Loyalty vs. the Greater Good

I was talking to Dr. Korfhage about the election of 1800 the other day because I was a little confused about why it was a tie. He explained that at that point there was no way to distinguish the difference between people running for President and People running for Vice President. Simply put, whoever came in second became the Vice President. In 1800 when Thomas Jefferson, a Republican, and Aaron Burr, a Federalist, tied with 73 electoral votes each, the decision as to who would become President was given to the House of Representatives. The government, including the House of Representatives was controlled by the Federalists, it seemed natural that Burr would be chosen because he himself was a federalist. However, Hamilton, also a Federalist, urged the House of Representatives that Jefferson would be better for the Presidency because Burr could not be trusted. Hamilton had known Burr as both a lawyer and a politician and knew what a (to use Dr. Korfhage’s word) “scumbag” Burr was.* Even though Jefferson was of the opposite political party, Hamilton used his power to ensure that Burr was not President for the good of the country. I bring this up because I was thinking about doing something out of loyalty to a political party versus doing something for the greater good. In this case Hamilton chose to make sure that America was in good hands, not that the Federalists had control. This not only applies to politics in the 1800s, but also to many things in life. Generally speaking, it is a question of loyalty vs. the greater good. I think that in many cases the decision could go either way. I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer to this conflict, but I think it is a fairly common issue. I would love to hear what other people have to say. There are many ethical choices that leaders and people have to make in life. Do people tend to advocate their beliefs or choose to support the greater good both in politics and in life?

Also, read Matt’s post below “Good Person vs. Good Ruler” for an interesting look on leadership and the choices of leaders.

*Quotes from Alexander Hamilton on Aaron Burr:

“a man of irregular and unsatiable ambition … who ought not to be trusted with the reins of government.”

“There is no doubt that upon every virtuous and prudent calculation Jefferson is to be preferred. He is by far not so dangerous a man and he has pretensions to character.”

“If we have an embryo-Caesar in the United States, ’tis Burr”

“For or against nothing, but as it suits his interests or ambition. I feel the religious duty to oppose his career.”


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4 Responses to Loyalty vs. the Greater Good

  1. Sam W says:

    The idea of bi-partisanship for the good of the country being more important than political loyalty is sadly still as unpopular as it was then. Hamilton decided that someone who identifies with the same broad category as you is not as valuable of a characteristic of a leader as being good for the country. So Hamilton, after committing this act of treason, was punished with death by the one man firing squad of a disgruntled Aaron Burr. This happens today, take Untied States Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, he decided that he should try and work with the other party and compromise in order to keep America moving in what he saw as forward and was subsequently pushed out of office by his party during the senate primary. It is exactly what was feared by the founders of our nation, people are more concerned with groupings than the good of the country. The “it’s us against them” mentality is indeed a poison that leads to filibuster after filibuster all sides. Hamilton is truly an American hero in that he, though sneakily, looked out for everyone, not just his supporters. In a perfect world their would not be the dangerous “group-think”, but our system is never going to be rid of it, it will have to survive on the occasional beacons of light that cast off the shackles of political parties for the sake of the nation, and hope they are not extinguished as quickly as Alexander Hamilton.

    It is important to note that when I say Hamilton’s support of Jefferson over Burr went against his party, the Federalists preferred Burr to Jefferson who were both Republicans.

    It is also interesting to note that Hamilton was in favor of the Sedition Act and that Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson are considered the founders of their respective parties.

    • dharbeck says:

      Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr had a famous rivalry, and Hamilton’s decision could have easily been motivated by hatred for Burr as it could have been for the betterment of the United States. Although I think Hamilton’s decision was incredibly smart, he may have just been looking to stop burr and not “looking out for everyone”.

      • Sam W says:

        Alexander Hamilton had an even greater rivalry with Thomas Jefferson, in fact, Thomas Jefferson resigned as Secretary of State (in Washington’s cabinet) because of his hatred of Hamilton. This actually supports the Good Guy Hamilton (creating the meme now) argument because he set his greatest rivalry aside for the good of the country.

      • Heather says:

        Alexander Hamilton didn’t necessarily try to keep Burr out of office because he he didn’t like him, but rather because he knew Burr was an awful person. As Sam said, he didn’t like Jefferson either.

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