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Title:
Alexander Hamilton
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Publication Information:
2005.
ISBN:
9781101200858
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1 online resource
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1280 L
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English
Abstract:
A New York Times Bestseller, and the inspiration for the hit Broadway musical Hamilton!Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ron Chernow presents a landmark biography of Alexander Hamilton, the Founding Father who galvanized, inspired, scandalized, and shaped the newborn nation.In the first full-length biography of Alexander Hamilton in decades, Ron Chernow tells the riveting story of a man who overcame all odds to shape, inspire, and scandalize the newborn America. According to historian Joseph Ellis, Alexander Hamilton is "a robust full-length portrait, in my view the best ever written, of the most brilliant, charismatic and dangerous founder of them all."Few figures in American history have been more hotly debated or more grossly misunderstood than Alexander Hamilton. Chernow's biography gives Hamilton his due and sets the record straight, deftly illustrating that the political and economic greatness of today's America is the...
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Summary

Summary

A  New York Times  Bestseller, and  the inspiration for the hit Broadway musical  Hamilton !

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ron Chernow presents a landmark biography of Alexander Hamilton, the Founding Father who galvanized, inspired, scandalized, and shaped the newborn nation.

In the first full-length biography of Alexander Hamilton in decades, Ron Chernow tells the riveting story of a man who overcame all odds to shape, inspire, and scandalize the newborn America. According to historian Joseph Ellis,  Alexander Hamilton  is "a robust full-length portrait, in my view the best ever written, of the most brilliant, charismatic and dangerous founder of them all."

Few figures in American history have been more hotly debated or more grossly misunderstood than Alexander Hamilton. Chernow's biography gives Hamilton his due and sets the record straight, deftly illustrating that the political and economic greatness of today's America is the result of Hamilton's countless sacrifices to champion ideas that were often wildly disputed during his time. "To repudiate his legacy," Chernow writes, "is, in many ways, to repudiate the modern world." Chernow here recounts Hamilton's turbulent life: an illegitimate, largely self-taught orphan from the Caribbean, he came out of nowhere to take America by storm, rising to become George Washington's aide-de-camp in the Continental Army, coauthoring The Federalist Papers, founding the Bank of New York, leading the Federalist Party, and becoming the first Treasury Secretary of the United States.Historians have long told the story of America's birth as the triumph of Jefferson's democratic ideals over the aristocratic intentions of Hamilton. Chernow presents an entirely different man, whose legendary ambitions were motivated not merely by self-interest but by passionate patriotism and a stubborn will to build the foundations of American prosperity and power. His is a Hamilton far more human than we've encountered before--from his shame about his birth to his fiery aspirations, from his intimate relationships with childhood friends to his titanic feuds with Jefferson, Madison, Adams, Monroe, and Burr, and from his highly public affair with Maria Reynolds to his loving marriage to his loyal wife Eliza. And never before has there been a more vivid account of Hamilton's famous and mysterious death in a duel with Aaron Burr in July of 1804.
Chernow's biography is not just a portrait of Hamilton, but the story of America's birth seen through its most central figure. At a critical time to look back to our roots,  Alexander Hamilton  will remind readers of the purpose of our institutions and our heritage as Americans.

"Nobody has captured Hamilton better than Chernow" -- The New York Times Book Review  




From the Trade Paperback edition.


Reviews 6

Publisher's Weekly Review

After hulking works on J.P. Morgan, the Warburgs and John D. Rockefeller, what other grandee of American finance was left for Chernow's overflowing pen than the one who puts the others in the shade? Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804) created public finance in the United States. In fact, it's arguable that without Hamilton's political and financial strategic brilliance, the United States might not have survived beyond its early years. Chernow's achievement is to give us a biography commensurate with Hamilton's character, as well as the full, complex context of his unflaggingly active life. Possessing the most powerful (though not the most profound) intelligence of his gifted contemporaries, Hamilton rose from Caribbean bastardy through military service in Washington's circle to historic importance at an early age and then, in a new era of partisan politics, gradually lost his political bearings. Chernow makes fresh contributions to Hamiltoniana: no one has discovered so much about Hamilton's illegitimate origins and harrowed youth; few have been so taken by Hamilton's long-suffering, loving wife, Eliza. Yet it's hard not to cringe at some of Hamilton's hotheaded words and behavior, especially sacrificing the well-being of his family on the altar of misplaced honor. This is a fine work that captures Hamilton's life with judiciousness and verve. Illus. Agent, Melanie Jackson. (Apr 26) Forecast: National Book Award winner Chernow's reputation and track record with a previous bestseller could make Alexander Hamilton as popular with readers as Benjamin Franklin and John Adams. With a 300,000 first printing, Penguin is banking on it. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Booklist Review

