Happy birthday to “The Bastard Brat of a Scotch Pedlar”

On this day, in 1755, Alexander Hamilton was born in the British West Indies. Happy birthday to one of the most compelling (to me anyway) founding fathers that we have. He was illegitimate (or – as John Adams called him: “the bastard brat of a Scotch pedlar”)- his illegitimacy was a stain on his birth he strove to wipe away for the rest of his short life.

hamilton1.jpg

Hamilton:

Take mankind in general, they are vicious – their passions may be operated upon. Take mankind as they are, and what are they governed by? Their passions. There may be in every government a few choice spirits, who may act from more worthy motives [but] one great error is that we suppose mankind more honest than they are. Our prevailing passions are ambition and interest. Wise government should avail itself of those passions, to make them subservient to the public good.

Hamilton’s also the one who said, at the end of his 6-hour long speech at the Constitutional Convention: “Decision is true wisdom.” This is part of the reason why he is one of the most important members of that founding generation – but it is also the reason that people found him terrifying. Abigail Adams warned her husband, “That man is another Bonaparte.”

There is a contradictory dynamic within him that I find so compelling.

I love the guy. What can I say. I fantasize about him. He’s on my geeky historical freebie list, as well as on my: “People From The Past I would Like To Have At My Perfect Dinner Party” list.

Also. He’s a bit hot.


alexander.jpeg

Here’s a big post I wrote a while back about one of my pet obsessions: the election of 1800. Some awesome information there about this man. Nobody was neutral about him. He was a polarizing kind of guy from the start.

hamilton2.jpg

Last year, the New York Historical Society had a massive Alexander Hamilton exhibit and Bill McCabe and I went – it was so so terrific. It was one of those events in New York when I was so excited to see all of it that I actually felt a bit nervous. You know what really got me? His DESK. I love actual objects … the stuff historical figures actually touched, used … He sat at that desk …Here’s a re-cap of our trip to the museum. Bill said something funny like, “I think this might be the first time I’ve gone to an exhibit like this where I’m with someone who knows MORE than I do about the topic.” Hahahaha. History geeks – unite!!

hamilton3.jpg

The following is a letter the 17-year-old Alexander Hamilton wrote to his father, describing the hurricane that hit St. Croix on August 31, 1772 – one of the worst in the recorded history of the island. A couple of days later, Hamilton showed a copy of this letter to Reverend Knox (a very important person in the story of Alexander Hamilton – a real father figure to the boy.) Knox was so impressed with the prose that he arranged to have it published in the “Gazette”. The letter was so well-received that Knox set the wheels in motion to send Hamilton to the colonies, so that he could get a college-level education. This move changed Hamilton’s life. Here is the letter. It’s riveting:

It began at dusk, at North, and raged very violently ’till ten o’clock. Then ensued a sudden and unexpected interval, which lasted about an hour. Meanwhile the wind was shifting ’round to the southwest … it returned with redoubled fury and continued so ’till near three o’clock in the morning. Good God! What horror and destruction. It’s impossible for me to describe or you to form any idea of it. It seemed as if a total dissolution of nature was taking place. The roaring of the sea and wind, fiery meteors flying about it in the air, the prodigious glare of almost perpetual lightning, the crash of the falling houses, and the ear-piercing shrieks of the distressed were sufficient to strike astonishment into angels.

A great part of the buildings throughout the island are leveled to the ground, almost all the rest very much shattered, several persons killed and numbers utterly ruined, whole families running about the streets unknowing where to find a place of shelter; the sick exposed to the keenness of the water and air without a bed to lie upon or a dry covering to their bodies; and our harbors entirely bare. In a word, misery, in all its hideous shapes, spread over the whole face of the country …

As to my reflections and feelings on this frightful and melancholy ocassion …

Where now, oh! vile worm, is all thy boasted fortitude and resolution? What is become of thine arrogance and self-sufficiency? Why dost thou tremble and stand aghast? How humble, how helpless, how contemptible you now appear. And for why? The jarring of elements — the discord of clouds? Oh! impotent presumptuous fool! Death comes rushing on in triumph, veiled in a mantle of tenfold darkness … On his right hand sits destruction, hurling the winds and belching forth flames: calamity on his left threatening famine, disease and distress of all kinds. And oh! thou wretch, look still a little further. See the gulf of eternal misery open. There mayest thou shortly plunge — the just reward of thy vileness. Alas! whither canst thou fly? Where hide thyself?

