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Matt Fallon
Mr. Jackson
United States History 1 (AP)
1/9/2016

Book Review: Alexander Hamilton


Summary
Following several other historical books, Ron Chernow solidified his place as an author with his personal
account of Alexander Hamilton in the eponymous biography. After Chernow received the national book award for
non-fiction in 1990, 2004s Alexander Hamilton would eventually lead to him winning the 2013 BIO accolade. Not
immediately cherished as a biographical masterpiece, Chernows writing in Alexander Hamilton has now earned
him great praise and even a Broadway musical based on the work. Yet, it is not only Chernows reputation bettered
by this publication, but also Hamiltons. For many, Hamilton had been the shamed founding father, the misfit
amongst the seemingly godlike crew of patriots. But, this book paints his picture much more accurately. Retaining
Hamiltons many controversies, Alexander Hamilton embraces them, and shines a light on the economic and
political genius that it covers. Although incredibly debatable, Hamiltons time in office, as explained in Chernows
biography, developed many key standards and set precedents that have molded Americas government into its
current state. Such governmental models set forth by Hamilton are best exemplified by his impact on the early
Washington presidency, causing the period to be a time of great contention for Hamilton and the entire
administration.
The world established in Alexander Hamilton is tremendously expansive, and covers the secretary of
treasury as he progressed from his birthplace of Nevis to the nations capital. Hamiltons impressive resume is
explained in great detail throughout the biography, and several key events unfold whilst reading. Arguably, the most
important of these events includes Hamiltons influence on Washingtons presidency. After playing a major role in
the passing of the American constitution, and thus the new government, it was clear Hamilton was prepared to
devote himself to its success. Therefore, Hamilton ensured that this new federal system would have a positive
impact on the American people. Because, had he and the Washington administration failed to lead successfully, the
end of the constitutional government was almost guaranteed. After all, it had taken much effort to pass this new
government, so it was clear that the constitutional way faced many adversaries. With this great amount of
disapproval, having a failed first term of Washingtons governance was far too risky, as these same constitutional
opponents would quickly overturn it. Hence, he saw the first presidency as not only an opportunity to set standards,
but also one made controversial by the general public. To make certain that Americas first executive wasnt viewed
as a dictator, or one remotely similar to the despised George III, Hamilton knew having a well-liked figure take the
mantle was imperative. And, the answer to who this figure would be was clear. For Alexander Hamilton, it needed
to be, Washington [who] would lead the first government, as he was the only man who had risen above the
clash of politics, and obtained unwavering American trust. (Chernow, 270). But, the years after sending a letter and

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meeting with George Washington to discuss the presidency would prove the most challenging in securing this
newfound American democracy. Washington, the war hero and continental general could now add president to his
list of accomplishments. The United States of America seemed to be off to a pristine start. But, continuing this
success would be greatly impacted by Jefferson, Hamilton, Knox, and Randolph, who were Americas first
presidential cabinet. This presidential cabinet was amongst the first orders of George Washington, and he chose
Hamilton to be the secretary of treasury over several other candidates, most notably Robert Livingston. Hamilton
and Washingtons personalities complimented each others tremendously, allowing for each to work to the fullest
capacity. While, Washington wanted to be a figure above the partisan fray[this] detached style left room an
assertive managerial presence, demonstrating the ability for Hamilton and Washingtons weaknesses to enable one
another (Chernow, 289). Hamilton and the rest of the cabinet were created to advise Washington on specific issues,
and their suggestions were usually taken into account, but were rarely used to full effect. Nonetheless, along with
Adams and Washington, these men would set the precedents for United States leaders for centuries to come.
Chernow explains that, Everything about Washingtons administration assumed heightened importance [and] no
sooner was he sworn in than questions of protocol provoked hairsplitting debates, (Chernow, 278). Making the
presidency all the more difficult, Anti-federalists, those who opposed the constitution, had insisted that Hamilton
and the first administration were committed to instilling a monarchy. Consequently, these first constitutional leaders
needed to act very subtly in governing, to avoid being persecuted. Even when expressing the slightest hint of
kingliness, Hamilton and his fellow authorities would be shunned by the democratic republicans.
As secretary of treasury, Hamilton served as Washingtons prime economic advisor. And, as it remains for
most administrations today, the economy was the topic that was interpreted most by the average citizen. Because
finances could be seen either growing or dwindling in the pockets of the people, it was easy to gratify or denounce a
presidency upon. Thus, Hamilton would have a profound impact on how the Washington administration would be
viewed by the public. Furthermore, ...it was clear [that the Treasury Department] would be the real flash point of
controversy in the new government, making working in Hamiltons position riskier (Chernow, 281). To act as this
dauntingly impactful figure would require great effort, and laying the foundation for Hamiltons predominantly
successful time in office was the countrys current economic status. As the presidential cabinet was being
established, The United States had already suspended interest payments on much of its foreign and domestic debt,
and American bonds continued to trade at steep discounts on European exchanges, exemplifying the need for
American economic reform, most of which Hamilton would conduct (Chernow, 280). But, before Hamiltons
notable economic changes were set into motion, it was necessary that he establish the rudiments of the Treasury. For
Hamilton, these included developing systems of bookkeeping, hiring employees, and creating other mundane
traditions. Yet, amongst these benign changes, Hamilton had already attracted controversy and developed important
practices still followed loosely to this day. With the treasury being the largest governmental department, Hamilton
drew in, instant fears that he was building a large bureaucracy at his personal power base, (Chernow, 291). This
radical thinking was only worsened upon Hamiltons hiring of friend William Duer for assistant secretary. Duers
time in the treasury worked only to substantiate claims of corruption under Hamiltons leadership, as the assistants
moral conscience grew cloudier with time. While secrecy amongst treasury co-workers was of the upmost

