Alexander Hamilton


Exerpts frm Vattel | Locke vs. Leibniz | Vattel's Natural Law | Law of Nations | Declaration of Independence | U.S. Constitution | Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton's Approach to Natural Law

"Life, Liberty, and The Pursuit of Happiness, How the Natural Law Concept of G. W. Leibniz Inspired America's Founding Fathers."


Alexander Hamilton was the key organizer of the movement to hold the Constitutional Convention, that wrote the U.S. Constitution. As the nations's first Secretary of the Treasury, he played a crucual role in shaping the policies that became known as the American System. Here we examine how his thinking was shaped by Emmerich de Vattel's work, "The Law of Nations."

The issue of whether the American Republic would be a true republic, or merely a new government of landed aristocrats and financial oligarchs, was the central issue of the dispute, in which Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson became leaders on the two opposing sides. Contrary to most of today's lying historians, Hamilton was the leader of the republicans, and Jefferson, a leader of the aristocratic party. Although many men contributed to the founding of the United States, it is useful to focus on Hamilton, since of all of America's founders, he was most clearly influenced by Vattel, and his actions were most coherent with Leibnizian natural law. No one played a more important role than Hamilton, in the adoption of the U.S. Constitution, and in fulfilling its Leibnizian mandate. A number of Hamilton's key initiatives show how Vattel's {The Law of Nations} shaped Hamilton's thinking and actions, and thereby shaped the founding of the United States.

Alexander Hamilton was born in the British West Indies in 1757. There, he developed a life-long hatred of slavery, seeing how it oppressed the slave and corrupted society in general. Hamilton was brought to the American colonies by republican circles. During the Revolution, he was Washington's {aide-de-camp.} Following the Revolution, he qualified himself to practice law in New York State, in record time, and it was while studying for the New York bar examination in 1782, that Hamilton first read Vattel's {The Law of Nations.} James Duane supervised his studies, and lent Hamilton his law library. Duane had been an influential member of the Continental Congress, where he was a staunch ally of Benjamin Franklin. Following his studies under Duane, Hamilton began quoting Vattel in his writings. Duane placed his praise for Vattel into the court record in the Rutgers v. Waddington case, over which he presided as judge, while Hamilton appeared for the defense. Comparing Vattel to a previous author on the law of nations, Duane stated, ``This last work, says a writer, is evidently rather an introduction than a system; and it served only to excite a desire to see it continued with equal perspicuity and elegance. The honor of this task was reserved for the great Vattel, whose work is entitled to the highest admiration!''

"Rutgers v. Waddington." Rutgers v. Waddington (1784) is an excellent example of how Vattel shaped Hamilton's philosophical outlook. Furthermore, Hamilton's arguments in Rutgers v. Waddington were a milestone in the formulation of the American doctrine of judicial review, or the doctrine that legislative decisions must be reviewed by the courts, to determine if they are coherent with higher forms of law. In this case, a British merchant, Mr. Waddington, had occupied a brewery after its owner, Mrs. Rutgers, a patriot widow, fled New York City, following British occupation. In February 1784, at the height of anti-Tory feeling, Mrs. Rutgers filed a suit against Waddington under the Trespass Act. Hamilton represented the defendant, Waddington.

The Trespass Act and other acts by the New York legislature were extremely destructive, forcing one-fifth of the state's population to flee, and thereby weakening the nation. Even worse, Hamilton saw these legislative actions as a new form of tyranny, spawned by the momentary passions of the mob, which could lead to a new aristocracy or oligarchy.

The case contrasts the Lockean approach of popular sovereignty, to Hamilton's reliance on natural law. Lawyers for the plaintiff argued that the legislature was the supreme law-giving authority of the state, and was subject to no control except that of the people. However, the New York State Constitution had adopted the common law of England, as part of the Constitution of New York. This British feature, of making past precedents part of the Constitution, Hamilton turned on its head, by arguing that, since the law of nations was part of the common law, the decisions of the New York Legislature must be consistent with the law of nations, in order to have validity. And Hamilton used Vattel as the standard for defining the law of nations.

Hamilton advanced two parallel approaches. First, he argued that state law was superseded by national law and the law of nations. He developed the concept of the law of nations, starting from the ``Preliminaries'' section of Vattel's book. Amnesty in peace treaties is consistent with the law of nations. The laws of New York State must be consistent with the amnesty provisions of the peace treaty, which the Continental Congress had signed with the British, as well as with the law of nations. Therefore, the Trespass Act must be declared null and void. Second, he argued that the intent of the legislature must have been that their law be applied, only in a fashion consistent with the peace treaty and the law of nations. If the literal interpretation of a law led to an absurd, contradictory, or unjust result, it must be assumed that the legislature did not intend that the law be so interpreted. (One of Hamilton's aphorisms was, ``In law as in Religion, the Letter kills, the Spirit makes alive.'') A review of the case from this standpoint, would lead to the conclusion that the law did not apply to Waddington. Therefore, Waddington's actions could not be punished. Both of these arguments required that the court review not simply the facts of the case, but the legitimacy of the law itself.

