#Hamalong: Chapters 10-13

I'll be participating in Reading Rambo's Hamilton Readalong for the next two months, so expect weekly (if I can keep up) posts on the book from now through the end of February. Because the story of Hamilton's life is generally known from history books and the musical, I will not be avoiding spoilers in these posts (in other words: if you're planning to read Hamilton and want it to be a surprise, skip along).

[Technically this week's reading was Chapters 10-14, but I misread, so I'm a chapter behind the rest. Oops.]

We are moving right ALONG in this ol' Hamilton's life, friends. In this week's chapters (10-13), Chernow goes over Hamilton's time building up a successful law firm (albeit one with an awful lot of Tory traffic for the patriots' tastes); reflects a bit on Hamilton's past and how it might impact his future; dives into the Constitutional Convention and all its drama llamas; and gives us a full-on rundown of the Federalist Papers that puts Clifs Notes to shame. That last was about as interesting as reading Clifs Notes, to boot, which is not at all interesting.

Hamilton is one helluva busy bee in these years here, with an awful lot of breath spent (quite literally) on his pursuits:

Hamilton had the most durable pair of lungs in the New York bar and could speak extemporaneously in perfectly formed paragraphs for hours... Robert Troup complained that the prolix Hamilton never knew when to stop: "I used to tell him that he was not content with knocking [his opponent] in the head, but that he persisted until he had banished every little insect that buzzed around his ears." (190)
... which makes this instance at the Constitutional Congress slightly less surprising:

 It was predictable that when the wordy Hamilton broke silence, he would do so at epic length... Before the day was through, he had given a six-hour speech (no break for lunch) that was brilliant, courageous, and, in retrospect, completely daft. (231)

As this was the speech in which he argued for a kind of modified monarchy system for the American government, yes, "completely daft" seems fairly apt.

There were a few other splotches on Hamilton's reputation here that stood out for me, mostly related to women. The first of these is really more a dig at Chernow, as he explains his reasoning for why Hamilton may have been unfaithful in his marriage:

Eliza was either pregnant or consumed with child rearing through their marriage, which may have encouraged Hamilton's womanizing. (203)

Stop apologizing for him, Chernow. Those kids were as much his doing as his wife's, and one's wife being a mother does not make a good excuse for one becoming a philanderer.

Also, this passage from Hamilton's own words in defending a widow in court:

Woman is weak and requires the protection of man. (189)

I know, it's a different time, etc. etc., but for a man who could be so forward-thinking about manumission and slavery, and hold the individual women in his life to such high standing (or so it seems), it is still astounding to me that he could be so backwards in this view.

What I loved most about this section was seeing the many, many opportunities history provided for America to take a completely different path than the one we're on. It's easy to take the Constitution for granted, to forget that it actually was not in place in the earliest years of our nation, to assume it was a done deal that freedom of the press and freedom of religion and a three-branch government and states rights and whatnot would fall into place. In actuality, the Constitution was an imperfect (though perhaps as perfect as it could have been, given the context in which it was written) political document borne of necessity, against the mandate of Congress, and passed only by a hair.

Onwards to more developments in the birth of a nation and development of the controversial Hamilton history remembers, yes? And still 550 pages to go...

No comments

Thanks for stopping by!