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       Alexander Hamilton, p.1

           Ron Chernow
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Alexander Hamilton

  Praise for Alexander Hamilton “In Alexander Hamilton, Ron Chernow, author of The House of Morgan, The Warburgs, and Titan and a biography of John D. Rockefeller, has brought to vivid life the founding father who did more than any other to create the modern United States... [a] magisterial biography.” —Michael Lind, The Washington Post

  “Ron Chernow’s new Hamilton could not be more welcome. This is grand-scale biography at its best—thorough, insightful, consistently fair, and superbly written. It clears away more than a few shopworn misconceptions about Hamilton, gives credit where credit is due, and is both clear-eyed and understanding about its very human subject....The whole life and times are here in a genuinely great book.”

  —David McCullough, author of John Adams and Truman “Ron Chernow ranks as one of today’s best writers of history and biography. Not only is his work compelling but, unusual among such writers, Chernow also has a sound understanding of finance and economics. These skills shined through in his previous books....They are once again on full display in Alexander Hamilton .”

  —Raymond J. Keating, Newsday “Chernow’s Hamilton is a success. Rarely does a biographer uncover so much new information about a long-dead, much-chronicled individual. Rarely does a biographer fill in the gaps with such incisive, justified speculation. Rarely does a biographer write narrative so well.” —Steve Weinberg, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

  “Ron Chernow has produced an original, illuminating, and highly readable study of Alexander Hamilton that admirably introduces readers to Hamilton’s personality and accomplishments. Chernow penetrates more deeply into the mysteries of Hamilton’s origins and family life than any previous biographer ...Chernow’s accounts of Hamilton’s contributions to political theory, politics, and the law are compelling.” —Walter Russell Mead, Foreign Affairs

  “Like a few hundred thousand other people, I’ve been reading Ron Chernow’s enthralling biography of Alexander Hamilton. It serves as a timely reminder that the era of the founding fathers, which we usually think of (correctly) as a time of highminded philosophical discourse, was also full of venomous vituperation that has no parallel in modern America.” —Max Boot, Financial Times

  “A brilliant historian has done it again! The thoroughness and integrity of Ron Chernow’s research shines forth on every page of his Alexander Hamilton. He has created a vivid and compelling portrait of a remarkable man—and at the same time he has made a monumental contribution to our understanding of the beginnings of the American republic.”

  —Robert A. Caro, author of The Power Broker and The Years of Lyndon Johnson “Fascinating.” —People “Chernow’s gripping story sheds new light not only on Hamilton’s legacy, but also on the conflicts that accompanied the republic’s birth.... Alexander Hamilton is based on prodigious research, and it will likely prop up Hamilton’s reputation in the same way David McCullough’s biography bolstered John Adams’s....impressive detail.”

  —Matthew Dallek, Washington Monthly “Magisterial....Mr. Chernow has done a splendid job of capturing the backbiting political climate of Hamilton’s times....Mr. Chernow delivers a comprehensiveness that rivals Hamilton’s... [and gives] the full measure of such a tireless, complex, and ultimately self-destructive man.”—Janet Maslin, The New York Times

  “A superb study....Chernow’s book is remarkable...for his unblinkered view of Hamilton’s thought and behavior ...Chernow’s Hamilton is a whirlwind of a man, always in action, always in pursuit of a goal not quite within his grasp, and beset by the demons that have so often afflicted great minds....It has been said that Hamilton was a great man but not a great American. Chernow’s Hamilton is both.”

  —Edmund Morgan, The New York Review of Books “Alexander Hamilton has been overshadowed by the founding fathers he served under, notably George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Ron Chernow’s magisterial new biography will certainly change that.... The first must-read biography of 2004.”

  —John Freeman, TimeOut New York “A splendid new biography ...Chernow unearths new information about Hamilton, but more importantly this beautifully written book recounts the formidable obstacles he surmounted to become, next to George Washington, the indispensable American founder. Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton is the best biography of Hamilton ever written, and it is unlikely to be surpassed.”

  —Stephen F. Knott, Claremont Review of Books

  “Superb ...Chernow is a shrewd student of power, and he couldn’t have chosen a more compelling subject.” —James Aley, Fortune

  “Chernow writes beautifully and skillfully, and opens up aspects of Hamilton’s life that others have not yet understood.” —Andrew Burstein, Chicago Tribune “Now, Ron Chernow, whose previous books have chronicled the American Beauty roses and kudzu vines of mature American capitalism—Warburg s, Morgans, John D. Rockefeller, Sr.—examines the man who planted the seeds.... Alexander Hamilton is thorough, admiring, and sad—just what a big book on its subject should be.”

