The #HamAlong Can’t Wait to See You Again

Confession: When I was reading the lyrics to the last few songs of Hamilton to decide on a post title, I teared up. I could hear Philippa Soo’s angel voice in my head, and I am not made of stone.

This section served up a whole bunch of things that broke my heart into tiny pieces, and I guess I might as well just lay them out for y’all so you can be heartbroken too.

Feeling poorly, Kent retired early to bed. Anxious about his guest, Hamilton tiptoed into his room with an extra blanket and draped it over him delicately. “Sleep warm, little judge, and get well,” Hamilton told him. “What should we do if anything should happen to you?”

I don’t know if I’ve told y’all this, but nothing wins my heart like people putting blankets on other people to make sure they aren’t cold.

In the lead-up to the duel, Hamilton’s son James asks his father to look over a speech he’s writing, and this is what Hamilton tells him:

“My dear James,” Hamilton began, “I have prepared for you a thesis on discretion. You may need it. God Bless you. Your affectionate father, A.H.”

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Super weird advice from our guy A. Ham.

And finally, I wrote “heart is stabbed tho for real” in my notes when I got to this bit:

While reading the scene in Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy in which the tenderhearted Uncle Toby picks up a fly and delicately places it outside a window instead of killing it, Burr is said to have remarked, “Had I read Sterne more and Voltaire less, I should have known the world was wide enough for Hamilton and me.”

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The whole scene of Alexander Hamilton’s death is really, really hard to read. You know how Alexander Hamilton could sometimes be the sweetest human man? Well, that’s what he was up to throughout the days of being on his deathbed. I kept wanting to stop reading, except stopping reading wouldn’t have stopped Alexander Hamilton from dying tragically young.

As we reach this the final day of #HamAlong, I want to give an infinitude of props both to Ron Chernow for creating this monumental biography (overpartial to its subject though it is), and particularly to Lin-Manuel Miranda for creating out of it a piece of art that gives stunning immediacy to the story of this long-dead genius and his life at a time in history that we all feel we already knew.

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Thanks for Hamilton, dude. That’s a pretty fucking incredible thing you made.

And now, with thanks once again to the fabulous Alice for hosting, I will just toddle off to weep in a corner over how great Eliza was and how unfair it is that she had to live for fifty years without her beloved husband at her side. SOB.

The #HamAlong Never Liked the Quiet Before

At least, dear friends, the worst has happened. The #HamAlong has reached the second-saddest bit of the musical:1 Philip Hamilton dies in a duel which he fought to defend his father and in which his father urged him to delope.

Anyway, not quite yet. We’ll get to that. The first thing that happens is that Hamilton supports the Alien and Sedition Acts, which Chernow tries to pretend is semi-okay even though it is blatantly not. And like — honestly? This section makes me feel rather patriotic. Like, the ways that America turned out well were very far from inevitable, if the country had gone a different direction early on. We could have ended up with shitty libel laws like Britain, or become prone to deporting foreign journalists for criticizing us.

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at libel laws. Thanks, NY Times v. Sullivan!

Hamilton does some lawyering in this section, including the defense trial of one Levi Weeks (you may remember him from “Nonstop”), which causes Chernow to say this about the murder victim, and God knows I quote:

…and that Sands, no innocent damsel, had a little weakness for laudanum.

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SIT DOWN RON

Hamilton gets sick of lawyering eventually and inserts himself back into public life by publishing his response (to John Adams basically just being President). While it is lengthier than a simple “Sit down John, you fat motherf***er!” — because Hamilton — it cannot be denied that that is the gist of it. Even Ron Chernow, seriously, even Ron Chernow, has kind of turned against Hamilton in this section.

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Hahahah, nah, I’m just messing with you. Like, Ron Chernow turning against Hamilton looks like this:

For a man of Hamilton’s incomparable intellect, the pamphlet [against John Adams] was a crazily botched job, an extended tantrum in print.

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Hamilton would actually probably have challenged Chernow to a duel over that.

