How Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton Built the Modern World – Part One

I worked on Wall Street and lived in Battery Park, in Lower Manhattan, overlooking the Hudson River and located across the street from the World Trade Center. Upon moving there, I walked around Lower Manhattan and came upon the little cemetery of Trinity Church, at the foot of Wall Street. Looking at the tombstones of prominent New York leaders of the American Revolution, I chanced upon a modest gravestone that stopped me in awe – I was looking at the grave of Alexander Hamilton.

I studied economics and American history in college and Hamilton’s name was prominent. One economics professor, who knew I was keen on American history, suggested I read the economic writings of Hamilton, especially his Report on Manufactures, his Report on Credit, and his Report on a National Bank.

Alexander Hamilton - Wikipedia

Alexander Hamilton

A whole new world opened up in three small reports to Congress by Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton. He made historical breakthroughs in economics. My studies soon revealed that the Hamilton economic model was not only the basis for building the U.S. economy, but his economic plan was used by almost every independent nation in the world for economic development and industrialization.

The Higher Purpose

Benjamin Franklin's Inventions | Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention  and Innovation

Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin (1706 –1790), Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804), and George Washington (1732-1795) created the groundwork that made the U.S. the greatest industrial economy with the highest standard of living in history. The Franklin-Hamilton-Washington model located the primary driver for economic development in the creative power of the human mind – what they called the “productive power of labor”; that along with technology, produces a surplus (profit) to improve the general welfare, happiness, security, and prosperity of the population.

This profound world-changing concept, simply put, is that economic growth is derived, not only from capital investment into technology – but from investment into the population’s quality of life, education, and culture to generate creative innovation. The human mind is the fundamental source of economic wealth.

Therefore the key to economic development comes from individuals and the role of government is to foster individuals’ development. This is radically opposed to the governing policies of empires, imperial colonialism, aristocracies, monetarism, communism, fascism, and dictatorships.

This concept was fundamental to the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Federalist Papers that made the United States the only nation in history based on the sanctity of individual life and liberty. With these principles, our Founders struggled to achieve the ‘American System’ of industrial and technological progress, promotion of the general welfare, a higher standard of living for all, and a culture of liberty and creativity – which became the predominant economic model in the world.

The Preamble to the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

The Preamble of the U.S. Constitution: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

This political notion of the sanctity of the individual and the creative power of the human mind is fundamentally based on the Greek-Judeo-Christian-Islamic-Buddhist-Confucius-Vedic Hindu concept of Imago Dei – that humans are “made in the image of God” and are endowed with the Divine spark of Reason. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God; male and female.” Genesis 1:27, KJV

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George Washington

Winning the Revolution

Thirteen ill-equipped, untrained, and underfunded colonies declared independence and fought a brutal revolution from 1765 to 1783 against the most powerful empire and military force on the planet. The American Revolution was led by the “Secret Committee” of Benjamin Franklin and George Washington (see below). The American Continental Army was commanded by General George Washington, along with his most trusted military officers Gen. Alexander Hamilton and Gen. Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834).

The Continental Army led by Washington forced the British out of Boston. But then the British captured New York and Charleston. The war was a bloody life-and-death struggle for many years and fought on many fronts. The British military included German and Swiss mercenaries and many North American Native American tribes.

When Franklin, John Adams, and others secured financial and military aid from France, Spain, the Dutch Republic, Austria, and Russia, a new military strategy was developed. An invasion of Britain was devised by Franklin, Washington, Lafayette, Hamilton, Robert Morris, and Irish revolutionary Mathew Carey. The plan was to trigger an Irish revolt that would draw troops out of Britain. Then launch an invasion of Britain by France and Spain. (Source: Journal of the American Revolution, Patterson, Dull, O’Connell).

The Earl of Shelburne (1737-1805) upon hearing of the invasion plan, forced negotiations for peace. The American victory at Yorktown, led by Alexander Hamilton, forced the British to surrender in 1781. Lord Shelburne negotiated peace in 1782 and signed a treaty in 1783 with America, France, Spain, and the Dutch Republic. Shelburne thought war and maintaining a British North American military was too costly and that Britain’s long-term interests were better served by accepting American independence and using financial and trade leverage to coop America back under British policy.

