Whiskey Rebellion historian William Hogeland over at Boston Review notes with alarm in a very long, very detailed, and very good essay the recent waves of cross-ideological Alexander Hamilton love, from Ron Chernow, from David Brooks to the Brookings Institute:
Neo-Hamiltonians, like the latter-day Jeffersonians of the '30s and '40s, have been eagerly chopping up the past to make it conform to their political aims. Hamilton's national vision and founding economics are far more troubling—and therefore more compelling—than his promoters acknowledge. And because Hamilton's legacy is being invoked as a beacon for current policy, the emerging picture is a dangerous one.
Why so dangerous? Hogeland gives all the details at length, including Hamilton's disturbing roles in the Newburgh Crisis and the Whiskey Rebellion, the growth of domestic taxation and debt. This sums up the gist of his message:
But if opinion-shapers really want to strengthen democracy by enhancing competition, opportunity, and mobility, Hamilton is not their man. Nor did he want to be. Neo-Hamiltonians of every kind are blotting out a defining feature of his thought, one that Hamilton himself insisted on throughout his turbulent career: the essential relationship between the concentration of national wealth and the obstruction of democracy through military force.
And in conclusion, re: the Whiskey Rebellion:
[Hamilton] was in a white heat. Using the military to trounce the rule of law and violate civil rights was integral to his vision of federal power, national wealth, and a strong union.
The historian Joseph Ellis, in Founding Brothers, is one of the few recent popular writers on the founding period who take a clear-eyed look at the latter phase of Hamilton's career, which began with suppressing western Pennsylvania. He cites the all-important source Richard Kohn, concluding that Hamilton's success in the Whiskey Rebellion inspired an almost obsessive military focus as he grew older. Out of office, Hamilton continued to order around his hacks in the Adams cabinet (or as the PBS biography puts it, he "advised" them), hoping to contrive an all-out war with France. Hamilton also envisioned leading the U.S. army into Spanish Florida, then continuing into Central and South America. He also suggested that the federal government should put the entire state of Virginia "to the test" militarily, something his fans write off as mere venting and posturing, but which Ellis takes seriously.
Hamilton is routinely credited as favoring a strong executive branch. What he really favored, from Newburgh through the Whiskey Rebellion, from the quasi-war with France through his response to the anti-federalism of the Kentucky and Virginia resolutions, was an executive branch run by him, strong enough to do anything it deemed in the national interest. For Hamilton, personal and military force, unrestrained by the slightest consideration of law, were joined ineluctably to American wealth, American unity, and America modernity.