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Review of Ron Chernow's "Alexander Hamilton"

Book Review: Ron Chernow’s "Alexander Hamilton"

I highly recommend author Ron Chernow’s comprehensive biography on this country’s first Secretary of the Treasury. Some biographies gloss over early years as a fast-forwards means to reach the main events of a subject’s life. Chernow devotes a lot of pages to Hamilton’s early years, and for good reason. If one’s youth forms his or her person as an adult, one can see Hamilton’s birth in Caribbean poverty and his struggles to educate and advance himself reflected in the philosophy he developed. That philosophy shaped the economic system of the United States through his "Report on Public Credit," the 51-page tract he delivered to Congress at the outset of his term at Treasury.

An arrogant, passionate man, Hamilton was liked by many but disliked, perhaps, by more. He was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention and, because of his experiences in the Caribbean, one of the most ardent of the few delegates who wanted to abolish slavery. He wrote more of "The Federalist Papers" than either Madison or (certainly) Jay.

This is not meant as a spoiler. You know how the book ends. Hamilton and Aaron Burr crossed the Hudson River, in separate boats, on July 11, 1804 to Weehawken, New Jersey. A spot on a bluff was favored by duelists. Vice President Burr faced the former Treasury Secretary. Hamilton fired first—wide and high, in a customary gesture meant to acknowledge the field of honor, but at the same time not to kill anyone. Hamilton’s shot struck a tree branch some 20 feet above and behind Burr. Burr had no such compunction about the matter. His shot struck a fatal blow. Hamilton died the following afternoon.

This is a good read for those who are interested in the history of the Constitution and the early days of the Republic.

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