Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - September - 2004 Issue

Alexander Hamilton: American History in the Making

Ah04

This is a fascinating account of a complex, powerful and imperfect man.


By Bruce McKinney

On the 200th anniversary of the death of Alexander Hamilton [1757-1804], at the hands of Aaron Burr, Ron Chernow, the exceptional biographer, has issued a riveting account of this storied life. His book is simply Alexander Hamilton. To many Hamilton is simply an image on the US ten dollar bill but his story is an essential piece of the early American mosaic.

If Hamilton does not quite rise to the level of Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln in our national awareness it is not because his accomplishments are significantly less. Rather it is because, in our simplified view of history we remember presidents as the apexes of their eras. In this account Hamilton emerges as a gifted, singular force that brought exceptional intellect to the nascent American national experience, acted as the de facto chief of Staff to George Washington during the revolution, was then the principal writer of the Federalist, the series of essays written both to explain and to sell the new constitution in the 1780s. Later, when George Washington became the first President, Hamilton was appointed the first Secretary of the Treasury.

At the founding of the United States its constitutional form was not yet determined. The states were of different sizes, their economies both of different scales and dependencies, their populations slave, indentured and free. Each state was independent and jealously sought to maintain local advantages while tendering to the national union only the absolute minimum necessary. Common defense was easier to agree upon than economic union. Hamilton became the articulate voice and principal writer of the Federalist, a series of newspaper articles that were later collected in book form and published in many editions that progressively made the case for a strong national government. While none of the 85 essays are signed it is generally believed Hamilton contributed 52 articles, James Madison 28 and John Jay 5.

Once ratified the organizational steps called for in the constitution were taken. Washington was elected President and a provisional capitol, New York, established. Washington then called his government into being with the appointments of several secretaries, chief among them Alexander Hamilton as Secretary of the Treasury.

From the outset income for the national government was a problem. The states, that in many cases reluctantly supported a stronger union, withheld financial support. In time Hamilton would propose to Washington that import duties would least inconvenience the states and the monolithic tax collector that would become the carnivore we know today took its first bites. Within a few years the government would seek new sources of income and specifically to tax spirits [alcohol]. That would lead to America's first, but not last, tax revolt, the Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania in 1794.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Darwin, Charles. <i>On the Origin of Species.</i> Presentation Copy. Sold for $500,075.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Darwin, Charles. Autograph Letter Signed, 3 pp, negotiating the 2nd American edition with Appleton. Sold for $21,325.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Hemingway, Ernest. Autograph Letter Signed, 8 pp, Paris, 1924, to his father discussing Bullfighting, Stories, and his new baby. Sold for $25,075.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Shakespeare, William. <i>Corialanus.</i> London, 1623. 1st printing [Extracted from the First Folio]. Sold for $50,075.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Swift, Jonathan. <i>Gulliver's Travels.</i> London, 1726. 1st edition, Teerink's A edition, fine, large copy. Sold for $21,325.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Fitzroy, Robert. Autograph Letter Signed to agent Thomas Stilwell, informing him of the progress of H.M.S. Beagle. Sold for $17,575.
    <center><b>Bonhams<br> Property from the Collection of Nicole and William R. Keck II</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Shakespeare, William. <i>Sonnets.</i> 1901. 2 volumes. Printed on vellum and illuminated by Ross Turner, bound by Trautz-Bauzonnet. Sold for $13,825.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Beardsley, Aubrey. <i>The Birth, Life, and Acts of King Arthur.</i> 1893-94. 2 volumes. Contemporary painted vellum gilt by Chivers. Sold for $5,325.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Assisi, St. Francis. <i>The Canticle of Brother Sun.</i> Illuminated on vellum, for the Grolier Society. Sold for $7,575.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Rackham, Arthur. <i>Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens.</i> 1/500 copies signed by Rackham. Sold for $4,825.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Proust, Marcel. <i>Du coté de chez Swann.</i> 1st edition, 1st issue. Inscribed by Proust. Sold for $8,825.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ian Fleming, <i>Goldfinger,</i> first edition, inscribed to Sir Henry Cotton, MBE, London, 1959. Sold for $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Joseph Brant, Mohawk Chief, ALS, writing after pledging support to King George III against American rebels, 1776. Sold for a record $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Sonia Delaunay, <i>Ses Peintures</i> . . ., 20 pochoir plates, Paris, 1925. Sold for a record $13,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Diana, Princess of Wales, 6 autograph letters signed to British <i>Vogue</i> editor, 1989-92. Sold for $10,400.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Alexander Hamilton, ALS, as Secretary of the Treasury covering costs of the new U.S. Mint, 1793. Sold for $12,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Benjamin Graham & David L. Dodd, <i>Security Analysis,</i> first edition, inscribed by Graham to a Wall Street trader, NY, 1934. Sold for $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> George Barbier & François-Louis Schmied, <i>Personnages de Comédie,</i> Paris, 1922. Sold for $9,375.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Alphonse Mucha, <i>Ilsée, Princesse de Tripoli,</i> Paris, 1897. Sold for a record $13,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ralph Waldo Emerson, <i>The Dial,</i> first edition of the reconstituted issue, Emerson’s copy with inscriptions, Cincinnati, 1860. Sold for a record $3,250.

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