Oh, how things have changed! Birthday wishes for Alexander Hamilton, from 2012

January 11, 2018

I posted this back on January 11, 2012, a birthday note for Alexander Hamilton. In 2012, most Americans would have simply been puzzled by a request to tell them about the guy on the $10 bill.
Then stardom hit. Lin-Manuel Miranda, who in 2012 had just a couple of songs and an idea about a musical about Hamilton, finished the piece, produced it on Broadway, and set records for attendance and Tony awards, and generally raised Alexander Hamilton’s profile. Here is that post from 2012, with only editing for errors and time.

Today, January 11,  is Alexander Hamilton’s birthday — had he lived so long, he’d be 254 years old today! [260 years, in 2018 — probably]

Alexander Hamilton on the U.S. ten dollar note - Guardian image

Alexander Hamilton on the U.S. ten dollar note – Guardian image

But of course, the bullet from Aaron Burr’s gun cut Hamilton’s life short, after the duel in Weehawken, New Jersey. Hamilton died of the wound on July 12, 1804. He was 47 years old.

Had Hamilton survived the duel, would he have been elected president? Some people think so. In any case, Hamilton’s wise management of the new nation’s finances, and his establishment of the idea that government should have a working bank, and that good government is a key to economic success of a nation, leave a great legacy for the nation, and the world.

Hamilton’s portrait adorns the U.S. $10 bill.

Read Hamilton’s biography from the U.S. National Archives’ feature on “America’s Founding Fathers/Charters of Freedom” exhibit:

Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton

Hamilton was born in 1757 on the island of Nevis, in the Leeward group, British West Indies. He was the illegitimate son of a common-law marriage between a poor itinerant Scottish merchant of aristocratic descent and an English-French Huguenot mother who was a planter’s daughter. In 1766, after the father had moved his family elsewhere in the Leewards to St. Croix in the Danish (now United States) Virgin Islands, he returned to St. Kitts while his wife and two sons remained on St. Croix.

The mother, who opened a small store to make ends meet, and a Presbyterian clergyman provided Hamilton with a basic education, and he learned to speak fluent French. About the time of his mother’s death in 1768, he became an apprentice clerk at Christiansted in a mercantile establishment, whose proprietor became one of his benefactors. Recognizing his ambition and superior intelligence, they raised a fund for his education.

In 1772, bearing letters of introduction, Hamilton traveled to New York City. Patrons he met there arranged for him to attend Barber’s Academy at Elizabethtown (present Elizabeth), NJ. During this time, he met and stayed for a while at the home of William Livingston, who would one day be a fellow signer of the Constitution. Late the next year, 1773, Hamilton entered King’s College (later Columbia College and University) in New York City, but the Revolution interrupted his studies.

Although not yet 20 years of age, in 1774-75 Hamilton wrote several widely read pro-Whig pamphlets. Right after the war broke out, he accepted an artillery captaincy and fought in the principal campaigns of 1776-77. In the latter year, winning the rank of lieutenant colonel, he joined the staff of General Washington as secretary and aide-de-camp and soon became his close confidant as well.

In 1780 Hamilton wed New Yorker Elizabeth Schuyler, whose family was rich and politically powerful; they were to have eight children. In 1781, after some disagreements with Washington, he took a command position under Lafayette in the Yorktown, VA, campaign (1781). He resigned his commission that November.

Hamilton then read law at Albany and quickly entered practice, but public service soon attracted him. He was elected to the Continental Congress in 1782-83. In the latter year, he established a law office in New York City. Because of his interest in strengthening the central government, he represented his state at the Annapolis Convention in 1786, where he urged the calling of the Constitutional Convention.

