And You Thought Lincoln Was Dangerous

I noticed that Thomas DiLorenzo has a new book out about Alexander Hamilton.  While I haven’t read it both the title [Hamilton's Curse: How Jefferson's Enemy Betrayed the American Revolution--and What It Means for Americans Today] and book jacket suggest that this is a continuation of DiLorenzos’s efforts to uncover the root of centralized government and the supposed breakdown and “death of federalism.” 

DiLorenzo reveals how Hamilton, first as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention and later as the nation’s first and most influential treasury secretary, masterfully promoted an agenda of nationalist glory and interventionist economics—–core beliefs that did not die with Hamilton in his fatal duel with Aaron Burr. Carried on through his political heirs, the Hamiltonian legacy:

• Wrested control into the hands of the federal government by inventing the myth of the Constitution’s “implied powers”
• Established the imperial presidency (Hamilton himself proposed a permanent president—–in other words, a king)
• Devised a national banking system that imposes boom-and-bust cycles on the American economy
• Saddled Americans with a massive national debt and oppressive taxation
• Inflated the role of the federal courts in order to eviscerate individual liberties and state sovereignty
•Pushed economic policies that lined the pockets of the wealthy and
created a government system built on graft, spoils, and patronage
• Transformed state governments from Jeffersonian bulwarks of liberty to beggars for federal crumbs

By debunking the Hamiltonian myths perpetuated in recent admiring
biographies, DiLorenzo exposes an uncomfortable truth: The American
people are no longer the masters of their government but its servants.
Only by restoring a system based on Jeffersonian ideals can Hamilton’s
curse be lifted, at last.

The book jacket follows the standard formula used in his two previous books, which castigate Lincoln for instigating an unnecessary war and using it to further the agenda of the “great centralizer.”  DiLorenzo isn’t so much interested in Lincoln as a historical figure but as a case study to further his own Libertarian agenda.  Remember, DiLorenzo is not a trained historian but an economist.  I have no doubt that he is a very good economist, but it is almost impossible to take him seriously as a Lincoln scholar.  While he vehemently complains about the overwhelming number of Lincoln apologists you will find very few references to Lincoln studies after 1950 in his bibliographies.  He rarely challenges the interpretations of those he disagrees with.  In his first book DiLorenzo rails against protective tariffs, the Morrill Act, railroad subsidies, national currency, income tax, the Homestead Act, and of course, emancipation by military force.  He also blames Lincoln for the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, which extended the power of the courts.  

Please keep in mind that I have no problem with this approach to the past.  There is even an entertaining quality as you feel the momentum of the narrative build to a point of satisfaction and vindication for the writer: “You see, he really was anti-American.”  Kind of reminds me of a political campaign mentality set to a pseudo-historical narrative.  The problem is that the reader ends up learning more about DiLorenzo than about the period he is writing about.  I now know that DiLorezno believes in Libertarian principles of small government and free markets.  My problem is that I could have learned that from one of his publications in an economics journal. 

Now DiLorenzo has set his sites on the Founding Era as Americans worked through their experiences going back to the American Revolution, the Critical Period of the 1780s and the Constitutional Convention of 1787.  In it DiLorenzo finds a battle between good and evil rather than a moment in early American history where the fundamental questions of the proper scope of the federal government and the states, along with the very meaning of individual liberty, were being worked out.   Along the way DiLorenzo intends to debunk the mythmakers (as he supposedly did with Lincoln scholars) such as Ron Chernow whose massive biography of Hamilton is a must read.  There is a reason why books by Ron Paul, Pat Buchanan, and Thomas Woods are referenced as further reading on Amazon’s site.  DiLorenzo’s approach to the study of the past is ultimately an extension of his political and economic world view.  You can forget about Hamilton as a historical subject because DiLorenzo isn’t interested in that.  What matters is that in light of what DiLorenzo believes Hamilton was wrong and ultimately to blame for all of our contemporary woes.  Perhaps another way to put is that DiLorenzo is interested primarily in converting the reader to Libertarian principles.  History become a means to an end in DiLorenzo’s hands.

