself, my colleagues, and contemporary leaders to a similar cultural and social psychological analysis to better understand and correct the negative impacts that our current day actions and decisions will have on future generations. By not conserving all of Alexander Hamilton’s limitations as if they are fundamental, my creative horizon will be raised.

BlackCommentator.com Columnist, Wilson Riles, is a former Oakland, CA City Council Member. Click here to contact Mr. Riles.