The Power Behind the Throne
by Pat Rooney
In the nascent years of our republic, many citizens wanted to make George Washington a king. His work as a revolutionary General and early American statesman did much to suggest such a distinction. He declined, of course, but the deeper story of why he was so successful is due in a large part to his long association with his aide-de-camp, constitutional convention delegate and Treasury Secretary, Alexander Hamilton.
In Ron Chernow’s outstanding book on the life of Alexander Hamilton, we get a clear and concise understanding of Hamilton, his compassion, his foibles and his tremendous talents. Chernow, who has been described by The New York Times as “as elegant an architect of monumental histories as we’ve seen in decades,” expertly brings to life the man who was “the principal designer of the federal government, the catalyst for emergence of the two-party system and the patron saint of Wall Street.”
An orphan during his childhood, Hamilton came to the colonies as a 19-year-old just before the revolutionary war, soon becoming an aide-de-camp of General Washington’s. He basically never left the side of the future president, becoming one of his senior army officers, a framer of our constitution and his Treasury Secretary. He was also the principal author of the Federalist Papers, written to explain the constitution to the people and encourage its approval.
These accomplishments made him arguably the most important figure in U.S. history who has never attained the presidency. Moreover, “his important fingerprints on the structure of our government and the establishment of our modern-day Treasury Department gave him a far more lasting impact than many who did.”
Why he didn’t is what makes Chernow’s book so particularly inciteful. Hamilton’s strong- willed nature, outspokenness and hot temper made him a forceful and controversial figure. Plus, his strong Federalist views ultimately put him at odds with other founding fathers such as Jefferson and Madison, who worried more about states’ rights and resisted the federalist call for a strong central government. Always backed strongly by Washington, Hamilton won many of these battles to the ire of Jefferson, but they did much to set our country on a sound financial and structural footing going forward.
The most remarkable thing for me about the book is how it changed my outlook on the birth of our country. As a fair student of U.S. History, I had no idea of Hamilton’s influence over George Washington, how he dominated the first cabinet, how he clashed with Jefferson and Madison and how much difference he made. No idea. To me, it’s one of the best untold stories in our history, and that is what makes the book interesting. Highly recommended.