At the convention, besides ensuring that immigrants like himself had full, New York–style opportunity to serve in Congress, [Hamilton] made only one other contribution: a six-hour speech outlining his ideal government. He proposed a highly democratic House of Representatives elected every three years by universal manhood suffrage, counterbalanced by a president and senate to serve for life (unless impeached for misbehavior), chosen by electors picked by men of property. His purpose was double. He wanted to combine, as he’d suggested in his letter to Duane, the advantages of a monarchy’s energetic executive with republican liberty. He also aimed to ensure real checks and balances between the rich and powerful and the rest. “Give all power to the many, they will oppress the few,” he explained, according to Madison’s convention notes. “Give all power to the few, they will oppress the many.” Here was a scheme that would ensure true equilibrium, he said, rather than merely having “democracy checked by democracy,” as the other proposed schemes envisioned. Of his president-for-life idea, he conceded, “It will be objected probably that such an executive will be an elective monarch”—and his enemies have repeated that objection up to this day, falsely accusing him of secret monarchism. But behind his idea lay his deepest worry: that direct democracy could decline into mindless mob rule.
Most historians report this episode less ambiguously, and with a note of amusement: Hamilton had inadvertently revealed his fondness for monarchism, and his personal stake in the matter must have been entertainingly obvious to his fellow delegates. We might expect a modern scholar, certainly one as well-versed in Hamilton’s life as Magnet obviously is, to place this episode in its rightful context. Instead we are left with the distinct impression that Magnet thinks Hamilton was really on to something with that “president for life” business. Not surprising, then, that Magnet is one of the ideological fathers of Bush conservatism, that curious blend of anti-welfare paternalism (the belief that the state knows what you don’t need better than you do) and strongman hero worship.