Uhm … I look at my Diary Friday entries – written when I was 17 … and … er … I hide my head in shame.

Hamilton, “stuck” in a clerking job in nowheresville-St. Croix, was 16 years old, and although he had a lot of responsibility as a shipping clerk, (a LOT of responsibility, he basically ran the joint) – he wanted to get things moving for himself. He wanted attention. He started to submit some of his poems to the “Gazette”. He (as he did throughout his life) lied about his age, saying he was 17. When he was a kid he always said he was older, and when he was a man he always lopped a few years off his age (to make it seem like he was even MORE of a prodigy). Anyway, he sent these randy erotic poems to the newspaper, and they were published under the name “A.H.” Both of the poems will show that the kid was wise beyond his years, on multiple levels. The poems made a sensation. Hamilton loved being “notorious”.

Here’s the first one:

In yonder mead my love I found
Beside a murm’ring brook reclin’d:
Her pretty lambkins dancing ’round
Secure in harmless bliss.
I bade the waters gently glide
And vainly hushed the heedless wind,
Then, softly kneeling by her side
I stole a silent kiss.

And here’s the second one, even more explicit and sexy.

Coelia’s an artful little slut;
Be fond, she’ll kiss, et cetera — but
She must have all her will;
For, do but rub her ‘gainst the grain
Behold a storm, blow winds and rain,
Go bid the waves be still.

Very good erotic advice, AH, very good. I love the “et cetera”. It says it all.

There is also that famous quote from a letter he wrote to his dear friend – who had already moved up to America, I believe – and Alexander wrote to him of his boredom, his feeling that he was stuck, his ambition.

I’m confident, Ned, that though my youth excludes me from any hopes of immediate preferment, nor do I desire it, but I mean to prepare the way for my futurity. I’m no philosopher, you see, and may be justly said to build castles in the air. My folly makes me ashamed and [I] beg you’ll conceal it yet, Neddy, we have seen such schemes successful when the projector is constant. I shall conclude by saying, I wish there was a war.

“I wish there was a war”.

He knew the advancement that war would bring (and indeed, it DID bring, eventually.)

AHamilton.jpg

The following is from Hamiton’s 1774 pamphlet “The Farmer Refuted” – his first piece of Revolutionary writing.

The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for among old parchments … They are written, as with a sunbeam, in the whole volume of human nature by the hand of Divinity itself.

The man was not yet 20 years old when he wrote that. There’s a genius there – not just of sentiment but of expression. It has a Jeffersonian ring to it (although Jefferson would hate me for sayiing that.)

Hamilton’s wrote “The Farmer Refuted” – while he was still a student at King’s College (a loyalist college) – and yet getting swept away by revolutionary politics. He was surrounded by redcoats, surrounded by pro-British students … and yet slowly he became convinced that the rebellious colonies were in the right. He wrote pamphlets under pseudonyms – “The Farmer Refuted” made a sensation. In it, he borrows from Locke’s 2nd Treatise (as all “those guys” did). He was far ahead of many of the other Founding Fathers, in terms of becoming radicalized. The guys in Massachusetts were obviously radical, and ready for war … many of the other colonies were more reticent. Hamilton foresaw the tumultuous year of 1776, and his prose reflects that.

