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How the Rivalry Between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton Changed History

Read an excerpt from TIME's special edition about Alexander Hamilton.
Cornell University Library (Wikimedia Commons)

In Jefferson’s view, centralized government was simply European-style tyranny waiting to happen again. Informed by his upbringing in agrarian Virginia, he dreamed of a society of property-owning farmers who controlled their destiny. While a manufacturing economy was driven by avarice, a republic resting on the yeoman farmer would keep “alive that sacred fire” of personal liberty and virtue.

Hamilton, of course, had risen meteorically in the world of urban commerce. Naturally, he believed that a flourishing merchant economy would sow opportunities for all. Further, it would produce a philanthropic, knowledgeable and enterprising people. Jefferson once equated cities with “great sores,” but in Hamilton’s eyes they were focal points of societal health, providing a foundation for wealth creation, consumerism, the arts, innovation and enlightenment. A clash between the two Founding Fathers was inevitable.

The economic program instituted by the Treasury secretary triggered Jefferson’s suspicions, but it wasn’t until he learned what Hamilton had preached at the Constitutional Convention that he put together the whole puzzle. He saw as dangerous Hamilton’s push to strengthen the central government and presidency. And he detected an intent to secure the sway of the “financial interest” over Congress and foster the growth of a new moneyed class. All of it would menace republicanism and the agrarian way of life. Jefferson was sure that before long, Hamiltonianism would produce in America the same evil cause-and-effects he had witnessed in Europe: monarchy and rigid social stratification leading to massive poverty and widespread urban squalor.