American Constitutionalism from Hamilton to Lincoln to Trump

  • Murray Dry


What would Alexander Hamilton, the founders’ leading exponent of executive power, and Abraham Lincoln, the first president to have developed the concept of executive power along lines suggested by Hamilton, say about the Trump presidency? In this essay, I consider how Hamilton and Lincoln understood the relationship of the government to the people. I then describe their actions to define, enhance, and maintain that government. While Hamilton and Lincoln could imagine the possibility of an unscrupulous “man of the people,” such as Donald Trump, arising, their standard was a strong president serving the well-being of the country and not his personal ambitions. They both knew that our constitutional republic, even with its checks and balances, relies on, even requires, the good character and intelligence of the president and the country’s primary officials to protect and maintain good government.


  1. Angle, Paul A. ed. The Complete Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958.Google Scholar
  2. Carwardine, Richard. Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power. Reprint ed. New York: Vintage, 2007.Google Scholar
  3. Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: Penguin Books, 2004.Google Scholar
  4. Coates, Ta-Nehisi. “The Whitest White House.” Atlantic, October 2017, 74–84.Google Scholar
  5. Cohen, Eliot A. “Sudden Decline of a Superpower.” Atlantic, October 2017, 68–73.Google Scholar
  6. Farrand, Max, ed. The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787. Revised ed. in 4 Volumes. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966.Google Scholar
  7. Frisch, Morton J., ed. The Pacificus-Helvidius Debates of 1793–1794, from Papers of Alexander Hamilton, 27 Volumes. Edited by Harold C. Syrett, et al. New York: Columbia University Press, 1961–1987.Google Scholar
  8. Goldsmith, Jack. “Will American Democracy Recover?” Atlantic, October 2017, 58–66.Google Scholar
  9. Hamilton, Alexander, James Madison, and John Jay. The Federalist: A Commentary on the Constitution of the United States. Modern ed. Edited by Robert Scigliano. New York: Modern Library, 2001.Google Scholar
  10. Lincoln, Abraham. Selected Speeches and Writings. Paperback Classics. Edited and Selected by Don Fehrenbacher, with and Introduction by Gore Vidal. New York: Library of America, 2009.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Murray Dry
    • 1
  1. 1.Middlebury CollegeMiddleburyUSA

Personalised recommendations