In the former state [freedom], a man is governed by the laws to which he has given his consent, either in person or by his representative: in the latter [slavery], he is governed by the will of another. In the one case, his life and property are his own; in the other, they depend upon the pleasure of a master … The foundation of the English consitution rests upon this principle, that no laws have any validity or binding force without the consent and approbation of the people, given in the persons of their representatives, periodically elected by themselves.

It is often surmised that because Hamilton was, essentially, an immigrant – he did not have that whole “I am loyal to my STATE” thing that all of the other founding fathers had. Jefferson referred to Virginia as “my country”. Hamilton, if anything, felt loyal to New York – because it was King’s College that opened its doors to him – but he wasn’t from there. He didn’t have a state loyalty. He was loyal to the idea of a united nation. He was way ahead of the curve. He already was an American.

Hamilton’s war against Congress lasted pretty much his entire life. It began during the Revolutionary War, and he fired off letter after letter to officials and politicians, criticizing Congress’ mishandling of the Army. He wrote a letter (one of many) to George Clinton about Congress (excerpt quoted below – Hamilton is only 23 years old here) – This letter launched his war. It was always a war to him. A war of words.

Folly, caprice, a want of foresight, comprehension and dignity characterize the general tenor of their actions. Of this, I dare say, you are sensible, though you have not, perhaps, so many opportunities of knowing it as I have. Their conduct with respect to the army especially is feeble, indecisive and improvident. We are reduced to a more terrible situation than you can conceive …

At this very day there are complaints from the whole line of three or four days without provisions. Desertions have been immense and strong features of mutiny begin to show themselves … If effectual measures are not speedily adopted, I know not how we shall keep the army together. I omit saying anything of the want of clothing.

American once had a representation [in Congress] that would do honor to any age or nation. The present falling off is very alarming and dangerous. What is the cause? How is it to be remedied? The great men who composed our first council — are they dead, have they deserted the cause, or what has become of them? Very few are dead and still fewer have deserted the cause … They are either in the field or in the offices of the respective states. The only remedy is to return them to the place where their presence is infinitely more important.

A strong chord struck here – a harbinger of things to come: The states needed to give back their power and submit to a strong central government. The states needed to stop thinking of themselves as Virginians, Rhode Islanders, what-have-you. They needed to start thinking of themselves as Americans.

Hamilton was strongly in favor of arming the slaves against the British. As you probably know, Hamilton was very much against slavery, and many of his comments about prejudice are way ahead of his time. For example, he was saying in the mid-1770s: Perhaps it is not that the black population is not as smart, or not able to handle freedom — Perhaps that is just what happens to a man when you do not allow him freedom or education. If you free blacks and educate them, then there is no reason that they should not succeed. Etc. This is all self-evident to us now, obviously, but back then? Not so much. Anyway, here is an excerpt from a letter Hamilton wrote to John Jay in 1779, recommending that they arm the slaves against the British.

I have not the least doubt that the Negroes will make very excellent soldiers with proper management. I frequently hear it objected to the scheme of embodying Negroes that they are too stupid to make soldiers. This is so far from appearing to me a valid objection that I think their want of cultivation (for their natural facilities are probably as good as ours) joined to that habit of subordination which they acquire from a life of servitude, will make them sooner become soldiers than our white inhabitants. Let officers be men of sense and sentiment and the nearer the soldiers approach to machines, the better.

The contempt we have been taught to entertain for the blacks makes us fancy many things that are founded neither in reason nor experience. An unwillingness to part with property of so valuable a kind will furnish a thousand arguments to show the impracticability or pernicious tendency of a scheme which requires such a sacrifice. But if we do not make use of the slaves in this way, the enemy probably will. The best way to counteract the temptations they will hold out will be to offer them ourselves. An essential part of the plan is to give them their freedom with their muskets. This will secure their fidelity, animate their courage, and, I believe, will have a good influence upon those who remain [enslaved] by opening a door to their emancipation. This cirucumstance, I confess, has no small weight in inducing me to wish the success of the project, for the dictates of humanity and true policy equally interest me in favor of this unfortunate class of men.

