Reading a biography on Alexander Hamilton is must read for any American who wants to study our nation’s history.
Reading about Hamilton will help teach you about why America is the way it is today. It will help you understand:
- Why we have a constant debate about state’s rights vs. federal power.
- Why we have a central bank and federal taxes.
- Why we have a strong libertarian streak and often a distaste for government and taxes.
- Why and how our national debt started.
- Why and how we have a history of a strong manufacturing base.
- Why we have a centralized military that is the best and strongest in the world.
- Why and how our two-party system started. (It didn’t take long!)
- Why our nation’s capital is located where it is now.
- Why we have a constant debate for voter ID laws, and why some decry voter fraud while others decry voter suppression.
- Why we have a constant debate about the role of government and the role of individual responsibility.
It is often said that we study war more than peace. This is a sad reality.
We often know the details of the major battles in the Revolutionary War, but not as much about the first few years of our nation’s history and the first few years of George Washington’s presidency.
Hamilton set in motion what the USA is today. Creating a central bank, moving the location of our nation’s capital farther South, implementing a tax system on more than just exports, creating a strong manufacturing nation, and consolidating our country into one nation rather than a bunch of different independently run states — these are all realities that greatly affect us today. And they were set in motion largely by Alexander Hamilton.
And studying this is much more practical to us today than Washington crossing the Delaware River on Christmas and the Battle of Yorktown. (Although those two events greatly changed the course of history.)
To not know the history of Hamilton is to not know fundamentals of our country’s history.
Hamilton absorbed much of the brunt of the work that George Washington did during the presidency. But much of Washington’s accomplishments were in reality Hamilton’s ideas. Washington trusted Hamilton and followed him. Although Washington is always considered independent, it’s hard not to think that he leaned more toward the Federalist Party than the Democratic-Republican Party, considering that he took Hamilton’s advice more, he took a swipe at the Democratic-Republican Party toward the end of his presidency, and Martha Washington was openly a Federalist later in life.
Of course, it didn’t help that the Democratic-Republicans, led by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison fought Hamilton all the way. Hamilton would usually win.
If you think many that there are many conspiracy theories today, consider that Hamilton (and sometimes even Washington) was constantly accused of being a monarchist. Even some today believe this.
Thomas Jefferson particularly seemed conniving toward Hamilton. Jefferson and other Democrat-Republicans believe in conspiracy theories about Alexander Hamilton being a monarchist, even though he didn’t believe in it and openly said so.
Hamilton, an avid reader, would constantly try to imitate Great Britain in its methods of taxation, having a centralized bank, and developing a strong manufacturing base.
“America should imitate British methods and exploit the power of borrowing. A national debt, if it is not excessive, will be to us a national blessing. It will be powerful cement of our union,” Hamilton said, as quoted by historian Ron Chernow.
During Hamilton’s early to mid-20s he drew up a 12-point proposal to financially strengthen the colonies and create a unified bank that was 50% owned by government and 50% by private citizens, basing the idea off the Bank of England.
His knowledge of finance and economics was useful even in war.
“America, he argued, did not need to triumph decisively over the heavily taxed British: a war of attrition that eroded British credit would nicely do the trick. All the patriots had to do was plant doubts among Britain’s creditors about the war’s outcome,” Chernow wrote, adding: “America could defeat the British in the bond market more readily than than on the battlefield.”
Years later, Hamilton would have more foresight than Thomas Jefferson when watching the French Revolution from afar. Jefferson openly cheered virtually any revolution, whereas Hamilton, Washington, and John Adams feared this was not the same type of revolution.
Hamilton often struggled often between the tension between despotism and anarchy: too much power versus too little. He understood and appreciated the importance of freedom, but he knew the dangers of mob rule and that tyranny could come just as much from the masses as it could from a single despot or king.
This is a good reminder for us today, as we often treat voting as something that every adult should do. On the contrary, Hamilton and Madison the Federalist No. 55, Hamilton or James Madison wrote: “In all very numerous assemblies, of whatever characters composed, passion never fails to wrest the sceptre from reason. Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates; every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob.”
In other words, if voting is too easy, then a despot or narcissist good at propaganda can easily sway the people.
“Real liberty is not found in the extremes of democracy,” Alexander Hamilton wrote.
Hamilton had a more nuanced approach than the more populist Jefferson. Hamilton obviously wanted freedom from England, but he borrowed from their ideas on banking, trade, government, and manufacturing. Chernow states that Hamilton used England’s ideas to defeat England. Others such as Madison and Jefferson viewed any idea that looked favorably on England as suspicious and almost treasonous.
Like many of the other founding fathers, Hamilton is a complicated and at times paradoxical character. He warned against Jefferson’s disdain for religion, although Hamilton himself was not overly religious nor attended church regularly.
He made a profession of accepting Christ on his deathbed after being shot in the infamous dual with Vice President Aaron Burr.
He worked hard, had a large family with his wife Eliza, even though he did get involved in one affair. After the affair, he moved on and seemed to remain faithful for the rest of his life.
His wife Eliza was much more of an ardent Christian, and she later co-founded an orphanage after her husband’s death.
The popular play Hamilton is based off Ron Chernow’s biography of Hamilton. However, as good as the play is, this is another instance in which the book is better.