ALEXANDER HAMILTON: A Biography by Forrest McDonald


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Jefferson and Hamilton were more than just political opponents; they were poles apart in their backgrounds, personalities, and visions as well. McDonald (History, Alabama) has no doubts about which one represented everything that was good about the American Revolution and laid the foundation for national prosperity. Others may see Hamilton as a pro-British speculator and power-obsessed man-on-the-make, but McDonald opposes Hamilton the efficient, self-reliant entrepreneur to Jefferson the idealist slave-owning landed oligarch. (Or, as he quotes Pope as saying: ""For Forms of Government let fools contest; whate'er is best administered is best."") Hamilton's administrative talents first came to light as Washington's aide during the War--Hamilton was also a capable line officer--and Washington later put those talents to work in appointing Hamilton the first Secretary of the Treasury. As one of the authors of the famed Federalist Papers (with Jay and Madison), Hamilton had argued for a strong central government, and under Washington he had the power to establish the financial institutions he deemed necessary. But Hamilton's bank plans, and antipathy to import duties, encouraged speculation in money; and may, some contend, have retarded indigenous manufacturing. McDonald, however, goes to great lengths to argue that Hamilton's free-market approach was beneficial to manufacturing and was opposed only by reactionary, protected landed interests. He is thorough, though blinkered, on Hamilton's financial policies and on his contribution to legal practice, which also favored ""private economic development."" But he refuses to take Hamilton's adversaries seriously, which would entail coming to terms with the dangers of politics-as-administration that Hamilton represented to men like Jefferson and Madison. An account of the intellectual and public life of limited value even to students.

Pub Date: Aug. 27th, 1979
ISBN: 039330048X
Publisher: Norton