Fledgling New Nation in Crisis

After the Treaty of Paris in 1783 that ended the American Revolution, the new nation had been ravaged by war and was weak, bankrupt, and vulnerable to foreign powers. Under the Articles of Confederation drafted in 1781, the country was divided into 13 competing states, each independent and sovereign. The central government was weak with large war debt, had no monetary nor credit system, no central military, and had no power to regulate, tax, duty, or tariff. The nation also had no credit with foreign bankers. America was an agrarian economy with little industry, leaving it exposed to the British using the cover of ‘free trade’ to dump cheap goods that hurt young American industries.

The fledgling nation was also fraught with enemies both outside and within. Britain hoped to win back its American colonies, and Spain and France both posed a threat. Loyalist factions tied to Britain and foreign agents attempted to take New England and the West out of the Union.

To protect America, Benjamin Franklin organized a group of patriots to establish a constitutional republic in 1789, and thus the United States of America was born. Franklin, Washington, Hamilton, and others developed an economic plan to make the USA strong, secure, and prosperous.

Agrarian Economy

Britain prevented colonial America from developing manufacturing so as not to compete with British industries. Only limited light industry and iron bar production was allowed. Early American exports were raw materials, iron, grain, dried or smoked fish, cotton, sugar, molasses, tobacco, and indigo. Tobacco accounted for 25% of exports, iron made up 15% of the world supply. (U.S. Treasury)

The U.S. was largely agricultural with more than 80% of the population in farming. The total population was 2.4 million in 1775, 5.3 million in 1800, and 9.6 million in 1820. (U.S. Census)

Northern agriculture fed the slave plantation system in the South and Caribbean. Northern agriculture was based on family farming of fruits, grains, vegetables, dairy, eggs, livestock, wool, poultry, flax for linen, hemp for rope, furs, skins for leather, cider, vinegar, beer, wine, maple syrup, hunting, fishing, and lumber. Southern agriculture was based on tobacco, sugar, molasses, cotton, rice, indigo, and some produce. Fishing was performed in all the coastal states. Raw materials included lumber, salt, iron, coal, copper, lead, sulfur, turpentine, rosin, tar, granite, limestone, and potash. (U.S. Treasury)

Pre-industrial age production included shipbuilding, carriages, saddlery, barrel making, leather, shoe cobblers, candle making, hatters, milliners, rope, linen, wool, weaving, gunsmiths, gun powder, iron, flour, lumber, paper, printing, masonry, carpentry, furniture, glass, jewelry, silversmiths, tools, whaling, instruments, sugar and molasses refining, tobacco processing, bricks, metalworking, taverns, inns, stagecoaches, breweries, wineries, cider mills, and distillers. Energy came from animal power, wind power, and water power. (U.S. Treasury, Library of Congress)

The largest cities were New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore, and Charleston. These were centers of commerce, finance, education, publishing, shipping, and slave trading. (U.S. Census)

Education was limited with little public education and higher education. Learning was taught in the home and in apprenticeships in private businesses. There were grammar schools for young boys in several Northern states, not in Southern states. Only wealthy families could send sons to college. Women were taught at home. Slaves were prohibited from education. Educated men worked as ministers, lawyers, politicians, journalists, teachers, home tutors, accountants, clerks, and merchants. (U.S. Treasury).

Colleges taught Christian ministry, law, classical Greek and Latin, rhetoric, ethics, logic, and math. There was very little science, technology, engineering, and medicine. The early American colleges included Harvard-MA 1636, William and Mary-VA 1693, Yale-CT 1701, University of Pennsylvania 1740, Columbia-NY 1746, Princeton-NJ 1747, Brown-RI 1764, Rutgers-NJ 1766, and Dartmouth-NH 1770. (U.S. Treasury)

Benjamin Franklin

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Independence Hall, Philadelphia

When I began to learn more about Benjamin Franklin, I was amazed that his accomplishments are so great and that they are almost beyond comprehension, it is hard to fully grasp his importance.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-90) was a polymath genius, scientist, economist, philosopher, inventor, writer, printer, publisher, composer, statesman, diplomat, postmaster, urban planner, and chess master. He was a self-made Renaissance man who lifted himself from a poor printer’s apprentice to become the richest man in America.

