Books: Founding Brothers


I have a problem with Alexander Hamilton. I don’t know why. I just don’t like him.

I know Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both thought Hamilton was a dick. On the other hand, George Washington seems to have liked him. I don’t know if that means that Hamilton wasn’t a dick, or maybe that Washington was just a bad judge of character.

People have started to notice that I am always trying to break my ten dollar bills to get his ugly face out of my wallet. He was never even a president, anyway, so what is he doing on my money in the first place?

Ten Bucks

It’s probably not healthy for me to be carrying around hostility towards a founding father who’s been in the ground for 204 years.

Alexander Hamilton

I recently saw that a new biography of Hamilton is available for Kindle. I also keep hearing Ron Paul supporters talking about how Hamilton is somehow wrapped up in “central banking”, the Federal Reserve, the gold standard, the end of the world, and other such crazy matters.

So I thinks to myself, “maybe I’ll read that biography of Hamilton and give the man a fair shake.” Then I see that the book is like 1,200 pages long, and I don’t even like the guy, so why am I going to spend all month reading about his stupid life.

Nevertheless, my political affiliations have been in flux lately, and it is healthy to read books you disagree with to help stretch your brains out. Reading 1,200 pages was just a bit too much time for me to dedicate to such a scalawag at this junction.

Then, I hears about this “Founding Brothers” book. It’s shorter, and dedicates one chapter to each founding father, so I can get just a little bit of Hamilton, to see if I am still interested enough to carry on with the more voluminous tome at a later date.

Founding Brothers

It’s a very nice book (it won a Pulitzer Prize and everything). The very first chapter is about the duel where Thomas Jefferson’s vice president shoots Hamilton dead for talking shit about him in the newspapers. I liked that part.

The rest of the chapters are also good. There’s one about Washington’s farewell address, and one about the Jefferson-Adams correspondence. The chapters are small enough that you don’t drown in detail (like you do in John Adams), but they’re long enough that you feel like you understand a lot of what went on between the constitutional convention and 1826.

One of the ideas I got from the book is that maybe I think poorly of Hamilton because he died young, and Jefferson and Adams got to talk shit about him for years afterward.

In any event, I’m still not convinced that Hamilton is worth my time to read that huge book about him, and now, I’m not even sure if I like Washington anymore.

The more I learn about history, the more I realize that what I thought I knew was totally wrong.

I give Founding Bothers 4 jihadis out of 5.

4 Jihadis out of 5

6 thoughts on “Books: Founding Brothers

  1. girtong

    I thought this book was excellent, especially the part regarding the National City location and the politics that went into Washington DC. I remember telling Girtong about the idea that the Susquehanna river area was a front runner in consideration back in the day, a idea which he scoffed at…

  2. I am very happy they didn’t put the Federal City on the Susquehanna. The last thing we need around here is more politicians!

  3. Hamilton was the youngest, best-looking, most controversial, and most brilliant of the Founders. His enemies outlived him and damaged his reputation. More than anyone else, he deserves to be on the currency (and most people, including his contemporaries, thought he was “unusually handsome”). He established the credit of the United States and basically ran the country as Washington’s de facto prime minister. He founded the Coast Guard and ordered lighthouses placed at dangerous spots on the coast, starting with Cape Hatteras. (Ironically, Aaron Burr’s daughter died in a squall off Cape Hatteras.)

    Even Jefferson admitted that Hamilton was “amiable in company, honest and honorable in all private transactions” but feared his economic system, which threatened the slave-holding South and its expansion into the West.

    Hamilton opposed slavery; Lincoln, in his Cooper Union Address, called him “one of the [three] leading anti-slavery men of the day” (the Founding era.) He proposed enlisting slaves during the Revolution and giving them “their freedom with their muskets.” He was the co-founder of the New York Manumission Society, which helped escaped slaves in court and founded an African Free School for children, among other things.

    Hamilton wrote and published revolutionary pamphlets as a college student and gave his first speech as a teenager to the Liberty Boys and their supporters in lower Manhattan. He then risked his popularity by standing up to a torch-bearing mob bent on tarring and feathering (i.e., murdering) Hamilton’s college president, a Tory. He blocked the doorway and tried to persuade the crowd not to act intolerantly. Meanwhile, his college roommate helped the president escape out the back door to a British warship.

    Hamilton formed his own artillery company, bought their uniforms with his scholarship money, and dropped out of college to fight in the revolution. Washington, having seen him in action at various battles–Hamilton even crossed the Delaware ice floes on Christmas Day, 1776, to fight at the Battle of Trenton (getting out of a sickbed to do so)–asked him to join his staff, at which point Hamilton and the much older Washington became a team.

    Women adored Hamilton, and other men seemed to find him attractive as well as so brilliant that people who heard him speak were sometimes startled at the scope of his intelligence. John Marshall, later Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, said that Hamilton’s intellect was to his own what the sun is to a candle. Hamilton could also move listeners to tears with his eloquence, as he did the New York legislature not long before his death. The US Congress once asked him not to appear in person to explain some of his financial programs because he was so charismatic and persuasive.

    So who’s the dick?
    Your fellow cyclist,

  4. Chernow’s book is probably only for hardcore Hamilton fans and historians.

    There are lots of more accessible, shorter biographies of AH; two recent ones are by Richard Brookhiser and Willard Stern Randall. YOu’d probably find those more readable.

    AH had a dramatic, remarkable life story. If I were to blaspheme, I’d say it’s a better story than that of Jesus of Nazareth. In the summary I didn’t even mention that he came to the American colonies because of a hurricane, or that he had the first sex scandal in American politics, or that he almost got in a fistfight iwth James Monroe, or that he wrote most of the Federalist Papers, tossing off one or two a week while working full time, or that he had an irreverent sense of humor…

    By the way, I ride a Rivendell Atlantis, a Burley Runabout, and a Bike Friday.

  5. Carol,
    I will take a look at those. Thanks for the recommendations. If we have differing tastes in founding fathers, at least we have similar tastes in bicycles.


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