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VINE VOICEon October 30, 2008
In Hamilton's Curse, author Dr. Thomas J. DiLorenzo traces the roots of America's economic and political systems to the first secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton. We are truly living in "Hamilton's Republic," says Dr. DiLorenzo -- but this is far from a good thing.

While it is Thomas Jefferson's face that graces Mount Rushmore, and tremendous lip service is paid to his greatness as a political thinker and president, in reality, Jefferson's ideas have been entirely marginalized, while those of his arch rival Hamilton now form the backbone of the American political establishment. The Revolution of 1776 was a Jeffersonian Revolution to throw off the yoke of British mercantilist imperialism and install it its place a voluntary union of free and independent states. Hamilton and his acolytes, however -- no matter how bravely and earnestly they fought against the Red Coats -- wanted to import British mercantilism to America with the U.S. aristocracy (Hamilton and his Federalist buddies) on the receiving end of the mercantilist spoils system. In fact, DiLorenzo argues that the Constitution itself was a virtual coup against the free republic of the Articles of Confederation for the purpose of increasing the authority of the central government -- key to Hamilton's plans.

But Hamilton couldn't create the unitary nationalist government in one fell swoop. Indeed, his plans to install a permanent president -- an American king -- with the power to appoint state governors and veto state legislation failed miserably. But as soon as the Constitution was ratified, Hamilton (who argued the pseudo-Jeffersonian case for its ratification in the Federalist Papers) set about subverting it. It was Hamilton who invented the concept of "implied powers."

Hamilton had George Washington's ear, and while historians act as if our first president was an "independent," the fact is that he almost(?) exclusively appointed Federalists -- meaning men who supported ratification of the Constitution -- to the bench. These were by and large men who simply wanted to increase the federal government's power over the states, and thus America was on the wrong path from the onset of the first presidency. The Federalist near-monopoly on the judicial system gave Hamiltonianism a foothold even as it suffered electoral defeat after electoral defeat -- starting with the election of Hamilton's arch rival Thomas Jefferson to the White House.

Indeed, it wasn't until the War Between the States, as DiLorenzo calls it, that Hamiltonianism -- which had lost on the battlefield of ideas -- was installed on the actual battlefield, by brute military force. Lincoln was a Whig before he was a Republican, and the Whigs were the ideological descendants of Hamilton's Federalists. With Lincoln as their standard bearer, the new Republican Party had a full-fledged Hamiltonian agenda consisting of protectionism, high taxation, national centralism, corporate welfare, militarism, and national banking. These were the true issues over which the "Civil War" was fought, says DiLorenzo.

The Hamiltonian Republicans reigned over America almost uninterrupted for the next 52 years, until Woodrow Wilson -- a Hamiltonian of the Left -- was elected. Under Wilson, Hamiltonianism reached its zenith (or nadir), as the income tax, direct election of senators, and Federal Reserve all came into existence. Entirely gone was the Jeffersonian republic of "states' rights." DiLorenzo also says that the American "Progressives" who brought about these horrors were directly influenced by the German Historical School -- which itself was strongly influenced by Hamilton. Thus, things came full circle.

DiLorenzo concludes this wonderful book with a road-map to ending the curse. Unfortunately, I have virtually zero faith that Americans are ever going to wake up and reassert Jeffersonian principles. As DiLorenzo explains, we now have several generations who have been taught Hamiltonian/Lincolnian myths in institutionalized schooling to the point that both the Left and the Right view Hamilton as a great hero. In reality, he was perhaps the greatest scoundrel in American history. If only Aaron Burr's bullet could have spared the man but killed his wicked ideas!
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on February 1, 2009
is to show the effects of ideas upon society. DiLorenzo's book compares the ideas of Alexander Hamilton with those of Thomas Jefferson, and shows how the effects of Hamilton's ideas have triumphed through to the present. DiLorenzo convincingly describes how the US is a Hamiltonian state, meaning it's highly centralized, with a politicized monetary system, an aggressive and powerful tax collection system, and a judicial monarchy of unelected, life-appointed lawyers that historically have not acted as a check on legislative and executive powers. The author points out from 1937 to 1995 the Supreme Court has not ruled any federal legislation to be unconstitutional. DiLorenzo states that "...any reasonabley clever lawyer can dream up myriad hypothetical situations to justify virtually any kind of government action." Pg. 179.