Washington is revered as the father of his country and the indispensable man. efferson is the apostle of liberty, the author of our most sacred national document, and his idealism, though flawed, continues to inspire us. And Alexander Hamilton? He inspires admiration for his financial acumen and respect for his drive to rise above the genteel poverty of his youth. Yet he seldom is accorded the affection reserved for some of our national icons. But as Chernow's comprehensive and superbly written biography makes clear, Hamilton was at least as influential as any of our Founding Fathers in shaping our national institutions and political culture. He was the driving force behind the calling of the Constitutional Convention, and he was instrumental in overcoming opposition to ratification. In Washington's cabinet, he consistently promoted a national perspective while placing our economy on a sound financial footing. Chernow, who has previously written biographies of. P. Morgan andohn D. Rockefeller, acknowledges Hamilton's arrogance, his bouts of self-pity, and his penchant for cynical manipulation. But this self-made man was capable of great compassion and was consistently outraged by the institution of slavery. Although his understanding of human limitations made him suspicious of unrestrained democracy, his devotion to individual liberty did not falter. --Jay Freeman Copyright 2004 Booklist


Choice Review

These volumes reaffirm Alexander Hamilton's standing as one of the greatest of the American Founding Fathers. Harper (Johns Hopkins Univ.) does so somewhat selectively in American Machiavelli, focusing on Hamilton's influence on carving out early US foreign policy. Hamilton, for his part, personified a kind of "new prince," desirous of wielding great influence over the newly formed US. Adopting the role of gentleman, the poorly born Hamilton proved to be an Anglophile who insisted on the need to shape a strong central government spearheaded by a powerful chief executive capable of unilaterally making foreign policy decisions. Helping to draft George Washington's Farewell Address, Hamilton emphasized the tenuousness of alliances with other nation-states. Hamilton, who sought to be named commander of an invigorated US army, favored "a policy of strength through peace." Award-winning biographer Chernow's encyclopedic Alexander Hamilton offers a full biographical treatment of its subject, containing revelatory information about Hamilton's ancestral background, driven nature, and relationship with figures such as Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Aaron Burr. Rising from lowly origins, Hamilton moved seamlessly into New York's aristocratic circles before becoming Washington's right-hand man. Brilliant, passionate, and tempestuous, Hamilton suffered from his own excesses (including those of a sexual cast) regarding his designs for the new American nation; this engendered antipathies and eventually led to his ill-fated duel with Burr. Chernow credits Hamilton, whom he terms "the father of the American government," with setting the stage "for both liberal democracy and capitalism," and ensuring that the presidency wielded considerable powers and that the US possessed the potential to become a dominant world player. Chernow also underscores the frailties that resulted in Hamilton's supporting the infamous Alien and Sedition Acts, as well as his quasi-militaristic bent. ^BSumming Up: Recommended, both books. General and academic libraries. R. C. Cottrell California State University, Chico


