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.
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I’ll have to read the book, but it appears that both have won the debate. We currently have Jefferson’s individual liberty and a generally egalitarian society, and Hamilton’s more powerful national government.
Are they functioning well together?
John Fea, have you seen or read this book?
John, thanks for this. I’ll add it to my list.
I posted on something similar, even today.
Thanks for the recommendation.
I have to take issue with the ” . . . the federal government operates the banking system” question.
The federal government exercise fiscal policy. It is the private central bank (now, the Federal Reserve) that sets monetary policy.
(It is the latter that Hamilton tried desperately to push through but ultimately failed in maintaining.)
Hamilton was said to be a lousy Sec of Treasury, & the 2nd Sec Gallatin had a major clean up to do
Robert: Start reading the 26-volume _The Papers of Alexander Hamilton_ and see if you maintain that position. I bet you’ll change your mindset within about 10-pages. He was a brilliant tactician (although hated by many since his brilliance was too daunting).
He is the reason why the (so-called) ‘birthers’ had an axe to grind some years ago. He was so hated (and in exchange for the capital to move from Philadelphia to New York and then to Washington, DC ) it was shoved into the Constitution that a president had to be a “naturally born citizen”.
Yes, you are right. Island of Nevas did not merit. I love the guy, but after his rant on Burr he un-
fortunately had it coming. Cute, too, to read his early papers from King’s Colleg/now Columbia, where he defended the British & then switched to the Colonists, protested that all he could do was write letters for George Washington, then led an attack on a Redoubt at Yorktown. He was so tiny, you can almost hear him like Rumplestilskin twirling @ about being displaced by Marque de Layfayette. His role was pivitol, critical re Central Bank & the remake of the Republic after failure…
MOST defended the British. Even during the height of the Revolution — toward the very end when there was a chance that “we” might win — fully 62% of the Colonists were still dead against the war.
My parting class conversation with my “Professor of a Lifetime,” Dr. Howard Ohline, after taking a number of classes with him, ending with American Revolution & Republic, we ‘professionally’ argued whether ANY of the Revolutionaries (the main guys, so-to-speak), were fundamentally different at the end of the war as at the beginning. His argument was no, and I argued the other side. He won. I lost.
And after decades of reflection, I could never win.
I have to say that I agree with everything Jeff Frazier writes here. Hamilton was a genius. I did not realize how much so until I read Ferling’s excellent book. If you’ve heard a lot “bad stuff” about Andrew Hamilton please read the book if you wish to seek some objectivity.
John & Jeff, U r good n true. I was merely teasing @ Al some (I did not make fun of his being the son of a prostitute & a Scottish seaman & then being a clothes horse.) While I think Franklin was the critical figure I certainly respect Hamilton ‘ s role in helping to shape a young nation. Pax
Thanks Robert. All the negatives are true but reveal what Hamilton had to overcome. What impresses me is his loyalty to the fight in the War of Independence, something Jefferson did not wish to engage in at all.
John: Say, if my Parole Officer would call you, could you put in the good word and say that “I agree with everything Jeff Frazier writes here”? Much appreciated!!!
Jeff Frazier, bring it on friend. Happy to help. 🙂
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