DiLorenzo is extremely conservative in his political and economic views, if conservative means limited government. He states "Hamilton was the godfather of economic interventionism and big government." The author explains why both the left and the right sides of the political spectrum are enamored with Hamilton's views, and why it is ironic that Hamilton's influence is most appreciated by conservatives. Hamilton believed in the partnership of businesses and government. The author makes a case that economic instability is a consequence of Hamilton's policies of centralization and taxation, and believes the central banking Federal Reserve is detrimental to stability, especially with the lack of backing of `specie' (gold or other hard assets). This point is also asserted by Murray Rothbard in "What Has the Government Done With Our Money?"
DiLorenzo wryly observes it's fitting that Hamilton's statue is in the front of the US Treasury Department. Hamilton wanted a strong central government, and he advocated debt financing and taxation. DiLorenzo shows how Hamilton's ideas have flourished and today have extended ramifications from what Hamilton envisioned.

In his final chapter, the author calls for a `devolution of power' - increasing the abilities of the states to determine the federal laws and regulations, because he believes the people are not now sovereign over their government. Power should be stripped away from the federal judiciary, and there should be more opportunities for third party candidates. The author states the 16th amendment to the Constitution (the income tax) should be repealed. This astonishing recommendation, which is echoed in Ron Paul's "The Revolution - A Manifesto" deserves more discussion than the author provides. DiLorenzo might have discussed in more detail globalization and international trade, and I also think he might have explored how the influences of the internet on disseminating information might enable the transformation to decentralized power, but those discussions would lengthen this book significantly.

Hamilton's Curse provides many topical and thought provoking insights into the history of US political and economic ideas from 1800 to the present. This book effectively shows how Hamilton's ideas oppose Jefferson's ideas of limited, decentralized government, which Jefferson believed needed to be `small and localized' to protect individual liberty.
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on November 18, 2008
DiLorenzo has made a difficult subject readable. It is an American political economic history covering a period from the Ratification Debates to the present. It is told from the contrasting viewpoints of Jefferson and Hamilton, as to the political system which the secession from England was meant to create.

For me, it covered new ground and reinterpreted well some ground I thought I had understood. It is both chronological and topical history. The author's use of original and secondary sources added to its value. All of which made it a fruitful present exercise and a tool for future reference.

As has been noted by other reviewers, it has special present circumstance value. National Bank/Federal Reserve Bank is the pivot point of today's rational pessimism. And it is the legacy of Alexander Hamilton. Greed comes with human seed; Hamilton's ideology centralized it.

I suppose, in the dark history of "democracy" and its variants, one could have drawn the baseline with Solon or Pericles. However, in the uniquely American variant of a "democratic" social contract, it is Hamilton's legacy that needs scrutiny. And DiLorenzo delivered such fully.

Whether it is the Supreme Court, The Fed, regulatory practices, the income tax, direct election of Senators, protectionism, or standing armies, Hamilton is the genesis. Our "Great Experiment" had a frightful beginning, a precarious middle and, obviously, might have an oligarchic end. We had a chance to design a system based on Jefferson's theories, but we have chosen otherwise. Perhaps we're cursed by Hamilton.

Robert Higgs, one of the many fine writers referenced in this book, asked himself in print recently: have we been led by fools or mountebanks? He answered: yes! And in reading this great book, I thought often that Hamilton might be both.
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on May 12, 2012
I thought this was a far better written book than his Real Lincoln.
My own bias against Hamilton leads to my finding this book more interesting,but his repetition problems of Real Lincoln are not a problem here.
Most of Hamilton is whitewashed and since he was not president the limelight does not shine nearly as bright.
This book goes to dispel the big gubbmints attempt at making him a wonderful and benevolent founder.
Hamilton was never shy about his "glory" and his desire for power.
This book goes to show his real motives and his real intent.
well written and paced it is a book for those interested in a different view of King Alexander.
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on January 27, 2009
Thomas DiLorenzo has written a basic introduction to the effects of Alexander Hamilton's policies on the United States, placing Mr. H in a role unfamiliar to the average graduate of a typical United States high school. It is an interesting read, and certainly different from most political histories you have read.

