Alexander Hamilton

Nathan Schachner
WHETHER Alexander Hamilton was the evil genius or the good angel of the American republic will no doubt be argued by Americans until some infallible party line enables us to recognize the saints and villains of our history for what they are. Almost from the moment he burst upon the American scene, Hamilton provoked dispute, and the controversy over his ideals and policies today shows no signs of diminishing.
During the Revolutionary War, Hamilton wrote propaganda in support of the “sacred rights of mankind,” but experience taught him that these rights must be reconciled to strong government and that private wealth must be converted into a buttress to the state. Yet it is a mistake to see in Hamilton the advocate of a superstate in which individuals go for naught: as Mr. Schachner abundantly makes clear in this biography, the impelling necessity of the period was to save the nation from the disintegrating effects of localism.
Likewise, Hamilton’s program for the industrialization of the United States was designed to redress the balance of the agriculturally top-heavy economy of the United States. Hamilton s work was no doubt necessary to make the United States a power capable of resisting foreign aggression; nevertheless, it is true that he sought to effect his purposes without regard for the deep-seated prejudices of the American people against centralized government and state-aided capitalism. He understood the necessities of the time but he did not understand the American people.
Although it is almost as difficult to deal dispassionately with Hamilton as with Karl Marx, Mr. Schachner has succeeded in writing an eminently fair and impartial biography of the great Federalist. As an outline of his career, it can hardly be improved upon. The facts are all here, judiciously examined and weighed by Mr. Schachner’s well-developed legal and historical sense. The book is less successful, however, as the portrait of a man. Mr. Schachner tells his readers in great detail what Hamilton accomplished, but the personality of the brilliant Secretary of the Treasury is not clearly defined. The inner man — beloved by modern biographers — is unfortunately neglected in this biography. Hamilton’s character is worthy of a more penetrating analysis.