It’s interesting, though, because of course Hamilton has not changed who he essentially is since he first washed up on the shores of New York, desperate for power and respect. It’s just that before, he was getting the power and respect. So this whole thing does come off like a tantrum: Up to his resignation from Washington’s cabinet, Hamilton’s brilliance and energy were enough to carry the day. Now that they aren’t, it’s clear he doesn’t know what to do with himself.

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Accurate depiction of Hamilton while not governing

If someone had gotten Hamilton a hobby, I bet this whole thing would never have happened. The hobby would have had to give him lots of political power though. Maybe the hobby could have been a governorship. I bet if Hamilton had had a hobby of being the governor of New York, this whole pamphlet thing would never have happened.

Philip also dies. It is way less Hamilton’s fault than the musical makes it seem. It’s still really sad, though, and I choose to gloss over it.

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I will leave you on an up note: When Jefferson becomes President, he asks the new Secretary of the Treasury to go through all Hamilton’s Treasury files and find out all the bad things Hamilton did and what all he stole from the government and all the reasons why his stupid banking system was a fraud and an overreach. So the Secretary, Gallatin, went all up in Hamilton’s files and practices, and this was his verdict:

I have found the most perfect system ever formed. Any change that should be made in it would injure it. Hamilton made no blunders, committed no frauds. He did nothing wrong.

SO THERE, JEFFERSON.

Only one more week, y’all! We are so close to having read the whole of this monster book! Thanks, as always, to the fabulous Alice for hosting!

  1. The first saddest bit being, obviously, when Eliza sings “The Lord in His kindness, He gives me what you always wanted, He gives me more time.”

The #HamAlong Is Never Gon’ Be President Now

Poor old George Washington! With his strongest and cleverest ally gone from the cabinet, this section of the readalong finds him struggling to find competent people to fill political posts, while the southern motherfucking democratic republicans roundly abuse him all over the press. He keeps writing pitiful letters to Hamilton to be like

“Running the government isn’t any fun without you.”–Washington, probably

And in actually the nicest gesture I have so far encountered in this readalong, Washington sends Eliza and Alexander a supportive gift during the Reynolds Pamphlet hullabaloo, with a note that says this:

I pray you to present my best wishes, in which Mrs. Washington joins me, to Mrs. Hamilton and the family, and that you would be persuaded that with every sentiment of the highest regard, I remain your sincere friend and affectionate honorable servant.

Washington.

Except you know you should not have owned slaves, bro.

Speaking of that, it’s time to ask: Which Founding Father Is Being the Worst This Week? And, I mean, it’s a tough call. Nobody comes off looking good this week. Hamilton’s all over the g.d. place; he and Jefferson are both engaging in shady duplicitous dealings with various foreign ambassadors and keeping it secret from the President; Madison’s too chickenshit to travel overseas;1 Adams is writing racist, xenophobic letters about Hamilton all the live-long day; and Monroe just, like, continues to be Monroe.

Regrettably, it’s Reynolds Pamphlet time. In response to a revival of the charge that he was involved in improper speculation while in government office, Hamilton wrote a long and detailed account of his extramarital affair, hoping — I guess? — that everybody would thereafter never again suspect him of financial dishonesty.

It’s like in The Vampire Diaries when Elena finds a trail of blood on the stairs of her house when she gets home, but she still goes upstairs to see what’s up. Hamilton. You know what life you’re living in, at this point. Do not dick up Eliza’s world to prove that you are innocent of something that you should know by now the Republicans will never ever ever stop accusing you of.

that’s one less thing to worry about

Whatever Eliza’s private thoughts about all this, she seems to have remained staggeringly loyal to Hamilton. And Monroe became her permanent, lifetime enemy, which given what a turd he was throughout this section and last week’s section, I have to say I support. If Eliza were a dude, I bet she’d’ve challenged Monroe to a duel. I bet she’d’ve won too. Monroe sounds like a drip. He sounds like the contestant on The Bachelor who, like, goes to tattle to the Bachelor about one of the other girls not being there for The Right Reasons, and then gets sent home immediately because nobody likes a tattletale.