Franklin and Science – Internationally Franklin was considered the greatest scientist of his day, known for his discoveries in electricity, physics, wave theory of light, astronomy, meteorology, oceanography, demographics, and refrigeration. He invented the lightning rod, Franklin stove, bifocal eyeglasses, odometer, swim fins, urinary catheter, glass armonica, long arm reaching device, three wheel clock, public lending library, fire department, fire insurance, American medical college, American celebrity, and political cartoons. (Van Doren, Isaacson, Brands).

The American Philosophical Society was founded by Franklin and Francis Hopkinson in 1743 to promote knowledge in the sciences and humanities. The society advanced social-economic policies for technology, industry, scientific research, engineering, medicine, hospitals, mapping, meteorology, internal improvements, roads, ports, canals, and education. Prominent members included George Washington, Marquis de Lafayette, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Paine, James Madison, Benjamin Rush, John Marshall, John Adams, James McHenry, Francis Hopkinson, John Dickinson, Michael Hillegas, John Bartron, Charles Wilson Peale, Baron von Steuben, Tadeusz Koscuisko, and others.

Benjamin Rush - Wikipedia

Benjamin Rush

Franklin and Education – the Franklin group established the University of Pennsylvania in 1740 and the first College of Medicine in 1765. They promoted universal education, vocational schools, museums, and lending libraries. Philadelphia was the center of book publishing, magazines, and newspapers. Publishers included Franklin, Mathew Carey, William Cobbert, James Rivington, and Joseph Denne

Franklin’s Culture and Arts – Franklin developed Philadelphia as the leading cultural, industrial, and scientific center in North America. He was governor of Pennsylvania and the leading American promoter of the arts, music, theater, museums, culture, science, technology, publishing, education, infrastructure, medicine, libraries, hospitals, fire departments, postal service, paved streets and lighting, parks and gardens, sanitation, mental institutions, and public health and safety. (Van Doren, Isaacson, Brands).

Franklin was an accomplished musician, composer, and inventor of musical instruments. Philadelphia was the leader in musical instrument production. Music schools and concerts flourished. Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Haydn, and Pachelbel were popular.

Philadelphia was the American center of the theater. Theaters included the Hallun, Society Hill, Wall and Day, Chestnut Hill, and Walnut Street.

Charles Willson Peale, "The Artist in His Museum" (1822) | PAFA -  Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

Charles Wilson Peale

The Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts was founded in 1805 by Franklin and Charles Wilson Peale and held exhibits, art training, and opened a museum. American artists represented included Benjamin West, Gilbert Stuart, Matthew Pratt, James Trenchard, James Smither, and John Norman.

Franklin and Slavery – Franklin was president of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society which organized to abolish slavery. Prominent members included Benjamin Rush, Tench Coxe, Thomas Paine, George Clymer, and others. According to the Founding Brothers book by Joseph Ellis, in the new government under the Constitution, Franklin was the only person allowed before the Civil War to hold a debate on the abolition of slavery in a joint session of Congress.

Franklin’s Land Companies – After the Seven Years War (1756-1763), Franklin put forward a plan to develop the West for trade, growth, and military defense. After the American Revolution the Western plan was pursued in earnest. The Franklin plan triggered the formation of Western land companies in Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama. Franklin involved many others on the development of land, canals, roads, towns, and forts. Some prominent people involved were George Washington, Robert Morris, Philip Schuyler, Tench Coxe, Alexander Hamilton, William Livingston, James Wilson, Georg Clymer, Thomas Fitzsimmons, William Cooper, and Cadwallader Colden.

Franklin’s Secret Committee

Robert Morris.jpg

Robert Morris

Franklin was the true Father of the American Revolution and mentored the leading Founders of the Revolution and the new republic. Franklin ran the Secret Committee of the Continental Congress. He procured foreign finance and military aid from France and Spain for the Revolution and negotiated peace with Britain. Franklin supervised the writing of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. He further devised the economic plan that built the U.S. economy and launched a campaign to end slavery. (Van Doren, Isaacson, Brands, Ellis, Fleming, Chernow).