Guardian Review

This acclaimed biography, which inspired the award-winning hip-hop musical, salvages the reputation of a Founding Father long accused of despoiling the innocence of the US Alexander Hamilton, one of the late 18th-century Founding Fathers of the United States and its first treasury secretary, has enjoyed only limited name recognition in the UK. But that is changing. In 2004 Ron Chernow, a journalist and biographer specialising in financial history, first published this book, a mammoth work of research that charted the course of Hamilton's dazzling career and the dark controversies that accompanied it. Since then, Chernow's erudite biography has inspired a theatrical sensation, Lin-Manuel Miranda's hip-hop musical Hamilton, which started its Broadway run in 2015, and received 16 Tony nominations in 2016, scooping 11. The musical celebrates the multicultural United States of today as much as the Anglo-dominated US of Hamilton's time, with black and Hispanic actors playing the parts of the Founding Fathers. Hamilton will open in London next year, under the auspices of the impresario Cameron Mackintosh ; and, as a taster, Chernow's biography is being published for the first time in the UK. Chernow disentangles Hamilton's life from the enduring political legend concocted by his opponents, who demonised him as a "closet monarchist" and wannabe Caesar. Hamilton did champion a strong executive and a professional military, but his attempts to equip the fragile new republic for the harsh realities of competitive inter-state relations have earned him only obloquy. His reputation has long suffered by comparison with his contemporary and rival, Thomas Jefferson, who articulated an influential language of virtue; one which continues to inform America's self-image of butter-wouldn't-melt innocence. As Chernow notes: "If Jefferson provided the essential poetry of American political discourse, Hamilton established the prose of American statecraft." This is something for which he has received little thanks. Instead, "the proponent of such devilish contrivances as banks, factories and stock exchanges" lurks in the recesses of the American memory as the distant godfather of what became Wall Street and the military-industrial complex. Notwithstanding its long afterlife, the caricature of the sinister un-American plotter successfully peddled in Jeffersonian propaganda is a travesty. Hamilton's problem, as Chernow perceives it, was not a sleekit propensity to conspire, but the opposite: an impulsive and reckless frankness that verged on "a genius for the self-inflicted wound". Nor was Hamilton an innocuous victim of his opponents' slicker press management. While "touchy" and sensitive about his own reputation, he was a master polemicist with a "slashing style" who turned out elegantly phrased, pugnacious copy by the yard. Indeed, it was his precocious skill as a writer that rescued the teenage Hamilton from a life that, at best, seemed to offer only penurious dependence, drudgery or worse. That Hamilton's beginnings were far from auspicious is something of an understatement. In his early family life in the West Indies he was "surrounded by failed, broken, embittered people", who lived with the "vertiginous" anxieties of downwardly mobile whites. His mother Rachel Faucette was of French Huguenot stock and unhappily married on the Danish island of St Croix to a crushingly patriarchal Dane, Johann Michael Lavien, who had her imprisoned at one point in Fort Christiansvaern for adultery; his supposed father, James Hamilton, was the feckless younger son of a Scottish laird from Stevenston in Ayrshire. Hamilton was born on the island of Nevis, probably in 1755, and grew up in a cruel but cosmopolitan society. He was bilingual in French and English, thanks to his mother, and exposed both to race slavery -- which he consistently deplored throughout his career -- and to Jewish influences in Charlestown, where Jews made up a quarter of the white population. In 1765 the Hamiltons returned to the Anglo-Danish society of Christiansted in St Croix, but were soon deserted by Hamilton senior. Then, in quick succession, Hamilton's mother died, her estate was awarded to the legitimate son she had with Lavien, and a cousin, the guardian of the two boys she had with Hamilton senior, killed himself. Unsurprisingly, Hamilton was sensitive on questions of status -- including illegitimacy -- and reticent about his background. Chernow notes that what we now know of his childhood "has been learned almost entirely during the past century". What transformed Hamilton's life was the influence of a merchant, Thomas Stevens -- possibly, Chernow wonders, his actual biological father -- and a bizarre literary windfall: a published essay that he wrote about the devastating hurricane of 1772 prompted some local men of substance to club together to fund his education in North America. Hamilton went to King's College in New York -- which later became Columbia University -- in the early stages of the American revolution, an upheaval that ushered a further swift and dramatic change in circumstances. During the early stages of the war of independence, Hamilton's gifts of leadership, organisation and communication stood out, and the young man was soon elevated to a staff role in the revolutionary army, becoming George Washington's most trusted aide-de-camp in 1777 at the age of 22, and treasury secretary during his presidency. Victory against the British did not -- as Hamilton recognised -- solve America's problems. The Articles of Confederation among the newly independent states were simultaneously too loose and too cumbersome for effective governance; they were, in Chernow's words, "a prescription for rigor mortis". Hamilton played a prominent part in the constitutional convention of 1787, and then, in alliance with the brilliant Virginian James Madison, later a bitter enemy, in the debates over whether to ratify the new constitution. Hamilton wrote 51 of the 85 essays collected as The Federalist, which appeared in a variety of outlets during the ratification debates in New York. All the while he was running a law practice, but still managed to write an incredible 21 essays in the two-month period after Madison left New York. He was gifted with a "Mozart-like" facility for getting complex thoughts on to paper. Chernow's book serves as a reminder that the raw partisanship and personal hostility we see today in the Clinton-Trump contest is far from unprecedented. Contrary to legend, the Founding Fathers did not operate at a rarefied level removed from the grubby machinations of lesser hacks. While it's a sad descent from the genius of Jefferson, Madison and Hamilton to the fact-free bluster of Trump, the Founders succumbed -- especially during the alternating giddiness and anxiety of the 1790s -- to vituperation and downright abuse. Hamilton, who was "brimming with libido" and prone to flirtation, was the self-exposed victim of a political sex scandal. He was easily lured into an affair with Maria Reynolds, the wife of a swindler, and ended up revealing his own adultery to the world lest he be blamed for what he reckoned a worse sin, a lack of financial integrity. Alone among the leading Founding Fathers he perceived the necessity of learning from the fiscal-military statecraft of ancien regime Europe, Britain included: the world was as it was, not as Jefferson and other dreamy friends of the French Revolution wished it to be. Occasionally, however, hypocrisy has the best tunes, and during the 1790s Hamilton was blamed by high-minded Virginian slave owners -- who posed as champions of democracy -- for introducing speculative finance, central banks and the evils of capitalism to America's virtuous, agrarian Eden. Somehow the anti-capitalist mud flung by fashionably francophile slaveholders has stuck. Aaron Burr, a fellow New York politician, is an ironic presence throughout much of Chernow's book. Many readers will know that it was Burr who, when vice-president to Jefferson, killed Hamilton in a duel of honour in 1804. The ultimate cause was a press report on how Hamilton had slighted Burr at a dinner. Hamilton's son Philip had died a couple of years previously after being shot in a duel, and it remains unclear how much relish for life Hamilton retained by the time of his death. Notwithstanding the hurt of the Reynolds affair, his widow Eliza, who lived for a further 50 years, continued to cherish his memory, gathering his papers and agitating for a monumental biography. Hamilton now has his monument, and, with the stunning success of the musical, we are witnessing a reversal of reputational fortune. - Colin Kidd.


