675: America on Coffee; The Caffeinated Ramblings of Alexander Hamilton

Thus have I, fellow citizens, executed the task I had assigned to myself; with what success your conduct must determine.

Federalist Paper No. 85

In December of 1773 a bunch of ne’er do well rebels dumped a bunch of tea into Boston harbor. This rebellious action led to a revolutionary war which would mark the birth of The United States of America. The patriotic fervor against English tea would also cause Americans, even centuries later, to eschew tea in favor of the much stronger, more caffeinated beverage of coffee.

Fourteen years after the tea party The United States were considering the adoption of a new constitution, and Alexander Hamilton thought it was a smashingly great idea. Conscripting the help of his buddies James Madison and John Jay, Hamilton set out to write a series of essays expounding on the wisdom, sagacity and greatness contained in the new constitution.

The resulting 85 essays would come to be known as The Federalist Papers.

Reading the essays today it is utterly apparent that Hamilton was no stranger to American coffee. While Madison’s adroit historical observations and careful studies concerning numerous European governments lend an air of sophistication to the essays, Madison’s gentler tendencies are overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of Hamilton’s barrage of governmental theory. (Jay was a little too old to have gotten in on the coffee craze, and didn’t have the energy for much writing.)

The purpose of the Federalist Papers was not to explain the constitution, so much as to sell it. Whatever his shortcomings Hamilton was an excellent salesman.

Speaking of shortcomings; a civil libertarian Hamilton was not. The most quintessentially Hamiltonian moment, in my estimation, comes in Federalist No. 36 where Hamilton explains that he doesn’t personally think poll taxes are all that great, but that it would be absolutely horrible to prohibit the government from collecting them.

Another brilliant moment for Hamilton comes in Federalist No. 85, where Hamilton explains that the constitution kinda, sorta maybe does have a bill of rights, but immediately turns around and attacks the very idea of a bill of rights. The clear and convincing evidence that Hamilton had been drinking too much coffee is that a less caffeinated person would have shut up after the eighty-fourth essay.

While he makes a strong case concerning the need for a central government, Hamilton seems to be needlessly enamored by the prospect of centralized political power. It was this infatuation, I believe, that would lead to his break with Madison in the not too distant future.

Fortunately Madison would prove more amennable to a bill of rights than Hamilton.

My personal annoyance with Hamilton aside, The Federalist Papers present a thorough picture of the foundations of American government. The separation of powers, the intended scope of each branch of government and the role of the states in relation to the federal government are expounded upon in detail. Even given Hamilton’s fairly expansive view of the role of government for the 1790s it is clear that today’s government fills roles that Hamilton would never have envisioned.

Even if it takes a couple cups of coffee to get through them, The Federalist Papers are well worth the read.


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