Here, wear George Washington's shoes for a while . . .  Are they a little big on you?  That's fine.  This is just an analogy anyway.  You have just been chosen to run a new country.  Your people just won a big war.  You were the leader in the war!  They feel new and fresh and American.  But for you, it's kind of scary.  You're the very first president of the United States.  Sure, there are a few laws in place that came from the Declaration of Independence.  Really though, you have to start a new government from almost nothing.  You can't do this alone.  You need to ask some friends for help.  So you hire two of the smartest people you know.  The only problem is . . . they do not agree with each other on much at all. 


These two men did not agree on what America should become.  You want to keep both men happy, so you listen to what they both have to say.  The first one is an old friend of yours.  Thomas Jefferson was the first Secretary of State, a Founding Father, and he wrote the Declaration of Independence.  Before America was even a country, he was able to put into words how and why the colonies should separate from the British Empire.  After this, he would become the third American president.  But before that, he would have some ideas about how you should run the country . . . 


There are two very different ways of looking at government.  One is where the government keeps an eye on everything, from the way things are sold to the rights people have.  They let people and businesses do what they need to do, without getting in the way.  Laissez-faire is an economic idea that says the government should not have anything to do with trade.  It's a "hands off" way of doing things, or a fancy way of saying: let it be.  Jefferson believed that if you, Washington, and the rest of the government were to step back, trade would do very well.  


Now let's listen to your other friend who fought beside you in the war.  This friend does not think that stepping back and not doing anything is a good idea.  Alexander Hamilton was the first Secretary of the Treasury, a Founding Father, and believed in a powerful central government.  He gave Washington lots of good ideas during the war.  He had much different ideas of how to run a country.  He liked England, but he did not like how they worked with money.  He did not want America to have the same problems the Crown did.  He had a good way to stop this from happening. 

Even though they are both your friends, Hamilton does not see eye to eye with Jefferson.  Strong central government is the idea that government should have a lot of power, and be able to make laws that keep an eye on trade, and many other things.  His ideas were older ideas that came from England.  While he thought that breaking away from the king was a good thing, he still liked some of the ways that the king ran his country, and he wanted to trade with them.  He thought by keeping a close eye on trade, the country would build up a national economy . . . and this would keep America from owing more money to other countries.  


So, one friend believes in lots of laws.  The other believes in very little.  As the first president, George Washington needed help building a government from nothing.  So he hired two of the smartest people he knew.  Thomas Jefferson believed in the idea of laissez-faire, which meant that the government should do little to nothing at all when it came to trade.  Alexander Hamilton believed in a strong central government, which meant that he thought they should make many laws as they could to make sure they did not lose too much money.  Washington listened to both in some ways.  And he did not listen to both in others.  The country got slowly to its feet, with a government that did not control too much or do too little.  Standing in his shoes, how do you think he did? 



The Jefferson Monticello.  "Thomas Jefferson, a Brief Biography", 2008.  <>

Bio.  "Alexander Hamilton"  A&E, 2012.  <>

BBC Home History Trails. "Victorian Britain - Laissez-faire and the Victorians", 2004.