WASHINGTON, D.C.– Last week, Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew announced that the ten-dollar bill is going to see some major changes– namely, that a woman will take Alexander Hamilton’s place on the face of the bill.
In response to the proposed changes, there has been considerable outcry from the public. The YouTube video in which Lew announced the change has received nearly three times as many dislikes as likes. A WhiteHouse.gov petition to keep Hamilton has over 2,000 signatures.
A number of writers have published several brilliant pieces about why Hamilton ought to remain on the bill, including noted Hamilton historians Richard Brookhiser and Ron Chernow. Mostly, these writers have focused on Hamilton’s meteoric rise to the heights of American politics, his financial stewardship of the early United States, and his contributions to American constitutionalism.
All of these are incredibly important reasons to honor Hamilton on our currency. But most of these authors have overlooked one of the most consequential ways in which Alexander Hamilton affected the future of the United States: establishing a secure basis for American foreign policy.
Shortly after the U.S. Constitution was adopted, revolution broke out in France. Radicals beheaded the French king and overthrew the existing political order. Following that, the revolutionaries declared war on Great Britain, seeing the United Kingdom as a threat to the new French Republic.
Some in the United States sympathized with the French and wanted to help their cause, most notably Thomas Jefferson, who was in France when the Revolution initially broke out.
In a letter to a friend, Jefferson wrote that “this ball of liberty [the French Revolution]… will roll ‘round the world.” He believed that it was the United States’ role to help the French in their fight against Great Britain, and as such founded the Democratic-Republican Party, a predecessor to the modern-day Democrats.
Hamilton, however, knew that the United States was a small country with relatively little power on the global stage. If the United States helped France, Great Britain would surely declare war on the fledgling republic and destroy the independence they had fought so hard for only a decade ago.
In a series of public letters written under the pseudonym “Pacificus,” Hamilton advised then-President George Washington to remain neutral in the Anglo-French conflict. “Foreign influence is truly the Grecian horse to a republic,” he wrote in one of the letters. “We cannot be too careful to exclude its influence.”
Washington read the letters, and eventually sided with Hamilton. In 1793, Washington issued a neutrality proclamation, officially saying that the United States would stay out of the conflict between Britain and France in order to preserve national independence. In addition, much to the chagrin of the Democratic-Republicans, the U.S. would continue trade with both warring nations.
However, this policy of neutrality was not an absolute ideology. The Pacificus letters are clear that whenever American interests are at stake, the United States ought to have the option to intervene. In this situation, Hamilton argued, American interests were not really at stake in any meaningful way, so long as trade continued freely and openly.
As both warring powers fought in Europe, Hamilton and his allies in the United States planned to build up our country’s strength in order to enter the world stage as a major power player down the road.
In his “Report on Manufactures,” given before Congress in his role of Treasury Secretary, Hamilton explained that in order to be a strong nation capable of exerting global influence, the United States needed a powerful economy.
Comparing the United States to Great Britain, Hamilton argued that our nation needed to appropriate technologies and policies which led to economic success overseas. Congress largely agreed with him, and much of his plan has been implemented.
Alexander Hamilton was an expert architect not only of financial policy, but also foreign policy. He understood the limits of American power, but always sought to expand those limits ever outwards.
Unlike the current President and his progressive administration, Hamilton always acted with American interests as the very first consideration.
“There is an elegant memorial in Washington to Jefferson, but none to Hamilton,” George Will once wrote. “However, if you seek Hamilton’s monument, look around. You’re living in it… We live in Hamilton’s country—a mighty, industrial nation.”
Without Alexander Hamilton’s foreign policy insights, it is unlikely our nation would have preserved independence and national security for very long.
We owe Alexander Hamilton a great debt.
The very least we could do to honor such an achievement would be to leave him on the ten.