In 1787 Hamilton served in the legislature, which appointed him as a delegate to the convention. He played a surprisingly small part in the debates, apparently because he was frequently absent on legal business, his extreme nationalism put him at odds with most of the delegates, and he was frustrated by the conservative views of his two fellow delegates from New York. He did, however, sit on the Committee of Style, and he was the only one of the three delegates from his state who signed the finished document. Hamilton’s part in New York’s ratification the next year was substantial, though he felt the Constitution was deficient in many respects. Against determined opposition, he waged a strenuous and successful campaign, including collaboration with John Jay and James Madison in writing The Federalist. In 1787 Hamilton was again elected to the Continental Congress.

When the new government got under way in 1789, Hamilton won the position of Secretary of the Treasury. He began at once to place the nation’s disorganized finances on a sound footing. In a series of reports (1790-91), he presented a program not only to stabilize national finances but also to shape the future of the country as a powerful, industrial nation. He proposed establishment of a national bank, funding of the national debt, assumption of state war debts, and the encouragement of manufacturing.

Hamilton’s policies soon brought him into conflict with Jefferson and Madison. Their disputes with him over his pro-business economic program, sympathies for Great Britain, disdain for the common man, and opposition to the principles and excesses of the French revolution contributed to the formation of the first U.S. party system. It pitted Hamilton and the Federalists against Jefferson and Madison and the Democratic-Republicans.

During most of the Washington administration, Hamilton’s views usually prevailed with the President, especially after 1793 when Jefferson left the government. In 1795 family and financial needs forced Hamilton to resign from the Treasury Department and resume his law practice in New York City. Except for a stint as inspector-general of the Army (1798-1800) during the undeclared war with France, he never again held public office.

While gaining stature in the law, Hamilton continued to exert a powerful impact on New York and national politics. Always an opponent of fellow-Federalist John Adams, he sought to prevent his election to the presidency in 1796. When that failed, he continued to use his influence secretly within Adams’ cabinet. The bitterness between the two men became public knowledge in 1800 when Hamilton denounced Adams in a letter that was published through the efforts of the Democratic-Republicans.

In 1802 Hamilton and his family moved into The Grange, a country home he had built in a rural part of Manhattan not far north of New York City. But the expenses involved and investments in northern land speculations seriously strained his finances.

Meanwhile, when Jefferson and Aaron Burr tied in Presidential electoral votes in 1800, Hamilton threw valuable support to Jefferson. In 1804, when Burr sought the governorship of New York, Hamilton again managed to defeat him. That same year, Burr, taking offense at remarks he believed to have originated with Hamilton, challenged him to a duel, which took place at present Weehawken, NJ, on July 11. Mortally wounded, Hamilton died the next day. He was in his late forties at death. He was buried in Trinity Churchyard in New York City.

Image: Courtesy of The National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Post mostly borrowed, with express permission, from Mr. Darrell’s Wayback Machine.

Remember to watch for progress on “The Alexander Hamilton Mixtape,” a hip-hop version of Alexander Hamilton’s life by Lin-Manuel Miranda, seen here performing Aaron Burr’s soliloquey, at the White House.

More, added in 2018:

Poster for Lin-Manuel Miranda's musical play,

Poster for Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical play, “Hamilton.” Wikipedia image.

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George Washington: No military junta, no king; an example we can all follow

December 23, 2016

This is a mostly encore post, emphasizing George Washington’s astounding ability to draw from history just exactly the right lesson, and then set the example that makes history.

Washington, though having never attended college, was an inveterate reader, and a sharp student of history.  Early he read the story of the great Roman, Cincinnatus, who made the Roman Republic great with his refusal to lust for power.  Cincinnatus twice was named Dictator, and both times resigned the commission rather than personally profit as others did — after saving Rome both times, of course.

In his own life, Washington also twice cast off the mantle of top leader, once when he resigned his commission as Commander in Chief of the Continental Army when so many assumed he would just keep on, and add the title of “King of America;” and the second time when, as president, he stepped aside and retired, leaving the leadership of the nation up to the Constitutional processes that had never before been tried successfully in any nation.

Washington’s resignation from the army command came on December 23, 1783 — such an important anniversary usually gets lost in preparations for Christmas, so I’ll post it a bit early.  In your holiday toasts, lift a glass to George Washington, who gave us civilian rule, an end to monarchy, and an example of responsible leadership making way for peaceful succession.

