Hamilton on Wry
One misty day, I wandered about the graveyard at Trinity Church in lower Manhattan. I spotted a figure sitting on the steps of a square granite box with four urns at its corners and a truncated pyramid in its center. It was the tomb of Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804), who for many Americans is merely the face on the $10 bill.
As we stared at each other I remembered that after the Sept. 11 attacks, the Trinity Church graveyards were covered in ochre ash and refuse after the Towers collapsed. FBI agents found Hamilton’s tomb buried in faxes and financial statements. It’s ironic that his tomb was so desecrated because Hamilton was best known among the founding fathers for his financial and business acumen. Many agree that he invented our economic system.
I broke the silence. “Mr. Hamilton, I presume?”
“None other, sir,” he replied.
“In your Report on Manufactures in 1791, you wrote: ‘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 that are to be found in a society. It must be less in a nation of cultivators than in a nation of cultivators and merchants; less in a nation of cultivators and merchants than in a nation of cultivators, artificers, and merchants.’ What did you mean?”
“That these United States will only prosper if the three legs of the national stool – commerce, manufacturing, and agriculture – are pursued vigorously. Are they prospering now?”
“I wish I could say yes,” I replied. “Manufacturing suffers in the United States, commerce depends on a weakened system of roads, ports, and bridges. We have rail but neglect it, and air traffic is significant but in deep trouble. Agriculture is increasingly shipped in from abroad. We now refer to the handling and movement of goods as logistics. The many levels of government appear to suggest a lot and do little or nothing.”
“Those who stand for nothing fall for anything,” he noted. “Rail must have developed by some whim of Franklin’s. Of air I am totally ignorant. I assume “logistics’ is from the French and refers to military supply?”
“Yes, from the French word “loger,’ meaning lodge or barrack,” I replied. “Many at the top, sir, promise everything.”
“Promises should begin at the bottom, and must never be broken.”
“Sir, they have been broken,” I said.
“A nation’s prosperity requires that products be distributed, logistically if you will, to meet the needs of the people. The people’s demand must govern production and supply.”
“On a national basis?” I asked.
“Local governments and states must realize they are all leaves from the same tree, a tree of liberty. We must reach out as a nation and become part of a world economy that is also governed by supply and demand. We should compete with Britain, even if my colleague Thomas Jefferson does not agree.”
“So, our country’s vision must be international?” I asked.
“While Jefferson and his ilk oppose U.S.-based industry, believing that Britain and other European sovereigns should deliver manufactured goods to our United States, I think we should learn to think continentally.
“And I might add, without rancor, that you would do well to find a new tailor.”