In Prospect

Summer 2004

This summer marks two New York City events of national significance: the 200th anniversary of Alexander Hamilton’s death in July; and the Republican National Convention in August. These events are related in more than a coincidental way, too: for Hamilton was the intellectual forebear of the GOP.

As Richard Brookhiser explains on page 92, Hamilton, the only New Yorker among the Founders, was also in a sense New York’s founding father. He envisioned a United States very different from the agricultural country of his day, and diametrically different from his archrival Thomas Jefferson’s ideal of a nation of yeoman farmers. An immigrant of humble birth but abundant talent and energy, Hamilton, as President Washington’s Treasury secretary, laid the foundations of an economy with a vibrant industrial and financial sector, which would provide the widest opportunity for people like him to make the most of their gifts and pursue their happiness—in cities, not down on Jefferson’s farm. America became the country of Hamilton’s vision, not Jefferson’s; and New York, the center of the financial markets that Hamilton created, became the cosmopolitan metropolis of his inspired dreams.

The tension between Hamilton’s northern, urban ideal and Jefferson’s rural, southern one persisted to the Civil War and beyond, and it’s worth noting that, for all the Jeffersonian romanticization, the tension from the very start of the republic really was between northern industrial capitalism and southern slavery, not yeomanry. As historian James McPherson writes, it was during the Civil War, when there were no Jeffersonian southern legislators to oppose it, that Congress passed the “Hamiltonian-Whig-Republican” program for economic development that sparked a “Second American Revolution,” radically transforming the country. Taken together, the Homestead Act (which peopled the West with property owners), the founding of land-grant state colleges (which created a great mass of educated and technically skilled workers and entrepreneurs), and the approval of a transcontinental railroad to knot the nation’s commerce together turned America by 1880 into the world’s foremost industrial power. The completion of Hamilton’s vision, in other words, took place under the administration of the greatest Republican president—so it is not far-fetched that on this 200th anniversary, the GOP has come to Hamilton’s metropolis to nominate its candidate.

For a decade, City Journal has regularly reported on the state of the American family—our courtship practices, child-rearing habits, and sex-education orthodoxies; our sense of what it means to be a man or a woman; our increasing tendency to decouple childbearing from marriage—and we have done so in the Founders’ belief that the family is the fundamental little platoon of which society is constructed and the crucible in which citizens are formed. The strength of the republic, we have argued, depends on the strength of its basic unit, and therefore all these matters are of concern to social policy.

It’s in this context that the two stories in this issue’s cover package address the contentious topic of gay marriage, an idea we oppose. As advocates frame the issue, it is a matter of civil rights: their demand is directed to the government to include them in the civil contract that is marriage. To evaluate this claim, however, it is important to ask why government is in the marriage business at all, since in general individuals are capable of managing their sexual relations and the vows they make to each other without government help. In “Gay Marriage vs. American Marriage” on page 16, Kay S. Hymowitz gives a profoundly illuminating answer to that question as it bears on American society and American government—an answer that shows why gay marriage is a contradiction in terms. And on page 26, Robert P. George and David L. Tubbs explain how such a redefinition of marriage would define the institution out of existence.

As a journal profoundly identified with Hamilton’s city, we have always taken a genially cosmopolitan view of people pursuing their own happiness in their own way. So our opposition to gay marriage as incompatible with the meaning of marriage is by no means based on unfriendliness toward homosexuals.