Founding Father

Every Ron Chernow book has been a rich blend of scholarship and readability, most recently Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller Sr. (1998). This week we excerpt Chernow's magisterial new biography, Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton's life was the stuff of high drama, from his illegitimate birth in the Caribbean to his tenure in George Washington's Cabinet. "Except for Washington," Chernow says, "nobody stood closer to the center of American politics from 1776 to 1800 or cropped up at more turning points."

Hamilton correctly foresaw the evolution of modern-day America, a sharp contrast to Thomas Jefferson's slave-based agrarian version. In Hamilton's early days as the first Treasury Secretary, he believed that the federal government should assume the remaining Revolutionary War debt held by the states, a view opposed by Jefferson and James Madison. Another disagreement concerned the location of the nation's capital, with Hamilton favoring New York, the others a Southern site. Hamilton conceded on the capital and prevailed on the issue of federal debt. As a result, he established the financial credibility of the U.S. and, to the dismay of Jefferson and Madison, a strong federal government.

This brilliant book could enhance Hamilton's reputation and diminish Jefferson's. While Jefferson had a poet's vision of early America, Hamilton got it more right.

Enjoy this excerpt.

By Stephen B. Shepard, Editor-In-Chief

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