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Opinion
Felix Haynes
Plant City Observer Wednesday, Sep. 7, 2016 2 years ago

What does capitalism mean to you?

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Co-owner Felix Haynes writes about Found Father Alexander Hamilton.

When you ask some Americans what capitalism means, they may say “greed.” Despite the success and strong community contribution of Plant City’s thriving small business sector, some Plant City Times & Observer readers may agree.

That answer demonstrates the loss we experienced when Aaron Burr killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel on July 11, 1804. Hamilton, of all the Founding Fathers, probably had the most understanding of the relationship of capitalism, democracy and liberty. When he died, we lost more than his life. We lost his vision of the strong relationship between those parts of our American Revolution.

C-SPAN television recently hosted National Review’s Richard Brookhiser, who explained the lost vision of our murdered Founding Father.  

Hamilton was born to middle-class parents who were successful managers in the West Indies’ lucrative sugar industry. As a teenager, he worked in their businesses and learned accounting and finance. He also learned the pluses and minuses of the way capitalism was practiced in the industry.  

Nevis and St. Croix, the islands of his upbringing, had a small upper class of sugar plantation owners, many of them absentee, a small group of middle class managers, like his parents, and a huge number of slaves to work the sugar cane fields. He was appalled by the life expectancy of a sugar cane slave — seven years from arrival to death.  

Hamilton’s parents sent him to pre-Revolutionary America to get a college education, and he attended Princeton and Columbia universities. The war interrupted his education, and he enlisted in a New York militia unit. Elected its captain, he met General George Washington and became one of his proteges. Washington promoted him to colonel and made him his adjutant general, a type of aide.  

At the end of the War, Washington listened to Hamilton’s entreaties to lead in combat and assigned him and the Marquis de Lafayette to command the last attack on the British at Yorktown.  

British General Cornwallis surrendered right after that successful attack. 

After the Revolution, Hamilton was elected to Congress and participated in writing the Constitution. Then he wrote most of the Federalist Papers, which advocated for the ultimately-successful ratification of the Constitution.   

Washington appointed him our first Secretary of the Treasury, and he created the Coast Guard and crafted our American economy according to his vision. Having seen the incredible capacity of capitalism to generate wealth as well as its potential to exploit its workers, Hamilton modeled a capitalism which would put the power of capitalism in the hands of all Americans. With this power, all Americans would be able to make lives of freedom and economic growth for themselves and their families.  

Capitalism was to be the driving force for Americans to use to implement the freedom and democracy they had fought and died for in the American Revolution.  

Brookhiser went on to describe the Weehauken, New Jersey, dueling grounds of Burr and Hamilton, across the Hudson River from New York City. It was a bit underwhelming, he said, unless you turned around and looked across the broad Hudson River. There you would see the epitome of Hamilton’s dream, the tremendous center of international business, capitalism and democracy that is New York City: the city built by Alexander Hamilton’s vision of American capitalism.

Felix Haynes is a co-owner of the Plant City Times & Observer.

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