The “Secret Committee” headed by Franklin ran the American Revolution, determined strategy, and obtained finance and foreign aid. Members included Franklin, George Washington, Robert Morris, General Lafayette, Mathew Carey, James Wilson, Alexander Hamilton, Gouveneur Morris, George Clymer, Michael Hillegas, and others.

Writing of the Declaration of Independence was overseen by Franklin. Writers included Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Robert Livingston, Roger Sherman, and Michael Hillegas. Writing of the U.S. Constitution was also overseen by Franklin and was written by Gouveneur Morris, James Wilson, Rufus King, James Madison, and William Johnson.

In addition to Franklin and Washington, the Secret Committee members included:

Robert Morris (1734-1806) a close ally of Franklin from Pennsylvania who was a co-founder of the Society of Political Enquiry. He was the financier of the American Revolution and effectively ran the American government during the Revolution. He was a signer of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Morris was a delegate of the Constitutional Convention, U.S. Superintendent of Finance, a U.S. Senator, and co-founder of the Bank of the United States.

Tench Coxe (1755-1824) a Franklin protégé from Pennsylvania who was an economist, Revenue Commissioner, and Assistant Secretary of Treasury under Hamilton. Tench wrote the Enquiry into the Principles report and assisted Hamilton on The Federalist Papers and the Report on Manufacture.

Tench Coxe

Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804) of New York was a close associate of Franklin, Washington, and Robert Morris. He was a Constitutional Convention delegate and a signer of the Constitution. He was the first Secretary of Treasury and co-writer of the The Federalist Papers. He was also an anti-slavery activist.

Mathew Carey (1760-1839) of Philadelphia was a Franklin protégé. He was America’s first book publisher, wrote economic essays, and was a Revolutionary War leader who worked with Franklin, Washington, Lafayette, Robert Morris, and Hamilton.

Michael Hilligas (1729-1804) of Philadelphia was the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury 1775-1789. He worked with the American Philosophical Society and was the editor of the Declaration of Independence draft document.

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Gouveneur Morris

Gouveneur Morris (1752-1816) of Pennsylvania was a close associate of Robert Morris and Hamilton. He was a Constitutional Convention delegate, signer and co-writer of the Constitution, a diplomat, and U.S. Senator. He was also an anti-slavery activist.

James Wilson (1742-1798) of Pennsylvania was a close associate of Robert Morris and co-writer of the Constitution. He was a signer of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, a Constitutional Convention delegate, and a Supreme Court Justice. He was also an anti-slavery activist.

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James Wilson

George Clymer (1739-1813) of Pennsylvania was a Franklin associate, a signer of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, a Constitutional Convention delegate, and worked with Hilligas in the U.S. Treasury during the Revolution.

The Society of Political Enquiries

Benjamin Franklin, Robert Morris, and George Washington formed The Society of Political Enquiries to establish a national constitutional republic, a centralized government, and provide for the general welfare, all “to free ourselves from foreign power.” Tench Coxe wrote An Enquiry into the Principles which a Commercial System of the United States Should be Founded, which was prepared for the Society and presented to all members of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, in 1787. (Source: original document).

The Enquiry into the Principles pamphlet proposed economic programs to promote industrial development, a national bank to provide credit, a national financial system, government taxation, tariffs to protect American manufacturing, restructure of the national war debt, and the promotion of arts, science, education, commerce, trade, and industry.

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John Jay

Members of the Society of Political Enquiries

Society membersSigner

Declaration of Independence





Benjamin FranklinWriter, signerwriter, signPost. Gen
George WashingtonsignerPresident
Alexander HamiltonsignerSec. Treasury
James Madisonwriter, signPresident, House
Mathew Careyeconomist
Gouveneur Morriswriter, signDiplomat, Senate
Robert MorrissignersignerU.S. Bank, Senate
Tench CoxecontributorTreasury
John JaycontributorDiplomat, Chief Justice
James Wilsonsignerwriter, signChief Justice
George Wyethsignersigner
George ClymersignersignerSec. Treasury
John LangdonsignerSenate
Thomas Mifflinsignerdiplomat
Rufus Kingwriter, signDiplomat, Senate
Jared IngersollsignerUS Attorney
William JacksonSecretary
Thomas FitzsimmonssignerU.S. Bank
John Sullivansignerjudge
Richard BachePost. Gen.
David RittenhousesignerU.S. Mint
Michael HillegaswritercontributorSec. Treasury

