When Hamilton And Jefferson Agreed

As all of us who learn our US history from Broadway musicals know, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton disagreed on everything. But in the aftermath the US Revolutionary War, when George Washington had become the first US president, he asked Jefferson and Hamilton to work together in creating a plan to rescue the fisheries off the New England coast, which had suffered greatly during the Revolutionary War. (Pictured below is an Atlantic cod, Wikimedia Commons.)


Jefferson and Hamilton agreed on an incentive-based plan--although for distinctively different reasons. The result of their collaboration was February 1791 "Report on the American Fisheries by the Secretary of State", produced by Jefferson but with the assistance of staff loaned to the project by Hamilton.


Rigobert Bonne and Guilleme Raynal’s 1780 map of the Northeast United States and Eastern Canada. This highly detailed map covers the eastern coast of the United States from a portion of New Jersey and New York in the south as far north as the Canadian Maritime Provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland. Identifies Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket Island. Shows all principal harbors, ports, bays and islands. Along the coast, shoals such as the Grand Banks and the fisheries off Cape Cod are depicted, as this area was extremely important to the North American cod fishing industry through the 18th century. Wikimedia Commons

Although I've seen this episode mentioned in passing in several place, the best telling of the story I've run across is by Joseph R. Blasi in "George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Alexander Hamilton and an Early Case of Shared Capitalism in American History: The Cod Fishery" (Rutgers University School of Management and Labor Relations, Working paper, April 15, 2012).

As the "Report on the American Fisheries" points out, literally dozens of European ships were catching cod of the coast of what would be come New England and Canada in the early 1500s. But during the Revolutionary War, the US fishing industry was largely destroyed. As Blasi says: The American Revolutionary War lasted from 1775-1783 during which time the British went out of their way to paralyze and destroy the important cod fishery because of its economic and its national security importance." Or as Jefferson wrote:

The fisheries of the United States annihilated during the war, their vessels, utensils, and fishermen destroyed, their markets in the Mediterranean and British America lost, and their produce dutied in those of France, their competitors enabled by bounties to meet and undersell them at the few markets remaining open, without any public aid, and indeed paying aids to the public: Such were the hopeless auspices under which this important business was to be resumed.
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Ayelet Wolf 1 month ago Member's comment

Excellent, thanks.