In several newspaper pieces he contended that the new
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favor, though, Hamilton reverted to his adversarial ways. In several newspaper pieces, he contended that the new president meant to destroy the Constitution. Jefferson ignored the onslaught, perhaps having concluded that Hamilton and his faction were a spent force.Within four years, Hamilton would be dead, but Jefferson did not rejoice. And to the end he spoke only generously of his foe. The two had “thought well” of one another, he said. Moreover, Hamilton was “a singular character” of “acute understanding,” a man who had been “disinterested, honest, and honorable.”Jefferson called his election the “revolution of 1800,” and over the next quarter century much of the world that he first envisioned in 1776 took shape: the United States was cast as an egalitarian democracy that effectively erased the social hierarchies of the colonies, and with federal land easier to purchase, the percentage of the labor force involved in farming increased.Hamilton, of course, would have been dismayed by much of the change. In his final letter,he wrote that “our real Disease . . . is Democracy.” (To bolster his point, he also called it a “poison.”) But he would have rejoiced at America’s transformation into a modern capitalist society. Within 20 years of his death, cities were expanding and banks had sprung up like weeds. In countless Northeast towns, residents were more likely to work ina factory than to own a farm.It is safe to say that aside from George Washington himself, no one had a greater impact on the founding and development of our nation than Hamilton and Jefferson. Their opposing visions wind like the twin strands of DNA through American history. Jefferson was the more revolutionary of the two, and his ringing affirmation of human rights in the Declaration of Independence has inspired much of the world for more than two centuries. 5
But Hamilton laid the foundation for the strong, centralized modern state led by a powerful executive. The footprints of the two rivals remain visible across the globe, but today’s America more clearly bears the mark of Hamilton.A version of this piece appears in TIME’s special edition Alexander Hamilton: A Founding Father’s Visionary Genius—and His Tragic Fate. Available at retailers and at Amazon.com.John Ferling is the author of Jefferson and Hamilton: The Rivalry That Forged a Nation,from which this piece is adapted.6