The below piece originally appeared on the Federalist site and is written by one of my professors. It is an excellent piece that gives a historical perspective to the Hamilton/Jefferson debate.
The recent decision by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew to displace Alexander Hamilton on the ten-dollar bill would be warmly welcomed by the Democratic Party’s founders. Since the moment Hamilton was killed in a duel with Vice President Aaron Burr in 1804, he was the target of a campaign designed to tarnish his image in the American mind. Despite being George Washington’s closest confidant (or perhaps because they resented that he was), Thomas Jefferson and his lieutenants sought to denigrate, if not erase, Hamilton’s contributions to the founding of the United States. Hamilton was, in a sense, the first victim of the politics of personal destruction.
Jefferson considered Hamilton, the lone immigrant among the core group of founding fathers, to be not quite “American.” In fact, Jefferson saw him as a covert British agent intent on foisting a crown upon the republic and corrupting its government councils to benefit the privileged few. Jefferson’s animus toward Hamilton knew no bounds, in part because the latter had bested him in several policy battles in President Washington’s cabinet.
We Disagree, So You Can’t Be Courageous
Jefferson dismissed reports of Hamilton’s courage as a solider in the Revolutionary War, perhaps out of jealousy, since Jefferson’s only encounter with the war involved a hasty flight from his plantation after receiving word that British forces were heading for Monticello. Hamilton was “timid,” Jefferson believed, and his reputation for courage was simply not “genuine.” Jefferson also believed Hamilton was “not only a monarchist” but an advocate “for a monarchy bottomed on corruption.” When Jefferson became president in 1801, he ordered his treasury secretary to comb through the records and find examples of Hamilton’s corruption. None was ever found. Nevertheless, Jefferson’s sinister interpretation of Hamilton became gospel within the ranks of the populist Democratic-Republican Party, which later became the Democratic Party.