In 2007, I wrote:

On December 23, 1783, Commander of the Continental Army, Gen. George Washington resigned his commission, to the Continental Congress sitting in Annapolis, Maryland. Washington modeled his actions on the life of Roman general and patriot Cincinnatus. (See especially this site, the Society of the Cincinnati)

 

John Trumbull painting of Washington resigning his commission

John Trumbull’s painting of Washington resigning his commission; one of eight great paintings hanging in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol

Washington had been thought to be in a position to take over the government and declare himself king, if he chose. Instead, at some cost to himself he personally put down a rebellion of the officers of the army who proposed a coup d’etat against the Continental Congress, angered that they had not been paid. Washington quietly asked that the men act honorably and not sully the great victory they had won against Britain. Then Washington reviewed the army, wrapped up affairs, journeyed to Annapolis to resign, and returned to his farm and holdings at Mount Vernon, Virginia.

Because Washington could have turned into a tyrant, it is reported that King George III of England, upon hearing the news of Washington’s resignation, refused to believe it. If the report were true, George is reported to have said, Washington was the greatest man who ever lived.

Washington’s resignation set precedent: Civilian government controlled the military; Americans served, then went back to their private lives and private business; Americans would act nobly, sometimes when least expected.

From the Library of Congress American Memory site, “Today in History”:

George Washington resigned his commission as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army on December 23, 1783, in the senate chamber of the Maryland State House in Annapolis, where the Continental Congress was then meeting.

Although the British had recognized American independence with the signing of the Treaty of Paris on September 3, British troops did not evacuate New York until December 4. After the last British ships left the harbor, Washington bid an emotional farewell to his officers and set out for Annapolis. On the journey south he was met with throngs of well-wishers paying him tribute for his role in the nation’s military victory over Great Britain.

Washington left Annapolis at dawn on December 24 and set out for Mount Vernon, his plantation on the Potomac River in Virginia. He arrived home before nightfall on Christmas Eve, a private citizen for the first time in almost nine years.

The Maryland State Capitol in Annapolis.

The Maryland State Capitol in Annapolis.

Maryland State House, Annapolis, Maryland
William Henry Jackson, photographer, circa 1892.
Touring Turn-of-the-Century America, 1880-1920

When Washington visited The Maryland State House in 1783, the structure was incomplete and suffered from a leaking roof. By 1786, when representatives from Maryland and Virginia meeting at the State House rallied support for the movement to remedy defects in the Articles of Confederation, construction of a new dome had begun. Today, the building begun in 1772 is the oldest state house still in legislative use.

Located at the mouth of the Severn River on the Chesapeake Bay, Annapolis was settled in 1649 by Puritans who moved there from Virginia. The town was known in the seventeenth century as Town of Proctor’s, Town at the Severn, and Anne Arundel Town before it was named for Queen Anne in 1695. It is home to the U.S. Naval Academy and to St. John’s College, founded in 1696.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

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Remember April 19, 1775: Battle at Concord Bridge

April 19, 2016

Battle at Concord Bridge, April 19, 1775; National Guard Heritage Painting

Battle at Concord Bridge, April 19, 1775; National Guard Heritage Painting by Dominick D’Andrea.

For a story of the battle, and why the National Guard considers this part of its history, check out this story by Amelia Meyer at the National Guard Educational Foundation. The phrase, “shot heard ’round the world,” was first heard on July 4, 1837, at the dedication of the Concord monument.

More:

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.


Anniversary of Paul Revere’s ride, in the middle of National Poetry Month

April 18, 2016

This is mostly an encore post.  Is there a good reason Paul Revere made his ride in the middle of National Poetry Month

Teachers, you may want to get copies of the poems for your U.S. history and literature classes.
I like to go through the poem again on the anniversary of the event, with students taking one verse each. It builds vocabulary (try it, you’ll see), and it gives an opportunity to discuss how history threads run long; this poem was written in 1860, when the “hour of darkness and peril” was a different war, not against Britain, and not concentrated along the nation’s Atlantic coast.