  —Richard Brookhiser, Los Angeles Times

  “Terrific...Ron Chernow’s magisterial Alexander Hamilton treats the first secretary of the treasury with the weight and gravitas of a nineteen-century novel.” —John Freeman, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution “Powerful...Chernow’s magisterial work combines a biography of Hamilton and a political history of the United States in the early years of the republic. Exhaustively researched and beautifully written, the volume tells us a great deal about the founding fathers and helps restore one of them to his rightful place in the pantheon.” —Terry W. Hartle, The Christian Science Monitor

  “Chernow has chosen an ideal subject....No other founding father more richly deserves the modern-eye-on-the-colonial-guy treatment... electrifying...Chernow does an admirable job.” —Justin Martin, San Francisco Chronicle

  “[T]he life of Alexander Hamilton was ‘so tumultuous that only an audacious novelist could have dreamed it up.’ Such is the assessment of Ron Chernow in this splendid new biography of Hamilton.” —Steve Raymond, The Seattle Times

  “In this engaging new book, Ron Chernow reassesses the historical legacy of the brilliant founding father, political theorist, and politician Alexander Hamilton.... Lively and beautifully written.” —Anne Lombard, The San Diego Union-Tribune

  “ Alexander Hamilton is a balanced portrait of the man and his many contradictions...Admirers of David McCullough’s John Adams or Walter Isaacson’s Benjamin Franklin will thoroughly enjoy this excellent book.”

  —Roger Bishop, BookPage “On July 11, 1804, on a ledge overlooking the Hudson River in Weehawken, New Jersey, Burr mortally wounded Hamilton ...For thirty days, the city’s residents wore black armbands.... The extraordinary and improbable career of Alexander Hamilton had come to and end, and here we have another fitting tribute to it: Ron Chernow’s massively researched and beautifully written biography.”

  —James Chace, The New York Observer “Ron Chernow’s absorbing, exhaustively researched Alexander Hamilton justifies his claim that Hamilton’s was the most dramatic and improbable life among the founding fathers....Chernow,who won the National Book Award for The House of Morgan, shows all Hamilton’s complexity.” —David Gates, Newsweek

  “Chernow’s splendid, thorough and brilliantly written biography of Hamilton gives us a new understanding of Hamilton’s vital role during the war and immediately after as secretary of the treasury....There have been other biographies of Hamilton, but Chernow’s is far and away the most comprehensive and compelling of any I have read. It is a fitting tribute to the man who set the U.S. on the path that has made our nation the economic leader of the world.”

  —Caspar W. Weinberger, former secretary of defense, and chairman of Forbes “As Ron Chernow points out in this magnificent biography, Hamilton was the boy
wonder of early American politics.” —The Economist “A splendid life of an enlightened and reactionary founding father . . . Literate and full of engaging asides. By far the best of the many lives of Hamilton now in print, and a model of the biographer’s art.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred)

  “In Alexander Hamilton, his mammoth and comprehensive study of the nation’s first treasury secretary, Chernow has captured the essence of the man....Chernow is especially skillful at evoking a sense of time and place, an achievement that dominates Alexander Hamilton. He goes beyond the stick-figure characters that often emerge from most stories about the founders to present three-dimensional portrayals....Now, with this carefully crafted revision of the record, Hamilton’s accomplishments should be seen in a different light, one bright enough to show what he has meant for America.” —Ray Locker, The Associated Press

  “In this majestic and thorough biography, Chernow explores the conundrums and paradoxes of Hamilton’s private and public life and gives the man his due.” —John C. Chalberg, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) “Ron Chernow’s fascinating new biography of Alexander Hamilton is the best written about the man....Chernow sorts out this period of history and humanizes Hamilton....Chernow obviously believes Hamilton has not received much of the credit he deserves, but this book will help rectify the situation.” —Larry Cox, Tucson Citizen

  “In the first full-length biography of Alexander Hamilton in many years, Ron Chernow, known for his impressive work on the titans of American industry, has made an exceptional contribution to American history.”

  —Dennis Lythgoe, Deseret Morning News “Chernow’s achievement is to give us a biography commensurate with Hamilton’s character, as well as the full, complex content of his unflaggingly active life.... This is a fine work that captures Hamilton’s life with judiciousness and verve.”

  —Publishers Weekly (starred review) “[Chernow’s] sweeping narrative chronicles the complex and often contradictory life of Hamilton....A first-rate life and excellent addition to the ongoing debate about Hamilton’s importance in shaping America.” —Library Journal

  “Ron Chernow’s altogether splendid, full-scale biography is a weighty and meticulously researched tome of more than 800 pages. It nonetheless reads like a great historical novel, because Chernow brings his central characters to such vivid life. This is a life not only of Hamilton the politician, lawyer, and technocrat, but of Hamilton the man.” —John Steele Gordon, American Heritage

  p e nguin bo oks ALEXANDER HAMILTO N A graduate of Yale and Cambridge, Ron Chernow won the National Book Award in 1990 for his first book, The House of Morgan, which the Modern Library cites as one of the hundred best nonfiction books of the twentieth century. His second book, The Warburgs, won the Eccles Prize as the best business book of 1993. His biography of John D. Rockefeller, Titan, was a national bestseller and a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist. Both Time magazine and The New York Times listed it among the ten best books of 1998. Chernow lives in Brooklyn, New York.

  au thor’s not e In order to make the text as fluent as possible and the founders less remote, I have taken the liberty of modernizing the spelling and punctuation of eighteenth-century prose, which can seem antiquated and jarring to modern eyes. I have also cured many contemporary newspaper editors of their addiction to italics and capitalized words. Occasionally, I have retained the original spelling to emphasize the distinctive voice, strong emotion, patent eccentricity, or curious education of the person quoted. I trust that these exceptional cases, and my reasons for wanting to reproduce them precisely, will be evident to the alert reader.