James Duane, then the mayor of New York City, presided over the proceedings, in an extremely charged atmosphere. He dodged the issue of whether the peace treaty, a national law, invalidated the New York State law. Responding to the second argument, Duane described the importance of the new republic abiding by the law of nations, and explained that the standard for the court would be Vattel. He ruled that the Trespass Act must be interpreted from the standpoint of its consistency with the law of nations. His judgement required Waddington to pay damages to Rutgers, although the amount was far smaller than demanded by the plaintiff, and the mob. Duane's judgement was extremely unpopular, and the New York Assembly passed a resolution condemning his decision, even considering a resolution to replace him as mayor.

The U.S. Consititution. One of the first and most persistent in efforts to replace the weak central government with a strong one, was Alexander Hamilton. The government of the Articles of Confederation demonstrated its inadequacies during the American Revolution, and its failings became even clearer, when it was unable to halt the economic collapse which resulted from British economic warfare, following the 1783 Treaty of Paris. On Sept. 3, 1780, Hamilton, who was {aide-de-camp} for Washington, sent a letter to James Duane, who was then a Congressman, arguing that the weak central government was a disaster and urging specific reforms to strengthen it. For the next seven years, Hamilton argued in private letters, public appeals, resolutions, speeches in assemblies, and maneuvers at conventions, that a new constitution was needed to provide a strong central government.

Hamilton was a delegate to the convention which wrote the Constitution in 1787. His main concern was not the institutional arrangements of the government, but its purpose, and the creation of a central government strong enough to carry out that purpose. Three weeks into the convention, he delivered an all-day speech focussing on this. Whereas many of the delegates to the convention saw the purpose of government from the Lockean standpoint of ``life, liberty and property,'' Hamilton's speech, coherent with Vattel's ``Principle Objects of a Good Government,'' located the purposes of government as ``the great purposes of commerce, revenue, or agriculture,'' ``tranquility and happiness at home,'' and, ``sufficient stability and strength to make us respectable abroad.''

The concept of judicial review, which Hamilton had championed in Rutgers v. Waddington, was included in the U.S. Constitution. In {The Federalist Papers,} No. 78, ``The Judges as Guardians of the Constitution,'' circulated as part of the debate over the new Constitution, Hamilton developed a conception of constitutional law which was coherent with Vattel's conception. Hamilton stated that it is a ``fundamental principle of republican government, which admits the right of the people to alter or abolish the established Constitution, whenever they find it inconsistent with their happiness.'' However, the Constitution can only be changed by the nation as a whole, and not by the temporary passions of the majority or by the legislature. Both to protect the Constitution, but also to ensure just enforcement of the law, the independence of the judiciary from the legislature and the executive branch is essential. The judiciary must be the guardians of the Constitution, to ensure that all legislative decisions are coherent with it. This idea championed by Hamilton, that the courts ensured that the Executive and Legislative branches followed the Constitution, was later established as a principle of American jurisprudence by Chief Justice John Marshall.

The Citizen Genet Affair. George Washington became the first President of the United States, under the new Constitution, in April 1789. Hamilton was appointed the Secretary of the Treasury, which was by far the largest department. President Washington usually sought the views of the key members of his cabinet, before making important decisions on domestic and foreign policy. Hamilton relied primarily on Vattel in his writings on foreign policy.

The role of {The Law of Nations,} in the diplomacy of Hamilton and the Washington administration, is illustrated by the affair of Citizen Genet, the Ambassador from the French Republic. Both America and France were plunged into depression by the free trade policies which the British tricked them into adopting, as part of the 1783 treaty which ended the Revolutionary War. Patriots in America succeeded in solving the crisis by creating a strong central government. In France, British Intelligence head Jeremy Bentham used his agents in the Jacobin movement, to throw France into chaos, and destroy the nationalist leadership. As many as 40,000 people were killed, and 500,000 imprisoned, and France was destroyed as the world's leading nation-state. Hamilton soon realized that Jacobin anarchy led quickly to tyranny. When, in February 1793, the French declared war on Spain, Great Britain, and Holland, Washington realized that neutrality was necessary for America's survival.

Citizen Genet was given his assignment, as France was descending into the Terror, by a government which was destroying the France that had been America's key ally. Genet arrived, not in the U.S. capital, Philadelphia, but in Charleston, South Carolina. He immediately began violating America's sovereignty and neutrality, by recruiting Americans as privateers, to attack British shipping, and as mercenaries, for an attack on Spanish Florida and Louisiana.