So much to discuss there. So much revealed. He feels bad for them. But listen to that language: “The contempt that we have been taught” … To realize that the contempt is not justified – that it has been taught – is so far and away beyond what most of his contemporaries felt, even the ones tormented by the fact of slavery. Hamilton goes much farther. He recognizes their natural abilities. And yet – and this is important, in terms of understanding who this man was: he would not give up his practical concerns. He is saying: if we don’t arm the slaves, the British certainly will. Kind of Schindler-esque, if you know what I mean. But his compassion for “this unfortunate class of men” was not just opportunistic, as his behavior later in his life shows.

This is from a letter Alexander Hamilton wrote in 1780.

No wise statesman will reject the good from an apprehension of the ill. The truth is, in human affairs, there is no good, pure and unmixed. Every advantage has two sides, and wisdom consists in availing ourselves of the good and guarding as much as possible against the bad…

A national debt, if it is not excessive, will be to us a national blessing. It will be powerful cement of our union. It will also create a necessity for keeping up taxation to such a degree which, without being oppressive, will be a spur to industry.

“A national debt, if it is not excessive, will be to us a national blessing.” Ah. They are just words. But they went over like a BOMB exploding through the colonies. WHAT IS HE SAYING? WHAT IS HE TALKING ABOUT? IS HE THE DEVIL? hahahaha

Alexander Hamilton made a SIX HOUR speech at the Constitutional Convention … People scrawled down notes of it, because he spoke without notes (except when he laid out his plan for the Government), so whatever we have of that speech is from those notes. How I wish I had been in that room. It was a rousing call to a strong central government, a rousing call for the states to give up their power and their identities – to submerge themselves into America. This obviously did not go over well in some quarters. Another delegate to the Congress described Hamilton as “praised by everybody but supported by none”. Anyway, here are some excerpts from his 6-hour speech in Philadlelphia, 1787.

All the passion we see, of avarice, ambition, interest, which govern most individuals and all public bodies, fall into the current of the states and do not flow into the stream of the general national government … How then are all these evils to be avoided? Only by such a complete sovereignty in the general government as will turn all the strong principles and passions to its side.

In the context of the time, it is not surprising at all that people hated Hamilton, and thought he spoke treasonously. They had just thrown OFF the yoke of a monarch who had “complete sovereignty” … and now Hamilton wanted to put the yoke on again?? This was heresy to this brand new nation.

More:

In every community where industry is encouraged, there will be a division of it into the few and the many. Hence, separate interests will arise. There will be debtors and creditors. Give all power to the many, they will oppress the few. Give all power to the few, they will oppress the many. Both, therefore, ought to have power, that each may defend itself against the other.

Hamilton read aloud from his notes – and what HE proposed as the set-up for the national government is basically what we have to this day (except for the “executive for life” thing.)

I think he went way too far out on some of his ideas – the world was not yet ready for Alexander Hamilton – but that was his role, historically. I see him in that context. You always need someone like that – someone to be imaginative, bold, to push the boundaries OUT. It reminds me of that great EM Forster quote: “Don’t start with proportion. Only prigs do that.” I believe in my heart that Hamilton was the most far-seeing of all of our founding fathers. He saw the world we live in now. I don’t know how he did, but he did. They all still lived in an agrarian society, where land was power and prestige. Jefferson couldn’t really imagine any other kind of world. Hamilton did and could imagine it. He saw ahead to the industrial revolution. He knew our society’s set-up would change drastically … and he wanted the economy to be flexible enough to deal with those changes. Most of the commentary at the time from his contemporaries (all brilliant men in their own right) is all along the lines of: “Alexander Hamilton is frightening.” “Hamilton is dangerous and must be stopped.” Etc.

I think he was way ahead of his time, almost as though he had dropped in from the future – and people like that always meet resistance.