Mr. DiLorenzo begins by casting Hamilton in a light not often taught in American Government classes - Hamilton as a scheming, heavily political actor who brought about a heavy-handed government quite different from the principles he espoused in the Federalist Papers. To be honest, this interpretation is fair but incongruous, in that it is quite different from what I was taught in high school. However, it is difficult to differentiate Mr. D's portrayal from the historical record. Hamilton, from what I have read recently, was a bit more ambitious than the author of the Federalist Papers portrayed in high school government. He wanted power, and often got what he wanted.

Jefferson, the most famous resident in Charlottesville, can do no wrong in DiLorenzo's eyes, at least insofar as the argument between centralized and diffused power is concerned. Jefferson favored a light federal government, with power diffused in the direction of those who would deal with it most often - that is, in the direction of the people. Hamilton favored a strong central government, and the policies he implemented and favored while Treasury Secretary laid the foundation of the American Empire, as DiLorenzo argues. Those foundations are three.

First, what could be described as implication, the political theory that the federal government holds powers implied by its explicit powers but never enumerated, therefore implicit. Second, a central bank, which would provide for the expansion of monetary supply necessary to finance Hamilton's Empirical ideal for America. Third, mercantilism, or the preference of government towards merchants via favorable tax policies and tariffs. Each of these, DiLorenzo argues, helped tear down the Jeffersonian view of limited government and build the Hamiltonian vision of a British-like empire, greater than its predecessor. Jefferson and his successors had their time in the limelight, but it ended with the death blow known as the Civil War. The body didn't hit the floor until 1913, which DiLorenzo refers to as the "Hamiltonian Revolution" of that year. The Hamiltonian cause was advanced by Lincoln, sealed by Wilson, and made permanent by Franklin Roosevelt.

DiLorenzo has made a good outline of a libertarian argument, but falls short in some areas. For example, on page 169 he writes "The immediate results [of the Federal Reserve Act of 1913] were disastrous for America. These new funding mechanisms allowed Woodrow Wilson to plunge America disastrously into the European war, a war that provided no benefits to America but exacted a tremendous cost in terms of blood and treasure" - as if the Zimmerman Telegram had nothing to do with things. The book could have been twice as long as its 209 pages and just as easy to read; trimming the book for brevity's sake has resulted in weaker arguments, especially in the last chapter. That being said, it is a good introduction to the effects of centralizing relatively unlimited governmental power.

This is not a book for libertarians. DiLorenzo's arguments are at many times weak and flawed, which means that a libertarian reading this book would have his beliefs reinforced poorly, instead of challenged and supported by well-founded reasoning. Nor is this a book for liberals, who would dismiss it as the rantings of a right-wing kook who favors a repeal of the 13th Amendment (even though DiLorenzo would probably favor a repeal of the 14th Amendment). This is a book for conservatives, especially those disappointed by the recent election and wondering where the Republican Party went wrong. Those who hold their nose while voting for McCain (like me) will find a good starting point for reexamining their political foundations. Although he argues poorly against the current state of affairs in some sections, it is still highly readable and easily understandable. The result is a set of correct conclusions arrived at via incorrect but useful reasoning. I would give it 3.5 stars out of 5.
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on November 15, 2008
I heard about this book when Prof. DiLorenzo was interviewed on "Pro Business With Dr. Mike Beitler," a free-market, libertarian internet-radio show. Frankly, I had no idea that what weseeing today (central banking out of control, government intervention in every aspect of our lives) is rooted in the vision of Alexander Hamilton. This book made me realize the difference between Hamilton's vsion and Jefferson's vision. Fascinating reading!