Washington asked his Cabinet for advice on how to deal with the new government of France and its ambassador, Citizen Genet. Secretary of State Jefferson argued, that since all authority of governments was derived from the people, all prior treaties with France should remain in effect. Secretary of the Treasury Hamilton quoted Vattel at length, describing him as ``the most systematic of writers on the laws of nations.'' Hamilton argued that the French Constitution of 1791 was adopted with the approval of the entire French nation, and, therefore, was lawful. However, the seizure of power by extreme elements, who had suspended the Constitution, executed the King, and unleased a wave of terror, had created conditions ripe for civil war. Therefore, the United States should hold its treaties with France in abeyance, until the situation was resolved. While every nation had the right to change its government, it did not have the right to involve other nations, absolutely and unconditionally, in those changes. Hamilton stated, ``This would be to give to a nation or society, not only a power over its own happiness, but a power over the happiness of other Nations or Societies. It would be to extend the operations of the maxim, much beyond the reason of it--which is simply, that every Nation ought to have a right to provide for its own happiness.''

Washington made repeated attempts to control Genet's actions, but Genet responded with increasing contempt, eventually threatening to bypass the President, and appeal directly to the people. On June 22, Genet exploded at the Washington administration, writing, ``you bring forward aphorisms of Vattel, to justify or excuse infractions committed on positive treaties.'' The administration eventually demanded that the French government recall Genet.

Establishing Republics in Hispanic America.

Hamilton's efforts to liberate Spain's American colonies, began a long history of U.S. involvement in spreading the ideas of the United States as a sovereign constitutional republic into the movements toward nation-states in the Hispanic Americas. In a 1784 open letter presenting his case in Rutgers v. Waddington, Hamilton wrote that ``the influence of our example'' had ``penetrated the gloomy regions of despotism,'' and ``pointed the way to inquiries which may shake it to its deepest foundations.'' Hamilton argued, in Federalist Paper No. 11, that the effects of the continuance of the union would allow the nation to develop a navy strong enough to be the arbiter of Europe in America. ``Let the thirteen States bound together in a strict and indissoluble Union, concur in erecting one great American system, superior to the control of all transatlantic force or influence, and able to dictate the terms of the connection between the old and the new world!'' And, in a 1793 letter to Washington, Hamilton argued that it was ``lawful and meritorious to assist a people in a virtuous and rational struggle for liberty.''

When Spain was reduced to the status of a satrap in France's empire in 1798, Hamilton attempted to organize the U.S. government to launch a war, which would have added Florida and Louisiana to the nation, and turned the Spanish colonies into constitutional republics. South American revolutionary leader Francisco Miranda, who praised Vattel as ``the wisest and most celebrated of modern publicists,'' asked Hamilton to help draw up a constitution for the liberated regions. He urged Hamilton, ``At least, I am sure that your Greek predecessor Solon would not have refused.''

In Conclusion

In 1832, Chancellor Kent, the leading American author on law, ranked Hamilton as the nation's greatest lawyer of that period. Still today, Hamilton can truly be ranked as the greatest American lawyer. While his ``profound penetration, his power of analysis, the comprehensive grasp and strength of his understanding,'' are indisputable, his greatest contribution to justice was to have designed and implemented a system of national economic development, which fulfilled the Leibnizian natural law embodied in the Constitution. He studied the writings and efforts of the mercantilist school of economics, such as the French Finance Minister he called ``the great Colbert.'' He worked to organize the population to support the use of machinery and an increased division of labor, to improve productivity, and increase the wealth of the entire nation. He saw the increase in wealth of the nation, not merely as an end in itself, but as a means to develop creative abilities of the people. The extension of the use of machinery would encourage men ``to exert his imagination in devising methods to facilitate and abridge labour,'' he wrote, and would develop the strongest and most active powers of the mind.

Hamilton launched a program to build up the new nation based on the Leibnizian concept of the development of the productive powers of labor. He designed the National Bank of the United States, to provide the nation with a stable monetary system and a source of credit for the development of the nation. This measure, and his reorganization of the nation's debt, stabilized the economy, which had been in a severe crisis, and brought about the most rapid development in the history of America, to that time. In the ``Report to the Nation on Manufactures,'' Hamilton mapped out a grand design for the development of the nation, through measures to develop the labor force, protect and encourage domestic industry, and develop industry through science.

