I love to read non-fiction books, particularly biographies of historical figures.
As someone who typically responds to requests for gift ideas at holidays with “Don’t get me anything,” in a family where some view gift giving as competitive sport, non-fiction biographies are a safe bet.
This Christmas, I was blessed to receive “Alexander Hamilton,” by Ron Chernow, the New York Times best seller that inspired the Broadway musical by the same name.
How does the life of a historical political figure from the 1700s rank a Broadway musical. Seems a bit bizarre to me. But upon further review, the magnitude of this man’s accomplishments and contributions to the American way speak volumes. Still, a Broadway musical? Hmm.
This is a lot of book, some 800 pages of small print, single-spaced. I’m just past page 400, and now grasp the historical significance of this Hamilton fellow like never before. He, perhaps as much as anybody in history, is responsible for the formulation of our American system of economics and constitutional government.
Interesting stuff, considering:
He was born in the West Indies, an illegitimate child born into poverty, and subsequently orphaned by disinterested parentage.
Somehow, he managed as a child through hard work and guile to capture the imagination and admiration of a merchant the he worked for in his youth, who sponsored his relocation to North America to further his studies.
As a teenager, he settled in New York in the early 1770s, where he studied law, and worked in commerce.
In his early 20’s, he became an officer in the Continental army in the Revolutionary war, which broke out later that decade, and was tapped by General George Washington, who came to be something of a father figure to him, as his chief adviser, confidante, ghost writer and right-hand man.
After the Revolutionary War was won, he became a successful and high-profile lawyer in New York City, and he came to be one of the leaders in the push for a reorganization of the American system of government, after 10 years of free fall under the lose-knit Articles of Confederation.
As a high-profile political leader and statesman, he was one of the motivating forces behind the Constitutional Convention, of which he was a prime player and participant, leading the formulation of ideas and philosophies that ultimately resulted in the very Constitution that provides the framework of our federal government to this day.
After the Constitution was ratified and adopted, and Revolutionary War hero George Washington was selected as our first president, essentially by acclimation, he named Hamilton to his first cabinet, as treasury secretary.
As the first treasury secretary, Hamilton immersed himself in the business of establishing our federal system of banking, currency, commerce, taxation, and manufacturing. In the process, he wrote volumes and volumes of scholarly works about constitutional government, economics, and international trade. With Washington’s support, numerous of his ideas became enacted into law, the historical immensity of which still resonates in our world today.
Along the way, Hamilton’s outspoken and brash manner not only enhanced his influence and leadership, and endeared him to his mentor, George Washington, it also earned him great conflict with some who disagreed with him and appeared to be jealous his level of influence on policy issues, such as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, both of whom were renowned statesmen and leaders in their own right, who would each go on to serve as president of these United States, a role never attained by Hamilton.
And the vitriol of the political infighting among these parties would appear to rival the level of acrimony we see among our most partisan and bitter political gamesmanship of today.
Still, it is Hamilton’s mug that adorns the 10-dollar bill, putting him in the company of George Washington (one dollar bill), Abraham Lincoln (five dollar bill), Ulysses S. Grant (50-dollar bill) and Ben Franklin (100-dollar bill).
And from my reading so far, it is company in which he is truly worthy of belonging.
Ken Garten is a Blue Springs attorney. Email him at email@example.com.