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James Madison

Recommended Reading:

Founding Documents

  • Book of Minutes, The Society of Political Inquiries, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
  • An Enquiry into the Principles which a Commercial System of the United States Should be Founded, The Society of Political Enquiries, Benjamin Franklin and Tench Coxe, 1787.
  • The Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay, 1787-88.
  • U.S. Bill of Rights, 1789, James Madison.
  • U.S. Constitution, 1787, Philadelphia Convention.
  • U.S. Declaration of Independence, 1776, Philadelphia.
  • Legislative and Documentary History of the Bank of the United States, Gates and Seaton, 1832.
  • U.S Treasury Report on Credit, Hamilton, Coxe, 1790
  • U.S. Treasury Report on a National Bank, Hamilton, Coxe, 1790
  • U.S. Treasury Report on Manufactures, Hamilton, Coxe, 1791

Benjamin Franklin

  • Benjamin Franklin Papers, American Philosophical Society, Yale University, Library of Congress
  • Benjamin Franklin, Carl Van Doren, Viking, NY, 1938.
  • Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, Walter Isaacson, Simon & Schuster, NY, 2003.
  • The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin, H.W. Brands, Doubleday, NY, 2008.
  • Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation, Joseph Ellis, Alfred A. Knopf, NY, 2000.

Alexander Hamilton

  • Alexander Hamilton, Ron Chernow, Penguin, NY, 2005.
  • Alexander Hamilton: A Biography, Forest McDonald, W.W. Norton, NY, 1979.
  • Alexander Hamilton Papers, Columbia University, NY.
  • Duel: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr and the Future of America, Thomas Fleming, Perseus, NY, 1999.
  • Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation, Joseph Ellis, Alfred A. Knopf, NY, 2000.

George Washington

  • His Excellency: George Washington, Joseph J. Ellis, Vintage, NY, 2002.
  • Washington: A Life, Ron Chernow, Penguin, NY, 2005.
  • George Washington Papers, University of Virginia.

American System

  • Adams Papers Project-John Adams, Abigail Adams, John Quincy Adams, etc., Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston.
  • The Critical Period of American History, 1783-1789, John Fiske, Houghton Mifflin, NY, 1888.
  • Diary of Robert Morris, University of Pittsburgh.
  • France and Spain Invade England-Almost, Bob Ruppert, Journal or the American Revolution, Jan. 2020.
  • The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789, Robert Middlekauff, Oxford, 2005.
  • History of the American Revolution, John R. Alden, 1966.
  • History of the United States of America, George Bancroft, 1854-78.
  • John Adams, David McCollough, Simon & Schuster, NY, 2001.
  • Michael Hilligas Papers, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
  • The Other Armada: the Franco-Spanish Attempt to Invade Britain in 1779, Alfred T. Patterson, Manchester University, UK, 1960.
  • The Political Economy of the American Revolution, Nancy Spannaus, Franklin House, NY, 1977.
  • Robert Morris: Financier of the Revolution, Charles Rappleye, Simon & Schuster, NY, 2010.
  • Tench Cox and the Early Republic, Jacob Cooke, University of North Carolina, 1978.


Bruce J. Wood
Bruce J. Wood
Bruce J. Wood, founder of AOIDE Bruce J. Wood has worked on Wall Street in business finance and strategy, and has written hundreds of finance business plans, strategic plans, economic feasibility studies, and economic impact studies. Bruce has lectured on creativity and strategic thinking, as well as worked on the development of numerous publishing, film, television, and performing arts projects, along with downtown revitalizations, using the arts as an economic catalyst. As an aficionado of music, art, and dance, Bruce is also a writer and an outdoor enthusiast. He has written poetry, blogs, articles, and many creative project concepts. He lives in the Metro Detroit area and enjoys writing poetry, backpacking, and ballroom dancing.

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