Christina C.
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on January 14, 2016
Dilorenzo does another great book. Keep up the good work. Very good at understanding were the founders were coming from. Could have used a little more of John Taylor of Caroline but that is my own bias.
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on October 24, 2008
It isn't often that a book is released that contains historical insight into prominent Americans through the scrutinizing lens of an economist. As DiLorenzo did with Abraham Lincoln (In The Real Lincoln and Lincoln Unmasked) we are treated to an objective view of who Alexander Hamilton was and what his ideals cultivated for our great country.

Chapter by chapter the author pits the views of Hamilton and his allies against the Jeffersonian side of our founders' ideology; and ultimately shows that while it is Jefferson who is most recognized to this day it is ultimately Hamilton's economic ideas and policies that won over in the end.

At no other point in history would this book be more important than it is now. With the various financial crises facing the United States, and the world over, we owe it to ourselves to understand what got us where we are. One could read much about economics and current issues to figure out the basic wrong doings of our government, but to truly grasp what shaped our country and pushed our ideally small government with checks and balances between the various powers into the leviathan empire it is we need to inspect who sowed the seeds for such "big government" ideals.

Depicted throughout the book is Hamilton's core message of promoting "the common good," a deed that Jefferson so rightly did not believe big government was capable of accomplishing. Hamilton's Curse details how the Hamiltonian mantra of the "american system" (mercantilism) and vast government powers were defeated early in the country's founding but ultimately crept back often and persevered even after Hamilton's death.

This is a great read and towards the end might almost panic the reader about where our country is heading but the final chapter "Ending the Curse" is surprisingly uplifting and instills optimism. I recommend this for anyone interested in understanding today's economy, individual liberty, or learning the truth about a revered American icon.

This is a must read for anyone who is a fan of DiLorenzo's other works as well as anyone who is a fan of Ron Paul and the Austrian school of economic thought.
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on November 2, 2008
Thomas DiLorenzo forces readers to rethink the role of government in this American journey from revolution to modern times. Framed as a discussion of Alexander Hamilton and his lasting influence, this book is not a biography. DiLorenzo masterfully blends economics and history to denounce Hamilton's core ideals of central banking, government regulation, and national debt. He decries 'mercantilism' while espousing free market ideals across the last two hundred years.

One of the greatest successes of this book, is the compelling argument that Hamilton's ideals were not those that formed the foundation of the country. They are, however, the ideals that have taken hold in our current $10 trillion debt-holding, over-regulating, federal reserve interfering, centralized regime. DiLorenzo does a great job of explaining how we got here.

On the negative side, the Hamilton theme seemed a little (actually a lot) forced at times with tenuous connections. For example, Teddy Roosevelt was an "admirer of Hamilton". Abraham Lincoln was a lawyer... and Hamilton was a lawyer (a fact DiLorenzo pops in way too often). If all else fails, DiLorenzo just finds someone, somewhere, who at some time referred to a person or policy as "Hamiltonian". There were several times I found myself quite literally rolling my eyes at the forced 'connections'.

On the really negative side, I believe he was dishonest in his denunciation of the incorporation doctrine (the idea that the Bill of Rights applies to the states). He states:

"The Bill of Rights was intended to limit the power of the federal government, period. (this is actually true) But political activists who are appointed as federal judges have made an end run around the constitutional amendment process by simply declaring that the Bill of Rights should also apply to the states."

That second line is flat out misleading. At no point in his short incorporation discussion does he even mention the Fourteenth Amendment. The 14th Am. is the ENTIRE basis for the doctrine. There was a civil war and then the states ratified the 14th amendment which explicitly protects individuals from certain state infringements. We could debate all day what it actually protects... but incorporation was not some sporadic declaration. This leaves me a little concerned. If he strategically omitted such an important (the single most important) fact about the incorporation doctrine... what else was he not-so-honest about?

Despite my protestations, I really enjoyed the book. It's one of those books that will really challenge you to think, whether you agree or disagree with the author's clear agenda. He tosses in some interesting ideas for ending the curse. I didn't find them too compelling (or realistic) but they too provided some food for thought. Overall, a great read.
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on April 19, 2015
Great presentation of a number of facts with information to get the reader to understand that our country's political leaders didn't and still don't have the average American's best interest in mind when making or interpreting the original documents of the constitution.
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