Hamalong VIII – The End

A day late isn’t bad, all things considered and by all things I mean 724 pages.  But it was great to have Alice leading and my fellow read-a-sloggers to share the joy and the pain with, and they were manifold.   The book is highly readable although occasionally repetitive and Chernow draws some conclusions not a few of us found dubious at best, he does write in such a manner that we could come to our own conclusions.  One of mine is, highly unoriginal, that Hamilton was an amazing man whose ideas on government were and are the continuing basis of this country and he should be a hell of a lot better known, left on the 10 dollar bill and more things should be named after him.   No question he had his flaws, but Jefferson who we seem to idolize had them and a good deal more    I hope after this I can recover some of the respect I used to feel for Jefferson.  I admire the effort Chernow made to paint a picture of Eliza Hamilton.   Not so easy considering she had 50 years to try to expunge herself through overzealous humility.   Eliza, how are people supposed to follow your good example if no one knows what it is?  Very glad to see it wasn’t all pain and suffering the rest of her long life.

This section, of course, has the duel.  We’ve known about the duel probably since our school years, and yet whatever we knew was mostly forgotten since school did a pretty poor job of explaining Hamilton’s importance in the founding of the government.  I was startled that this happened while Burr was vice-president!    He did this even after Hamilton had helped him out with money the previous fall!   The man was a waste of space.   Who wouldn’t have been better off without him in their lives?   I would enjoy his sense of humor if he’d had a scrap of decency, if he’d ever cared for anyone besides his daughter.   And if I didn’t know how he wrote to her about all his amours.   Creeeeeepy.

Thou hast shooted dead great Hamilton

I was glad he lived long enough to see his wife and family.  And I totally understand he could not have shirked that particular duel.   Burr would never have let him live it down, though Lord only knows what Burr thought he could get out of it.   Just another huge mistake in a long line of them.   You can’t keep turning on people and expect them to trust you later.  Of course Jefferson wasn’t going to keep you on after you almost stole the Presidency.  And no Federalist would have been on your side after shooting Hamilton.   In politics you have to pretend to be friends with people.   And unless you are amazingly popular, enough to start your own party, you have to leave at least one half of the population unoffended.

Okay, he had some bad ideas along the way, but it seems like we have him to thank in large part for the different branches of government checking and balancing each other and that is huge.   For a country to go from nothing to excellent credit in what?  10-15 years?   Amazing.  And being an abolitionist — an actual, non-slave owning abolitionist at that time was pretty great, too.  He shouldn’t have spent so much on his house.   And if he couldn’t run away when he saw Maria Reynolds, he should at least for once in his life kept quiet.  But this is a man who should be admired and remembered as a great American, a great human being and thanks to Chernow and Lin-Manuel Miranda, he has a much better chance of that.  Thanks much to Alice for heading this readalong, who knows if I would have gotten around to this someday or not?    And my fellow readers for your entertaining and insightful posts which kept me reading along with  right behind you.

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Hamalong VII

What is this?  Can it be??  A Hamalong post not only on the day it’s due, but in the morning!  Zowie!  I can hear you say.  Is this the end of the world?   Probably not.  But just in case, treat yourself to something nice today.

This section was shorter and sadder.  Hamilton has lost the respect of many, many people.  After his tell-all pamphlet about his affair, he writes a tell-all pamphlet about President Adams.   What he thought he’d accomplish, I’m not sure.  His former ratio of 90% good ideas now seems to be down to 10%.   He is still trying to manipulate elections, but with little effect.  He had fantasies of using the Army to conquer the rest of North America.  Still ahead of his time, he can’t convince anyone this is a good idea.  Adams refuses to promote him when Washington dies and also manages to make peace with France so the Army is disbanded.   Hamilton goes back to lawyering and builds his family a beautiful, but expensive house.

HAGRange

 

He gets into gardening, which seems like a good idea.  His son dies in a stupid duel, brought on by his behaving like a jackass, but the family is devastated.   Trying to find the quotes I highlighted, I find quotes I did not highlight.  This is extremely annoying.   There was a funny one about Hamilton being as unfit for gardening as Jefferson is for President.   And then there was one — soooo appropriate right now about how the Republicans said Adams shouldn’t appoint justices, but wait for them to be in office.   Adams said to hell with that and appointed away.  200+ years and nothing changes.

Oh, I think it was in this section Burr proves himself a horrible human being by starting a fake water company and supplying a bank.   He also delivered New York for the Republicans.   That was just politics, though his politics seem to be about nothing except getting himself elected.   He’s not intelligent enough to make friends with Jefferson, doesn’t even seem to try.   So the minute they’re elected Jefferson ignores him and all he’s got is a fancy title and zero friends on either side.

