There has been some news lately that the US Treasury Department will replace Alexander Hamilton with a woman on the $10 dollar bill. I am avidly against this measure and not because of any gender related bias, but simply because Alexander Hamilton has cemented himself as one of the brilliant minds of our early nation and almost deserves to be minted on the $10 dollar bill. I remember when I first studied Hamilton in the 10th grade, I was immediately enamoured with his personality as well as his brilliance. That’s why I read this book by one of my most favorite biographers, Ron Chernow (Last year, I read two of his books, biographies of George Washington, and John D. Rockefeller). I am kind of excited to post this book review in particular, as I’ve been digesting this book more slowly than usual. I believe I started reading it back in 2013 and have just recently finished it! Some of the details of his early life therefore, are a little hazy. I will attempt to discuss what I remember.
Alexander Hamilton was different from the other founding fathers primarily because he came from a very inauspicious background. His father was an English merchant in the West Indies and Hamilton was born in St. Croix to one of his father’s mistresses. One of his first jobs was as a boy gathered tolls for docking ships which probably cemented his interest later as the first head of the Department of the Treasury. He moved to New York early in his life and attended Kings College. Around the same time, the American Revolution was beginning to take place, and after he finished school, he joined the ranks of the Continental Army. He arose to the rank of Colonel and was present at York Town when the British surrendered to the Americans. This was also the formation of his long relationship with General Washington.
Chernow makes mention on how Hamilton was always in the right place at the right time concerning significant events in early American history. Hamilton was one of the essential characters in the formation of the Declaration of Independence and on chartering the Constitution of the United States. After the American Revolution, Hamilton was made the first US Treasurer, and excelled in this position. He attempted to: centralize the executive branch of government, giving it more power (to the chagrin of people like Thomas Jefferson where the split between “Jeffersonians” and “Hamiltonians” find it’s origins to modern day “Republicans” and “Democrats”); formed the First Bank of the United States; took on good debt to incite the weakened American Economy; imposed taxes on alcohol (which created the “Whiskey Rebellion”) and ran the department for tariffs for incoming goods; and wrote prolifically in newspapers under various pseudonyms. In fact, this is where the famous “Federalist Papers” originate from.
Hamilton’s reputation was mired by controversy when he was unfaithful to his wife and committed adultery with one Maria Reynolds. This probably prevented him from ever becoming a serious contender for President. However, under Washington’s administration, he had great influence over both Washington and most of his cabinet. Chernow makes it seem like Washington was the puppet to Hamilton’s brillance, although I am sure this could be debated. Under President Adams, Hamilton lost the confidence of the President and actually became one of his worst enemies as he tried to control his cabinet (many of whom were also under Washington). Chernow makes Adams out to be an incredibly weak President. I hope to find out more about this when I read David McCullough’s book “John Adams” perhaps later this year.
Towards the end of his life, Hamilton practiced law until Aaron Burr challenged him to a duel. Burr was besmirched by Hamilton when newspaper headlines captured words Hamilton had said in private about Burr, damaging his already precarious situation. Burr and Hamilton met in New Jersey on 11 July for the duel. Hamilton, converting to authentic Christianity late in his life, was determined to miss Burr on purpose. The duel ended with Hamilton being gravely wounded and Burr fleeing without a scratch. He died in New York two days later.
The legacy that Alexander Hamilton leaves is of great importance. The influence Hamilton has continued to impress on the United States is overshadowed by men such as Thomas Jefferson and George Washington but his importance in our country’s history is of great significance. I believe that many are unaware of his impact and for this reason, I encourage you to pick up this volume.