You may want to note that the Boston Marathon is traditionally run on Freedom Day in Massachusetts — the day that commemorates the ride of the patriots’ warning that Gen. Gage’s army was on the move, and of the battles at Lexington and Concord, the next day. 

_____________

April 18 and 19. Do the dates have significance?

Paul Revere's ride, from Paul Revere House

Paul Revere’s Ride, by Blake. Image from Paul Revere House.

 

Among other things, April 19 is the date of the firing of the “shot heard ’round the world,” the first shots in the American Revolution. On April 19, 1775, American Minutemen stood to protect arsenals they had created at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, against seizure by the British Army then occupying Boston.

American history does not have a rude bridge at Concord commemorated, without the ride of the patriots the night before to warn the colonists. Though its history may run aft agly, “Paul Revere’s Ride” celebrates particular characteristics of Americans who make history.

Plus, April is National Poetry Month. What have we done to celebrate poetry?

What have we done to properly acknowledge the key events of April 18 and 19, 1775? Happily, poetry helps us out in history studies. Or, it can do.

Was there a time when poetry inspired a nation to save itself?

In contrast to my childhood, when we as students had poems to memorize weekly throughout our curriculum, modern students too often come to my classes seeming wholly unaware that rhyming and rhythm are used for anything other than celebrating materialist, establishment values obtained sub rosa. Poetry, to them, is mostly rhythm, certainly not for polite company, and never for learning.

Poetry has  slipped from our national curriculum, dropped away from our national consciousness.  No national test adequately covers poetry, not in English, not in social studies — certainly not in math or science.

That is one small part of the reason that Aprils in the past two decades turned instead to memorials to violence, and fear that violence will break out again. We have allowed darker ideas to dominate April, and especially the days around April 19.

You and I have failed to properly commemorate the good, I fear. We have a duty to pass along these cultural icons, as touchstones to understanding America.

So, reclaim the high ground. Reclaim the high cultural ground.

Read a poem today. Plan to be sure to have the commemorative reading of “Paul Revere’s Ride” in your classes on April 18 or 19, and “The Concord Hymn” on April 19.

We must work to be sure our heritage of freedom is remembered, lest we condemn our students, our children and grandchildren to having to relearn these lessons of history, as Santayana warned.

Texts of the poems are below the fold, though you may be much better off to use the links and see those sites, the Paul Revere House, and the Minuteman National Historical Park.

Read the rest of this entry »


July 4, 1826: Astonishing coincidences on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration

July 4, 2014

You know the story, don’t you? If you don’t, you should commit this one to memory.  It’s not fiction, and if you proposed it for fiction, the editors would reject it as too improbable, or too sappy, a tug on your heartstrings and tear ducts.  It’s true, better than the faux patriot fiction we often get on July 4.

July 4, 2014, is the 238th anniversary of the announcement of the Declaration of Independence.  I hope you’re thinking about how you’ll fly the flag this weekend in honor of the Declaration of Independence.

The resolution proposed by Richard Henry Lee calling for independence of the 13 colonies passed the Continental Congress on July 2, 1776.  The Declaration would be Thomas Jefferson’s crowning achievement, outshining even his presidency and the Louisiana Purchase.   John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail, that July 2 would forever be marked by patriotic displays.

But the Declaration itself, which gave teeth to the resolution, was adopted two days later on July 4.  That has come to be the day we celebrate.

Detail, John Trumbull's Signing of the Declaration of Independence - Theodor Horydczak photo, Library of Congress

Detail, John Trumbull’s Signing of the Declaration of Independence – The committee of five presents the Declaration of Independence to John Hancock, the President of the Second Continental Congress; from left, the committee is John Adams, Robert Livingston, Roger Sherman, Thomas Jefferson, and Ben Franklin.  Theodor Horydczak photo, Library of Congress

Adams didn’t miss a beat.  Who quibbles about a couple of days when the celebrating is so good?