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importance in securing a hold on the American economy, Duer simply ignored these standards. It was revealed that
he had been a stake holder in government securities for years, and that Duer had swayed the market by revealing
details of the treasury plan for funding government debt. These inappropriate actions on the part of Duer resulted in
lasting distrust of the Treasury Department and reflected badly on the leadership of Hamilton, who had a growing
pile of controversies stacking on his shoulders. Yet, allegations of political corruption under Hamiltons time as
secretary were far from true, as he had, established high ethical standards and promulgated a policy that
employees could not deal in government securities, setting a critical precedent for Americas civil service,
(Chernow, 293). Not only did this incident with Duer result in a model for future government morals, but also for
an assumption of corruption within American leadership. After recovering from this early American scandal,
Hamilton continued to have a profound presence in the Washington government. Even before Jefferson had arrived
to take up his mantle of secretary of state, Hamilton had invested himself in yet another controversial situation.
Choosing to act as the United States secretary of State before Jefferson could do so, he met secretly with British
diplomat Major George Beckwith. While discussing with the Brit, Hamilton confided his eagerness for a
commercial relationship with England. While it was widely understood that Hamilton was pro-British and found the
nation imperative for Americas financial success, outside information of these meetings struck up rumors of the
treasury secretary being a British-Agent. Although ridiculous, these accusations added to a large sum of
controversies stirred up around Hamilton. More importantly, though, Hamilton used this meeting to assess the
reasonability of developing a trade partnership with the British West-Indies. Soon, Washington would send
Governor Morris to England, in order to discuss such agreements with the British. Shortly after his confirmation as
secretary, Alexander Hamilton set benchmarks in the way of foreign policy and negotiations, even when it had not
been his place to do so.
Alexander Hamilton went further than establishing potential trade connections with the British, as he drew
insight from many European economies. Chernow explains that even in his inspiration Hamilton was unorthodox for
the time. As, While other members of the revolutionary generation dreamed of an American Eden, Hamilton
continued to ransack British and French history for ideas, exemplifying a rare trust in these traditional systems
(Chernow, 295). But, it would be English financial policy that had the greatest impact on Hamiltons decisions. He
looked to their banking system, and understood how their public debt had led to credit and strength throughout the
country. Hamilton deviated considerably from the British financial system, but prepared a report proposing to handle
national debt in a similar way. From this ideology, Hamilton fertilized the seed of the nations economy for decades
to follow in his Report on Public Credit. Here, Hamilton presented his claim that handling government debt properly
would allow for the American economy to evolve and for bonds to be used as stable capital. This rudiment of his
financial plan was further extrapolated upon, as Hamilton explained that, With government repayment
guaranteedthese bonds [would] soar from their depressed levels and regain their full face value, demonstrating
Hamiltons unique and revolutionary economic ideas (Chernow, 298). To begin this process, Alexander Hamilton
knew it to be necessary that only the current bondholders be repaid. This proposal made the process far more
workable, and also guaranteed that those who had risked their finances in a gamble for Americas future would be
rewarded. In fact, much of Hamiltons financial plan had been set on the basis that those who have a stake in the

