Alexander Hamilton

After the death of John Laurens, Hamilton shut off some compartment of his emotions and never reopened it.

Americans often wonder how this moment could have spawned such extraordinary men as Hamilton and Madison. Part of the answer is that the Revolution produced an insatiable need for thinkers who could generate ideas and wordsmiths who could lucidly expound them. The immediate utility of ideas was an incalculable tonic for the founding generation. The fate of the democratic experiment depended upon political intellectuals who might have been marginalized at other periods.

A prudent silence will frequently be taken for wisdom and a sentence or two cautiously thrown in will sometimes gain the palm of knowledge, while a man well informed but indiscreet and unreserved will not uncommonly talk himself out of all consideration and weight. (Alexander Hamilton's 'thesis on discretion' written to his son James shortly before his fatal duel with Burr.)

As often is the case with addictions, the fanciful notion of a gradual discontinuance only provided a comforting pretext for more sustained indulgence.

Fisher Ames observed of Hamilton that the common people don’t want leaders “whom they see elevated by nature and education so far above their heads.

Hamilton’s besetting fear was that American democracy would be spoiled by demagogues who would mouth populist shibboleths to conceal their despotism.

Hamilton, the human word machine,

Hamilton was not the master builder of the Constitution: the laurels surely go to James Madison. He was, however, its foremost interpreter, starting with The Federalist and continuing with his Treasury tenure, when he had to expound constitutional doctrines to accomplish his goals. He lived, in theory and practice, every syllable of the Constitution. For that reason, historian Clinton Rossiter insisted that Hamilton’s “works and words have been more consequential than those of any other American in shaping the Constitution under which we live.” 40

He had learned a lesson about propaganda in politics and mused wearily that “no character, however upright, is a match for constantly reiterated attacks, however false.” If a charge was made often enough, people assumed in the end “that a person so often accused cannot be entirely innocent.”34

If Washington expected relief from Hamilton badgering him for an appointment, he soon learned otherwise. Hamilton was fully prepared to become a pest.

If we must have an enemy at the head of government, let it be one whom we can oppose, and for whom we are not responsible.

In fact, no immigrant in American history has ever made a larger contribution than Alexander Hamilton

It was, Eliza Hamilton Holly noted pointedly, the imperative duty that Eliza had bequeathed to all her children: Justice shall be done to the memory of my Hamilton.

Jay was attacked with peculiar venom. Near his New York home, the walls of a building were defaced with the gigantic words, 'Damn John Jay. Damn everyone that won’t damn John Jay. Damn everyone that won’t put up lights in the windows and sit up all night damning John Jay.

Many of these slaveholding populists were celebrated by posterity as tribunes of the common people. Meanwhile, the self-made Hamilton, a fervent abolitionist and a staunch believer in meritocracy, was villainized in American history textbooks as an apologist of privilege and wealth.

Perseverance in almost any plan is better than fickleness and fluctuation. (Alexander Hamilton, July 1792)

[Philip's death was] beyond comparison the most afflicting of my life.... He was truly a fine youth. But why should I repine? It was the will of heaven and he is now out of the reach of the seductions and calamities of a world full of folly, full of vice, full of danger, of least value in proportion as it is best known. I firmly trust also that he has safely reached the haven of eternal repose and felicity. (Alexander Hamilton letter to Benjamin Rush about the death of his 19-year old son from mortal wounds inflicted from a duel.)

Since critics found it hard to defeat him on intellectual grounds, they stooped to personal attacks.

The American Revolution was to succeed because it was undertaken by skeptical men who knew that the same passions that toppled tyrannies could be applied to destructive ends.

The first great skeptic of American exceptionalism, he refused to believe that the country was exempt from the sober lessons of history.

The law is whatever is successfully argued and plausibly maintained,

The most damning and hypocritical critiques of his allegedly aristocratic economic system emanated from the most aristocratic southern slaveholders, who deflected attention from their own nefarious deeds by posing as populist champions and assailing the northern financial and mercantile interests aligned with Hamilton. As will be seen, the national consensus that the slavery issue should be tabled to preserve the union meant that the southern plantation economy was effectively ruled off-limits to political discussion, while Hamilton’s system, by default, underwent the most searching scrutiny. Few,

The suspect nature of these stories can be seen in the anecdote Jefferson told of Hamilton visiting his lodging in 1792 and inquiring about three portraits on the wall. “They are my trinity of the three greatest men the world has ever produced,” Jefferson replied: “Sir Francis Bacon, Sir Isaac Newton, and John Locke.” Hamilton supposedly replied, “The greatest man that ever lived was Julius Casar.

This letter, my very dear Eliza, will not be delivered to you unless I shall first have terminated my earthly career to begin, as I humbly hope from redeeming grace and divine mercy, a happy immortality. If it had been possible for me to have avoided the interview, my love for you and my precious children would have been alone a decisive motive. But it was not possible without sacrifices which would have rendered me unworthy of your esteem. I need not tell you of the pangs I feel from the idea of quitting you and exposing you to the anguish which I know you would feel. Nor could I dwell on the topic lest it should unman me. The consolations of religion, my beloved, can alone support you and these you have a right to enjoy. Fly to the bosom of your God and be comforted. With my last idea, I shall cherish the sweet hope of meeting you in a better world. Adieu best of wives and best of women. Embrace all my darling children for me. Ever yours A H72

Washington departed the planet as admirably as he had inhabited it. He had long hated slavery, even though he had profited from it. Now, in his will, he stipulated that his slaves should be emancipated after Martha’s death, and he set aside funds for slaves who would be either too young or too old to care for themselves. Of the nine American presidents who owned slaves—a list that includes his fellow Virginians Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe—only Washington set free all of his slaves. Washington

Washington had several surrogate sons during the Revolution, most notably the marquis de Lafayette, and he often referred to Hamilton as “my boy.

Washington must have seen that Hamilton, for all his brains and daring, sometimes lacked judgment and had to be supervised carefully.

We have left behind the rosy agrarian rhetoric and slaveholding reality of Jeffersonian democracy and reside in the bustling world of trade, industry, stock markets, and banks that Hamilton envisioned. (Hamilton’s staunch abolitionism formed an integral feature of this economic vision.) He has also emerged as the uncontested visionary in anticipating the shape and powers of the federal government. At a time when Jefferson and Madison celebrated legislative power as the purest expression of the popular will, Hamilton argued for a dynamic executive branch and an independent judiciary, along with a professional military, a central bank, and an advanced financial system. Today, we are indisputably the heirs to Hamilton’s America, and to repudiate his legacy is, in many ways, to repudiate the modern world.

With a ready tongue and rapier wit, Hamilton could wound people more than he realized, and he was so nimble in debate that even bright people sometimes felt embarrassingly tongue-tied in his presence.

You know the opinion I entertain of mankind and how much it is my desire to preserve myself free from particular attachments and to keep my happiness independent of the caprice of others. You s[hould] not have taken advantage of my sensibility to ste[al] into my affections without my consent.