Ron Chernow says Hamilton was one of the most modern founding fathersHistorians in the News
tags: Hamilton, Ron Chernow
Historian Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton, which the New York Times called “by far the best biography ever written about the man,” was also the inspiration for the hit Broadway show. Biographer Richard Zoglin, author of Hope: Entertainer of the Century, talked with Chernow about Hamilton’s influence on modern America, his fascinating mind and the making of his life story into a hip-hop musical.
Q: We have fixed images of the Founding Fathers. Washington was our first president. Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. All most of us know about Hamilton is that he was killed in a duel. Why is he the least understood Founding Father?
A: I think the fact that he was killed in that duel has something to do with the lack of appreciation; it robbed him of the opportunity in later years to write his own defense, or his own history of the events of the early republic. Hamilton’s main political enemies were John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe—and I’ll even throw in John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson for good measure. What do you notice about that list? Those were the men who were solidly in charge of American politics for many decades after Hamilton’s death. Hamilton’s Federalist Party had disappeared by the start of the 19th century. And if history is written by the victors, the victor during this era was the Democratic Party.
On the other hand, Hamilton had a very modern take on our economic future. He envisioned a country built on banks, corporations, stock exchanges and factories. This was a frightening and sinister vision to a lot of Americans at the time. Jefferson represented a more soothing point of view: an America of small towns and traditional agriculture. I think one reason for the eventual reappraisal of Hamilton is that America has grown into the contours of the country of his imagination, not Jefferson’s. We have caught up to his prophetic vision. ...
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