Saturday, October 03, 2009

Alexander Hamilton

Yes, I'm falling way behind in my blogging. If I had time, I'd talk about it, but I'd rather talk about Forrest McDonald's biography of Alexander Hamilton. I read and finished it after Gibbon. That was a few weeks ago.

McDonald's Hamilton is not one of the current oversized monster bios that covers every detail of the subject's life from the birth of their grandparents to the deaths of their grandchildren - although I do own and have read some of those. This one is manageable. It covers the important aspects of Hamilton's life, his development, and his important (and I mean really important) contributions to the creation and evolution of our country.

As a child, the only thing I learned about Hamilton was that he was killed in a duel by Aaron Burr. They'd been on opposite sides of the political aisle for years. Since this happened after Hamilton made his contributions and was basically retired, McDonald only gives a few pages to this most unfortunate episode in American history.

The fascinating aspect of this book, besides learning all about Hamilton, and a bit about economics, was discovering how human our founding fathers were. Some were completely corrupt. And covetous. Hoo boy, they were covetous. And some of them were schemers who worked for their own interests and against the country's interests. Hamilton's genius (if I understand correctly) was in finding ways to make this corruption work for the country. This goes along with our political system that, in theory, divides power between three branches of government so that no one branch has too much power.

Hamilton wanted the to change American society from one of gentleman farmers to one of economic vitality and hard work. He made a lot of enemies along the way. Some of our founding fathers loathed Hamilton, and there were various alliances and battles between various factions political factions. Hamilton's main political enemies were James Madison and Thomas Jefferson. Fortunately for the nation (if I understood all of the economics correctly, which - uh - well . . . ) it was Hamilton who had G. Washington's ear when he was president, and not Madison and Jefferson.

By the end of Washington's second term as president, McDonald describes him as haggard and worn out. Jefferson comes off worse according to McDonald's telling, but not as bad as he is repeatedly described by James McCullough in his John Adams biography. But then, McDonald, in his book refers to the "pompous and porcine Adams." While 200 years will do wonders for a person's reputation, it is always good to remember that no matter how we lionize these men, they were human. Yes, they created a county that has served as a beacon of freedom for millions. No, it's not perfect, and it never will be. But it is still the one that people yearning to breath free risk their lives to reach.

At least for now.

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At 12:50 AM, Blogger MightyMom said...

good point,


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