Jeffersonian and Hamiltonian Views of Nature in the Early American Republic


Political Science and International Affairs

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It is well known that Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton differed in their respective views on the appropriate role of government in the American republic; however, their views on the natural environment are far less familiar. Accordingly, this article examines the Jeffersonian and Hamiltonian thinking on nature in the context of two prevailing views of the natural environment: an intrinsic view and an instrumental view. An intrinsic view values nature for its innate qualities without regard to its uses. An instrumental view, by contrast, values nature insofar as it serves mankind's purposes. The article concludes that although they differed on the role of nature in human life, both Jefferson and Hamilton accepted the instrumental view of nature—a view entirely consistent with the overwhelming majority of mainstream Enlightenment-era thinking. This shared understanding of the meaning of nature in the Enlightenment reflects Jeffersonian and Hamilton political views and suggests that their thinking was not as different as is commonly supposed.