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July 23, 2007

Alexander Hamilton, American

Richard Brookhiser – ISBN – 9780684839196

This book is a stunning achievement. In little more than 200 pages Brookhiser chronicles the life and contributions of Hamilton, ranking him amongst the most important of the founding fathers. Oft overlooked and unappreciated, the author undertakes to correct that, and does it very well.

More than any of his contemporaries Hamilton was responsible for the emergence of the country as the most important economic and military power on the globe. As well, he contributed to the abolition of slavery. Without a doubt his life’s contributions would have been greater had he not been killed in a duel, and perhaps his reputation and contributions would have been better recognized.

In recent years a number of biographies have been written. I believe this to be one of the best because it is succinct, well drawn, and complete with interpretations which help the reader to know and appreciate Hamilton.

His greatness was much related to the plainness of his ideation. He was, of course, brilliant. “Madison’s thoughts at their best [were] brilliant constructs. Jefferson’s [were] visions.” Madison was a well schooled man, Jefferson an autodidact. “Hamilton was driven by problems. Madison by theories.” Both were dazzling politicians and orators.

One of the better sections of the monograph is Brookhiser’s discussion of Hamilton’s brilliance exhibited in the founding of America’s first bank as well as the thoughtful construction managing the Revolutionary War’s debts. Functioning as the first Secretary of the Treasury these were his most important contributions.

Hamilton was adamant about honor (which is what got him killed), and of honoring debt fully. He almost single-handedly created modern entrepreneurial capitalism, though it was not then known as such. Being creative himself he recognized that in a community of individuals it was proper, possible and appropriate for each individual to find his element, and to “call into activity the whole vigor of his nature.” No one need necessarily be plugged into a trade or activity he loathed, or for which he was unsuited. Options were encouraged.

Though having grown up in one of the world’s most beautiful spots (the Island of Nevus in the Caribbean), Hamilton was surrounded by abject poverty. This caused him to seriously consider alternative approaches to prosperity. Having raised himself from poverty he never forgot that economies are about the people who work in them. Being the spawn of a ne’er do well he recognized that men were shaped by their environment and could easily drift into obscurity and mediocrity. This promulgated his thoughts about labor and industry which were more dynamic, detailed and creative.

His misgivings about the French Revolution are explored, along with his activities in our own revolution; especially interesting is how they demonstrate his character development. Principally, he was a successful lawyer who argued many important cases. Many helped shape the laws in this country. In these endeavors he was anything but moderate. He worked at being an American, and better defined what he thought that to be than many others, and throughout his life he remained an idealist.

Three cheers and twenty-one guns for Alex. I encourage you to read this rewarding and brief bio.

Posted by respeto at July 23, 2007 1:07 PM