Respect Your People

Excerpt from Chapter Five of “The Leadership Secrets of Hamilton” by Gordon Leidner (sourcebooks, February 2017).

“I would sooner chop off my right hand than put it to the constitution as it now stands.” —George Mason

This quote by Founding Father George Mason illustrates the bitter debate that took place among both Founders and followers over the acceptance and ratification of the U.S. Constitution. George Mason, who had authored the Virginia Declaration of Rights in June 1776, believed that the delegates of the U.S. Constitutional Convention were making a huge mistake in the fall of 1787. He believed the Constitution they had written granted too much power to the federal government and did not sufficiently guarantee the rights of the people.

Only four years prior to this Constitutional Convention, the nation had barely survived a bitter war of revolution, which Americans had entered into because of their anger toward the British government. Parliament and the King had ignored the colonists’ rights as British subjects and oppressed them with unwanted taxes, interfered with their right to trial by jury, and forced them to quarter British troops in their homes. Now that the colonists had thrown off the yoke of the King, some, like Mason, feared that the new government, whose constitution had been written by a handful of men behind closed doors, might become another tyrant to rule over them.

Federalist Party leaders such as Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, who supported the ratification of the Constitution, were convinced their new government would never become tyrannical. They had carefully framed the government to establish a balance of power between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. Additionally, the Constitution implied that any powers not specifically given to the federal government were retained by the people and the states.

At the close of the Constitutional Convention, the Federalists won out over Anti-Federalists such as George Mason, and on December 17, 1787, the Constitution was approved and sent to the states for ratification. But after it was distributed to the colonies, the people protested. They repeatedly asked an angry question: Why did the Constitution not include a bill of rights?

While he was helping Alexander Hamilton write The Federalist Papers to support ratification of the Constitution, James Madison realized something more was needed. He began to recognize the legitimacy of the people’s request for a bill of rights. Madison knew Americans were inherently suspicious of government and afraid that if their specific rights such as freedom of speech or the worship of God were not explicitly spelled out, even a balanced, republican form of government might one day become tyrannical and interfere with those sacred rights.

So Madison decided to honor the people’s wishes and promised to lead the effort to adopt a bill of rights. His task proved challenging. More than 200 amendments were proposed, most of which were for states’ rights rather than individual rights. Thanks to Madison’s leadership, these were finally pared down to 12 proposed constitutional amendments, each of which he made certain was written in language ordinary people could understand and, if they wanted to, memorize. On December 15, 1791, the states ratified 10 of these amendments, and today they comprise what we the people call the “Bill of Rights.”

“The equal rights of man, and the happiness of every individual, are now acknowledged to be the only legitimate objects of government.”—Thomas Jefferson

Three key actions for respecting your people:

  • Treat them as individuals
  • Intellectually challenge them
  • Honor their beliefs and families

Treat Them as Individuals

There is nothing more impressive than a leader who knows every team member well. He or she knows not only each member’s name and job function, but more importantly, he or she knows them personally. This is not difficult if your team is of reasonable size, so if this is your situation, do it!

If your team is too large to know everyone personally, make yourself available for meetings with small groups or individuals. Do your homework before these meetings occur. Know as much as possible about the team and the people you’re going to meet with. Ask about their personal goals. Encourage them to talk about themselves. Listen. This will result in not only a more cohesive team, but also an increased environment of trust.

Intellectually Challenge Them

To determine the best way to challenge your followers intellectually, you first must consider the group’s purpose and degree of congruity. Are you working exclusively with a team of writers on a monthly newsletter? Or with a wide range of skill sets (engineers, sales personnel, graphic artists) on a product integration project? How you challenge your followers initially will be a function of the team’s composition and purpose.

Once you’ve considered the team’s nature, look at the competence and maturity level of individual team members. There are many tools (such as situational leadership theory) that are useful for assessing team members’ competence and maturity. In addition to the maturity level of team members, project maturity (how far it has progressed) also should be considered. Tools for assessing project maturity are numerous and readily available. Once you’ve done your homework, you can figure out the best way to challenge your followers intellectually.

“To cherish and stimulate the activity of the human mind, by multiplying the objects of enterprise, is not among the least considerable of the expedients, by which the wealth of a nation may be promoted.”—Alexander Hamilton

Hamilton’s Intellectual Challenge

In late January 1791, the Senate approved Alexander Hamilton’s bill for the establishment of a national bank. When the bill reached President George Washington for signature, he had only 10 days to either approve it or issue a veto. Washington knew Secretary Hamilton’s opinion, but he decided to ask Attorney General Edmund Randolph and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson if they thought the bank was constitutional. They both provided written verdicts declaring it was not, with Jefferson expressing his opinion that Hamilton’s reasons for the bank were a perversion of the “necessary and proper” clause of the Constitution.

Washington rushed Randolph and Jefferson’s verdicts to his Secretary of the Treasury for comment. Over the course of the next week, Hamilton wrote a nearly 15,000–word manifesto that has been called “the most brilliant argument for a broad interpretation of the Constitution in American political literature.” To liberate the government from a restrictive reading of the Constitution, Hamilton effectively argued that in its “implied powers,” the government had the right to employ all means necessary to carry out powers specified in the Constitution.

Hamilton contended that a bank of the United States would enable the government to make good on four powers cited explicitly in the Constitution: the rights to collect taxes, borrow money, regulate trade among states, and support fleets and armies. In the end, Washington decided that Hamilton’s intellectual argument overwhelmed Thomas Jefferson’s and Edmund Randolph’s opinions, and he approved the bill.

Honor Their Beliefs and Families

By honoring the beliefs, values, and families of your team members, you are not only demonstrating respect for your followers, you also are treating them as individuals—-and making friends. Becoming a friend to your followers can be much more rewarding than simply being their leader.

Find out what’s important to your followers outside of the workplace. If you can do so, get to know their families. Be sensitive to the fact that your followers have individual needs that may revolve around their personal values, their religious beliefs, or their families. Do your best to respect and accommodate them!

“The happiest moments of my life have been the few which I have past at home in the bosom of my family.”—Thomas Jefferson

Biographical Note:

James Madison, a wealthy landowner from Virginia, was a political theorist, a state legislator, a member of the Continental Congress, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Secretary of State in the Jefferson administration, and the fourth president of the United States. He led the effort to draft the United States Constitution in 1787, assisted Hamilton in the writing of The Federalist Papers, and led the effort to develop the Bill of Rights—earning the sobriquet “Father of the Bill of Rights.” Although he was initially a Federalist, he later broke ranks with Alexander Hamilton and joined with Thomas Jefferson to become a cofounder of the Democratic-Republican Party. With Jefferson, he fought for a less centralized government and an agriculturally based economy. Along with Jefferson, he opposed Hamilton’s initiatives to establish a strong navy and a strong, permanent army. After he became president and led the nation through the War of 1812, Madison realized the value of having a strong military and embraced Hamilton’s vision.

Excerpt from Chapter Five of “The Leadership Secrets of Hamilton” by Gordon Leidner (sourcebooks, Feb. 2017).  For more information, visit:


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Gordon Leidner is the author of numerous books and articles about Abraham Lincoln and the American Civil War. A board member of the Abraham Lincoln Institute, he maintains the Website, where he provides free educational material to students and educators on Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War, and the American Revolution.


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