Hamilton: The Constitutional Clashes That Shaped a Nation
The National Constitution Center’s compelling new exhibit highlights the competing ideas of Alexander Hamilton and his legendary rivals. Created by the National Constitution Center, Hamilton: The Constitutional Clashes That Shaped a Nation explores Hamilton’s fraught relationships with James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Aaron Burr. Examining the personalities and constitutional debates that shaped America – including the scope of the national government, the establishment of a standing army, the creation of a federal banking system, and more – the exhibit provides an intimate look into Alexander Hamilton’s enduring role in the constitutional and political arguments that continue to create sparks to this day.
The exhibit narrative begins in 1789 when the national government began operating under the new U.S. Constitution. In each section, visitors are introduced to one of Hamilton’s rivals and their competing visions for the nation. This includes Hamilton’s public dispute with James Madison over the scope of national power, arguments with Thomas Jefferson that developed into the nation’s first political parties, disputes with John Adams over foreign policy, and a final clash with Aaron Burr, whom Hamilton believed was an unprincipled man. Additionally, the exhibit examines Hamilton’s personal struggles, which revolved around his keen sense of honor, and concludes with an exploration of his legacy.
In each exhibit case, rare documents and artifacts explore these competing arguments and reveal the fragility of the new nation. Artifact highlights include:
- An anonymously published essay in the National Gazette in which James Madison, without mentioning Hamilton by name, directs criticism at the treasury secretary (American Philosophical Society Library, 1792)
- A to-do list written by Thomas Jefferson, which captures his main divergence with Hamilton: limiting the power of the national government and bolstering that of the states (Library of Congress, 1792)
- The Reynold’s Pamphlet: Hamilton’s 95-page refutation of public corruption charges, in which he admitted to adultery (American Philosophical Society Library, 1797)
- Hamilton’s portable writing desk from the late 1700s (Burke Library at Hamilton College)
- A letter published by Hamilton in 1800, in which he questions John Adams’s competence to be president (The Historical Society of Pennsylvania)
- Handwritten regulations for the duel between Hamilton and Aaron Burr (New-York Historical Society, 1804)
- Exact replicas of the original Hamilton-Burr dueling pistols, ca. 1976 (JPMorgan Chase Corporate History Collection)
- A 1788 first edition copy of The Federalist, a work that remains one of Hamilton’s greatest legacies (National Constitution Center Collection)
To continue the exhibit experience, visitors can “meet” Alexander Hamilton and James Madison in the National Constitution Center’s iconic Signers’ Hall, featuring life-size bronze statues of the Founding Fathers, and learn more about their roles in the Constitutional Convention. The Center will also offer educator workshops, special member events, and museum visitor programming in conjunction with the exhibit. Visit constitutioncenter.org/calendar for up-to-date programming information.
Daily Museum Programs
The National Constitution Center is taking visitors beyond our newest exhibit, and celebrating the “Ten Dollar Founding Father” throughout the entire Center with interactive shows, trivia games, story spots, and more. Click here more information about our ultimate Hamilton Experience.