ODD DESTINY: The Life of Alexander Hamilton by Marie B. Hecht

ODD DESTINY: The Life of Alexander Hamilton

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For want of any particular perspective, Hecht (John Quincy Adams; Aaron Burr) has come up with a lackluster book. This is in fact an agreeably-written political biography that draws upon some of the most recent Hamilton scholarship--most notably, the definitive, 26-volume Papers of Alexander Hamilton (1961-1979). But Hecht has been reluctant, withal, to meddle with what has already been said, over and over, by legions of previous biographers. The West Indian boyhood, the move to America and rapid rise in the Revolution at Washington's side, the Constitution, the financial program, the duel with Burr--it's all there, more or less as it's always been, with only the occasional detail altered to reflect some new evidence or opinion. Hecht's aversion to originality becomes especially discouraging at those points in Hamilton's career--his views on republicanism, say, or his famous split with Jefferson and Madison--that call for some thoughtful analysis, but which she deals with at best superficially. Jefferson, for example, is said to have opposed Hamilton's financial program because he ""misunderstood"" it, while Hamilton's political difficulties in later years are on one occasion ascribed to the existence of a ""conspiracy"" against him. Hamilton, for his part, is the heroic ""foreign visionary,"" the nation-builder and Constitution-maker, often criticized in his own time but vindicated by history, one of whose ""greatest faults was his belief that he was fight, particularly on the subject of good government."" And as for the private man, apart from the few obligatory criticisms of his hot temper and misconduct with Mrs. Reynolds, Hecht finds relatively little to say--unlike Jacob E. Cooke (p. 246), who read the same sources and found a good deal to say about Hamilton's personality. Familiar stuff.

Pub Date: June 15th, 1982
Publisher: Macmillan