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5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Aide to Washington Battles His Political Enemies, 20 July 2004
This review is from: Alexander Hamilton (Hardcover)
Alexander Hamilton was a man whom people either loved or hated while he lived. After he died, he received great accolades from almost everyone. As time passed, however, his political enemies circulated their false rumors about him with little opposition. As a result, he is the least well understood of the founding fathers of the American republic. If you read this book, you will find much to admire and much condemn about Hamilton . . . and will gain an enormous improvement in your understanding of the United States during the period from 1776 through 1804.
Alexander Hamilton was one of the first and most famous examples of living the American dream. He was born into poverty as an illegitimate child in the British West Indies. His intellect, drive and talent led others to encourage him to develop himself. Those factors led him to continue his studies in New York City at the predecessor to Columbia as the American Revolution began to break out. Hamilton quickly chose the side of the revolution and volunteered for military service. His talent soon brought him to the attention of George Washington who eventually elevated Hamilton to be his chief of staff. Throughout their mutual lives, Washington and Hamilton made an exceptional team. Washington knew how to lead and gain approval, and Hamilton knew how to get the dirty details done. Their collaboration continued throughout almost the whole Revolutionary War until Hamilton finally received permission to head up his own troops.
After the Revolution, Hamilton became one of the leading attorneys in New York. His ability to argue and write was remarkable, and he used that talent well in working with James Madison to author the Federalist Papers which were critical to the passage of the U.S. Constitution. He also threw himself into efforts to help passage of that critical document.
When Washington became the first president under the Constitution, Hamilton became his Treasury secretary. In that role, Hamilton set up the basic administrative structure for the government, including how it would be funded and secure a stable currency. Most of his innovations were continued by successor presidents . . . even those who attacked Hamilton's innovations (such as Jefferson and Madison).
Hamilton's brilliant position in influencing the direction of the new country began to come under a dark cloud first by his admitted adultery with a married woman and later by his political indiscretions after Washington retired from politics. President Adams and he were at each other's throats, and Jefferson despised Hamilton. From his enemies came repeated rumors that Hamilton was a thief, a crook and a traitor.
By the time Jefferson was elected president, Hamilton had little influence except to annoy Aaron Burr who tied with Jefferson in electoral votes.
Within four years, Vice President Burr and Hamilton would meet in a duel that led to Hamilton's death at 49. His wife would live on for many more decades to raise their large family and deal with weak financial circumstances.
Like Adams, Hamilton was a prodigious writer. Drawing on those writings, Mr. Ron Chernow does a thorough job of piecing together the details of Hamilton's life and examining the truth or falseness of the many accusations against him. Mr. Chernow also makes a considerable effort to put Hamilton into context among Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe and Burr. If you loved the recent biography of John Adams, you will be thrilled by this book because it will add to your perspective on Adams as well.
Mr. Chernow also does a fine job of pointing out what Hamilton and the others got right, what they made a mess of, and where they could have made improvements. It's a more candid view of the American Revolution than you have probably read before. I have never seen Jefferson portrayed in quite such a negative light before. Although Mr. Chernow sticks up for Hamilton, as most biographers do, I thought he was much more objective than I was accustomed to reading.
Although the book is about Hamilton, you cannot tell his story without telling the story of the American Revolution and the development of the Constitution. The book is excellent in both regards.
If you only read one biography about a founding father of the United States this year, I suggest that you make it Alexander Hamilton by Mr. Ron Chernow.
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Initial post: 20 Jan 2011 15:05:24 GMT
An Excellent book, an excellent review! Ron Chernow is a great biographer and I hope he tackles either Lafayette or Madison with his next endeavour.
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