Hamilton Burn Ward: Unexpectedly, this week’s harshest burn comes from…. Ron Chernow! He refers to Hamilton’s expansionist ambitions as “one of the most flagrant instances of poor judgment in Hamilton’s career.” Ron Chernow, are things okay between you and Alexander Hamilton? Do y’all need to maybe see a couples counselor, or…?

Thanks to Alice for hosting! We are in the home stretch now!!

  1. That’s actually super legit, people’s ships disappeared all the time in the olden days, I’m sorry I made fun of you, Madison.

The #HamAlong Lets Its Ideals Blind it to Reality

NOW we have attained the kind of rap-battle controversy that I was expecting from Ron Chernow’s Hamilton.

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Hamilton, pretty much full-time

The lines are drawn, the gloves are off, and A. Ham is wading into battle against prettttttty much every other Founding Father. Which means that it’s time for a new #HamAlong feature I shall call Which Founding Father Is Being the Worst This Week?

Which Founding Father Is Being the Worst This Week? I’m going to have to say Monroe. This fuckin’ guy. When some guys in the federal government got wind of Hamilton’s history of giving money to James Reynolds (they heard about it because James Reynolds was all the time telling people about it), they went round Hamilton’s house to see what was up, and Hamilton explained to them about Maria Reynolds at great length.

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I know. Unprecedented. Hamilton talking a lot. Try to control your shock.

Two of the guys were horribly embarrassed by all this and were totally like “uh, yeah, bro, that’s your business, we’ll just — sorry about charging you with speculation, this is super awkward, we’ll be on our way then.” Monroe, by contrast, promised not to tell another soul what he saw, and then ran away and IMMEDIATELY TATTLED to Thomas Jefferson.

Which…okay, as I’m typing this, I have to admit that if I found out some salacious gossip about the lady at my old job who always stole the cream cheese,1 I would have a very hard time not going straight to Whiskey Jenny with this news. However, if I gave my word to the cream cheese-stealing lady and I promised not to tell, I would not tell. You still have to keep your promises even when they have been made to people who steal communal cream cheese and keep it all for themselves. So Monroe is still the worst, after all.

Also not the best, however? Thomas Jefferson. This is a tricky time for foreign relations, and Thomas Jefferson does not rise to the occasion of our new nation as much as maybe one might have hoped. As you will remember from your history classes (slash, from “Cabinet Battle #2”), France and England were not at this time the best of pals, and America had to articulate a foreign policy to address that hostility, as well as the increasingly bloody French Revolution. Jefferson was very

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Which nobody who’s ever seen that one part of Casablanca could be completely out of sympathy with, as a position. But it seems to me that Jefferson feared that France would get forgotten and abandoned if Hamilton were left to his own devices, and this fear made him keep on siding with France even when they were being super terrible and beheading people bloodily all over the town square. “Thus always to tyrants!” said Jefferson, probably, when he heard about Louis XVI being executed, and that, boys and girls, is why you should learn to live with cognitive dissonance. So that you don’t find yourself Secretary of State trying to explain why widespread guillotine massacres are a-okay under some circumstances.

Various other things happened, including Ron Chernow blaming Alexander Hamilton for Eliza having a miscarriage. Bro, remember that time you blamed Alexander’s infidelity on Eliza being pregnant? And we were all like

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NOPE

about it? Well, this is another of those times. Lots of pregnancies miscarry. Especially in olden days. Don’t be weird.

Altogether, A LOT happened in this section of the HamAlong. By the end of it, Hamilton has retired his position in the cabinet to spend more time with his family. What I am curious to know is, can he stick to this resolution? And if yes, is Retired Hamilton like one of those very, very, very energetic dogs where you have to tire out their brains or else they’ll chew up your sofa while you’re away at work? (Seems likely.)