Here’s an excerpt from Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton:

Few figures in American history aroused such visceral love or loathing as Alexander Hamilton/ To this day, he seems trapped in a crude historical cartoon that pits “Jeffersonian democracy” against “Hamiltonian aristocracy.” For Jefferson and his followers, wedded to their vision of an agrarian Eden, Hamilton was the American Mephistopheles, the proponent of such devilish contrivances as banks, factories, and stock exchanges. They demonized him as a slavish pawn of the British Crown, a closet monarchist, a Machiavellian intriguer, a would-be Caesar. Noah Webster contended that Hamilton’s “ambition, pride, and overbearing temper” had destined him “to be the evil genius of this country.” Hamilton’s powerful vision of American nationalism, with states subordinate to a strong central government and led by a vigorous executive branch, aroused fears of a reversion to royal British ways. His seeming solicitude for the rich caused critics to portray him as a snobbish tool of plutocrats who was contemptuous of the masses. For another group of naysayers, Hamilton’s unswerving faith in a professional military converted him into a potential despot. “From the first to the last words he wrote,” concluded historian Henry Adams, “I read always the same Napoleonic kind of adventuredom.” Even some Hamilton admirers have been unsettled by a faint tincture of something foreign in this West Indian transplant; Woodrow Wilson grudgingly praised Hamilton as “a very great man, ut not a great American.”
Yet many distinguished commentators have echoed Eliza Hamilton’s lament that justice has not been done to her Hamilton/ He has tended to lack the glittering multivolumed biographies that have burnished the fame of other founders. The British statesman Lord Bryce singled out Hamilton as the one founding father who had not received his due from posterity. In The American Commonwealth, he observed, “One cannot note the disappearance of this brilliant figure, to Europeans the most interesting in the early history of the Republic, without the remark that his countrymen seem to have never, either in his lifetime or afterwards, duly recognized is splendid gifts.” During the robust era of Progressive Republicanism, marked by brawny nationalism and energetic government, Theodore Roosevelt took up the cudgels and declared Hamilton “the most brilliant American statesman who ever lived, possessing the loftiest and keenest intellect of his time.” His White House successor, William Howard Taft, likewise embracedf Hamilton as “our greatest constructive statesman.” In all probability, Alexander Hamilton is the foremost political figure in American history who never attained the presidency, yet he probably had a much deeper and more lasting impact than many who did.

Hamilton was the supreme double threat among the founding fathers, at once thinker and doer, sparkling theoretician and masterful executive. He and James Madison were the prime movers behind the summoning of the Constitutional Convention and the chief authors of that classic gloss on the national charter, The Federalist, which Hamilton supervised. As the first treasury secretary and principal architect of the new government, Hamilton took constitutional principles and infused them with expansive life, turning abstractions into institutional realities. He had a pragmatic mind that minted comprehensive programs. In contriving the smoothly running machinery of a modern nation-state – including a budget system, a funded debt, a tax system, a central bank, a customs service, and a coast guard – and justifying them in some of America’s most influential state papers, he set a high-water mark for administrative competence that has never been equaled. If Jefferson provided the essential poetry of American political discourse, Hamilton established the prose of American statecraft. No other founder articulated such a clear and prescient vision of America’s future political, military, and economic strength or crafted such ingenious mechanisms to bind the nationa together.

Hamilton’s crowded years as treasury secretary scarcely exhaust the epic story of his short life, which was stuffed with high drama. From his illegitimate birth on Nevis to his bloody downfall in Weehawken, Hamilton’s life was so tumultuous that only an audacious novelist could have dreamed it up. He embodied an enduring archetype: the obscure immigrant who comes to America, re-creates himself, and succeeds despite a lack of proper birth and breeding. The saga of his metamorphosis from an anguished clerk on St. Croix to the reigning presence in George Washington’s cabinet offers both a gripping personal story and a panoramic view of the formative years of the republic. Except for Washington, nobody stood closer to the center of American politics from 1776 to 1800 or cropped up at more turning points. More than anyone else, the omnipresent Hamilton galvanized, inspired, and scandalized the newborn nation, serving as the flash point for pent-up conflicts of class, geography, race, religion, and ideology. His contemporaries often seemed defined by how they reacted to the political gauntlets that he threw down repeatedly with such defiant panache.

