John Ferling, professor emeritus of history at the University of West Georgia, is a wonderful writer of history and biography. I know his name through his evocative treatments of major figures in early American history. His special interest has always been the War of Independence, and the more prominent figures of early American history. He has done it again in a new book that I find quite exciting.
I recently began working my way each day through Ferling’s newest book, Jefferson and Hamilton: The Rivalry That Forged a Nation (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2013). The book can also be purchased in a Kindle version for less than $10. For many years I realized that a number of our modern political debates have their real origin in the views, and even the temperaments, of these two giants of early America. But I had far too little comprehension of just how true this observation was until reading Ferling’s excellent book.
The decade of the 1790s has been called “the decade of passion” for good reason. Fervor for the new nation, and how it should proceed, impacted most Americans after the War. The two leading figures, who represented the legacy of the founding and the Revolution, were Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. Most thoughtful Americans understood then, as very few do now, that what was at stake was the future of the American experiment in democracy. And few knew then, as even fewer know now, that for all intents and purposes the views of these two serious adversaries shaped America in almost every profound way.
Jefferson believed passionately in personal, individual liberty and a generally egalitarian society. He wanted a weak central government. Hamilton, a brilliant organizer and tactician, feared chaos and social disorder more than anything else and desired a more powerful national government. He foresaw economic greatness for America in the future global context and believed that the national government had a very important role to play in regards to this future.
The struggle between these two men was fierce, public and intensely personal. This rivalry ended with Hamilton’s death in a pistol duel with Aaron Burr, Jefferson’s vice president. (Can you imagine Vice President Joe Biden in a pistol duel with Speaker John Boehner? How would this impact the nation today? And we think that we have passionate political partisanship in our time!)
The personalities, passions and bold dreams about the American future, as represented by these two men, have shaped America for well-over two hundred years. Sometimes knowing the past can truly help you understand the present. In this case the truth really is stranger than fiction. This is a great read if you want to better understand how we got to 2014 (politically & economically) and what our competing dreams mean for America right down to our present time. What role does a central government have and how are the states to preserve their sovereignty while the federal government operates the banking system? Should we have a federal banking system, why or why not? What about taxation? These are the kinds of questions debated in “the decade of passion” and by these two great men. This book makes a wonderful contribution to our American history for ordinary readers who want to get into some of our most important modern issues.