Roman Jefferson v Carthaginian Hamilton

Thomas Jefferson

I’ve mentioned a few times just how much our Founding Fathers were influenced by — and saw themselves as heirs to — republican Rome. That’s why both our federal and state buildings tend to look like Roman temples.

Two excellent books I’ve been reading lately have brought home to me just how direct that influence was for specific Founding Fathers such as Thomas Jefferson. Not only did Jefferson “inherit” certain Roman political ideals (as he understood them) but he also adopted the hatreds and propaganda of republican Rome. This meant:

  • Rome = good = America
  • Carthage = bad = Britain

Here Jefferson talks about Britain (from Richard Miles, Carthage Must Be Destroyed):

Her good faith!The faith of a nation of merchants! The Punica fides of modern Carthage.

Punica fides means Punic faith. The Romans and Jefferson used the term ironically to meanĀ faithlessness.

The Romans looked down on the Carthaginians (who were Phoenician traders) as merchants, and Jefferson inherited that attitude as well. (Napoleon, too, condescended to the English as “shopkeepers.”) Romans and Americans, Jefferson implied, were above such corrupt Carthaginian and British habits as commerce and banking.

Alexander Hamilton

When Jefferson, Madison, Monroe and other “republicans” (they deliberately named their faction to evoke republican Rome) began their hysterical conspiracy to bring down Alexander Hamilton, who in their fantasies had British and monarchical leanings, one of Hamilton’s friends warned him thus (from Ron Chernow, Alexander Hamilton, p. 391):

Delenda est Carthago, I suppose, is the maxim adopted with respect to you.

Delenda est Carthago means Carthage must be destroyed. It was the infamous phrase with which Cato the Elder ended every speech he gave until Rome indeed decided to destroy Carthage.

So to Jefferson, Hamilton was a sort of Hannibal?

Much more about all this in later posts. But you can already infer where my sympathies would have lain in this Founding Father soap opera.

Bookmark and Share