Alexander Hamilton: Portrait in Paradox

Alexander Hamilton: Portrait in Paradox

Alexander Hamilton: Portrait in Paradox

Alexander Hamilton: Portrait in Paradox

Excerpt

The period in which Alexander Hamilton lived was an age of great men and great events. In the United States, besides Hamilton himself, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and John Marshall held the center of the stage; while the European scene was dominated by William Pitt, Charles James Fox and Napoleon Bonaparte. And yet, Talleyrand, whose career is a convincing testimonial of his astuteness in judging men and measures and who was intimately acquainted with the leaders on both sides of the Atlantic, pronounced Alexander Hamilton to be the greatest of these "choice and master spirits of the age."

Probably no American statesman has displayed more constructive imagination than did Hamilton. Prodigal of ideas, bursting with plans for diversifying the American economy and obsessed by a determination to make the United States a powerful nation under a centralized government, he left an imprint upon this country that time has not yet effaced. Of some of our institutions it may be justly said that they are the lengthened shadow of one man--Alexander Hamilton.

In Hamilton's comparatively brief span, he lived through three great wars, in two of which he was an active participant. Whenever he looked abroad he found wars or rumors of wars. As a result, the conviction was implanted in him that the survival of the United States depended to a great degree upon its warmaking potential. If this was a harsh and unattractive philosophy, at least it could be said to have been based upon the facts of international life as Hamilton knew them.

Everything depended, he believed, upon strengthening the union: if it perished, Americans would never attain the liberty, material well-being and happiness to which they aspired. Even his financial and economic plans were but means to the great end of solidifying the union; in his hands, capitalism became a barrier against the strong centrifugal forces that threatened to reduce the central government to impotence.

Paradoxically enough, the abounding love of the American union that actuated Hamilton was partly owing to the fact that he was born outside . . .

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