I bought this book.
Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow is coming out soon; I thought I’d revisit one of my favorite biographies – Chernow’s “Alexander Hamilton“. I’ve read this book several years ago when it first came out, but it left a huge impression on me.
In this massive biography, we meet Alexander Hamilton as a young boy in the Caribbean, a bastard son, soon an orphan, to a mother who has been jailed for adultery. Young Alexander soon separated himself from the rest of the boys and by the age of thirteen the owner of the shipping company he worked for felt confident enough to take a vacation and leave his business at Hamilton’s trusty hands.
Hamilton earned enough money from subscription funds from his writings to get him off St. Croix and send him to college in New York. During the Revolutionary War Hamilton served as a Captain of an artillery company he organized as well as General Washington’s aide-de-camp and confidant (“my boy”). After the war, Hamilton was elected to represent New York in the Continental Congress, served in the New York Legislature, signed the Constitution, and wrote about half of the Federalist Papers.
Later Hamilton became the first Secretary of the Treasury (under President Washington) and started our whole financial system as well as a national bank as well as founding the U.S. Mint. Hamilton advocated for a strong national government as well as an industrial country (Jefferson advocated strong state government and farming communities). Hamilton died in a dual with then Vice President Aaron Burr (the US would have to wait many years for a VP to shoot someone again).
Great achievements for a bastard boy (a real black mark during the 1700’s) and a so called “Jew” (he learned Hebrew). While the first half of the “Alexander Hamilton” is immensely interesting, the second half is much more vivid, most likely due to the political vilifying which took place in the early stages of forming the country (and you thought today’s political races were nasty). The image shaping of Thomas Jefferson has done Hamilton huge amounts of damage in the eyes of American history, but Mr. Chernow overturns these vilifications by using… the facts.
‘‘Many of these slaveholding populists were celebrated by posterity as tribunes of the common people, Meanwhile, the self-made Hamilton, a fervent abolitionist and a staunch believer in meritocracy, was villainized in American history textbooks as an apologist of privilege and wealth.”
Mr. Chernow notes that Hamilton who ”must have produced the maximum number of words that a human being can scratch out in 49 years”. Probably the most intelligent of the bunch, Hamilton never met he subject he couldn’t write a pamphlet about.
The picture painted in this book of Hamilton is of a complex genius, a man who tries to assimilate but hits road block after road block put in place by his political enemies. A tireless orator, pamphleteer, politician and legislator, Chernow also lets us look at the self-destructive aspects which made Hamilton almost throw everything away.
Chernow doesn’t let the reader forget that Hamilton, with all his genius, was a man inflamed by the desire for honor. Given Hamilton’s humble origins, which was held against him by all political enemies, one can certainly understand the notion especially when dealing with Virginia aristocracy. Rebutting historians that Hamilton was looking to commit suicide, Chernow highlights the orphan’s attachment to family and the awareness of what his death would do to hem.
The research in “Alexander Hamilton” is remarkable, although the large number of footnotes, acknowledgments and sources the book is not a dry read, but an amazing insight into one of the most significant people in the history of the United States. This book certainly completes the attempts of Hamilton’s wife, Elizabeth, to undo the damage done to Hamilton’s reputation by his political enemies.