Ron Chernow’s book “Alexander Hamilton”

Excellent book though quite long (700+ pages). Thanks to mom for advocating

Finished reading 30 December 2017.

Some of the interesting items listed below that would be well for some current politicians to keep in mind.

  • When avarice takes the lead in a state, it is commonly the forerunner of its fall – AH
  • Greed can corrupt a state and that a public official who betrays his trust “ought to feel the utmost rigor of public resentment and be detested as a traitor of the worst and most dangerous kind” – AH
  • Countries follow their interests, not their sympathies Ludwig von Rochau / Realpolotik
  • The primary motives of France for the assistance which she gave us was obviously to enfeeble a hated and powerful rival by breaking in pieces the British Empire – AH
  • The inquiry constantly is what will please, not what will benefit the people – AH in referring to legislatures
  • AH was more interested in policy than politics
  • “It is a recommendation to have no theory? Can a man be a systematic or able stateman who has none? – In civil life, he has never projected nor aided in producing a single measure of important public utility.” AH commenting on Burr
  • Let ambition counteract ambition – James Madison in Federalist Paper #51. (This was an interesting way to say people have different natural capabilities and lead to unequal distribution of property … thus in a heterogeneous country these conflicting interests will neutralize each other)
  • “The ability of a country to pay taxes must always be proportioned, in a great degree, to the quality of money in circulation and to the celerity [what economists now call velocity] with which it circulates” – AH
  • “If duties are too high, they lessen the consumption – the collection is eluded and the product to the treasury is not so great as when they are confined within proper and moderate bounds” – AH
  • War, like most other things, is a science to be acquired and perfected by diligence, by perseverance, by time, and by practice” – AH advocating for a standing, central army
  • Revolutions ended in tyranny because they glorified revolution as a permanent state of mind – AH on dangers of keeping continuous revolutionary mentality (e.g., the French revolution and horrors it eventually created)
  • Public debt could vitalize business – AH leveraging David Hume’s “Political Discourses”
  • No country could borrow money at attractive interest rates unless creditors could freely buy and sell its bonds: “Such is the nature of public credit, that nobody would lend their money to the support of the state, under the most pressing emergencies, unless they could have the privilege of buying and selling their property in the public funds, when their occasions required” – AH via ideas from Malachy Postlethwayt’s “Universal Dictionary of Trade and Commerce”
  • Contracts formed the basis of public and private morality: “States, like individuals, who observe their engagements are respected and trusted” – AH in talking of the fact security of liberty and property inseparable
  • “Yet the public order and the general happiness require a steady conformity to them. It is perhaps always better that partial evils should be submitted to than that principles should be violated” – AH in speaking to Washington related to public credit
  • AH wanted weekly reports from collectors, enabling him to track every ship passing thru American ports. With this curiosity, A wanted to know the size, strength and construction of ships, their schedules and trading routes and cargos – AH pioneered questionnaires to gather such data. (it would be interesting to know what he would do with big data, data mining in today’s age)
  • AH converted the new Constitution into a flexible instrument for creating the legal framework necessary for economic growth. He did this by activating three still amorphous clauses – the necessary and proper clause, the general welfare clause and the commerce clause – making them the basis for government activism in economics
  • AH significantly leveraged both Malachy Postlethwayt’s “Universal Dictionary of Trade and Commerce” as well as Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations”
  • Government must possess the means to attain ends for which it was established, or the bonds of society would dissolve. To liberate the government from a restrictive reading of the Constitution, AH refined the doctrine of “implied powers” – that is, that the government had the right to employ all means necessary to carry out powers mentioned in the Constitution.
  • AH proposed that coins feature presidential heads or other emblematic designs and display great beauty and workmanship – partly to safeguard against counterfeits
  • “Both theory and experiences conspire to prove that a nation … cannot possess much active wealth but as a result of extensive manufactures” – AH
  • “Supposed altruism of nations often masked baser motives; that individuals sometimes acted benevolently, but nations seldom did” – AH
  • “No character, however upright, is a match for constantly reiterated attacks, however false.” If a charge was made often enough, people assumed in the end “that a person so often accused cannot be entirely innocent“. – AH
  • The plague of partisan recriminations had already diminished the incentives for people to serve in government – AH
  • That nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or habitual fondness is in some degree a slave” – AH
  • AH lacked what Woodrow Wilson defined as an essential ingredient for political leadership: “profound sympathy with those whom he leads – a sympathy which is insight – an insight which is of the heart rather than of the intellect
  • a man must be sensible of the errors of the people and upon his guard against them and must run the risk of their displeasure sometimes or he will never do them any good in the long run” – John Adams
  • “My opinion is to exhaust the expedients of negotiation and at the same time to prepare vigorously for the worst. Real firmness is good for everything. Strut is good for nothing. My plan is ever to combine energy with moderation” – AH speaking of interactions with France after French Revolution and their attacks on US merchant marine vessels
  • Nil repente [nothing suddenly], is the soul of great affairs” – Machiavelli
  • Washington said that some people consider AH “an ambitious man and therefore a dangerous one. That he is ambitious I readily grant, but it is of that laudable kind which prompts a man to excel in whatever he takes in hand
  • The 1800 elections revealed, for the first time, the powerful centrist pull of American politics – the electorate’s tendency to rein in anything perceived as extreme
  • AH wanted to lead the electorate and provide expert opinion instead of consulting popular opinion
  • AH triumphed as a doer and thinker, not as a leader of the average voter. He was too brainy to appeal to the masses. Common people don’t want leaders “whom they see elevated by nature and education so far above their heads – Fisher Ames
  • The first commandment of American politics: thou shalt always be optimistic when addressing the electorate. AH shrank from campaign rhetoric that flattered Americans as the most wonderful, enlightened people and denied that they had anything to learn (from others)
  • AH refused to believe the country was exempt from the sober lessons of history
  • Slaveholding presidents from the south occupied the presidency for around 50 of the 72 years following Washington’s first inauguration. Many of these slaveholding populists were celebrated by posterity as tribunes of the common people while self-made Hamilton, a fervent abolitionist and staunch believer in meritocracy, was villainized in American history textbooks as an apologist of privilege and wealth

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