William Hogeland: Madison-Hamilton Financial Fight Is Often Misunderstood

Roundup: Historians' Take

William Hogeland is the author of “Founding Finance: How Debt, Speculation, Foreclosures, Protests, and Crackdowns Made Us a Nation.” The opinions expressed are his own.

Americans across the political spectrum who object to intimate links between government and high finance have often upheld James Madison as their champion.

Conservatives who condemn the Federal Reserve, trade regulations and the tax code for strangling markets and restricting freedom often cite Madison as a founding libertarian. Liberals criticizing connections between government and the investing class for concentrating wealth into an ever smaller segment of society look to Madison as a defender of more democratic approaches.

Madison, a Virginia congressman and framer of the U.S. Constitution, went on to serve two terms as president. His clash with Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton in the 1790s has long been seen as an expression of the starkest ideological division attending the nation’s birth -- a division that persists in U.S. politics. But the fight between the two men was weirder, more complicated and ultimately more revealing of the relationship between finance and the American founding than is usually understood....

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