As I said, a depressing read.   Horrible to say that Hamilton is passed his useful life politically.   How such a brilliant beginning turns into this font of bad ideas is inexplicable and sad.  If only he’d learned at some point to sometimes listen to other people and that honor is all in how you behave and you can’t worry about what people think about you too much, because they’re going to think whatever they want whether it’s true or not.

Oh, and I’ll just add my favorite quote which I forgot from Ham VI during the brou-ha-ha about the Jay treaty and how horrible it and he were.

Written on a wall: “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.”

 

 

 

 

Hamalong VI

In an unbelievable, Hamiltonian-like feat of reading I got through the next section in a day  and am now only 2 days behind again!  Okay, not really, Hamilton would have finished this whole book weeks ago, but still, I’m very pleased and hoping not to lose momentum completely.

So what happens?   Hamilton is ‘retired’ from public life and lawyering like nobody’s business.   It’s all going quite well, he’s making money and has plenty of time to get into trouble.  He writes pamphlets by the score.   He harangues people on the street who throw rocks at him (and we think it’s bad how he actually died.  Think of the waste if they’d had better aim!)   It is apparently now when he writes his most unfortunate pamphlet How I Cheated on My Wife in Excruciating Detail.   The chronology is a bit confusing in this book — to me anyway.   I thought he’d already done that, but no, it’s now which is 1797.     He has meetings with the three men who interviewed him previously and made them state publicly how they believed him, except Monroe doesn’t want to cooperate so they almost have a duel.   Hamilton never learning that you can’t control what people believe.  If they don’t like you they’ll believe anything.   And no facts will convince them.  As everyone’s been saying on this readalong — it’s dismaying how little has changed.   Human nature doesn’t change.  Publishing then was a lot like the internet is now.   Don’t feed the trolls and don’t read the comments.  We also have people blaming immigrants for their problems, even apparently Hamilton.   Freedom of speech gets kicked to the curb and the President can kick out any immigrants he doesn’t like (although he didn’t.)

monroe_portrait.jpg
Described as handsome, though not by me, fifth president James Monroe, another Hamilton hater.

So, France starts acting like a jerk, capturing our ships and saying our mother was a hamster and our father smelt of elderberries!   Then Talleyrand wouldn’t talk to us unless we forked over a pile of money and this means war!   Quasi-war!  Hamilton suits up after some back and forth (Adams hated him, too, though with reason.  The Ham kept trying to manipulate the elections to make Adams less successful.  Bad Ham!  The whole electoral system was a bad idea from the get go, I learn.   I’ve never liked it, but in the beginning people like AH could encourage everyone in the North to vote for both Adams and Pinckney knowing few people in the South would vote for Adams, thus while pretending to campaign for Adams, he was really trying to get Pinckney, he very nearly got Jefferson.   See, Hamilton wasn’t the only one who could figure this out, so some Northerners didn’t vote for Pinckney, which seems to me, fairly predictable.  Hamilton was a genius many times, but not this time. I also tend to think that Hamilton and Adams were too much alike in certain ways to get along.   Though they both should have manned up and gotten over it, cuz they were on the same side, dammit.)   Poor Washington is dragged out of retirement like an old flag and pseudo-consulted about who should be his underlings and then ignored, or at least Adams attempted to ignore him.   I don’t know what Adams did during the Revolution — need to read more about him, too — but it wasn’t fighting and he seems oblivious to Hamilton’s wide range of experience in the field.  This is where we end this section.

I do find myself agreeing with the Jeffersonians against the Alien and Sedition Acts although I think they would probably have liked them fine if they’d been used against Federalists.   Maybe that’s unfair.   Maybe if the shoe were on the other foot they would still have objected.   Freedom of Speech is a tricky thing, and I do think people should not be allowed to libel or slander each other, but banning all criticism puts you pretty squarely in tyrant-land.

Also, how is it not treason for Jefferson to be secretly talking to the French against the President and telling them it’s okay to put America off etc.   He did not have Adams okay on this.   He was acting off his own bat and to the detriment of the country.   I think the French would have been just the same without that, but we don’t judge whether something is treasonous based on its success, do we?   Jefferson’s actions were highly questionable throughout this section and elsewhere.

I’ve often wondered what would things have been like if we’d just split in two from the get go.   Or instead of having a civil war, when the confederate states seceded we’d just said, Buh-bye!  Don’t let the door hit your ass…   We probably would’ve ended up fighting anyway, over land or escaped slaves or some damn thing.

 

Hamalong V

Still trailing along, now 8 days behind.  I had been hoping to gain some this week.  I was going to set aside all other books and really apply myself and while I thought I did this, I slipped another day.  Oh, well.  Moving on.