Hamilton was an exuberant genius who performed at a fiendish pace and must have produced the maximum number of words that a human being can scratch out in forty-nine years. If promiscuous with his political opinions, however, he was famously reticent about his private life, especially his squalid Caribbean boyhood. No other founder had to grapple with such shame and misery, and his early years have remained wrapped in more mystery than those of any other major American statesman. While not scanting his vibrant intellectual life, I have tried to gather anecdotal material that will bring this cerebral man to life as both a public and a private figure. Charming and impetuous, romantic and witty, dashing and headstrong, Hamilton offers the biographer an irresistible psychological study. For all his superlative mental gifts, he was afflicted with a touchy ego that made him querulous and fatally combative. He never outgrew the stigma of his illegitimacy, and his exquisite tact often gave way to egregious failures of judgment that left even his keenest admirers aghast. If capable of numerous close friendships, he also entered into titanic feuds with Jefferson, Madison, Adams, Monroe, and Burr.

The magnitude of Hamilton’s feats as treasury secretary has overshadowed many other facets of his life: clerk, college student, youthful poet, essayist, artillery captain, wartime adjutant to Washington, battlefield hero, congressman, abolitionist, Bank of New York founder, state assemblyman, member of the Constitutional Convention and New York Ratifying Convention, orator, lawyer, polemicist, educator, patron saint of the New York Evening Post, foreign-policy theorist, and major general in the army. Boldly uncompromising, he served as catalyst for the emergence of the first political parties and as the intellectual fountainhead for one of them, the Federalists. He was a pivotal force in four consecutive presidential elections and defined much of America’s political agenda during the Washington and Adams administrations, leaving copious commentary on virtually every salient issue of the day.

I have been studying Alexander Hamilton for 4 years now? Something like that? And he never ceases to surprise me. I am never “over” him. What an extraordinary man.

hamilton6.gif

Here is the ringing first paragraph of Federalist 1, written by Alexander Hamilton, published on October 27, 1787, in the “New York Independent Journal” – the first of 85 essays (written by Alexander Hamilton mostly, but James Madison wrote Federalist 10 – maybe the most famous of all of them, and John Jay contributed 5 essays). The purpose of this onslaught was to put the case for the Constitution before the New York public for its review. Here is the first paragraph of the first essay:

After a full experience of the insufficiency of the existing federal government, you are invited to deliberate upon a new Constitution for the United States of America. The subject speaks its own importance, comprehending in its consequences nothing less than the existence of the UNION, the safety and welfare of the parts of which it is composed, the fate of an empire in many respects the most interesting in the world.

Uhm, yeah. That prose would have gotten MY attention – as I scanned the “For Sale” ads for ladies hats and buggy whips surrounding it.

ahamilton.gif

Alexander Hamilton, as Secretary of Treasury, put forth a monumental report to Congress calling for a national bank. He wanted it to be run by private citizens, and not the government. The bank had the power to issue paper money – the federal government should not have that power. Hamilton opposed the government running the printing presses to produce money. He wanted it to be separate, entirely. A quote from his report:

The wisdom of the government will be shown in never trusting itself with the use of so seducing and dangerous and expedient.

Brilliant.

hamilton7.jpg

The following anecdote (and quote) is pretty much why people were terrified of Alexander Hamilton, and felt that he should be stopped. To give you the proper context: he was answering criticism from his former Federalist Paper collaborator James Madison that this proposed Bank of America was un-constitutional. Hamilton had asked for a federal charter for the bank, Madison said there was nothing in the Constitution saying that the government should fund corporations. Hamilton pointed out that the last article of the Constitution – the one about Congress being able to make “all laws which shall be necessary and proper” – He said that that article was sufficient evidence that a charter would be constitutional.