Adams and Jefferson were two of the five-member committee the Congress had tasked to write a declaration.  Adams and Ben Franklin quickly determined to leave it up to Jefferson, who had a grand flair with words, and who had just written a couple of stirring documents for Virginia.  Roger Sherman and Robert Livingston, the other two members, went along.  And so it was that the Declaration of  Independence is almost completely the work of Thomas Jefferson.

Adams and Jefferson became friends only later, when they both served the nation at war as ambassadors to France, and then for Adams, to England.  A widower, Jefferson was taken in by Abigail Adams who worried about him.  After the war, Jefferson was in England when Adams was to meet King George III in a grand ceremony in which the king would accept the credentials of all the ambassadors of foreign nations to England.  As the king strode down the line, each ambassador or delegation would bow, the king would acknowledge them, the papers would be passed, and the king would move on.  Adams and Jefferson bowed.  King George moved on, ignoring them completely.

In such a case of such a snub, the snubbed foreigners usually made a quick exit.  Adams and Jefferson did not.  They stood at attention as if the king had treated them like all the rest, reversing the snub.  From the beginning, Americans and the United States pushed for more practical, reasonable, and compassionate government and relations.  Standing together, against the snub of the British King one more time, Adams and Jefferson formed a silent bond that held them the rest of their lives.

Back in America in peacetime, and both members of the administration of George Washington, Adams and Jefferson fell out.  Secretary of State Jefferson favored a more limited federal government; Vice President Adams favored a more powerful one.  By the end of Washington’s second term, party politics had been well developed.  Adams defeated Jefferson in the election of 1796.  As was the law then, Jefferson was vice president as the runner-up vote getter in the electoral college; but Adams kept Jefferson out of all government affairs.  Perhaps because he didn’t have Jefferson to help, Adams’s presidency did not go well.  In the rematch election in 1800, one of  the bitterest election fights ever, Jefferson’s party defeated Adams.  The gleeful Democratic-Republican electors all voted one ballot for Jefferson, the presidential candidate, and one ballot for Aaron Burr, the party’s vice presidential candidate.

Alas, that produced a tie vote in the electoral college.  Adams’s party, the Federalists, still held the House of Representatives before the new Congress came in.  A tie vote goes to the House for decision.  They could not bring themselves to vote for Jefferson, and the deadlock continued for 37 ballots.  Finally Jefferson’s former friend but now arch-enemy Alexander Hamilton intervened, explaining that Burr was clearly the greater scoundrel, and the House elected Jefferson.  Adams slunk out of town, avoiding the inauguration.

It wasn’t until after 1809 when Benjamin Rush hoodwinked Jefferson into writing to Adams, and Adams to Jefferson, that the two became friendly again.  For the next 17 years Jefferson and Adams carried on perhaps the greatest series of correspondence in history between two great minds.  Letters went out almost daily, from Monticello, Virginia,  to Braintree, Massachusetts, and from Braintree to Monticello.  They discussed the weather, their families, old times, farming — but especially the republic they had been most instrumental in creating, and how it might be preserved, and made to prosper.  Eventually the letters became harder to read, both because their eyesight was failing, and because their penmanship deteriorated, too.

The ideas, however, flowed like a great river of freedom.  Perhaps this correspondence was the river flowing justice the prophet Amos foretold.

Letter from Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, August 15th, 1820 - Library of Congress image

Letter from Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, August 15th, 1820. From The Thomas Jefferson Papers at the Library of Congress, Thomas Jefferson Papers Series 1. General Correspondence. 1651-1827. Library of Congress image

Both men took ill early in 1826.  This was a landmark year, 50 years since the Declaration of Independence.  In Massachusetts, a grand display of fireworks was planned to cap off a day of feasting and celebration.  Adams hoped he might attend.  In Virginia, a week before, it became clear Jefferson was too ill to venture even as close as Charlottesville for the celebration.  Jefferson sent his regrets to invitations from several celebrations.  Jefferson slept through most of July 3, but awoke about 9:00 p.m., and asked, “This is the fourth?”  It was not.  These are the last significant, recorded words of Jefferson.  He awoke at about 4:00 a.m. on the Fourth of July, 1826, but could not make a rally.  He died at 12:50 in the afternoon.