This was a full and, I thought, highly readable section, c. 20-26.    Poor Hamilton — painful to read when his embarrassing affair comes out in excruciating detail, partly because Hamilton has to cover any topic he starts on completely.   He was trying to exonerate himself from an investigation into whether he had misused government funds and speculated with unsavory persons.  Two of the investigators felt so bad for him they just wanted him to shut up and wished they could unknow what they now knew, the third, Monroe, apparently thought no reason he couldn’t have an affair and misuse govt funds.   It seems pretty clear that the reason so many of us have only a vague idea of Hamilton was because 3 of the first five presidents hated him and his policies and yet there’s a very real question what kind of government we would have had without him.  The one idea the Jeffersonians seemed to have was that Hamilton was an evil, monarchical Brit-lover whom they fought continually, but they don’t seem to have had any positive ideas to put up in place of Hamilton’s.   It was all we don’t like that, but no why don’t we try this?    Very frustrating and I really feel I have to read a Jefferson bio to restore some respect for the man.

One of the things Jefferson did as Secretary of State was to hire a man named Freneau to write a newspaper bashing Hamilton!   This is what he used government money for.   And they’re investigating Hamilton?    Hard to believe he was able to get away with this.  Nominally he was hired as a translator, but he only knew French and so did Jefferson.  No, that was just cover for him to write this ‘newspaper’ if you can call it that.   Apparently most, if not all, newspapers were fair and balanced – meaning they ran almost nothing but opinion pieces and libel was the order of the day.   Jefferson loved the French and as they did help with the Revolution against the British, one sees his point, but you can’t really trade successfully with a country that can’t supply what you need.  America still needed a lot of everyday items and not so much of the sort of luxuries the French dealt in.   Plus the whole Revolution over there really did get completely out of hand.  And it was Louis XVI, Lafayette and other aristocrats who actually helped us in the war.  It seems pretty cold thanks to celebrate their demise.

And then a whole lot more happened.  Hamilton (and Eliza) got yellow fever, but fortunately escaped the care of Dr. Benjamin Rush.  Jefferson refused to believe it.  They almost lose a son.  Eliza miscarries.   Then the Whiskey Rebellion, which up until now was only a phrase I could have told you nothing about.   And the aptly named Burr popping up at regular intervals to propose bad legislation or himself for governor.  We end the section with Hamilton resigning his post and  retiring to be with his family.  As there are still hundreds of pages to go, I’m going to guess his retirement is either very short or not very retiring.

 

Hamalong Pt IV

Yes, yes, that should be a V.   But sadly, it is not.   And even sadder, I was only 3 days behind.   I finished the reading on Sunday, but I didn’t write about it and so didn’t start reading the next section and now I’ve got 12 chapters to read by next Thursday.   Soooo not gonna happen, but I will try to be better.  I seem to manage to be good only for 3 or 4 days and then I just pick up something else to read and here we are.   Where is that?   Darned if I can remember.   A. Hamilton compromised once in his life (was that this section?) and it was a Good Thing.   He worked out a deal with Jefferson and Madison and Progress was made.   This never happened again, apparently.  This is a shame because Hamilton had some excellent ideas.   Like having a bank.   I see this, of course, as a two-edged sword.   Banks can be all the bad things their detractors think they are.   On the other hand, do I want to keep my money in my mattress?  I do not.

Hamilton had some interesting blind spots, and by interesting, I mean annoying and stupid.   One of these was his dear friend William Duer who, when hired at the Treasury speculated in bank scrip.   Far from seeing any need to be disinterested he used his insider information for all it was worth.   And then some.   He eventually speculated far too much and Alexander refused to pull his ass out of the fire.   Good for you, Alexander, but how much better if you’d kept your friend out of your business.   Duer’s rampant speculation helped destroy Hamilton’s attempt at a textile factory and factory town.   Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.   The children were so busy laboring they could only be schooled on Sunday.   In some things, it’s not good to be ahead of your time.

Hamilton’s next biggest blind spot, or maybe biggest, hard to tell, was when he started catting around with freaky chick Maria Reynolds.   It seems pretty sure that she showed up with the whole idea of compromising him sexually and then blackmailing him, that she and her husband planned this together and that Hamilton was a complete and total patsy.   We all know he liked the ladies, but he seemed to like this one an awful lot and as is usual with these things, it’s very difficult for anyone who is not him to see why.  He was a chump and he paid dearly for it.   I feel rather sorry for him as she writes him clinging, desperate letters all about how her husband discovered the truth.   Shouldn’t this sordid West Indies childhood have armored you against falling for this, Alex?

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I’m sure I’m forgetting important stuff.   He founded the treasury and the mint, which was given to Jefferson, much to Hamilton’s annoyance.   Helped found the Bank of the United States and steered us all into the great capitalist experiment that became the U.S.A.  He did so much to help form the early government that it’s difficult to remember it all.  And I forgot to even mention how Jefferson hit on Angelica Church.   Jefferson really doesn’t come off well in this book.   And like others in this group I feel I should read books about Jefferson, Adams and others to get a more complete picture, though I probably won’t, even though this book is giving me a far more complete picture of early American history than I have ever had.