Hamilton: The Constitutional Clashes That Shaped a Nation
The National Constitution Center’s 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:
- Hamilton’s portable writing desk from the late 1700s (Burke Library at Hamilton College)
- 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)
- Draft of “An American No. 1” in which Hamilton launched a full-scale attack against Jefferson, 1792 (Connecticut Historical Society)
- John Adams’s draft reply to Hamilton’s anti-Adams pamphlet, 1801 (Massachusetts Historical Society)
- Letter from Alexander Hamilton to Oliver Wolcott, Jr., preferring Jefferson over Burr for the tied presidential election of 1800 (Connecticut Historical Society)
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.