Kirkus Review

A splendid life of an enlightened reactionary and forgotten Founding Father. "In all probability," writes financial historian/biographer Chernow (Titan, 1998, etc.), "Alexander Hamilton is the foremost political figure in American history who never attained the presidency, yet he probably had a much deeper and lasting impact than many who did." Indeed, we live in a Hamiltonian republic through and through, and not a Jeffersonian democracy. Many of the financial and tax systems that Hamilton proposed and put in place as the nation's first treasury secretary are with us today, if in evolved form, as Chernow shows; and though Hamilton was derided in his time as being pro-British and even a secret monarchist, Chernow writes, he was second only to George Washington in political prominence, at least on the practical, day-to-day front. The author wisely acknowledges but does not dwell unduly on Washington's quasi-paternal role in Hamilton's life and fortunes; unlike many biographies that consider Hamilton only in Washington's shadow, this one grants him a life of his own--and a stirring one at that, for Hamilton was both intensely cerebral and a man of action. He was, Chernow writes, a brilliant ancestor of the abolitionist cause; a native of the slave island of Nevis, he came to hate "the tyranny embodied by the planters and their authoritarian rule, while also fearing the potential uprisings of the disaffected slaves"--a dichotomy that influenced his views of ordinary politics. He was also constantly in opposition to things as they were, particularly where those things were Jeffersonian; as Chernow shows, Hamilton had early on been "an unusually tolerant man with enlightened views on slavery, Native Americans, and Jews," but became a crusty conservative near the end of his brief life (1755-1804), perhaps as a result of one too many personal setbacks at the hands of the Jeffersonians. Literate and full of engaging historical asides. By far the best of the many lives of Hamilton now in print, and a model of the biographer's art. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Library Journal Review

