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I'm Mike Pope. I live in the Seattle area. I've been a technical writer and editor for over 30 years. I'm interested in software, language, music, movies, books, motorcycles, travel, and ... well, lots of stuff.

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If I wanted slow, buggy, and crash-prone, I would have written it myself.

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Blog Statistics

Dates
First entry - 6/27/2003
Most recent entry - 1/15/2018

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Posts - 2475
Comments - 2570
Hits - 2,015,316

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Entries/day - 0.47
Comments/entry - 1.04
Hits/day - 379

Updated every 30 minutes. Last: 9:29 AM Pacific


  12:08 AM

Yesterday (1/11) was the birthday of Alexander Hamilton, who was born either in 1755 or 1757. Hamilton belongs to that pantheon known in the US as the "founding fathers." His inexact birthdate somewhat indirectly illustrates one of the great achievements of the America of colonial times; as has been noted many times, people rose to prominence (indeed, to an exalted status) who in the normal course of British society of the time would have gotten not much of anywhere. For example, Washington was a relatively undistinguished middle-level officer in the British Army; Franklin was a printer.

Hamilton had the most humble roots of all. He was a bastard child born in the West Indies (hence the question about his birthdate), whose early opportunities were denied by the then-notable fact of the circumstances of his birth, and who was moreover later orphaned. Nonetheless, he was extremely bright, educated himself as best he could, and was noticed and sent to New England to further his studies. He ended up joining the military on the side of the rebels, where his ambition and success eventually landed him the position of assistant to Washington in the Continental Army. From then on he moved in the circles of the movers and shakers of the American Revolution.

When people opine what the "founding fathers would have thought" -- generally followed by a sentiment critical of some aspect of the modern US -- they pretty much never have Hamilton in mind. Washington is associated with an early and practically mythological beginning of the executive branch, and Jefferson is the demigod worshipped by the folks who believe fervently in (for example) states' rights and those who are generally suspicious of government withal.

Hamilton, on the other hand, was highly influential in creating the US we know today, with strong federal powers and a national monetary system. (Which of course some find to be exactly the problem with the US.) Hamilton was one of the ghost authors of the Federalist Papers, which argued -- successfully in the end -- for a federal government rather than a confederation of states.[1] He was also successful in getting the brand-new US government to assume (federally, collectively) the debt of paying for the war, and he architected the financial system to make that happen. The Federalist Papers not only were influential in the debate about how to structure the government (that is, during the constitutional convention and ratification debates), but have occasionally been used to interpret, not quite correctly, what the founding fathers intended. Hamilton also did not share, to put it mildly, Jefferson's idealized notion of yeoman-citizens, and remained skeptical of the abilities of ordinary citizens to participate in government pretty much at all.

Hamilton is therefore a difficult figure to slot neatly into the mythology of the founding fathers and their ideals of liberty and democracy and all that. This is described eloquently by Gordon Wood in his book Revolutionary Characters:
Despite periodic biographies and occasional op-ed tributes in the Wall Street Journal, it seems unlikely that Hamilton can ever acquire a warm place in the hearts of most Americans. Wall Street might erect a statue in his honor, but it is doubtful that an elaborate Hamilton Memorial will ever arise in the District of Columbia. [...] Many present-day liberal Democrats[2] might find Hamilton's vision of a positive Leviathan state very appealing, but they would surely be turned off by his realpolitik view of the world, his desire to maintain a large standing army and build a strong military state, and his doubts about democracy. ("Democracy," Hamilton said in 1804, was "our real Disease," one that was poisoning the American "Empire.") Most present-day Republicans, for all their enthusiasm for Hamilton's vision of a powerful military machine, do not want a Leviathan state that manages the economy and taxes people. So for the foreseeable future Hamilton seems to have few friends among those who would use the founders to further their particular causes.
Altho we won't be visiting the Hamilton Memorial anytime soon, Hamilton does get the last laugh; it's his USA that we live in today, and his vision trumped the utopian (and ultimately impractical and unrealized) views of Jefferson and the republicans. And hey, the Hamilton "memorial" that we do have is one that a lot of people have a great deal of respect for:




[1] Interestingly, one of his co-authors was James Madison, who later made a 180-degree turn and became a strong republican and opponent of the federalists.

[2] Wood is a conservative, as might be clear.

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