Hamilton’s Good for the Ten-Spot

I recently objected to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew’s proposed demotion of Alexander Hamilton on the ten-dollar bill. Hamilton was not only the first and most distinguished Treasury Secretary, but was also an accomplished professional in many other fields outside the confines of finance.

During his varied career, Alexander Hamilton was a profound journalist. His most famous journalistic project was a series of 85 opinion pieces that called for the ratification of the Constitution. These essays are called The Federalist Papers, and are the most cited sources by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Federalist Papers were published in 1787 and 1788 in New York City’s Independent Journal. These important essays — written under pseudonyms by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay — were of very high quality and set the stage for the Constitutional Convention and the resulting product.

Hamilton organized this project, wrote most of the essays, and, of all the Founding Fathers, performed most of the intellectual work for the least historical credit. That said, two notable economists have given Hamilton his due. Lionel Robbins thought The Federalist Papers was “the best book on political science and its broad practical aspects written in the last thousand years.” And if that were not enough, Milton Friedman wrote in 1973 that The Federalist Paper, No. 15, written by Hamilton, “contains a more cogent analysis of the European Common Market than any I have seen from the pen of a modern writer.”

Hamilton’s prowess as a writer and journalist wasn’t a one-shot affair. He drafted a large part of George Washington’s famous Farewell Address, which was published in the American Daily Advertiser. And only three years before his untimely death, resulting from a wound inflicted in a duel with Aaron Burr, Hamilton founded the New-York Evening Post.

Treasury Secretary Lew’s proposed demotion of Hamilton throws into question both the Secretary’s grasp of history, as well as his judgment.