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“It Takes Brass To Get Gold”

All things at Rome are for sale.

—Juvenal

Thomas Jefferson has left us an account of a supper-table conversation in the very earliest days of the U.S. government.  Vice President John Adams (who was intended by nature for a preacher) declaimed at length about the virtues of the British government, which, he said, if purged of its corruption, would be perfection.  Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton (a canny immigrant bastard with a Napoleon complex) differed sharply.  It was its corruption, he avowed, that gave the British government its great stability and power.  Add in Jefferson’s views, which agreed with neither, and you anticipate almost the whole history of American political economy.

Adams and Hamilton were Federalists.  They believed that in America the people could not be denied a role in government, however unwise that might be.  The people, fortunately, were usually an inert mass, but they could become dangerous.  They might discover that they could vote themselves the wealth of their betters.  So things had to be arranged properly.  The people could have their say in a Commons, but the government needed a powerful executive above the people to give it initiative and force.  (With some justice Jefferson referred to the Federalists as “monarchy men.”  President Adams was obsessed...

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