The Hamilton Phenomenon


Leading up to the election in 2016, Lin Manuel Miranda’s musical showcasing his flair for the sappy-hip-hop-dramatic was selling for over $1300 a seat.  The people climbing over each other to get their hands on these hot tickets were almost unanimously wealthy people from coastal urban centers, or in other words, Democrats.  This ironic craze would have been hilarious if it didn’t illustrate something so deliberate and disheartening.

The Democratic-Republican Party, which became the Democratic Party in 1828, was founded in 1792 by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison as the second political party in the newly formed United States.  Jefferson, like many of the American revolutionaries, was totally opposed to the formation of political parties.  He went so far as to say “if I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all.”.

The Democratic-Republican Party was formed for only one reason, opposition to the first political party in the United States.

The Federalist Party was founded by Alexander Hamilton and his supporters in 1791.  His coalition was largely comprised of bankers and businessmen who were eager to support his policies of tariff based protectionism, central banking, and re-establishment of strong ties with Great Britain.

Many audience members of the Hamilton musical are probably unaware that there were 8 presidents before George Washington after the revolution.  The Articles of Confederation came into effect in 1781 and established a very limited role for the congress and a president to oversee the union of the 13 independent states.

Jefferson, Hamilton, and Madison all believed in different variants of federalism. Hamilton’s brand was rooted in the belief that the Articles of Confederation were inadequate and that the role of the federal government had to be larger and more powerful.  To be fair; Hamilton would be a principled liberal contrasted to almost any member of either party in 2018, but his position was, in his time, the paternalistic authoritarian reaction to the radicalism of the revolution.

Until recently, Thomas Jefferson enjoyed a place at the head of the Democratic Party table.  Over the last 100 years the progressive movement (which had it’s first success with Teddy Roosevelt in the Republican Party) has gradually cleansed the Democratic Party of its “liberals”, despite relentless use of the label as a pejorative by the right.  Jefferson represented the left wing of the American revolution, supporting the radicals in France to a fault and bristling at the inevitable collusion of big business and big government under Hamilton’s economic program.  He used both the democratic mechanism and the Democratic-Republican Party as tools to defend the agrarian poor from subjugation by the new aristocracy championed by Hamilton.

By 1815 Hamilton’s Federalist Party was totally eclipsed by the Democratic-Republican Party, which split into factions and attacked itself in various forms until a new coalition emerged in 1854 in the form of the modern Republican Party.  In this coalition were former Whigs who evolved from the factional split in Jefferson’s party, abolitionists, and eventually northern industrialists who became the most instrumental in the rise of the new party.  The policies advocated by this industrial lobby were the same types of protectionist programs supported by Hamilton.

To be clear I’m aware that Jeffersonian liberalism has been used as propaganda dishonestly by both parties since 1854.  I’m also aware that Hamilton has been celebrated by progressives for over a century, as well as by all manner of Neocon and National Review conservative.  What stands out to me is that the abandonment of the “worker” by the Democratic Party has become so overt that they can finally shed themselves of the radical champion of the agrarian poor who founded it.

The party created to oppose consolidation of power in government by bankers and northern elites can now openly embrace the man who unapologetically advocated for it, and celebrate their self-appointed role as aristocracy, in $1300 seats in the name of progress.