A Tale of Two Hamiltons

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Book Reviews

Alexander Hamilton: Chernow vs. DiLorenzo

My dad would love all of this attention his hero Alexander Hamilton is getting. This is mostly due his life story being turned into the most successful Broadway musical of all time. Looking around my dad’s den I realized that the biggest picture on the wall was of old Alex. So the least I could do is read a couple of books about the guy.

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

This is the book that inspired the musical. Chernow presents Hamilton as the prototypical American success story. Born in the Caribbean, Hamilton was an unlikely Founding Father of our country, but his life was anything but normal. The event that started it all was a scholarship from a wealthy patron on St. Croix island that sent young Hamilton to NYC. After some heroic actions in the Revolutionary War and a lifelong friendship with George Washington, his career was ready to rock. And it just kept rocking until the end. I can see why so many people find him inspiring and important. He amassed enormous power and influence over a young nation and he did have some sense of the history that was happening around him.

In case anyone reading is new to Hamilton I will just list some of the things that made him famous:

– Established West Point
– Founded the Coast Guard
– Elected to the Congress of the Confederation representing New York
– Wrote the majority of the Federalist Papers which lead to the Second Constitutional Convention
– First Secretary of the Treasury
– As a trial lawyer in New York he published the first manual on civil procedure
– Established the Bank of North America
– Wrote the Report on the Subject of Manufactures
– Founded the New York Post

Not a bad resume, and that’s only the cream off the top. Chernow wrote a page turning, entertaining biography that pretty much covers all of the bases. We go from birth to death and it even had a nice epilogue about Elizabeth Hamilton who lived until 1854 – long enough to become American royalty and almost long enough to see the Civil War.

However Chernow falls into a trap that is common among modern biographers, that is embellishing the past using “psycho history.” Not the kind invented by Isaac Asimov in Foundation, but the modern kind which uses psychology to examine motives and emotions of people who left no diaries. This is used by the well known plagiarist and Lincoln biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin. It essentially lets the biographer put words into the mouths of historical figures and should be discouraged. The matters of slavery and adultery in particular allows Chernow to erase anything negative about the man, so his tale can be spic and span. Chernow claims that Hamilton was an abolitionist while nothing in the historical record would lead one to believe this. He was no more an abolitionist than George Washington. We know for a fact that he bought at least two slaves. Chernow says they were for his brother and again with no evidence to support that claim. Chernow also uses kid gloves when describing another thing Hamilton is famous for, the very first public sex scandal. Not that any of that is really important.

Speaking of things not important, Chernow spends too much time discussing whether or not Hamilton was gay. Never mind that he was married, had affairs with women, and had eight children. No, he must have loved cock too. If he sucked a dick or two as a young military man, we will never know so there seems to be little gained from discussing it. But other than that, the book is fun to read even if it is biased in the positive. It reads like a novel.

3 Thrown Away Shots Outta 5

Hamilton’s Curse by Thomas DiLorenzo

I felt that I had to read another book on Hamilton to get the real facts. A short book that doesn’t mess around with any filler or homosexual speculation, Hamilton’s Curse by The Real Lincoln author Thomas DiLorenzo sets the record straight on the ten spot’s legacy. He examines Hamilton’s monetary policy and why it was not a national blessing (as Hamilton called the national debt) but a curse. Blatantly calling him an “economic ignoramus” DiLorenzo shows step by step how Hamilton’s lack of knowledge about business lead us to the crony capitalism we have today. Not stopping there, he also describes how Hamilton’s love of the British monarchy lead us to the imperial presidency of Abraham Lincoln and later Barack Obama, a man with so much power that even Hamilton would be shocked to behold.

Hamilton started the first central bank in the U.S. and it’s legacy is what we now know as The Fed, a destructive institution that causes the boom bust cycles in the market. The subtitle of DiLorenzo’s book is “How Jefferson’s Arch Enemy Betrayed the American Revolution–and What It Means for Americans Today.” Jefferson is still a more famous Founder than Hamilton, but it’s Hamilton’s monarchist America that we live in today. Jefferson’s ideas about a small federal government and laissez-faire economy was usurped by Hamilton’s strong federal government and interventionist monetary policy. It’s easy to see why. Those in power like it that way. So much like Abe Lincoln, Alexander Hamilton does not deserve the universal praise he receives from the mainstream historians. It is DiLorenzo’s contention that it would have been much better for us if Hamilton had never been born at all.

4 Constitutional Conventions Outta 5

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