William Hogeland, Founding Finance : How Debt, Speculation, Foreclosures, Protests, and Crackdowns Made Us a Nation: Found this through criticism of Hamilton; in the history fandom, like many others, participants often don’t like it when their take on a character isn’t the same as someone else’s. Hogeland emphasizes unresolved disputes in the Founding period rather than consensus about democracy, republicanism, the government’s role in financial regulation, etc., and seems to think this is a big deal—and maybe in really broad-level understanding, it is, but it’s not exactly a surprising thing to anyone who’s seriously studied the period. In particular, he argues that “[e]conomic conflicts have always been fundamental to American politics—torn between using government to shore up the rich by providing security for existing property and using government to promote equality.” Or, in a line that shows that he’s not writing on a blank slate: “As the historian Carl Becker famously put it, one revolution was over ‘home rule,’ the other over ‘who should rule at home.’”
Hogeland offers some interesting details about the North Carolina Regulators—evangelicals agitating for economic equality in the 1760s. To the Regulators, nearby rich people were at least as oppressive and corrupt as the Crown. Poor/striving people wanted paper money and debt forgiveness; the currently rich didn’t. Hogeland also discusses Pennsylvania’s role in the Revolutionary War and its radical adoption of suffrage for white males regardless of property ownership.
Hogeland spends a bunch of time on how Occupy and the Tea Party movements claim the Founders, in his view mostly wrongly. An alternate presentist view would look at which aspects of the Founders these movements emphasize and why, and the values furthered by asserting continuity with the Founding generation, as Richard Primus has written in his excellent article in the Atlantic about Trump, Hamilton, and Founders’ chic, http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/arch
As for Hamilton, Hogeland sees him as an evil genius, led by Robert Morris, who wanted rich and connected people—who’d cleverly bought up the paper notes issued by the states and Congress at huge discounts—to get paid off at face value through revenue collected by federal taxes, which would make them a whole bunch richer. During the Revolutionary War, Hamilton and Morris wanted the Continental Army officers to threaten mutiny in order to get paid; afterwards, Hamilton used his experience with the federal debt to shape his approach to assumption of state debts. Hogeland accuses Chernow of making it sound as if Hamilton wanted to pay off the debt, rather than to continue having a debt in order to strengthen the country’s credit and its ability to channel money to the wealthy.
As Hogeland reports it, Hamilton’s taxation of whiskey was sheer elegance in its complexity: along with raising revenue, it helped big, industrial distillers owned by wealthy people and harmed small, independent seasonal distillers by making one of their few sources of cash uneconomical. Because the tax was set based on the size of the still, using calculations that assumed that the still was active all year round, small distillers paid more per gallon; also, technological improvements funded by capital quickly meant that the relative price of producing a gallon dropped even faster for big distillers, but not small. Hamilton also ordered the Army to supply each of its forts by only buying whiskey in bulk, meaning it could no longer buy from multiple individual distillers. “Merchants with access to big transport—not distillers at all, in some cases—could buy up small batches at a markdown, from farmers suddenly bereft of markets, and sell them at par in wagonloads to the commissary.”
“The fantasy is that ideals associated with Washington have been sold out by government spending, debt, and taxes. Nobody in the founding period supported those things with greater intensity than Washington.” If the Tea Party ignores the Founding Fathers’ desire for a large federal debt supported by extensive federal taxation, Occupy, Hogeland says, ignores the evangelical foundations of the more radical approaches, which are no longer fashionable among the left.
The Founders rejected the popular finance movement’s demands that state governments assist debtors by issuing scrip that could be used as legal tender to pay off debts, which would result in depreciation of the debt; so too with federal control of bankruptcy law. (A lot of these debates depended on a no-longer-current understanding of what “money” is, where inflation comes from, etc.—modern monetary policy has come a long way.) When poor people revolted, Washington responded with mass arrests, coercion, warrantless searches, and many of the other acts condemned in the Declaration of Independence. But Hogeland insists that the rebels weren’t against federal government, and not necessarily even against federal taxes—they just wanted fair taxes. The Founders we revere had positions we can’t tolerate.