Alexander Hamilton was regarded by no less than Talleyrand as the greatest statesman of his age, greater than Pitt, Fox, and Napoleon. Hamilton was not only George Washington’s Secretary of the Treasury, he was, in effect, Washington’s “prime minister.” He wrote most of Washington’s “Farewell Address,” widely regarded as America’s greatest state paper.
Hamilton’s state papers on Manufactures and on a National Bank contributed greatly to America’s ascendancy as the most powerful nation on earth. No less significant are his contributions to The Federalist Papers, whose essays on presidential government are unsurpassed in depth and clarity. Would that Israel had statesmen to assimilate Hamilton’s wisdom and apply it to the reconstruction of Israel’s decrepit system of multiparty cabinet government.
But I have another reason for speaking of Hamilton, especially now in the context of a secret war that has been going on between the United States and Iran since 1979.
Let’s first go back to 1793, when France was under the Directory, which in fact was a military dictatorship. The issue arose as to whether the United States should accord the French government diplomatic recognition.
This was a delicate issue if only because the French had helped the Americans during their own Revolution against England. Supporters of recognition had made favorable comparisons between the French and American revolutions.
Hamilton, well known as a political realist, opposed recognition on grounds of principle. In a memorandum to President Washington dated May 18, 1793, he wrote:
The cause of France is compared with that of America during its late revolution. Would to Heaven that the comparison were just. Would to Heaven that we could discern in the mirror of French affairs, the same humanity, the same decorum, the same gravity, the same order, the same dignity, the same solemnity, which distinguished the course of the American Revolution. Clouds and darkness would not then rest upon the issue as they now do.
I own, I do not like the comparison. When I contemplate the horrid and systematic massacres. When I observe that a Marat and a Robespierre, the notorious prompters of those bloody scenes, reign triumphantly in the Convention. When I see … the sword of fanaticism … passion, tumult and violence usurping those seats, where reason and cool deliberation ought to preside, I acknowledge, that I am glad to believe, there is no real resemblance between what was the cause of America and what is the cause of France—that the difference is no less great than that between Liberty and Licentiousness.
I regret whatever has a tendency to confound them, and I feel anxious, as an American, that the [agitations] of inconsiderate men may not tend to involve our Reputation in the issue.
The issue here was not a matter of recognizing a gang of international terrorists, but one of recognizing a sovereign state. Hamilton the political realist said “No.”
Suppose, therefore, that Hamilton were alive today. Imagine what he would think of those in the Bush administration that want the U.S. to reestablish diplomatic relations with of Iran—Iran, whose president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, repeatedly calls for “death to America.”
And what would Hamilton think of president-elect Barack Obama who is so anxious to negotiate with Ahmadinejad?
In 1793, the United States was not a world power. Today, when the U.S. is the world’s only superpower, its president and its president-elect behave like kittens.