BUT – the way Hamilton summed it all up was not calculated to assuage his enemies who feared his lust for power. He wrote:

Wherever the end is required, the means are authorized.

Gotcha, Machiavelli. Thanks for sharing. Then he went on:

If the end be clearly comprehended within any of the specified powers, and if the measure have an obvious relation to that end, and is not forbidden by any particular provision of the Constitution, it may safely be deemed to come within the compass of the national authority.

Fascinating – the story of the turbulent national debate about Hamilton’s financial plan for the country is amazing. I’ve read about it from all sides: Hamilton’s side, of course – but then John Adams’ analysis of it, his letters to his wife, Jefferson’s side of it, Washington’s side of it … – If you don’t know all the ins and outs of this debate, I highly recommend you go back and check it out, read a biography of Hamilton, read his financial essays … Truly an incredible time in our nation’s history.

And about that duel.

Joseph Ellis, in his wonderful book Founding Brothers, opens the book with the story of the duel between Hamilton and Aaron Burr on the riverside plain of Weehawken. (Ahem. I live down the street from the spot where the duel took place. When I take a run, I run right by the memorial. Life is awesome. There’s an Alexander Hamilton Park right down the street from me. Love that.) Ellis approaches the duel with a forensic eye – there is still a mystery at the heart of what happened on that day.

hamilton4.jpg

Joseph Ellis closes his chapter on The Duel with these words – and I’ll let these words close this post:

Oliver Wendell Holmes once observed that “a great man represents a strategic point in the campaign of history, and part of his greatness consists of his being there.” Both Burr and Hamilton thought of themselves as great men who happened to come of age at one of those strategic points in the campaign of history called the American revolutionary era. By the summer of 1804, history had pretty much passed them by. Burr had alienated Jefferson and the triumphant Republican party by his disloyalty as a vice president and had lost by a landslide in his bid to become a Federalist governor of New York. Hamilton had not held national office for nine years and the Federalist cause he had championed was well on its way to oblivion. Even in his home state of New York, the Federalists were, as John Quincy Adams put it, “a minority, and of that minority, only a minority were admirers and partisans of Mr. Hamilton.” Neither man had much of a political future.

But by being there beneath the plains of Weehawken for their interview, they managed to make a dramatic final statement about the time of their time. Honor mattered because character mattered. And character mattered because the fate of the American experiment with republican government still required virtuous leaders to survive. Eventually, the United States might develop into a nation of laws and established institutions capable of surviving corrupt or incompetent public officials. But it was not there yet. It still required honorable and virtuous leaders to endure. Both Burr and Hamilton came to the interview because they wished to be regarded as part of such company.

Another famous quote from Hamilton, eerie in light of how he died. This is from a letter to his good friend John Laurens (a fascinating gentleman in his own right). Hamilton wrote this in 1779:

I am disgusted with everything in this world but yourself and very few more honest fellows and I have no other wish than, as soon as possible, to make a brilliant exit.

This entry was posted in Founding Fathers, On This Day and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Happy birthday to “The Bastard Brat of a Scotch Pedlar”

  1. Another Sheila says:

    He really is kind of hot.

  2. Cullen says:

    One of my heroes, as you know. I love the passionate way you write about. Thanks for the piece, Sheila.

  3. red says:

    cullen – you are most most welcome. I love hangin’ out (in an Internet way) with Hamilton fanatics. It’s a good group. :)

  4. Graffiti says:

    Its not his fault that his biological parents didn’t take more caution.
    Like he wasn’t there directing traffic!!!

    Graffiti

  5. red says:

    Grafitti – huh? Nobody said it was his fault.

    He was tormented by shame – it was a stain upon his life, he felt – but that was a common feeling of the time.

  6. alli says:

    I had no idea your dead boyfriend was that dirty. Wow. Hahaha.

