"In fact, no immigrant in American history has ever made a larger contribution than Alexander Hamilton"
Alexander Hamilton was born in the Caribbean and immigrated to New York City as a young man in 1772. The illegitimate child of a Scottish Laird and a divorced woman, his father abandoned him early and his mother died young. After his arrival, young Hamilton quickly aligned himself with the revolutionaries seeking independence from Great Britain. He rose to prominence as the George Washington's top aide-de-camp (effectively his chief of staff) during the Revolutionary War; then as a leader in battle; and finally, as a skilled politician and statesman in the newly-formed republic.
During the early days of the United States, Hamilton was arguably the most powerful man in the country, other than George Washington, who served as a father figure to his young aid for much of his career.
Hamilton was an integral part of the American Revolution, the Continental Congress, the Constitutional Convention, and the Washington administration. He founded the national bank, the Coast Guard, and the US Customs House.
He used his excellent skills as an orator and writer to persuade the passage of the US Constitution. James Madison was the primary author of the Constitution; but Hamilton was its most successful advocate, writing 51 of the 85 Federalist Papers - a set of pamphlets that were instrumental in convincing the public and the Congress to accept the guidelines for the new government.
As the first Secretary of the Treasury, he became a hero to the merchants of New York thanks to his ability to repeatedly avoid financial crises and maintain some degree of stability in the young economy. He was able to do so despite having no previous examples on which to draw.
Shortly after the formation of the United States, the country began to break into factions, forming the first political parties. People were divided between urban vs rural lifestyles; northern vs southern geography; slaveholders vs abolitionists; and those who believe power should be concentrated centrally or distributed among the states. Hamilton was a northern urban abolitionist, but he expended most of his energy fighting for a strong central government. As a result of his articulation of this principle, he became the leader of the Federalist Party.
Hamilton's success and strong opinions attracted the ire of numerous rivals - many of whom spread false rumours, accusing him of embezzling or attempting to create a monarchy in the US. Many of Hamilton's enemies accused him of benefitting financially from his role in government, even though no proof has ever been found to substantiate claims of professional impropriety.
But Alexander Hamilton was not without his faults. He was arrogant, short-tempered, and prone to hold a grudge. These characteristics became more pronounced after Washington's retirement. Washington and Hamilton remained close friends; but when Washington retired from public life, he no longer held the same calming influence over his protégé. Hamilton's public disputes with Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and James Madison became increasingly hostile as both sides resorted more frequently to personal attacks against the other.
And, although he was faithful in his professional duties, he was a faithless husband and famous for his womanizing. This despite having a beautiful, loving, and faithful wife. One of his greatest mistakes was an affair with a married woman who later conspired with her husband to successfully blackmail Hamilton. When this became public, it damaged Hamilton's reputation greatly.
The last years of Hamilton's life were marked with tragedy. His eldest and favourite son was killed in a duel; his political influence diminished, along with the popularity of the Federalist Party; and he worked to remove himself from debt. Ultimately, his disagreements with Aaron Burr (Jefferson's Vice President) resulted in Burr blaming him for his own political failures, which led to the duel that took Hamilton's life.
Chernow does a masterful job walking the line between historian and storyteller. He presents numerous details of Hamilton's life and enhances these incidents with historical context. But he also keeps us engaged by telling Hamilton's story as the life of a real human being. Chernow is clearly a fan of Hamilton and his contributions to America; but he does a good job pointing out his weaknesses and how they hindered his personal and professional life.
Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton - the book - is a Rags-to-riches story; a love story; a story of political intrigue; and a tragic story of self-destruction.