Thursday, January 7, 2016

HamAlong Part I: Justice shall be done to the memory of my Hamilton

Here we are with post one of the Hamilton readalong (aka, Hamalong). Let's start with WHY I am reading a 800+ page biography of a founding father, despite the fact that biographies and US history are typically not my jam.
It's this guy's fault
Hamilton the musical. Obviously. It's amazing, and I'm sorry it took me way too long to listen to it while everyone was raving about it. This recent discovery meant for Christmas I received: a $10 bill, this biography we're going to be discussing, the soundtrack, AND tickets to see the show!

As I wasn't the only person to receive the book, and the fact that the book is massive and I require additional support to get through it, our fearless leader Alice (prompted by Tika of the genius ideas) decided to host this readalong. Because support of great people and gifs make everything better. Let's begin!

I was pretty happy to learn in these first chapters that Chernow has not written a super dry biography. Maybe because Hamilton's life was so dramatic, but still well done! Also well done that Chernow starts with Eliza and her work to tell Hamilton's story. AND THEN he moves onto Hamilton's mother Rachel, who is just as badass.
In [Rachel's] proud defiance of persecution, her mental toughness, and her willingness to court controversy, it is hard not to see a startling preview of her son's passionately willful behavior.
Now, in her proud defiance, leaving her shitty husband after he had her thrown in a dungeon (whaaat?), she did abandon her oldest child Peter, and that is pretty shitty of her. Chernow doesn't shy away from this point, but does reiterate said shittiness of Lavien.

So Hamilton's mom was not married to Hamilton's dad and thus Hamilton is a bastard at a time when that was a serious issue for upward mobility. Then Hamilton's father (OR WAS HE??) leaves him and his mom dies and the cousin he and his brother, James, are staying with commits suicide, his aunt, uncle and grandmother all die and everything is terrible. And thus we get Hamilton's work ethic:
From the outset, the young Hamilton had phenomenal stamina for sustained work: ambitious, orphaned boys do not enjoy the option of idleness.
Alexander was lucky to be taken in by a "well-respected merchant" Thomas Stevens. Alexander got along with Stevens' sons, and indeed the boys acted the same. And looked the same.
So perhaps Hamilton isn't Hamilton but is actually Stevens? Because of course there's extra drama and mystery in the guy's life. Who knows, but the point is Stevens helped out Alexander and not his brother James.

Alex gets work as a clerk and is given a surprising amount of power, considering his age and social standing, to make decisions on behalf of his bosses, Beekman and Cruger, telling them "I dun as hard as is proper," and I'm not entirely sure what that means but I like it all the same. You dun, Alexander, but not too much. Don't go overboard with the dunning. He knows the exact right amount.

Things are looking...not up, but at least better for Hamilton when there's a devastating hurricane, because of course. But since Hamilton knows how to take lemons and make a new form of government, he knows how to take a hurricane and use it as a jumping off point to get off the island via his writing. The merchants on the island decided they had to get this kid educated and Hamilton does not waste this opportunity.

When he gets to NY (after his ship almost sinks en route when the boat catches on fire, because of course it does) he meets
Who totally does need introduction cos history books tend not to mention this guy. But he seems to provide a lot of the information we have about Hamilton during this time period, so thanks for writing all this stuff down, Herc.

Hamilton begins his studies at Elizabethtown Academy, in preparation of getting into Princeton.
Never tentative about tackling new things and buoyed by a preternatural self-confidence, Hamilton proved a fantastically quick study. He often worked past midnight, curled up in his blanket, then awoke at dawn and paced the nearby burial ground, mumbling to himself as he memorized his lessons. (Hamilton's lifelong habit of talking sotto voce while pacing lent him an air of either inspiration or madness.)
In addition to studying and looking like a crazy person, he also likely met Burr at this time. Hamilton was also busy meeting important people and having impure thoughts about their daughters (or at least Kitty Livingston), in case you forgot that Hamilton is only about 17-19 at this time and teenage boys are always the same.

Hamilton didn't get into Princeton. Or rather his request to go through an accelerated program was denied, possibly due to James Madison. Instead he ended up at his safety school, King's College (now Columbia). And as with most college experiences, he starts going to rallies, which at this point are about how the colonies should tell parliament to fuck off (at this point some, including Hamilton, were still on the King's side). And at this point Hamilton really solidifies his key strategy for getting what he wants: burying the opposition under so many words that they can't get up again. Take that, Samuel Seabury.
Skipping ahead to the revolution (because OMG there's so much in these chapters) Hamilton makes a name for himself, eventually gaining the eye of George Washington, who made Hamilton one of his aide-de-camps, welcoming him into the Washington family, which it was actually called and that is adorable. And this was all a good thing for Hamilton, not only for the upward mobility but also because Hamilton could use some impulse control.
Washington possessed the outstanding judgement, sterling character, and clear sense of purpose needed to guide his sometimes wayward protege: he saw that the volatile Hamilton needed a steadying hand.
But Hamilton managed to keep his cool long enough to not only act as Washington's secretary, but also make decisions on his behalf and interpret his orders and wishes. He also meets John Laurens and the Marquis de Lafayette and Hamilton's grandson says "There was something about them rather suggestive of the three famous heroes of Dumas," and adorable? Adorable. There is also the fact that a few historians mentioned the possible homoerotic overtones between Hamilton and Laurens and Hamilton and Lafayette.
Because I've gone on long enough, let me just point out one last thing before ending this post. The section ends with a duel, where a guy gets shot through the mouth and out the back of the head and LIVES. What? How even? And the shooter's comment?
I have stopped the damned rascal's lying tongue at any rate.
These guys did NOT mess around with their duels.

It's insane that so much has already happened and we're, what, an eighth of the way through the book? Also I realized we're about 8 songs in, if we're measuring against the soundtrack. I'm exhausted thinking about everything Hamilton had already done. I'm also feeling super unproductive. Thanks a lot.

Till next week!

*I actually FINALLY listened to it because Alice had sent me a copy of the Lafayette bio by Sarah Vowell and I knew Lafayette was a character in Hamilton and yeah, it all spiraled out of control from there. So I guess I like bios of figures from American history more than I previously thought. I am terrible at knowing what I like.

Title quote from page 3

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. Penguin, 2004.