Alexander Hamilton: On Exhibit in New York and Online
Think about it. When it comes to America's early leaders, how many New Yorkers come to mind? There was John Jay, a serviceable but not exactly famed patriot. George Clinton served as an early vice-president, but if you ask people on the street, “who was George Clinton," most will undoubtedly refer to the 1970s funk musician. The only early New Yorker to almost make it to the presidency was Aaron Burr, but New Yorkers, like everyone else, can be thankful that never happened. In fact, Hamilton helped prevent it, which ultimately may have cost him his life. And yet New York, the nation's trade, merchant, and financial capitol, would lead America into its role as a world and financial power, not the states which produced all of the first six presidents, Virginia and Massachusetts. Why did New York become the nation's center of economic power? The answer is New Yorker Alexander Hamilton. His federal economic policies would allow trade-oriented New York to become, not the nation's capitol (he gave that away to Virginia in return for the right to have the federal government assume state war debts), but the “world's capitol." Was there ever anyone more important to New York history?
If you visit the exhibition or its website, you will discover much more about Hamilton, perhaps even a few surprises. I was not previously aware that Hamilton's oldest son also died in a duel, three years before his father, and that the same set of pistols was used in each duel. Bad luck for the Hamiltons. Why did this exceptionally gifted man not learn from his son's mistake? His wife, who did not engage in duels, outlived Hamilton by 50 years. Aaron Burr, who did not lose any duels, survived him by 32 years. Hamilton helped found two major institutions which survive to this day: the Bank of New York and the New York Post newspaper. Today's Post, Rupert Murdoch's scandal-sheet tabloid, would horrify the man who wrote pieces like The Federalist Papers. Not that Hamilton was scandal-free. Along with writing The Federalist Papers and much of Washington's Farewell Address, he also wrote Observations on Certain Documents, which revealed his affair with Maria Reynolds. Hamilton didn't want to tell all, but was forced to reveal why he made payments to Mrs. Reynolds' husband (to shut him up) when accusations were made that they represented improper financial speculation. Hamilton was a great man whom most of his countrymen either forgot or misunderstood. It is time to set the record straight.