In this favorable, hefty biography of Alexander Hamilton, Chernow (The Warburgs; The House of Morgan) makes the case for him as one of the most important Founding Fathers, arguing that America is heir to the Hamiltonian vision of the modern economic state. His sweeping narrative chronicles the complicated and often contradictory life of Hamilton, from his obscure birth on Nevis Island to his meteoric rise as confidant to Washington, coauthor of The Federalist Papers, and America's first Treasury secretary, to his bizarre death at the hands of Aaron Burr. A running theme is the contradictions exhibited during his life: a member of the Constitutional Convention, Hamilton nevertheless felt that the Constitution was seriously flawed and was fearful of rule by the people. A devoted father and husband, he had two known affairs. Lastly, he was philosophically and morally opposed to dueling, and yet that's how he met his end. Although quite sympathetic to Hamilton, Chernow attempts to present both sides of his many controversies, including Hamilton's momentous philosophical battles with Jefferson. Chernow relies heavily on primary sources and previously unused volumes of Hamilton's writings. A first-rate life and excellent addition to the ongoing debate about Hamilton's importance in the shaping of America. Recommended for academic and larger public libraries. [BOMC and History Book Club main selections.]-Robert Flatley, Kutztown Univ. Lib., PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

PROLOGUE THE OLDEST REVOLUTIONARY WAR WIDOW In the early 1850s, few pedestrians strolling past the house on H Street in Washington, near the White House, realized that the ancient widow seated by the window, knitting and arranging flowers, was the last surviving link to the glory days of the early republic. Fifty years earlier, on a rocky, secluded ledge overlooking the Hudson River in Weehawken, New Jersey, Aaron Burr, the vice president of the United States, had fired a mortal shot at her husband, Alexander Hamilton, in a misbegotten effort to remove the man Burr regarded as the main impediment to the advancement of his career. Hamilton was then forty-nine years old. Was it a benign or a cruel destiny that had compelled the widow to outlive her husband by half a century, struggling to raise seven children and surviving almost until the eve of the Civil War? Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton-purblind and deaf but gallant to the end-was a stoic woman who never yielded to self-pity. With her gentle manner, Dutch tenacity, and quiet humor, she clung to the deeply rooted religious beliefs that had abetted her reconciliation to the extraordinary misfortunes she had endured. Even in her early nineties, she still dropped to her knees for family prayers. Wrapped in shawls and garbed in the black bombazine dresses that were de rigueur for widows, she wore a starched white ruff and frilly white cap that bespoke a simpler era in American life. The dark eyes that gleamed behind large metal-rimmed glasses-those same dark eyes that had once enchanted a young officer on General George Washington's staff-betokened a sharp intelligence, a fiercely indomitable spirit, and a memory that refused to surrender the past. In the front parlor of the house she now shared with her daughter, Eliza Hamilton had crammed the faded memorabilia of her now distant marriage. When visitors called, the tiny, erect, white-haired lady would grab her cane, rise gamely from a black sofa embroidered with a floral pattern of her own design, and escort them to a Gilbert Stuart painting of George Washington. She motioned with pride to a silver wine cooler, tucked discreetly beneath the center table, that had been given to the Hamiltons by Washington himself. This treasured gift retained a secret meaning for Eliza, for it had been a tacit gesture of solidarity from Washington when her husband was ensnared in the first major sex scandal in American history. The tour's highlight stood enshrined in the corner: a marble bust of her dead hero, carved by an Italian sculptor, Giuseppe Ceracchi, during Hamilton's heyday as the first treasury secretary. Portrayed in the classical style of a noble Roman senator, a toga draped across one shoulder, Hamilton exuded a brisk energy and a massive intelligence in his wide brow, his face illumined by the half smile that often played about his features. This was how Eliza wished to recall him: ardent, hopeful, and eternally young. "That bust I can never forget," one young visitor remembered, "for the old lady always paused before it in her tour of the rooms and, leaning on her cane, gazed and gazed, as if she could never be satisfied." For the select few, Eliza unearthed documents written by Hamilton that qualified as her sacred scripture: an early hymn he had composed or a letter he had drafted during his impoverished boyhood on St. Croix. She frequently grew melancholy and longed