Skip to Main Content

Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, Writings on the National Bank, 1785–1792

Use this primary source text to explore key historical events.

Suggested Sequencing


Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson frequently disagreed about matters relating to national policy. Washington looked to Hamilton’s economic initiatives for the funding of the national debt, the assumption of states’ debts, an excise tax, and the chartering of a national bank as the best course of action for the young nation’s financial and trade future. As secretary of state, Jefferson was tasked with giving firm direction to American foreign policy, though Hamilton frequently interjected his own views into foreign policy debates, a fact that did not endear him to Jefferson. It is important to remember that despite their differences, both men contributed greatly to Washington’s first cabinet and played a major role in directing the course of the young republic under the new Constitution.

Sourcing Questions

  1. Who wrote these documents?
  2. What were their respective roles in Washington’s first cabinet?

Topic A: Constitutionality of the Bank of the United States

Alexander Hamilton Thomas Jefferson
Report on a National Bank , December 13, 1790
Public Banks have found admission and patronage among the principal and most enlightened commercial nations. They have successively obtained in Italy, Germany, Holland, England and France. . . .
Trade and industry, wherever they have been tried, have been indebted to them for important aid. And Government has been repeatedly under the greatest obligations to them.
Opinion on the Constitutionality of the Establishing a National Bank, February 15, 1791
I consider the foundation of the Constitution as laid on this ground: That “all powers not delegated to the United States, by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States or to the people. . . .
The incorporation of a bank, and the powers assumed by this bill, have not, in my opinion, been delegated to the United States, by the Constitution. . . .
To erect a bank, and to regulate commerce, are very different acts.
Opinion on the Constitutionality of the Bank of the United States, February 23, 1791
It is conceded that implied powers are to be considered as delegated equally with express ones. Then it follows, that as a power of erecting a corporation [such as a bank] may as well be implied as any other thing . . . because it is the province of the federal government to regulate those objects [trade], and because it is incident to a general sovereign or legislative power to regulate a thing, to employ all the means which relate to its regulation to be best and greatest advantage.
Letter to George Washington, May 23, 1792
That this corrupt squadron, deciding the voice of the legislature, have manifested their dispositions to get rid of the limitations imposed by the constitution on the general legislature, limitations, on the faith of which, the states acceded to that instrument.

Topic B: Growth of Industry

Alexander Hamilton Thomas Jefferson
Report on the Subject of Manufactures, December 5, 1791
The embarrassments, which have obstructed the progress of our external trade, have led to serious reflections on the necessity of enlarging the sphere of our domestic commerce. . . .
To secure such a market, there is no other expedient, than to promote manufacturing establishments. Manufacturers who constitute the most numerous class, after the Cultivators, of land, are for that reason the principal consumers of the surplus of their labour. . . .
It has been maintained, that Agriculture is, not only, the most productive, but the only productive species of industry. The reality of this suggestion has . . . not been verified by any accurate detail of facts and calculation. . . .
The spirit of enterprise, useful and prolific as it is, must necessarily be contracted or expanded in proportion to the simplicity or variety of the occupations and productions, which are to be found in a Society. It must be less in a nation of cultivators, than in a nation of cultivators . . . and merchants.
Notes on the State of Virginia, 1785
Those who labour in the earth are the chosen people of God, if ever he had he had a chosen people. . . . While we have land to labour then, let us never wish to see our citizens occupied at a work-bench, or twirling a distaff. Carpenters, masons, smiths, are wanting in husbandry: but, for the general operations of manufacture, let our work-shops remain in Europe. . . . The mobs of great cities add just so much to the support of pure government, as sores do to the strength of the human body.

Topic C: Foreign Affairs

Alexander Hamilton Thomas Jefferson
The Federalist Papers: No. 11, 1788
The rights of neutrality will only be respected when they are defended by an adequate power. A nation, despicable by its weakness, forfeits even the privilege of being neutral.
Letter to George Mason, February 4, 1791
I look with great anxiety for the firm establishment of the new government in France, being perfectly convinced that if it takes place there, it will spread sooner or later all over Europe.
Letter to the Marquis De Lafayette, October 6, 1789
I have seen with a mixture of Pleasure and apprehension the Progress of the events which have lately taken Place in your Country. As a friend to mankind and to liberty I rejoice in the efforts which you are making to establish it while I fear much for the final success of the attempts.
Letter to William Short, January 3, 1793
My own affections have been deeply wounded by some of the martyrs to this cause, but rather than it should have failed, I would have seen half the earth desolated. Were there but an Adam and an Eve left in every country, and left free, it would be better than as it now is.

Comprehension Questions

  1. How do Jefferson and Hamilton differ in their views of the need for a bank?
  2. What image does Jefferson use to describe city dwellers?
  3. Summarize Hamilton’s views of merchants and those engaged in industry.
  4. Who was more sympathetic to the French Revolution—Hamilton or Jefferson? How do you know?

Historical Reasoning Questions

  1. Explain the constitutional debate at the center of the debate on the national bank.
  2. Explain the context for Jefferson and Hamilton’s interest in the French Revolution.

Full Text:



More from this Category