Hamilton Burn Ward: Like last week, someone tries to insult Hamilton but kinda ends up complimenting him. A Republican foe making a joke about Hamilton’s favorable view of the monarchy suggested that Hamilton be made king, since the country would then never want for heirs. Get it? Get it?

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He meant cause Hamilton enjoyed sex a lot.

As always, thanks to the wonderful Alice for hosting!

  1. SHE KNOWS WHO SHE IS.

The #HamAlong’s Gotta Keep the American Promise

So. Much. Finance. Talk. I trust that the #HamAlong will experience a sharp upward turn in action in the subsequent chapters, and can only conclude that the schedule for this week allotted a comparatively lowish number of pages to make up for how heavily taxy this section is.

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Me for (tbh) large swathes of this section

One thing I learned that tied into knowledge I already possessed was that Britain had, at this time, something like a monopoly on textile production. A. Ham wanted to diversify American business, rather than continuing to depend on only agriculture, so he spent a lot of time learning about textiles and how Americans could produce them in factories. Britain, meanwhile, would not let their cleverest engineers even leave the country, lest they betray English textile secrets to the rest of the world. Crazy, eh? And particularly strange to think about given how, a few years on, India’s going to make the bottom fall out of the British textile industry anyway.

In his free time, when he’s not writing financial systems into existence, A. Ham is, I am sorry to say, becoming involved with Maria Reynolds. It is self-destructive AF, and knowing as I do the ultimate outcome, I wish and wish that he would change his mind and not fuck that lady.

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Oh but then what. The chapter started off all sex-scandally and guess what came next. Guess for a sec.

YES. YOU ARE CORRECT. MORE FINANCE STUFF.

And not even, you know, like Hamilton’s barely even feuding with Jefferson and Madison yet. Jefferson does come home from France, and Chernow makes the excellent point that whereas we think of Jefferson as a revered Founding Father, Hamilton only knew about him what he had heard from other people. Which was, like, that he owned slaves and wasn’t a great commander and had asked Angelica to come back to Monticello with him to check out all his slaves. So it is no big surprise that Hamilton was all:

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Since I paid less attention to this section than I have to most of the sections (and less than I will pay to future sections! I swear this is the most amount inattentive I will ever be throughout this HamAlong!), I will just leave you with this John Adams burn:

John Adams [told] Jefferson that [Hamilton] was an “insolent coxcomb who rarely dined in good company where there was good wine without getting silly and vaporing about his administration, like a young girl about her brilliants and trinkets.”

Y’all, that not only does not sound insolent or coxcomby, it sounds outright delightful. Like Hamilton’s true love for America was barely being kept under wraps at all times, and then you get a glass of wine into him and he can’t shut up about it. ADORABLE.

#HamAlong Always Says What It Believes

Okay, it’s possible that the first chapters of Alexander Hamilton misled me about how nonstop thrilling Alexander Hamilton’s life was going to be. #HamAlong has now reached the stage at which Chernow dedicates almost thirty pages to describing each and every number of The Federalist Papers.

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Yo, I already knew the important thing, which is that HAMILTON WROTE! THE OTHER FIFTY-ONE! I do not need an entire chapter on this.

In this section, Hamilton helps make a new Constitution, convinces George Washington to become President, and accepts a position as Treasury Secretary. Apparently he wasn’t even Washington’s first choice! Washington didn’t know that Hamilton was all up in the financial system in his spare time. It kind of makes sense that even Hamilton’s closest political ally does not have time to keep up with all the shit Hamilton knows and does. Like that is how energetic Hamilton is. Normal people not only can’t do that much stuff, they can’t even see that much stuff being done cause Hamilton moves too fast for the human eye to follow.

