THE YOUNG HAMILTON: A Biography by James Thomas Flexner


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Flexner is the pre-eminent biographer of George Washington, and this detailed study of Hamilton's first 27 years not surprisingly centers around his Revolutionary War service with the Commander-in-Chief. This rich segment of military history is framed by the thesis that Hamilton suffered permanent defects as a consequence of his waifish upbringing in St. Croix; the illegitimate ""changeling"" with ""no childhood he chose to remember, no family to sustain him"" sought to ""merge his identity with some potent force outside of himself,"" and made Washington the father-figure amidst the surrogate family of the Continental Army's general staff. At the same time, the war was a perfect arena for the individualistic successes he also sought. Flexner indicates the exceptional abilities that induced Washington to send the 20-year-old to persuade General Dates to come south after the Battle of Saratoga, as well as Hamilton's role in the early artillery and as liaison to the French generals. And these descriptions seem to challenge Flexner's own comment that ""he brought to every problem a set of preconceived conceptions which, like a template, determined his decision."" The book ends with a crisis in Hamilton's career, when, after an auspicious marriage to Betsey Schuyler and a promising start in law and public service, Congressional limpness toward the 1783 army revolt enrages him to the point of withdrawal. Flexner has added nothing major to Broadus Mitchell's spadework on Hamilton's St. Croix years in Alexander Hamilton: Youth to Maturity, 1755-1788 (1957) while Robert Hendrickson's Hamilton I: 1757-1789 (1975) gave a more psychologically sophisticated account of the young aide-de-camp's relationship with Washington. This is a resource that capably fleshes out the triumphs and intrigues of the military years.

Pub Date: March 21st, 1978
Publisher: Little, Brown