Adams, too, was too ill to attend the celebrations.  In the late afternoon or early evening of the Fourth, he awoke, and heard the celebration in the town.  Almost as if he had worked just to live to see that particular day, he checked the date.  Realizing he was near the end, happy that he’d seen 50 years after the Declaration, and unaware of the events a few hours earlier that day in Virginia, Adams said, “Thomas Jefferson still survives.”  Adams, too, died on July 4, 1826.

Fly your flag July 4th. Remember John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.  Remember their great work in creating the nation that protects our freedoms today.  Remember their great friendship.  Write a letter to a good friend you’ve not written to lately.

It is Independence Day, a day created and celebrated by great men like John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.  Their spirit survives in us, as we celebrate, and if we remember why we celebrate as friends.

More:


April 19, 1775: Battle at Concord Bridge

April 19, 2014

Battle at Concord Bridge, April 19, 1775; National Guard Heritage Painting

Battle at Concord Bridge, April 19, 1775; National Guard Heritage Painting by Dominick D’Andrea.

For a story of the battle, and why the National Guard considers this part of its history, check out this story by Amelia Meyer at the National Guard Educational Foundation.

More:


Anniversary of Paul Revere’s ride, in the middle of National Poetry Month 2014

April 16, 2014

This is mostly an encore post.  Is there a good reason Paul Revere made his ride in the middle of National Poetry Month

Teachers, I’m posting this a couple of days early.  You may want to get copies of the poems for your U.S. history and literature classes. 

You may want to note that the Boston Marathon is traditionally run on Freedom Day in Massachusetts — the day that commemorates the ride of the patriots’ warning that Gen. Gage’s army was on the move, and of the battles at Lexington and Concord, the next day. 

_____________

April 18 and 19. Do the dates have significance? Paul Revere's ride, from Paul Revere House

Among other things, April 19 is the date of the firing of the “shot heard ’round the world,” the first shots in the American Revolution. On April 19, 1775, American Minutemen stood to protect arsenals they had created at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, against seizure by the British Army then occupying Boston.

April is National Poetry Month. What have we done to celebrate poetry?

What have we done to properly acknowledge the key events of April 18 and 19, 1775? Happily, poetry helps us out in history studies. Or it can do.

In contrast to my childhood, when we as students had poems to memorize weekly throughout our curriculum, modern students too often come to my classes seeming wholly unaware that rhyming and rhythm are used for anything other than celebrating materialist, establishment values obtained sub rosa. Poetry, to them, is mostly rhythm, certainly not for polite company, and never for learning.

Poetry has  slipped from our national curriculum, dropped away from our national consciousness.  No national test adequately covers poetry, not in English, not in social studies — certainly not in math or science.

That is one small part of the reason that Aprils in the past two decades turned instead to memorials to violence, and fear that violence will break out again. We have allowed darker ideas to dominate April, and especially the days around April 19.

You and I have failed to properly commemorate the good, I fear. We have a duty to pass along these cultural icons, as touchstones to understanding America.

So, reclaim the high ground. Reclaim the high cultural ground.

Read a poem today. Plan to be sure to have the commemorative reading of “Paul Revere’s Ride” in your classes on April 18 or 19, and “The Concord Hymn” on April 19.

We must work to be sure our heritage of freedom is remembered, lest we condemn our students, our children and grandchildren to having to relearn these lessons of history, as Santayana warned.

Texts of the poems are below the fold, though you may be much better off to use the links and see those sites, the Paul Revere House, and the Minuteman National Historical Park.

Read the rest of this entry »


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