by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
I think there is quite a bit to learn from this complicated relationship between Madison and Hamilton. … One point … is how the two of them came to ascribe bad motives to each other. In Madison’s reckoning, Hamilton was a would-be monarchist who sought the destruction of the republic itself. By Hamilton’s measure, Madison was a fool, and a dishonest one at that, too quick to follow in the footsteps of Jefferson or genuflect to the political mood of Virginia, even when he knew the national interest required something else.
In so many ways, the Founding Fathers provide us with a model for statesmanship. Their leadership during the tumultuous years when the 13 colonies forged an independent nation serves as an inspiring call to greatness in ourselves. But not always. Sometimes, as in the case of Madison and Hamilton, they could be petty, mean-spirited, and selfish.
Even so, we can still learn something, at least from their error. Too often in our politics, we are willing to believe that our political opponents are not just wrong but bad (or evil), or at best fools. They want to destroy the America we know and love, we think, and replace it with some terrible alternative. Both Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, have these sorts of views about each other. If you spend any time on Twitter, you know exactly what I mean. …
… Nevertheless, the speed with which we imagine that our opponents have evil hearts or ignorant minds makes it harder to find common ground. What I found in my research on Madison and Hamilton is that, if you put aside their hatred for each other, you can see legitimate tradeoffs between their competing views of how the new nation should work. By the same token, I wonder if the Left and the Right could come together on issues, such as cutting down on corruption, if they could stop hating one another and appreciate that most of us are earnestly trying to figure out what is in the public interest.