for a reunion with "her Hamilton," as she invariably referred to him. "One night, I remember, she seemed sad and absent-minded and could not go to the parlor where there were visitors, but sat near the fire and played backgammon for a while," said one caller. "When the game was done, she leaned back in her chair a long time with closed eyes, as if lost to all around her. There was a long silence, broken by the murmured words, 'I am so tired. It is so long. I want to see Hamilton.'"1 Eliza Hamilton was committed to one holy quest above all others: to rescue her husband's historical reputation from the gross slanders that had tarnished it. For many years after the duel, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and other political enemies had taken full advantage of their eloquence and longevity to spread defamatory anecdotes about Hamilton, who had been condemned to everlasting silence. Determined to preserve her husband's legacy, Eliza enlisted as many as thirty assistants to sift through his tall stacks of papers. Unfortunately, she was so self-effacing and so reverential toward her husband that, though she salvaged every scrap of his writing, she apparently destroyed her own letters. The capstone of her monumental labor, her life's "dearest object," was the publication of a mammoth authorized biography that would secure Hamilton's niche in the pantheon of the early republic. It was a long, exasperating wait as one biographer after another discarded the project or expired before its completion. Almost by default, the giant enterprise fell to her fourth son, John Church Hamilton, who belatedly disgorged a seven-volume history of his father's exploits. Before this hagiographic tribute was completed, however, Eliza Hamilton died at ninety-seven on November 9, 1854. Distraught that their mother had waited vainly for decades to see her husband's life immortalized, Eliza Hamilton Holly scolded her brother for his overdue biography. "Lately in my hours of sadness, recurring to such interests as most deeply affected our blessed Mother...I could recall none more frequent or more absorbent than her devotion to our Father. When blessed memory shows her gentle countenance and her untiring spirit before me, in this one great and beautiful aspiration after duty, I feel the same spark ignite and bid me...to seek the fulfillment of her words: 'Justice shall be done to the memory of my Hamilton.'"2 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. Well, has justice been done? Few figures in American history have 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."3 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."4 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, but not a great American."5 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 his splendid gifts."6 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."7 His White House successor, William Howard Taft, likewise embraced Hamilton as "our greatest constructive statesman."8 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 nation 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. Earlier generations of biographers had to rely on only a meager portion of his voluminous output. Between 1961 and 1987, Harold C. Syrett and his doughty editorial team at Columbia University Press published twenty-seven thick volumes of Hamilton's personal and political papers. Julius Goebel, Jr., and his staff added five volumes of legal and business papers to the groaning shelf, bringing the total haul to twenty-two thousand pages. These meticulous editions are much more than exhaustive compilations of Hamilton's writings: they are a scholar's feast, enriched with expert commentary as well as contemporary newspaper extracts, letters, and diary entries. No biographer has fully harvested these riches. I have supplemented this research with extensive archival work that has uncovered, among other things, nearly fifty previously undiscovered essays written by Hamilton himself. To retrieve his early life from its often impenetrable obscurity, I have also scoured records in Scotland, England, Denmark, and eight Caribbean islands, not to mention many domestic archives. The resulting portrait, I hope, will seem fresh and surprising even to those best versed in the literature of the period. It is an auspicious time to reexamine the life of Hamilton, who was the prophet of the capitalist revolution in America. If Jefferson enunciated the more ample view of political democracy, Hamilton possessed the finer sense of economic opportunity. He was the messenger from a future that we now inhabit. 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. --from Alexander Hamiton by Ron Chernow, copyright © 2004 Ron Chernow, published by The Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., all rights reserved, reprinted with permission from the publisher." Excerpted from Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.