Reading Gotham

Slowly working my way through the massive Gotham, found this passage:
"Resolutely opposed to arbitrary government and anchored in the principle of equality before the law, that vision [of Alexander Hamilton] was undeniably republican--the kind of republicanism that scorned popular opinion and trusted only governments led by the rich and well-born few." (p. 275)
The book is wonderful, not least because it clearly articulates some of the paradoxes that were fundamental not only to New York City but to the emergence of the United States as a political economic entity. Here, they're describing the situation in 1784, in which radical Whig politicians have been trying to exact some measure of revenge on Tory sympathizers following the end of the Revolutionary War. Hamilton, formerly private secretary to Washington, ends up being one of the most articulate spokesman for those Tory merchants and craftsmen. But Hamilton's critique of the radical Whig program is broader -- arguing against Whig understandings of social and economic justice, against attempts to regulate wages and prices, and advocating instead a local laissez-faire partnered with federal activism. It's really striking to read passages like this and realize that these issues of social justice and economic order continue to be debated in very similar terms. Hamilton's vision is a reminder that equality before the law is not necessarily a political equality -- a tension that hasn't yet been reconciled, I think.


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