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American economy are much more likely to perform well on its behalf. Also, Hamilton acknowledged that the
majority of those who purchased bonds from their original owners were likely to be wealthier, and thus abler invest
back into the American economy, rather than save the money for survival. Hamilton then tackled the second
question facing his proposal; how should separate state and federal debts be repaid? In answering this, Hamilton
created the assumption portion of his economic policy. As noted in its name, this section required that the national
government assume all debt as one single federal debt. This national acceptance of all debt was incredibly crucial to
the economy, as one all-encompassing program for approaching debt would be instituted rather than many smaller
programs. Furthermore, Hamilton realized that a federal debt would strengthen national loyalty, as bondholders
would want for the government to be successful because they had a financial stake in it. If the states owed them
money, instead, this feeling may shift from the central power to the states, which would be unfavorable for the
administration. These several reasons that a national debt could become a blessing contributed to Hamiltons lasting
effects on the Unites States economy, and also established standards within the American government. Now,
leaders would be encouraged to think effectively, and legislate not only to relieve short term issues, but increase
economic participation and governmental support. Hamiltons plan was presented via a reading to the congress, and
his opus was heard, but not without fierce refute. Once a friend and supporter to him, James Madison attacked
Hamiltons funding scheme, claiming that, blameless patriots, referring to original bondholders, were being
victimized... [Madison saw] a betrayal of the American Revolution in the making, (Chernow, 305). Clearly,
Hamiltons ambitious proposals were not universally praised, but his higher level of thinking is certainly an attribute
that has been held standard for the American government.
Amongst the fray of discussion brought about by Hamiltons financial scheme, another controversy was
beginning to appear. Northern Quakers sent a petition to congress, arguing for the abolishment of slavery. While
Madison was torn between his moral disdain for slavery and holding the union together, Hamilton was convinced
that an end to slavery in the south would certainly destroy the United States. Like his newfound rival Madison, he
morally disliked slavery, but he still took no side on the issue, as he felt it may affect his financial plans ability to
pass. Although this argument was eventually snuffed out, it profoundly hurt Hamiltons policy proposition, as many
southerners seemed to have a fresh fear of Hamiltonian capitalism. Through the slavery debacle, southern agrarian
farmers had a new outrage at the proposed powers that Hamilton wished to give the federal government. With this
dramatic displeasure expressed by the south, a man by the name of Aedanus Burke was put into a situation that
would eventually bring controversy over Hamilton again. Burke agreed with Hamiltons assumption plan, but was
faced with fellow southerners who clearly clashed with Hamiltons opinions. Thus, Burke launched an insulting
attack at Hamilton that included, a tirade in the House against the July 4 eulogy that Hamilton had pronounced
on General Nathanael Green nine months earlier, (Chernow, 308). Here, Burke branded Hamilton as disrespectful
towards the southern militia and also as a liar. Congressmen who read letters of explanation and apology between
Hamilton and Burke eventually settled this conflict. But, the ordeal created by Burke gave Hamilton a taste of harsh
public opinion, and worked to convince him of irresponsible actions on his part. Evidently, Hamilton faced many
adversaries and controversies during just the beginning of his time as secretary, but the precedents that he had begun
to set were irreplaceable, inspiring, and unique to Hamiltons unusual financial genius. Although the importance of