It is also the season of Hamilton’s abolitionism. Now, as you might expect, most of his time in this section of #HamAlong is occupied in talking for six hours (the convention is listless) and writing THE OTHER FIFTY-ONE, but then he does legitimately join an abolition society and come up with ideas for making abolition happen. The whole thing’s sort of weird because it’s like, an abolition society? Comprising, presumably, a bunch of abolitionists? Yet:

Hamilton’s committee presented its proposals on what members [of the abolition society] should do with their slaves.

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This only goes on for a little bit, because nobody agrees to Hamilton’s plan of freeing litrally all their slaves in seven years’ time. Why not, early American abolitionists? That is a nice biblical number of years in which to decide that “It’s not cool to own other people” is a rule that applies to everyone, not just plantation-owners.

ALSO. I know some people in this readalong are mad at Chernow because he’s too into Hamilton and gives him a pass on everything. Yo, that is just biographies, friends; and also, Hamilton was pretty rad. My beef with Ron Chernow, I will tell you it right now, is that he called my girl Peggy “very beautiful but vain and supercilious,” but then produced no evidence in support of his claim. Here are the two Peggy anecdotes he has told so far:

Then the women remembered that Mrs. Schuyler’s infant daughter, Catherine, had been left in a cradle by the front door. Since both Eliza and Angelica were pregnant, sister Peggy crept downstairs to retrieve the endangered child. The leader of the raiding party barred her way with a musket.

“Wench, wench! Where is your master?” he demanded.

“Gone to alarm the town,” the coolheaded Peggy said.

The intruder, fearing that Schuyler would return with troops, fled in alarm. Legend maintains that one Indian hurled a tomahawk at Peggy’s head as she trotted up the stairs with the baby in her arms; to this day the mahogany banister bears what are thought to be scars from the blade.

AND

At one ball, Angelica dropped a garter that was swept gallantly off the floor by Hamilton. Angelica, who had a sly wit, teased him that he wasn’t a Knight of the Garter. Angelica’s sarcastic sister, Peggy, then remarked, “He would be a Knight of the Bedchamber, if he could.” This may all have been harmless banter, but such tales fed material to the local gossips.

I believe what you are saying, Mr. Chernow, is that Peggy is a hilarious baller. Adjust early remarks accordingly.

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Hamilton Sweetness Watch: Fisher Ames (a Federalist ally) described him as “so entirely the friend of his friends . . . that his power over their affections was entire and lasted through his life.” Judge James Kent said he “was blessed with a very amiable, generous, tender, and charitable disposition.” And this is not about him being sweet, it’s just funny: An early biographer of Aaron Burr described a New York Senate race thus: “The Clintons had power, the Livingstons had numbers, and the Schuylers had Hamilton.

Thanks as always to Alice for hosting! I love the current location of my bookmark, which now no longer says “I am a dilettante” but instead “I am a serious scholar of biographical information.” And it would never have happened without the HamAlong!

Prague is the principal city of Bohemia, and other facts learned from #HamAlong

Are you still HamAlonging with us, ducklings? If you missed last week, there’s still plenty of time to catch up! The full schedule is posted at Alice’s blog, and a very nice schedule it is too! This week, Hamilton educates himself, goes into battle, and seeks a wife.

While some people such as you or me might find running an army (in an administrative role, but I mean — that’s where all the work’s at anyway, right?) to be a sufficient amount to take on at one time, Hamilton spends his evenings reading up on all the areas of knowledge he feels himself lacking in. It legitimately could not be more adorable:

He also stocked his mind with basic information about the world: “The continent of Europe is 2600 miles long and 2800 miles broad”; “Prague is the principal city of Bohemia, the principal part of the commerce of which is carried on by the Jews.”

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We also get to the Battle of Monmouth, which you may remember from the musical Hamilton as the one at which Charles Lee shits the bed. In real life, Washington sent Hamilton to see how Charles Lee was getting on in battle, and Hamilton arrived to find Lee’s troops in full retreat. This leads to my favorite thing that Hamilton has done so far, and frankly I will be surprised if anything in the rest of this book can top it.

Hamilton rode up to Lee and shouted, “I will stay here with you, my dear general, and die with you! