National Constitution CenterCenturies of Citizenship: A Constitutional Timeline Exhibit
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1791-1824: We forge a nation where the people rule

July 24, 1797
Arguing about government power, we have split into bitter factions

Alexander Hamilton addressing mob

“To take a single step beyond the boundaries thus specially drawn around the powers of Congress is to take possession of a boundless field of power.”
—Thomas Jefferson

“The powers contained in a constitution…ought to be construed liberally in advancement of the public good.”
—Alexander Hamilton

Six years ago, Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton proposed a national bank to boost the American economy...and set off a national debate. Was a national bank constitutional?

Secretary of State Jefferson said “No.” The Constitution specifically lists the government’s powers. Chartering a bank, he said, isn’t on the list.

Hamilton said “Yes.” The Constitution lets the government pass all laws “necessary and proper” to carry out its duties. Creating a bank, he argued, is simply a means to an end.

President Washington agreed with Hamilton. Today, the Bank of the United States opened its new building in Philadelphia.

But this debate has helped push us into two camps: Federalists like Hamilton, who read the Constitution broadly, and Republicans like Jefferson, who read it narrowly.

It’s not just a bank we’ve been building all these years. We’ve built political parties.

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