Forming a New Utopia
Why Couldn't Jefferson and Hamilton Just Get Along?
One key component to understanding the actions and motives of the Founding Fathers is to realize what was at stake. They were forming a utopia. Yes, O thou jaded postmodern, it really was that grand. At that point in time the future really was wide open. This was not only to be a new nation of new geographical boundaries and new laws, but a new society, with new mores, a new social and economic organization -- new ideas, poured into a completely new mold. And these men were very aware that they would be shaping that mold. Modern videogamers, playing The Sims and other such "god" games, have a taste of what it's like to plan and form a society. For these men, their "Sims" game would shape the lives of their children, grandchildren, and future descendants. They took it very seriously indeed.
New worlds and their new ideas have to come from somewhere. The Founders were able to turn to:
History and fiction --
Which, in the eighteenth century, included large doses of ancient culture, or what ancient culture was imagined to be.
The world around them --
Here is where we must remember that they were men of their own time. The ideas they knew best, and most easily and genuinely believed in, were those of the own generation and the most recent previous generations. People are most heavily influenced by their native temporal culture, whether they embrace it, reject it, or are scarcely consciously aware of its presence in the background -- in much the same way they react to their geographical culture. And they also respond, to a lesser degree, to the temporal culture of their parents and grandparents, in the same way that people respond to the cultures of surrounding countries. New ideas do come in, but they enter in the context of the existing culture.
-- Much of which is built on ideas the imaginer has observed or read about. In rare moments this may be subconciously synthesized by a leap of thought called "inspiration" into a very new and different idea, but usually the building blocks can be easily seen.
But for all the godlike power -- and responsibility -- of nationbuilding, the Founders could not see the future. They could not know for sure whether what they were trying was best for the new nation. Nor could they be sure about the effects of the actions of others. And uncertainty, in an atmosphere of great gravity and grandeur, can take on a false sense of terrible certainty. Which is why some of them, in some situations, seem, in our eyes, to have overreacted. It wasn't overreaction, given the dreadful weight of choosing the right path to utopia.