He was slender and slight of build. Wrestling with childhood memories that would darken his mood for a lifetime. Rushing always to make a name for himself. A writer of volcanic ferocity. An autodidact. He was an immigrant. Strong evidence he was in love at one time with a man. We know him as nothing short of being the father of our national government.
If George Washington was the father of our country, and James Madison the father of the Constitution, then it is also true that Alexander Hamilton was the most important founding father in the creation of our strong central government.
After another year of shocking news and dispiriting politics from Washington (and Madison) this blog is taking a hopeful turn in this final post for 2018. And the reason for my hope comes from the pages of a book. Books, after all, are where many find their solace following the chaos and bombast that pours from the headlines, day after day.
For decades Hamilton has been my favorite founder. The reasons are many and over time they change in degree–such as now when his immigrant status underscores the folly of tarring those from another place as having no value to America. For the past weeks the tome that is Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton has been a daily conversation in this home. Famed historian Joseph Ellis said in an interview that his research and writings, which dig deep into the founding fathers, makes it seem that the men and their families are so ‘alive’ they might as well be living next door. That is how Chernow made it feel with his book which was published in 2004. Why I only read it this year says more about the number of books ‘on my pile’ than the subject or the writer. I honestly can not say enough about either one.
It was the tone of our politics and the elevation of stupidity on the national stage that put me on a three foot stepladder so to reach up on our bookshelves and pull Hamilton down this fall. I needed a tonic for our times. Hamilton was then what we so need now.
Hamilton was the most voluminous writer of those who put this nation on the map. While one wishes for even more of his inner personal feelings and reflections to have been offered–it is his massive outpourings about government that places him at the intellectual top among the founders. He was among the very first to know and advocate that the Articles of Confederation be scrapped and a whole new strong national government established. He traveled to Philadelphia to help make a country!
He grasped from the outset the need for a strong executive, deep concern about populism and passions, need for an independent judiciary, need for taxation, commerce, and trade. He was not only well suited for the times he lived but I argue very important for the institutional foundation that still guides our nation. Not only does the workings of the Treasury Department still beat with the rhythm given to it by Hamilton, but the Coast Guard serves centuries after he created it. When you read a news story about the New York Post know that, it too, was founded by Hamilton.
Too often in our times those who are smart are termed elitist. If they come from somewhere else (Hamilton from the British West Indies) they are undermined and not valued. If they provoke others into thinking outside the box (what can be more a test of that than forming a constitutional Republic?) they are called unpatriotic or some childlike epithets. If they promote strong effective government they are termed in other demeaning ways.
What we so lack in national leadership now was so much in evidence when Madison, Jefferson, Adams, and Hamilton were allowed to use their creative power. By looking backwards with books it blunts some of the current mess we now find ourselves. By looking at Hamilton it reminds us that nothing is impossible. No person should be viewed as not part of the national fabric. It is due to such diverse and unique people that has made our story so inspiring on the international stage.
It is that reminder that ends the 2018 blogging year.
With each book that is finished means another one will be opened. Following up on the Hamilton theme of desiring a strong Supreme Court comes the new book by Richard Brookhiser about John Marshall: The Man Who Made The Supreme Court. Marshall was also a huge admirer of Hamilton. That will be my first historical book for the opening days of 2019.
And that is when I will be back at this desk after the Holidays.
Until then Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!