America's First Great Constitutional Controversy: Alexander Hamilton's Bank of the United States
82 Pages Posted: 21 Sep 2016
Date Written: September 2016
This article aims at a careful reconstruction of what has been called America’s first great constitutional controversy — the 1791 debate over Alexander Hamilton’s Bank of the United States. This article reviews this debate both at the congressional level and within the executive branch. The debate over the bank led to the articulation of theories of constitutional interpretation that are with us still. On the one hand, we find theories of interpretation that stress implied constitutional powers and an expansive role for the federal government. On the other hand, we encounter theories of interpretation that emphasize limited federal authority and a preeminent role for the states. These debates included not only well known figures, such as Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison, but other leading figures of the time less well known today, such as Fisher Ames, Theodore Sedgwick, and Elbridge Gerry.
Keywords: Constitution, Implied Powers, States’ Rights, Federalism, Banking, Constitutional History, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison
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