    I recently got a copy of the Federalist Papers (I’ve never read them in their entirety before, snippets yes, but never all of them) and I’m completely in awe of how articulate these men were.

    It actually makes me feel almost sad that they spoke so richly and clearly when people my age are talkin’ like this: u no? omg.

    Anyway, this was fascinating, Sheila. Awesome post.

  7. red says:

    Alli – I can totally see hamilton being up on the new technology if it were around at the time. He was no traditionalist.

    He’d be IMing Washington from the battlefield about what supplies they needed, or just to say: “omg guns r loud!!!!!!”

    He’d be text messaging his wife Betsy from Independence Hall, saying, ‘i heart u!’

    He’d be taunting Burr via email, ending with “lol” just to throw him off.

  8. Ken says:

    dear aaron

    u r pwn3d

    j/k :-) lol

    ah

  9. red says:

    Ken – I am guffawing.

    This could be a fun game.

  10. alli says:

    Guffaw. Ken! I can’t type for lauting. hahaha.

  11. red says:

    I think my favorite part is the “j/k”

    hahahahaha

  12. Mark says:

    That picture after “He’s a bit hot” is great; I don’t think I’ve ever seen it before. He looks like a total playa with that one arched eyebrow. “Hamilton. Alexander Hamilton” Ba-dap ba-DAH ba-dah-dah!

    Based on that picture alone, you might have some competition for his affections, were I gay and insane.

  13. red says:

    It’s an alternative-lifestyles Dr. Seuss story.

    Oh, the places I’d go, were I gay and insane!

  14. ricki says:

    shaking with laughter at Ken’s IM.

    (That said…I kinda think I prefer the style of language used in the Revolutionary era to IM-speak.)

  15. red says:

    ricki –

    why am I not surprised.

    lol

  16. red says:

    j/k ricki.

    j/k!!!!

    Of course I prefer their articulate language as well. I’m just busting your chops.

    You’re still my BFF.

    :-)

  17. Ken says:

    dear aaron

    brrr for ny gov?????

    NOT!!!!11!!!!!

    j/k lol

    don’t b h8ing :-)

    alX

  18. red says:

    don’t b h8ing :-)

    I can’t stop laughing at the image of Hamilton writing this!!!

  19. alli says:

    I can’t get the image of them standing in their formal uniforms on the battlefield, iming stuff like that. hahaha

  20. Nightfly says:

    Yo Hammy –
    U R teh suck. I made VP.
    -Burr

    A-Ron –
    get rl; ur hellaweak. I’m so money I’m ON money.
    -alX

  21. red says:

    i’m freakin dying …. the joke has not gotten old for me

    U R teh suck

    hahahahahaha

  22. Clare Dedlock says:

    he is hot. have you seen him on the new (2006) $10 bill? smokin’!

    i want to do a new york alexander hamilton tour. did you know that new york was going to be named hamiltonia at one point (or at least it was proposed after he returned from representing NY at the convention.)

    i love him.

  23. RJ says:

    I’d love to visit the duel site. Can you make a recommendation? I’ll be in NYC Feb 10-15th. I know this is short notice but I sure would appreciate if you had some insite. I think Alexander Hamiliton is one of our greatest American heros. I am fasinated by his biography!

    Thank you….and great job on the website!

    RJ

  24. red says:

    RJ – Hi! Glad you enjoy!

    The actual duel site is now buried under condos and stuff like that – but if you want to go see a little memorial in the vague area where it went on – then you need to come to Weehawken NJ (right across the river).

    On Boulevard East – which is a spectacular stretch of road along the cliffs with the entire panorama of Manhattan to your right – iw where you can find the memorial to the duel. if you Google it – you should find an exact marking of it. The statue is at the SOUTH end of Boulevard East – right where it stops. It’s just a bust of Hamilton, and a little plaque and a platform – but it’s a nice spot.

    Enjoy your trip here!