If you stand on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington and look north across the Tidal Basin, you won’t see Alexander Hamilton’s statue in front of the Treasury Department. You’ll feel his presence as strongly as that of the marble man behind you though. The two pioneers of freedom held profoundly different views about how the nation should be governed, a dispute that still plays out today across the country—especially here in the capital city, the epicenter of the sprawling federal bureaucracy. A Revolutionary War hero and first secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton was the leading proponent of a strong central government; Thomas Jefferson, the visionary Virginian and author of the Declaration of Independence, was deeply skeptical of that approach.
What would the Founding Fathers say if they could see Washington now? Even Hamilton couldn’t have anticipated the emergence of 24 major departments and agencies that touch nearly every facet of American life, from the food we eat to our retirement savings. The ambivalence many Americans feel for the federal government—particularly for the executive branch—is perhaps best summed up by a placard spotted at a political rally against the Affordable Care Act: “Government Keep Yore Hands Off My Medicare: Don’t Steal From Medicare to support SOCIALIZED MEDICINE.” That so many people seem to forget that Medicare is itself a government program speaks to how tightly the executive branch has been woven into the fabric of our daily lives. Americans both love and loathe the weft and warp of government (sometimes simultaneously), but most would agree that some mending is in order.