by Ron Chernow, 2005, Penguin Books
This is a fantastic book that is chock-full of information about Alexander Hamilton, but, more importantly, his imprint on the structure of our federal government. It also provides a lot of insight regarding the divisions that we currently have in how individuals view our federal government.
The book delves into the particular talents of Hamilton and how he used them to structure the government in his role as Secretary of Treasurer during Washington’s presidency. His influence went well beyond his own cabinet post as many of the other agencies had a very limited bureaucracy. Hamilton had the unwavering support of Washington for most of his endeavors. Thomas Jefferson, as Secretary of State, on the other hand, was viewed by Washington with a high level of distrust.
Chernow’s depiction of our founding fathers is unvarnished. He not only extolls the many talents of Hamilton, but also fully describes his shortcomings. His depictions of some of the other founding fathers, such as Jefferson and John Adams, is highly critical. For example, I never knew that Jefferson was such a snake when he held his post as Secretary of State. His actions would probably be grounds for charges of treason in today’s political environment. Likewise, Adams is portrayed as someone with personal flaws that sometimes made him appear as a raving lunatic. He probably had a thinner skin than even our current president!
.One other insight that I gained from this book was that, although the United States was formed as a federal republic under the Constitution, the “United” part of our country’s name was and continues to be somewhat tenuous. The federal government is supposedly the glue that holds our country together, but it is now often viewed as the oppressive institution that keeps us from doing whatever we would like to be doing. One wonders if the Civil War, which supposedly was able to preserve the Union, did, in fact, settle it for all time as we seem to be at least as divided now as we were during the first few years of our new nation.
While the book is a wealth of information about that period in the history of our country, it was sometimes pretty tedious to read and, in some places, seemed repetitive. It’s over seven hundred pages of fairly small print and it took me almost three months to wade through it. (It sometimes put me to sleep after only a paragraph or two perhaps due to my chronic lack of sleep rather than the subject matter). Despite my efforts to slog through it, I would highly recommend that anyone who has an interest in how the federal government was formed read this book