Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew had announced that the portrait of Alexander Hamilton, who served as the first secretary of the treasury (1789-1795) and established the country’s first bank, would no longer be the face of the $10 bill.* He should have rethought his decision, though, as the musical “Hamilton” — based on the book by historian Ron Chernow — brought this historical figure back into popular light.
Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804) fought in the Revolutionary War, served as George Washington’s senior aide and was one of the authors of the Constitution. He’s considered by some to be the most brilliant of the Founding Fathers.
Hamilton is recognized as one of the advisers of the American economic system, mainly for his contribution to the debate on why the U.S. should develop as an industrial manufacturing nation and observe a policy of protectionism.
In opposition to Hamilton was the free trade supporter Thomas Jefferson, whose portrait adorns the $2 bill. Jefferson supported development based on agriculture and farming, which he saw as virtuous activities for society, and not on industrial manufacturing, which would lead to corruption and social degradation. In his "Notes on the State of Virginia" (1785), Jefferson defended having an agrarian economy of exports and a small government, as well as slavery.
Unlike Jefferson, Hamilton was anti-slavery and maintained in his "Report on the Subject of Manufactures” (1791) that only through the manufacturing industry could a nation increase its wealth. Given the state of manufacturing in the U.S., this had to be protected. Otherwise, the country's joint development of agriculture and manufacturing would be in danger, and this was critical to steady development.
In his report, Hamilton wrote that industry and agriculture are meant to complement each other: "Indeed they are perceived so often to succor and to befriend each other that they come at length to be considered as one. Particular encouragements of particular manufactures may be of a nature to sacrifice the interests of landholders to those of manufacturers, but it is nevertheless a maxim well established by experience, and generally acknowledged, where there has been sufficient experience, that the aggregate prosperity of manufactures and the aggregate prosperity of agriculture are intimately connected ... Perhaps the superior steadiness of the demand of a domestic market for the surplus produce of the soil is alone a convincing argument of its truth."
According to Ian Fletcher, the policies Hamilton defended would be understood today as: 1) tariffs; 2) banning of imports; 3) banning of exports of materials necessary for the country's industrialization; 4) subsidies for exports, similar to those of the Export-Import Bank today; 5) subsidies for key innovations, today called "research and development tax credits"; 6) unrestricted imports of industrial goods, so that some other country could export its premium materials while the U.S. industrialized itself; 7) tax returns for tariffs imposed on imports of premium materials; 8) prizes for inventions and, more importantly, patents; 9) imposing regulations/inspections on imported goods; 10) a sophisticated financial system; and 11) a good infrastructure. In that sense, the origin of the country's economic policy follows Friedrich List's views, which are critical of England's policy, and can be traced to the U.S. economic debate during List's exile in the U.S. from 1825 to 1831. "The spiritual father of List is Hamilton." (Seligman)
In the book "The National System of Political Economy" (1841), List predicts a bright future for the U.S. and says the country will grow "(probably in the course of the next century) ... to a degree of industry, wealth and power, which will surpass the position in which England stands ... It is therefore good for England that she should practice resignation." And that's how it happened: England was left as a secondary power at the service of U.S. geopolitical interests. The new nation's motto was: Do what England did, not what England tells us to do!
The U.S. owes its greatness to Hamilton more than Jefferson, but the North American elite, who impose free trade on the nations of the world, continue to pay little homage to Hamilton because they know his discourse does not fit their interests, not when it comes to other countries trying to find their own path to industrialization and development.
*Editor’s Note: Secretary Lew announced on April 20 that Alexander Hamilton would remain on the face of the $10 bill. Black abolitionist leader Harriet Tubman will appear on the front of the $20 bill, relocating the incumbent Andrew Jackson to the opposite side.