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"Alexander Hamilton" by Ron Chernow - Notes

1. Hamilton was the consummate political theorist-practitioner. He was a master at writing his ideas down for political institutions in lucid fashion, and then pushing the ball up the court to actually get things done. This book was a masterfully-written documentary of one of the preeminent men of our nation's history, who deserves credit for a good many facets of modern government. The times required men like Washington, Madison, and Hamilton to not only envision the institutions that we take for granted, but to push forward through the power vacuum that was present in the post-revolutionary confederation of states. Hamilton was not only a master theorist but also a master practitioner of Real Politik in his day.


2. Politics was just as nasty then as it is now. Pseudonymous authors wrote essays against opponents and you couldn’t just fact check it on the internet. This explains why a man's honor in that time was so highly regarded and a challenge to it literally meant blood. It was one mans word vs another’s. Hamilton would ultimately die defending his honor in a duel against Aaron Burr.


3. In 1791, the first bank public offering resulted in almost certainly the country's first stock bubble - and what did Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton do? As the bubble burst and thousands upon thousands watched as margin loans came due, Hamilton bought into the panic to stabilize the market, representing most likely the first time the new government used open market activities to stabilize severe volatility.


4. Hamilton was a man of integrity in most areas, but he had his foibles too. At one point in his career, he was ensnared in an affair with a woman who began blackmailing him that she’d tell and expose him if he didn’t do as she wished. It ultimately was discovered by political enemies and his name was dragged through the mud of the press.


5. The makings of the civil war can be traced all the way to Hamiltonian/Jeffersonian political debates. Hamiltonian Federalists wanted a strong central government and wanted to remake America’s economy into a dynamic manufacturing society and move away from an all-agrarian model, while Jeffersonian Republicans wanted a smaller government and liked their agrarian model just fine. The south began to coalesce under Jefferson and Madison and northerners were eager to back Hamilton’s Federalist Party. Republicans feared being ruled by a rich elite (sound familiar in 2019?) and the Federalists wanted the government to have the power it needed to sufficiently guide the country in the delicate political climate immediately after breaking ties with Britain.


6. Hamilton most likely spearheaded one of the first episodes of technology theft in the United States when he encouraged merchants to steal designs of new textile machinery from Britain.


7. Washington's cabinet represents a precedent for disagreement and fighting within presidential administrations - and it happened between Hamilton and Jefferson. Interestingly enough, after Jefferson left the cabinet over differences in ideologies with Hamilton, the first political parties began to emerge.


8. Notably, Aaron Burr served as Vice President of the United States under Thomas Jefferson and presided over the Senate after being indicted for Alexander Hamilton’s murder! He was the ultimate flip-flopper in political alliances, loved mysterious soirées with adulterous women, and was proclaimed a murderer - and was the Vice President of the United States. And we bemoan the current state of affairs? Times haven't changed much.

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