I assume that DiLorenzo’s next book will focus on the centralizing tendencies of the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  There you will find a great deal of central control over public morality.  It turns out that the “City on a Hill” was the first step down the long road of corrupt government and the suppression of individual freedom.

10 comments… add one

  • Robert Moore Nov 2, 2008

    Also a sure-fire best seller among a certain circle within the SCV. For those who may not notice, there seems to be a love affair with all things DiLorenzo within this group. He makes a third appearance at the organizations S.D. Lee Institute in 2009, as the host. He was host and moderator (gasp!) in 2008. The moderator for 2009 is Clyde Wilson. No, no agenda there either. What is that saying about people who “dream of power and its attainment through advancing their ideas?” Seems I have seen it somewhere.

  • John Maass Nov 2, 2008

    Hamilton caused global warming too, right?

  • James F. Epperson Nov 2, 2008

    Before AOHell killed all their web hosting, I had a website devoted to debunking his first Lincoln book. It was surprising how easy it was to do…The man is a worm, no insult to worms intended…

  • Kevin Levin Nov 2, 2008

    James, — Let’s try to keep the personal insults out of this. As I stated in the post I have no problem with approaching the past in this manner as long as you don’t ask me to consider it to be serious history. It’s nothing personal. Thanks

  • Larry Cebula Nov 3, 2008

    And after the Puritans, a book a bout Jesus and how he promoted redistributionist economics.

    We need a name for these sorts of authors–non-experts who dive into a particular historical field to promote a particular agendas. One thinks of the whole “The Founders were too Christians” school.

  • Tim Lacy Nov 3, 2008

    My problem with books like this is the abuse/misuse/confusion with regard to the term “federalism.”

    I know that, in the context of the Early Republic, it was meant as opposition to centralized government by a particular political party, “The Federalists.” But I consistently think of federalism in the Civil War sense—meaning opposed to con-federalism and as the nickname of Union soldiers. So when someone calls a libertarian a federalist, or a conservative a “new federalist,” I get confused because I think of Lincoln and the notion of a strong central government in the face of a beligerent states-rights confederacy.

    To apply this in particular to today, I oppose judges—particularly those currently on, or nominated to, the Supreme Court—who favor state’s rights. So I call the good judges federalists in the Lincoln Era/Civil War sense, not in the “new federalists” or Federalist party sense (with Hamilton as an apostate Federalist in the eyes of DiLorenzo).

    To make matters worse, our “Founding Fathers,” as supporters of The Constitution, were referred to as a federalists for a few years before the formation of the Federalist Party.

    I guess you can use the term “federalism” any way you want. – TL

  • Woodrowfan Nov 3, 2008

    I guess Federalism is like pornography, you know it when you see it.

  • toby Nov 5, 2008

    Clearly, Hamilton was not a “real American”; no doubt he wanted to spread the wealth around. A real pain to Joe the Plumber c. 1800.

    As for centralizing tendencies, is Dilorenzo one of those who have no probkem with centralizing as long as people like George W. Bush or Dick Cheney are the ones at the centre?

  • Hercules Mulligan May 2, 2009

    Great blog! I love history blogs. :)

    Interesting post. While I tend to side with libertarians in their views on the role of the federal government more than I side with neo-conservatives or liberals, I think that DiLorenzo’s libertarianism, and his ‘history’ of the Hamiltonian conspiracy is very inaccurate. I have been writing a series of posts on this subject, examining the logic and historical facts related to the controversy. If you would like, you are free to visit and comment at any time!

    I’ll be coming back often. There’s a lot of Civil War history I have to catch up on!

  • Nathan Towne Dec 20, 2013

    My father bought this book over the Summer months, not knowing who Tom DiLorenzo was. He told me that it was absolutely horrific. He only saw the title “Hamilton’s Curse” and without reading further assumed that the book was about Hamilton’s legacy in the Federalist Party and the national debates over Federal Banking in the decades following Hamilton’s death. Not an unreasonable assumption but he was disgusted we it came and he saw what it really is. LOL.

    Nathan Towne

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