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governance is many times overshadowed by his many controversies, its research and publications like Chernows
that help to reveal Hamiltons profound impact on the American way of governing.
Compare and Contrast
In writing Alexander Hamilton, Chernow competes with textbooks to provide insight, history, and
information about the first secretary of treasury. While The American Pageant (Thirteenth Advanced Placement
Edition) textbook provides rudimentary historical context of Alexander Hamilton, it fails to surpass Chernows work
in almost all aspects. The textbook gives a fair attempt at contextualizing and fleshing out Hamiltons story, and
does so fairly well in regards to his financial plan, but the writing tends to be far more broad and less focused than
that included in Alexander Hamilton. Yet, the specific area chosen for reviewing the biography is amongst the best
discussed in the textbook, making the comparison slightly more balanced. Both texts demonstrate the precedents set
by Hamilton and the Washington administration, but clearly a textbook aimed at teaching an overarching theme and
historical era will have fewer opportunities to focus into the smaller details that create an accurate depiction of
Hamilton. But, this is a strength nearly as much as it is a weakness. Because the textbook adds details on people
other than the man or woman of focus, it does add context to insert the desired character into. But, the sheer amount
of information put into Alexander Hamilton clearly outweighs any additional contextualization provided by the
textbook. The aforementioned financial plan is the area most comparable between the two mediums though, as its
an important part of the textbooks chapter and also of Hamiltons personal story. One may even argue that the
textbook provides more specificities of the program, including more filtered descriptions of proposals. When
addressing the solution of funding at par, the textbook explains, Funding at par meant that the federal government
would pay off its debts at face value, plus accumulated interest, crafting a more focused picture of the proposal, and
not one that could be misunderstood as Chernows may be (Kennedy, Cohen, Bailey, 193). Additionally, Alexander
Hamilton tells a more comprehensive and inclusive version of the events, elaborating that Hamilton, decided that
foreign debt, which bore interest rates of only 4 to 5 percent, was to be paid in full, [and that] domestic domestic
debt, with a 6 percent interest rate, posed a greater dilemma, exemplifying that while the American Pageant is more
streamlined and focused on explaining the most important of the available information, Alexander Hamilton is far
more in depth and gives more information than the textbook (Chernow, 299). Furthering the difference in specificity
between the American Pageant and Alexander Hamilton, the introduction of Washington as the first president is
analyzed in a unique way throughout both texts. Exemplifying such a distinction between the pieces, the American
Pageant merely describes that, Much preferring the quiet of Mount Vernon to the turmoil of politics, he was
perhaps the only president who did not in some way angle for this exalted office. Balanced rather than brilliant, he
commanded his followers by strength of character rather than by the arts of the politician, (Kennedy, Cohen,
Bailey, 191). Similarly to how the textbook was more linear and simplified while discussing Hamiltons financial
plan, the American Pageant does not elaborate upon Washingtons introduction to the presidency. Alexander
Hamilton makes a profound statement regarding this topic, including a letter to Washington where Hamilton,
takes it for grantedthat [Washington has] concluded to comply with what will no doubt be the general call of
your country in relation to the new government, stressing how Hamilton was involved in the decision (Chernow,

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270). Again, this example is an obvious demonstration of how the textbook focuses on the topic in relation to
history, while Chernows piece relates all of the material to Hamilton. Moreover, this comparison identifies the
textbooks ability to concise information for the purpose of teaching, while Alexander Hamilton is allowed to go
into as much detail as wanted to explain its major points. So long as the example is in relation to Hamiltons
history, Chernows writing will tend to be more detailed, but less strictly structured, while the American Pageant
can be prided for its ability to compact and simplify the material.

Conclusion
Alexander Hamilton has made his mark on history, but his programs, personality, and beliefs have been
clearly misconstrued. Biographies comparable to Alexander Hamilton are beginning to sprout up, finally allowing
talented authors like Chernow to describe the secretary of treasury in a more productive and accurate way.
Chernows writing during Alexander Hamilton did not shy away from the founding fathers many controversies, but
used to them to represent how Hamiltons accomplishments have been shrouded by negative public opinion. The
biography relies on these controversies to drive the story and the meaning of Hamiltons life. Specifically though,
Hamiltons most debatable era is showcased during Chernows examination of his time in the early stages of
Washingtons presidency. Here, Hamilton sets obvious precedents that shape the mold of Americas government
today. Still, these standards that he instilled can be overlooked due to the several scandals Hamilton seemed to
encircle himself with. From questions regarding the appropriate size of treasury to his corrupt assistant Duer,
Hamilton could never escape being the subject of debate. Although his financial plan was indisputably
revolutionary, it too was followed by contention for Hamilton and the treasury. Hamiltons solutions of assumption,
and repayment only to current bondholders were brilliant, but faced difficulties in passing due to an enraged south
and suspicious America. Furthermore, in reading Alexander Hamilton the books target audience and writing style
became clear. Chernow is angling his biographies to be read by those interested in history and politics. But, this by
no means makes Chernows book a bore or difficult to finish. Albeit long and well explained, the biography remains
interesting and puts forth new material often enough to maintain interest in readers. Chernow also bolsters an
impressive array of other well-written historical works, all of which would be incredibly captivating if they are
written in a style similar to Alexander Hamilton. It would be easy to recommend this biography to another person
interested in history or politics; otherwise, Chernows piece may an inappropriate suggestion. But still, the way in
which it introduced new topics and managed to relate them all to the central figure, Chernows work is a definite
revival of Hamilton. This biography and its accompanying Broadway production may finally take up the task of
purifying Hamiltons name, and changing the widespread public opinion of him. Since history has claimed his name,
Hamilton has not recieved the national respect that other founding fathers have. Franklin, Washington, and Jefferson
are frequently viewed with a higher level of patriotism and pride than the first secretary of treasury. But, Chernow
may very well convince the public of Hamiltons genius and uncloak his profound and lasting effects on this nation.

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