Editor’s note: Occasioned by Thomas McCraw’s The Founders and Finance: How Hamilton, Gallatin, and Other Immigrants Forged a New Economy, this is the first post in a series by Liberty Fund Senior Fellow Hans Eicholz that will explore the contrasting visions for the early American republic in the financial, economic, and foreign policy thinking of Alexander Hamilton and Albert Gallatin. Stay tuned for further developments.
Thomas McCraw has given us a compelling portrait of two major figures at the outset of American financial and economic history in The Founders and Finance. His primary aim is to draw out their similarities—their foreign origins, their experiences in commerce, their capacity to see the big picture of American nationhood—but I was struck more by their striking dissimilarities.
Where Albert Gallatin aspired initially to commercial success; Hamilton very early determined on a political career. Where Gallatin felt somewhat awkward on the political stage, Hamilton thrilled at the prospects of a public career and a public reputation. Where Gallatin learned to roll with the political punches of a diverse and rollicking republic (adapting policies to commercial and political realities), Hamilton formulated a clear, even unitary conception of where America needed to go and what he needed to do to get it there.