Thursday, October 29, 2009

Welcome Home Lt. Ellis

I just want to take a few moments to welcome home my cousin Jason who just finished a six month tour in Afghanistan. I am very glad he came home safe and am excited for his family who missed him greatly while he was gone. His wife writes a blog and has pictures of him surprising his kids at their school you can read it here. I have written about my cousins before, but I am very proud of them, both Jason and his little brother Cameron who is currently serving in Iraq. We pray for you both and I am glad to know you are doing so well. I do not get to see Jason very much anymore, but there was a time in our lives when we were very close. I still think of him often and cannot wait until we can hang out in the future. Thank you Jason for all you do.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Book Review-Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow

After finishing Chernow’s brilliantly written book about Alexander Hamilton I want to endorse it to anyone who enjoys history or who wants to learn more about the founding of our nation. This book is so much more than a biography of Hamilton, but a biography of the early years of our nation. I have written before that I believe that Hamilton is the most important of our founding fathers when it comes to our government structure. John Adams was the brains of the Revolution, Jefferson the pen, and Washington the sword and father, but if we move past the Revolution and want to understand the forming of the nation then Hamilton is the man. The book describes Hamilton as “an illegitimate, largely self-taught orphan from the Caribbean, Hamilton rose with stunning speed to become George Washington’s aide-de-camp, a battlefield hero, a member of the Constitutional Convention, the leading author of the Federalists Papers, and head of the Federalists party. As the first treasury secretary, he forged America’s tax and budget systems, Customs Service, Coast Guard, and central bank.”

With a man so important, why do we not know more about him? Why do we not heard candidates or political parties claim the legacy of Hamilton the way they do Jefferson? There are two answers, one that his party lost and when it did their legacy was removed, even though in reality it was Hamilton philosophies that that govern our nation today. Secondly, we do not like what he had to say, even though he was right in most cases.

America’s first two presidents were federalists (though Washington would never refer to himself as such). With the election of Jefferson in 1800 the Republicans would come to dominate the White House by controlling it for the next 28 years during which the Federalist party would die away. With the Republican triumph and the Federalists demise, Federalists legacies would disappear over the next 30 years as leading Republicans would exaggerate their importance while diminishing the importance of Federalists. Of the three leading Federalists Adams and Hamilton will be largely forgotten, while Washington was too important to ignore and his own legends will grow. I am even convinced that most Americans today think Jefferson was the second president. We talk so much today about Washington and Jefferson and everyone forgets Adams was in the middle and as for Hamilton he was not ever a president and is ignored.

The larger issue that no party will ever claim Hamilton as their predecessor was his philosophy of government. Hamilton’s problem was that his beliefs do not sound very American, not the kind of thing we put on government building walls. Hamilton believed in order for our nation to last it must be tied to the wealthy and elite, they had to have a rooting interest. In order to understand Hamilton you much understand how all the founders saw our nation, as an experiment. We today have over 200 years of experience and knowledge, we know our nation will be become a mighty and great country. They did not have that insight. Most of them saw the possibility of failure as probable. At their time not a single other government in the world was a democracy. In fact in the history of world only the Greeks and the Romans even tried a democracy and they both failed. Why would America be any different? Hamilton believed we had a greater chance of our little experiment failing then succeeding. The only way our government would make it is if the wealthy and elite wanted it to succeed. Who cared what the poor wanted, they did not have the time or the ability to guarantee the success of the Constitution, they were busy tried to keep their families from going hungry. If the poor supported the government but the wealthy and powerful did not, our government would not have stood a snowballs chance in hell of survival. Anyone who takes a few moments to comprehend this will know that Hamilton was correct; the problem is it does not sound good. We do not want to admit that Hamilton was right. Hamilton also had problems with democracy which does not endear him to modern politicians.

The thing about Hamilton is that today we are a Hamiltonian nation. What created the first political parites in this country were different versions of what we should become. Jefferson and his Republicans wanted a land full of small farmers where everyone would own land. Land ownership in early America was essential for freedom, hence why the founders made land ownership criteria for voting. If you did not own your own land or were your own boss then you rented and were under the control of someone else. In the days before the secret ballot, if you did not vote the way your employer told you to, then you might be out of job or kicked off your farm. In other words land ownership made you free. With this in mind a nation of small yeoman farmers to Jefferson would make us the freest and greatest nation on earth. Jefferson also believed the federal government should be weak and that that state government should have most of the power.

Hamilton and the Federalists however saw things different. Hamilton saw that England was the most powerful nation and wanted to model us after then. To be great Hamilton wanted America to become an industrial power. He believed our survival depended on a strong federal government that could protect American industry and growth. These two men and their parties fought viciously against each other with the understanding that if the other won, our national experiment would fail. Jefferson and the Republicans did win the elections, but as anyone who is reading this has to realize that Hamilton won the struggle. American is not a nation of small farmers, but the greatest industrial and most powerful nation in the world. We do not have time to cover this now, but Jefferson talked one way, but acted another. The Hamilton governmental policies he put in place during the Federalists presidencies were so effective that the Republicans did not dismantle them and actually built upon them.

Jefferson will always be more famous than Hamilton, everyone loves a good sound bite and Jefferson had some of the best, but you really want to get to the heart of our government it is Hamilton not Jefferson who needed to be understood. Why I like Chernow’s book is because he gives a great history of nation building but in the medium of a biography. Instead of a straight forward history we have a story to follow, a story of love, betrayal, affairs, war, feuds, and a very famous death that capotes our attention. In the end we know a lot about the man, but through him we know a lot about the nation.