Alexander Hamilton's Federalist Party provides a blueprint for conservatives today, writes Ofir Haivry and Yoram Hazony.
It is sometimes said that there is no authentic tradition of American nationalism. Indeed, as nationalism has gained strength in the United States in recent years, some writers have gone so far as to say that nationalism is “un-American”—a claim we’ve heard from Bret Stephens of the New York Times, Kim Holmes of the Heritage Foundation, and Elan Journo of the Ayn Rand Institute, among others.
Nevertheless, this view of nationalism in America is mistaken. The truth is that America produced a great, home-grown nationalist political tradition, and indeed a ruling nationalist party: the Federalist Party, which advanced a set of principles and policies that were obviously nationalist, and in fact can serve as a model and an inspiration to nationalists today. First forged into a distinct political grouping with a set of common ideas during the 1780s by the failure of the Articles of Confederation, the American nationalists were headed by figures like George Washington, John Adams, John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, Robert Morris, Gouverneur Morris, James Wilson, Oliver Ellsworth, Rufus King, John Marshall and Noah Webster. They regarded America as one nation characterized by a single political and cultural inheritance, in 1787 spearheading the constitutional convention in Philadelphia, the adoption of a new constitution, and its subsequent ratification. They then went on to lead the American government for its first twelve years under the new Constitution. In this period of ascendancy, the nationalists established the principal executive, economic and judicial institutions of the nation, as well as shaped the leading judicial interpretation of the national Constitution until the 1830s. In fact, we may say that to a great degree, the Federalists founded America as we know it.
Our purpose in this essay is to reacquaint readers with America’s founding nationalists. We’ll retell the story of the nationalist side of the American founding, and then describe the principles that made the Federalist Party one of the most important and successful nationalist movements in history—and a relevant model for American and other nationalists today.