Thursday, February 4, 2016

HamAlong Post V: Hamilton, the bare-knuckled polemicist

It's Thursday, so time time for more A.Ham. For those still caught up, HIGH FIVE! For those falling a bit behind because this is a lot to get to, HIGH FIVE. For those who gave up because omg so much government fighting and not enough Schuyler sisters, HIGH FIVE. High fives for everyone!
Extra high five to Alice for hosting this readalong.

Chapters 20-26 hop back to give us more info around "Say No To This" and Miss Maria Reynolds and then jumping ahead forward to bring us to "Washington On Your Side," then skipping over a couple tracks to hit "We Know." Getting complicated now.

This section seemed to be mostly Hamilton fighting Jefferson, Madison and pretty much every other person he met, getting caught sleeping with Maria Reynolds, and then more fighting with Jefferson and Madison cos of course. The two-party system was also starting to solidify, despite Washington trying to get everyone to just get along. Poor Washington needs a spa day or something cos these kids are driving him crazy.
Hamilton continues to defend the Constitution as the best possible government for an imperfect world.
Mr. Adams observed, "Purge that constitution of its corruption...and it would be the most perfect constitution ever devised by the wit of man." Hamilton paused and said, "Purge it of its corruption...and it would become an impracticable government. As it stands at present, with all its supposed defects, it is the most perfect government which ever existed. 
This is also around the point he realized that his old buddy Madison had gone over to the dark side Democratic Republicans and was SO HURT.
This was his Federalist buddy. How could it betray him like this? Hamilton needed his Laurens, but alas it was not to be. So Hamilton had to fight the good fight alone, or so Chernow makes it seem, though I'm sure there were others right there with him.

I know I've said this in previous posts, but the point that keeps being driven home is how politics does not seem to have changed. It's all infighting and propaganda from politically backed newspapers.

You'd think, what with all the in-fighting and writing rebuttals to the Jefferson-backed newspaper and general running a new country, he wouldn't have time to answer everyone who says something mean about him. You would be wrong. Hamilton never learned the valuable lesson "Don't feed the trolls" and responded to every accusation against his character.
A captive of his emotions, he revealed an irrepressible need to respond to attacks. Whenever he tried to suppress these emotions, they burst out and overwhelmed him.
Chernow's treatment of Maria Reynolds is not my favorite thing. He goes back and forth talking about how she was a crafty conwoman (who also couldn't help at least kind of falling in love with him, cos who wouldn't love Hamilton??) and a flighty, overly-emotional femme fatale. Most of the time he updates the spelling when quoting primary sources, but keeps Maria's original spelling. He says in the intro it's to "emphasize a distinctive voice" but it comes off like "make this chick look like an idiot even though spelling was RIDICULOUS in the past." We know Hamilton is his golden boy, but that doesn't mean anyone who was mean to him is evil. Calm down, mama bear.

Because the lives of Burr and Hamilton are intertwined in crazy ways, Maria Reynolds hired Burr as her lawyer when she decided to divorce her husband James. Now tell me a woman at this time divorcing her like abusive husband isn't bad ass.

America may have been having its problems, but France had its own drama going on, what with the whole revolution and Reign of Terror.
For Hamilton, the utopian revolutionaries in France had emphasized liberty to the exclusion of order, morality, religion, and property rights...He saw the chaos in France as a frightening portent of what could happen in America if the safeguards of order were stripped away by the love of liberty.
Hamilton's concerns in getting a stable government set up in America were validating by the horrors happening across the way. And luckily Lafayette and his wife and kids made it through the terror (though were thrown in prison under deplorable conditions), though his wife's family was not so lucky.

Jefferson and Hamilton again butted heads (what else is new) over how to handle the fighting in France and whether or not to provide aid. Jefferson said they had to help out since France is fighting for freedom which is what America is all about and Hamilton said they should stay away since things are getting pretty terror-y over there. Washington decided it was best for the new nation to remain neutral.
Jefferson was angry that Washington seemed to always agree with Hamilton. Chernow reiterates a few examples of Washington disagreeing with Hamilton to prove Washington didn't go along with ALL of Hamilton's plans, but it sort of comes off sounding ridiculous. I'm not saying Washington didn't differ from Hamilton at times on big issues, but Chernow makes it sound like "One time, Hamilton told Washington to wear a blue shirt and Washington went with a green one instead, SEE HE HARDLY LISTENED TO HAMILTON, SHUT UP JEFFERSON."

Chernow does this a few times. At one point a French expat who fled to Philly ("the French Noah's Ark") is quoted saying of Hamilton "He spoke French, but quite incorrectly" and then goes on to praise Hamilton for other characteristics. But Chernow holds onto that "Hamilton wasn't perfect" comment and immediately responds with "Nobody else ever faulted Hamilton's French."
One last thing, and then we're done for the week

Angelica wrote to Eliza and said
By my Amiable, you know that I mean your husband, for I love him very much, and if you were as generous as the old Romans, you would lend him to me for a little while.
I'm glad Eliza and Angelica had a good relationship and she could say stuff like this and the sisters didn't hate each other. Because that is pretty bold, Angelica. Though it also makes me laugh, and I love the song "Satisfied" so whatever, go you.

There are still a lot of pages left, so I foresee a lot more fighting and policy and financial history and while that's not my favorite stuff, I do have to congratulate Chernow on keeping things readable. Kudos there, sir.

Title quote from page 403