Whether it was his beautiful writing on the Constitution or his magnetic self-assurance that bordered on arrogance, Alexander Hamilton had me from page one in my 11th grade American history book.
It didn’t hurt that he was attractive, especially for a man in leggings and a powdered wig. As I devoured every book on Hamilton I could find—biographies, the Federalist Papers, dissertations on Federalism—I developed a mild distaste for Thomas Jefferson and spending $10 bills.
By the end of 11th grade even my history teacher told me it was time to move on. Secretly I prayed one of the final essay questions on the AP U.S. History test would be about Lexi (as I’d taken to calling him, seeing that we were so close), or at least the Revolutionary War (I got neither wish, in the end–one question was about Lincoln and the other about FDR and alphabet soup).
I wrote a killer college entrance essay about having dinner with Hamilton and won a $100 savings bond from Sons of the American Revolution for a research paper, and when we got a Welsh corgi puppy I knew (after some agonizing) that her name must be Lexi (she has as much attitude as her namesake).
Although everyone remembers Washington and Jefferson, they often forget that Jefferson’s vision for America was a small agrarian society. We are living in Hamilton’s America, not Jefferson’s (up yours, Tommy!). Without Hamilton we might still be stuck with the Articles of Confederation, we would not have a national bank and I would still find history the most boring subject ever.
I don’t agree with Hamilton’s every decision or every move, and I regret his decision to accept Aaron Burr’s challenge to duel (he was a scumbag anyway, trying to take over part of the country—seriously, Mr. Burr?). But he still fascinates me, and whenever I see a new biography or related book at a used book sale I don’t hesitate to pick it up.
Although it’s rather, shall we say Hamiltonian? of me to say this about one of the men who founded our great country, I think what captured my interest so thoroughly is that I saw a bit of myself in Hamilton’s personality. Hamilton was very much a self-made man who found a way to the Colonies and once there, studied hard and actively pursued his ambitions. It irritated some, but he was not falsely modest and knew, I believe, how brilliant he was (even if he became a bit unhinged toward the end of his political career, a feeling to which I can relate all too well).
I’m not going to call myself brilliant—not yet, anyway—but I do take inspiration from Hamilton’s life and achievements. And, I’m also grateful to the Founding Fathers for creating a democracy that works (more or less) and that has endured for 240 years. Happy Birthday, America, and may you endure for another 240 years on the wisdom of people like Alexander Hamilton.
Image credit: HAMILTON, ALEXANDER. “Engraved by E. Prud’homme from miniature by Arch. Robertson.” [No date found on item; “1835” pencilled on verso of mount.] Location: Biographical File Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-48272