"I was a stranger and you invited me in."
Cover art: by Charles Willson Peale, from life, c. 1790–1795.
The newly elected president, George Washington, picked his old to fill the position of secretary of the treasury, and it was here that he left his most lasting stamp on the republic. The measures he pursued as treasury secretary all aimed at the construction of national unity, and the construction of the instruments of national power sufficient to the needs of a world of nation-states. Thus, in his Report on Credit (1790), he wanted domestic securities paid at face value, despite the fact that most had been obtained at steep discounts. He also proposed that the debts of the states be assumed by the Treasury. In the former case, he aimed at winning moneyed and mercantile wealth to the cause of the new government, to ensure a reliable source of government credit for future exigencies. In both cases the tax requirements of debt service would justify a panoply of federal taxes for a long period of time, thus solidifying the essential powers of the new government. Rather than conceiving of the federal government as a tool to enrich the moneyed men, Hamilton was convinced that their favor, and the nation’s credit, were essential “as long as nations in general continue to use it as a resource in war. It is impossible for a country to contend, on equal terms, or to be secure against the enterprises of other nations, without being able equally with them to avail itself of this important resource.”
Independence National Historical Park. Reprinted by permission.
But amongst the objectors to general principles in politics will be found some men of cautious and exact thought whose mental inclination will be to hand over each question as it arises to the decision of those who have given special attention to it, and may be looked on as authorities in the matter. These men will deny that there is at present sufficient material to justify the laying down of wide general principles; they will be on the side of experiment; they will wish each question to be separately treated, and treated according to the recommendations of those most familiar with it; they will attach immense importance to special knowledge and special experience, and exceedingly little importance to knowledge and experience of a wider kind. I cannot attempt to reply at length here to such objections, which must however be treated with respect. It is sufficient to point out that those great advances in knowledge, which cause mental and moral revolutions, are more often made by those men who fit themselves to connect existing groups of facts, than by those who add one more group to the many thousand groups now in existence. Without undervaluing the gain of a new fact in any department of life, I think one is justified in saying that at present the accumulation of facts is in advance of the power of using and connecting facts, and that the balance seems likely to be still further inclined in this direction; especially as regards the science of human nature the mass of unused facts is enormous. Every history, every novel, every newspaper, every household is full of them; but they are lost to the world for want of careful attempts to follow their connections and to introduce order amongst them. I must also urge as against following the advice of political specialists, that they are seldom if ever men who have studied the body politic as a whole, or who have given much thought to the effect on the general system of the local remedy they would apply. A specialist in medicine is only really deserving of confidence if, in addition to his knowledge of the part, he has thorough knowledge of the whole system, but our local advisers in politics, who are often men of great thoroughness and worthy of all respect for their own special knowledge, would generally disclaim such wider knowledge. In politics quite as much as in medicine the local evil is often but a symptom of the systematic evil, and only to be removed when some condition of life, at first sight unconnected with it, is altered.