Thursday, January 28, 2016

HamAlong Post IV: If politics is preeminently the art of compromise, then Hamilton was in some ways poorly suited for his job

Another week, another Hamilton post. And guess what! We're just over halfway through this monster (if you don't count all of the notes and citations in the back, that is. If you want to count that cos you plan on reading them well, whatever floats your boat. You're not quite halfway then.)
Thank you, Alice, for leading the way.

Chapters 15-19 still cover a little more of "Non-Stop" but we finally make it out of that track and all the way over to "The Room Where It Happened".
These chapters were like 75% about setting up complicated financial systems that would become the backbone of the nation and while it's all important and impressive that he did this, I only understood like a third of what was going on.

But let's start with Hamilton's first day as Secretary of Treasury, where Hamilton "installed an elegant mahogany desk with caryatids - female figures - carved into its spindly legs. A.Ham, you rake, you.

Hamilton does what he does, meaning he writes a TON, gets into the nitty-gritty of his job, to the point that he wanted to know all the details of his port wardens' lighthouses and buoys and made sure customs collectors sent him ship manifests so he knew exactly how much was coming in. He didn't take on the role of Secretary Treasury alone. As a matter of fact, he started his position pissing off his fellow Cabinet members by amassing a HUGE workforce under him. I assume he needed some help getting through all of those  ship manifests. Oh, and he also did the job of Secretary of State, since Jefferson was taking his time coming back to the States and accepting the position.
Hamilton wrote a 51-page pamphlet (I think we're being liberal with the term "pamphlet") to explain his financial plan involving government securities and bonds and other things that I really don't understand. Congress wouldn't let Hamilton present the plan himself, probably because they all remember the six-hour-with-no-break-for-lunch speech he previously gave. That said, Chernow still says that "it was so lengthy that, by the end [of the reading], many representatives sat there in stupefied silence."

That doesn't mean it was a BAD plan. Daniel Webster later talked about the plan and said:
The fabled birth of Minerva from the brain of Jove was hardly more sudden or more perfect than the financial system of the United States as it burst forth from the conception of Alexander Hamilton.
At the time people seemed split on if this was a work of GENIUS or if this was evidence that Hamilton was going to ruin the country and was probably the antichrist (or the "American Mephistopheles"). Because politics has literally always been like that, regardless of anyone talking about getting back to the Good Ol' Days.

Jefferson was especially not a fan of Hamilton's plan since Jefferson believed that they should be an agrarian society, like the simple life he and other Southern plantation owners lived, because Chernow gives us a Jefferson who completely lacks self-awareness.
Jefferson fancied himself a mere child of nature, simple, unaffected man, rather than what he really was: a grandee, gourmet, a hedonist, and a clever, ambitious politician.
Strangely enough for a large slaveholder, [Jefferson] thought that agriculture was egalitarian while manufacturing would produce a class-conscious society.
Jefferson, and increasingly Hamilton's former-congressional buddy Madison, were at odds with Hamilton and his financial plan and now we're seeing the beginning of that two-party system that Washington thought would be such a bad idea.

On thing I did not realize was Angelica's influence during the time. Jefferson and Angelica knew each other in Paris through Jefferson's 26-year old girlfriend Maria Cosway. Jefferson and Angelica flirted, with him even inviting her to Monticello or they could even take a trip to Niagara Falls. But given the animosity between Jefferson and Hamilton, Angelica had to chose and eventually she drifted away from Thomas.

Chernow starts to set the stage for Hamilton's later affair with Maria Reynolds. Or I guess continues to set the stage, since he had that comment about how he probably cheated cos Eliza was so busy RAISING THEIR FAMILY and I'm proud that we all called that out in the last post. Come on, Chernow.
This time he talks about how Hamilton was so driven he never took a break and this also probably contributed to his dalliances. I wish he was able to give reasons without making them sound like excuses for his behavior, especially since it was far from a one-time event.

Maria Reynolds comes off as sort of a crazy chick with wild mood swings and who had terrible grammar. She may have been afraid of her husband and looked to Hamilton for help. She may have played Hamilton from the beginning with the damsel in distress bit. Whatever the case, Hamilton paid the Reynolds to not tell anyone about the affair and tried to convince Eliza to extend her trip to Albany and ugh, Hamilton, I'm not a fan of yours right now.

I remember I wanted to talk about the Whiskey Rebellion but I can't find where in the chapters it is, but I kept thinking of Musical Jefferson's line
Look, when Britain taxed our tea, we got friskyImagine what gon’ happen when you try to tax our whiskey
Oh Hamilton, why didn't you listen? This section doesn't go too into detail about what happened with the Whisky Rebellion but Stuff You Missed in History Class has got you covered.

Even though I was talking about how we're just over halfway done, I still can't imagine what we're going to get into in the next 300 pages. Till next week.

Title quote from page 324

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. Penguin, 2004.