DELIVERING UNPALATABLE TRUTHS: LESSONS LEARNED FROM ALEXANDER HAMILTON AND THE JAY TREATY DEBATE
Nowacki, Matthew David
Yonkers, Charles E
Alexander Hamilton believed that political leaders should address the public with candor and confront them with unpalatable truths when passion led them to favor policies that betrayed their true interest. Hamilton's role in shaping public opinion in favor of the Jay Treaty, which was negotiated between the United States and Great Britain by John Jay in 1794, provides a valuable case study with lessons for modern leaders on how to guide public discourse concerning challenging policy issues.As the first Secretary of the Treasury in the Washington Administration, Hamilton played an integral role in preventing the United States from becoming engulfed in the war between Great Britain and Revolutionary France from 1793-1796. Hamilton knew that the United States had the potential to become a great power, but that a war at this early stage in the country's development could prove catastrophic. This paper will analyze Hamilton's role in crafting a strategy for John Jay's negotiations with Great Britain and his response to the public's poor reception of the treaty. He authored a series of published essays under the pseudonym "Camillus" that was essential to changing the tide of public opinion in support of the treaty.Hamilton was able to break the thrall of the public against the treaty by describing the practical outcomes and engaging the people in calm, reasoned arguments. He acknowledged the agreement was imperfect, but he made the case that the overall measure deserved to be enacted. Hamilton was the first American politician to present the people with unpalatable truths, instead of flattering the opinion of the majority. This paper will study Hamilton's actions during the Jay Treaty debate and argue that modern political leaders must advocate positions based on an honest assessment of the country's interest, and not polls and public opinion. The public and media should demand to hear difficult truths from their leaders and value those that comply.