Far from receiving universal support, Hamilton faced mounting opposition, and was subjected to a massive slander campaign. Opponents to the National Bank of the United States argued that the establishment of a bank by the government was unconstitutional. Hamilton, in his ``Opinion of the Constitutionality of an Act to Establish a Bank'', developed the arguments which became the basis for the interpretation of the Constitution according to its Leibnizian character for future generations. Hamilton, like Vattel, argued that the sovereign has the duty and, therefore, the right to take actions, which are necessary for the fulfillment of his duties to the nation. In order to provide for national exigencies and promote national prosperity, Hamilton wrote in his defense of the constitutionality of the Bank, that, ``the powers contained in a constitution of government, especially those which concern the general administration of the affairs of a country, its finances, trade, defense, etc., ought to be construed liberally, in advancement of the public good.'' Hamilton's writings became the basis for later arguments in defense of the American System.

The measures which Hamilton described in the ``Report to the Nation on Manufactures,'' were largely blocked. Much of Hamilton's economic system was dismantled. Only crises, which threatened the nation's existence, jolted the U.S. to readopt these measures. In the crises of 1812 and 1860, great leaders were able to rally the American people to adopt measures which built the nation.

The nation and the world are now in the worst crisis in five hundred years. The effects of the triumph of the oligarchy and, especially, the last thirty years of unprecedented decay, have put the very existence of civilization in question. To deal with this threat, Lyndon LaRouche has designed a strategy for sovereign nation-states, collaborating in a grand design of economic development, to replace the bankrupt international monetary and financial system. As LaRouche recently wrote,

"The successful development and continued existence of the sovereign nation-state republic, as an institution, depend, unconditionally, upon the fostering of agape as the characteristic feature of the relationship between the individual person and the society as a whole. It also requires, the extension of this same principle to defining the relations within a globally extended community of sovereign nation-state republics. Thus agape is the principal element of hypothesis underlying all enterprises of that republican cause.

Most world leaders and, certainly, most American citizens, would consider this as ``idealistic,'' that is, ``totally impractical.'' In fact, as we have seen, it was exactly this approach which built the United States into the greatest nation on earth. It is time to reflect on the words and deeds of Leibniz, Vattel, and Hamilton, and to ensure that Lyndon LaRouche's design is successful, so that out of this crisis will come a new beginning for the peoples of the world.

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Part 7 of:
 "Life, Liberty, and The Pursuit of Happiness, How the Natural Law Concept of G. W. Leibniz Inspired America's Founding Fathers."
For the Introduction and Table of Contents, go to:

Leibnizian Natural Law


Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton co-authored a series of letters with James Madison and John Jay, for the purpose of winning the vote to ratify the U.S. Constituion in New York. These letters are an excellent exposition of the principles behind the U.S. Constitution and the American System.
For a review of "The Federalist," go to:

A short biography

Alexander Hamilton, a Founder of the American System

Alexander Hamilton was born in the British West Indies on January 11, 1755. He died in New York City on July 11, 1804 after being killed in a duel. Hamilton came to the New York in 1733, and entered King's College. He joined the Continental army in 1776, and served as Washingtons private secretary and aide-de-camp from 1777 until 1781. At the final battle at Yorktown, Hamilton led a contingent of troops who seized one of the redoubts, to force the British surrender.


Following the American Revolution, Hamilton studied law under James Duane. Hamilton qualified to practice law in record time. Duane schooled Hamilton in the natural law of Emmerich de Vattel, a Swiss proponent of the Leibniz.


Hamilton played a crucial role in convincing the population of the new American republic of the necessity to call a Constitutional Convention to establish a new Constitution, because the government of the Articles of Confederation was not functioning.


As a member of the New York delegation, Hamilton fought to ensure that the new Constitution contained a commitment to the general welfare, and established a strong and energetic executive branch capable of carrying out that purpose.


To win support for the ratification of the Constitution by the New York State Legislature, Hamilton coauthored with James Madison and John Jay, Federalist letters. These letters, which were published in newspapers at the time of the debate in the New York Legislature, have become a classic source on the meaning of the U.S. Constitution.


Hamilton became the first Secretary of the Treasury under America's first President, George Washington. He defined the American System of economics. Hamilton developed a conception of cooperation between government and private interests to ensure economic expansion to provide for the general welfare. He wrote three Reports: a Report on the Public Credit, A Report on a National Bank and a Report on Manufactures.


Hamilton reorganized the nation's revolutionary war debt, which had previously been in default. His policy of reorganizing the debt and insuring economic expansion made it possible to honor the debt, and establish the nation's credit on a sound basis.


With his Report on Manufactures, Hamilton mapped out a program for the rapid development of the nation. Unfortunately, his plans were largely thwarted by short-sighted interests, who fell under the influence of the British propaganda that sought to keep the new nation a backward producer of raw materials.


However, Hamilton was successful in establishing a national bank. This institution issued loans, for internal improvements to develop the infrastructure that was needed by the new nation.


Hamilton opposed the treasonous activities of Arron Burr, and was killed by Burr in a duel. Burr was at the center of a plot to split apart the new nation.

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