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  Published by the Penguin Group

  Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A. Penguin Group (Canada), 10 Alcorn Avenue, Toronto,

  Ontario, Canada M4V 3B2 (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.) Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England Penguin Group Ireland, 25 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd) Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell,

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  Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England First published in the United States of America by The Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. 2004 Published in Penguin Books 2005

  Copyright © Ron Chernow, 2004 All rights reserved

  Illustration credits appear on pages 789–90. the library of congress has cataloged the hardcover edition as follows: Chernow, Ron.

  Alexander Hamilton / Ron Chernow.

  p. cm.

  Includes bibliographical references and index.

  Includes bibliographical references and index. 4295-3118-5 1. Hamilton, Alexander, 1757–1804. 2. Statesmen—United States—Biography. 3. United States—Politics and government—1783–1809. I. Title. E3002.6.H2C48 2004




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  Author’s Note v prologue: The Oldest Revolutionary War Widow 1 one: The Castaways 7

  two: Hurricane 29

  three: The Collegian 41

  four: The Pen and the Sword 62 five: The Little Lion 83

  six: A Frenzy of Valor 107

  seven: The Lovesick Colonel 126 eight: Glory 154

  nine: Raging Billows 167

  ten: A Grave, Silent, Strange Sort of Animal 187 eleven: Ghosts 203

  twelve: August and Respectable Assembly 219 thirteen: Publius 243

  fourteen: Putting the Machine in Motion 270 fifteen: Villainous Business 291 sixteen: Dr. Pangloss 310

  seventeen: The First Town in America 332 eighteen: Of Avarice and Enterprise 344 nineteen: City of the Future 362 twenty: Corrupt Squadrons 389 twenty-one: Exposure 409

  twenty-two: Stabbed in the Dark 419 twenty-three: Citizen Genêt 431 twenty-four: A Disagreeable Trade 448 twenty-five: Seas of Blood 458 twenty-six: The Wicked Insurgents of the West 468 twenty-seven: Sugar Plums and Toys 482 twenty-eight: Spare Cassius 501 twenty-nine: The Man in the Glass Bubble 517 thirty: Flying Too Near the Sun 526 thirty-one: An Instrument of Hell 546 thirty-two: Reign of Witches 569 thirty-three: Works Godly and Ungodly 580 thirty-four: In an Evil Hour 592 thirty-five: Gusts of Passion 603 thirty-six: In a Very Belligerent Humor 619 thirty-seven: Deadlock 630

  thirty-eight: A World Full of Folly 640 thirty-nine: Pamphlet Wars 657 forty: The Price of Truth 665 forty-one: A Despicable Opinion 680 forty-two: Fatal Errand 695

  forty-three: The Melting Scene 710 epilogue: Eliza 723

  Acknowledgments 733

  Notes 739

  Bibliography 780

  Selected Books, Pamphlets, and Dissertations 780 Selected Articles 786

  Index 791


  best of wives and best o
f women

  Observations by Alexander Hamilton

  I have thought it my duty to exhibit things as they are, not as they ought to be.

  —LETTER OF AUGUST 13, 1782

  The passions of a revolution are apt to hurry even good men into excesses.

  —ESSAY OF AUGUST 12, 1795

  Men are rather reasoning than reasonable animals, for the most part governed by the impulse of passion.

  —LETTER OF APRIL 16, 1802

  Opinion, whether well or ill founded, is the governing principle of human affairs.

  —LETTER OF JUNE 18, 1778


  In the early 1850s, few pedestrians strolling past the house on H Street in Washington, near the White House, realized that the ancient widow seated by the window, knitting and arranging flowers, was the last surviving link to the glory

  days of the early republic. Fifty years earlier, on a rocky, secluded ledge overlooking the Hudson River in Weehawken, New Jersey, Aaron Burr, the vice president of the United States, had fired a mortal shot at her husband, Alexander Hamilton, in a misbegotten effort to remove the man Burr regarded as the main impediment to the advancement of his career. Hamilton was then forty-nine years old. Was it a benign or a cruel destiny that had compelled the widow to outlive her husband by half a century, struggling to raise seven children and surviving almost until the eve of the Civil War?

  Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton—purblind and deaf but gallant to the end—was a stoic woman who never yielded to self-pity. With her gentle manner, Dutch tenacity, and quiet humor, she clung to the deeply rooted religious beliefs that had abetted her reconciliation to the extraordinary misfortunes she had endured. Even in her early nineties, she still dropped to her knees for family prayers. Wrapped in shawls and garbed in the black bombazine dresses that were de rigueur for widows, she wore a starched white ruff and frilly white cap that bespoke a simpler era in American life. The dark eyes that gleamed behind large metal-rimmed glasses— those same dark eyes that had once enchanted a young officer on General George Washington’s staff—betokened a sharp intelligence, a fiercely indomitable spirit, and a memory that refused to surrender the past.

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