Thursday, January 21, 2016

HamAlong Post III Hamilton: a veritable Niagara of opinion

Here we are, three weeks into this HamAlong and I continue to be exhausted by everything Hamilton accomplished, including pissing off roughly every other person he met. Thank you, Alice, for hosting this readalong and making sure that we actually read this chunkster.
Last week's chapters covered tracks "A Winter's Ball" - "Non-Stop". This week we read chapters 10-14 which match up with...well still "Non-Stop". Man, that song covered a LOT of ground.

These chapters deal with Hamilton's burgeoning political career, but also are at the point where Chernow's rose colored glasses about the guy are unable to hide some of the less-than-awesome bits about Hamilton, such as his feelings on the ladies and in general being sort of a dick to people because while really smart, he never really mastered tact.
That Hamilton could be so sensitive to criticisms of himself and so insensitive to the effect his words had on others was a central mystery of his psyche.
Or he could just be kind of an asshole. ANYWAY

Chapter 10 starts with more about Hamilton's law practice including the fact that he would only represent clients if he believed they were innocent. Except one time when he defended a spinster with the logic that "Woman is weak and requires the protection of man"
This is how Mrs. Arnold was able to fool you, sir. I do not appreciate this and the fact that you would represent people who could only pay you with "barrels of ham" does not make up for it, despite how hilarious that image is in my head.

We also learn a bit about Aaron Burr who was essentially the exact opposite of Hamilton. He talked less, although it's hard to make the case he necessarily smiled more, especially if you look at the portrait of him a couple years before his death. Which might be my favorite picture in the collection the book provides, in large part because that is a painting, not a photograph, and thus he had to make that "Are you fucking kidding me, you done yet with this bullshit?" face for hours, possibly days. That looks like the face of a guy who "could store up silent grievances over extended periods." (John Adams was also described as "a man with an encyclopedic memory for slights." I'd say Hamilton has a real skill pissing off master grudge holders, except I'm pretty sure he pissed off everyone at some point that some percentage of them were bound to have long memories.) But Burr was a big fan of reading and called Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman "a work of genius," so there's that.

In the contradiction that is Hamilton, and people in general, Hamilton joined the New York Manumission Society, which was a group of white guys fighting against slavery and for the rights of black people. Except a number of these people owned slaves, so what the hell?
I'd like to think if Laurens hadn't gotten shot like an idiot, he would have corrected this contradiction. I guess in a way it was nice of him to die before proving me wrong on that.

Hamilton then joined forces with future foe James Madison, brought together by their hatred of the Articles of the Confederation. What was wrong with the Articles? Well, to quote America (The Book): A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction "Why did the Articles fail so completely? Most historians believe the Founding Fathers spent a great deal of their first constitutional convention drafting the Declaration of Independence and only realized on July Third that the Articles were also due."* I thought of this line pretty much any time the Articles were mentioned. It's a good thing Hamilton had a buddy in Madison, considering he was pissing off the other New York delegates who hated the idea of a more powerful centralized government, which Hamilton and his Federalist party was pulling for.
Hamilton to the Articles
Hamilton used his normal methods of persuasion, burying the opposition under a deluge of words. Oh he stayed quiet for a little while, hanging out on the sidelines, but eventually broke his silence "at epic length," even if it wasn't his most brilliant plan.
On Monday morning, June 18, the thirty-two-year-old prodigy rose first on the convention floor and in the stifling, poorly ventilated room he spoke and spoke and spoke. Before the day was through, he had given a six-hour speech (no break for lunch) that was brilliant, courageous, and, in retrospect, completely daft.
And that's from Chernow, Hamilton's official cheerleader. He didn't trust people to vote correctly ("His faith in Americans never quite matched his faith in America itself.") and he'd rather come up with his own plan than work off someone else's, and also SIX HOUR SPEECH, NO BREAK FOR FOOD.

Hamilton wasn't winning over everyone with his marathon speeches, so instead he teamed up with Madison and John Jay to write the Federalist Papers. They were supposed to be anonymously published and technically they were. However, Madison and Hamilton couldn't HELP but tell their heroes that it was all them.
Madison furnished Jefferson with the relevant names [of the authors] in code, while Hamilton sent Washington the book version and observed, "I presume you have understood that the writers...are chiefly Mr. Madison and myself, with some aid from Mr. Jay."
It wasn't all politics. I mean, it was mostly politics, but he also had time to flirt with Angelica when she came back to America to visit, prompting people to suggest there was something going on there, though it doesn't appear to have gone beyond flirting. And, since this is getting long, let's end with Peggy being great. At a fancy party, Angelica dropped her garter (which, is that a thing you can just drop? That seems scandalous.) and when Hamilton picked it up Angelica told him he wasn't Knight of the Garter. Peggy heard this comment and raised him "He would be a Knight of the Bedchamber, if he could." Can we get a follow up book that is just the Schuyler sisters being awesome and sassy?
Till next week, HamAlong-ers!

*America (The Book) also says The Constitution was named after Hamilton's mother. I have realized while reading Hamilton that an embarrassingly large chunk of my American history knowledge comes from the Daily Show. Also, I'm writing this while watching an Adam Ruins Everything about voting and yeah, good times.

Title quote from 225

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. Penguin, 2004.