What Would Hamilton Do?

Washington Examiner columnist and Alexander Hamilton biographer Noemie Emery delivers one of the best pieces so far on the crack-up of the Republican party. Asking "What Would Hamilton Do?" she compares the current #NeverTrump movement to Hamilton's attempt to stop the loose cannon Aaron Burr from winning the presidency — even if Hamilton had to support his hated rival Thomas Jefferson.

Praising Jefferson did not come easily to Hamilton, as was evident in his opening words to James Bayard, the Delaware congressman he was lobbying on Jefferson's behalf: "I admit that his politics are tinctured with fanaticism, that he is too much in earnest in his democracy; that he has been a mischievous enemy to the principal measures of our past administration, that he is crafty and persevering in his objects, that he is not scrupulous about the means of success, nor very mindful of truth, and that he is a contemptible hypocrite," he began in what is undoubtedly the strangest opening to an endorsement ever made in political history.

But Hamilton went on to say that with all his faults Jefferson was a rational man with coherent ideas who operated within the normative range of accepted behavior in life and in politics, while Burr was something fundamentally different— a man for whom norms, rules, and boundaries didn't exist. In 1792, Hamilton had taken his measure of Burr and never moved from it: Burr was "unprincipled both as a public and private man .  .  . for or against nothing but as it suits his interest or ambition .  .  . determined .  .  . to make his way to be the head of the popular party .  .  . and to climb .  .  . to the highest honors of the state." Now Hamilton warned friends about Burr's debts and the scandals involving his business investments, calling him a profligate, a voluptuary, unprincipled, and dangerous.

 

Emery concludes:

Once in a blue moon, or twice in two centuries, a Burr or a Trump comes along who is truly an outlaw, someone outside the normal perceptions of what is acceptable, who marks himself off as not to be trusted. In that case, when and if it should happen, the Hamilton gambit may not be the worst card to play.

 

Read the whole thing here.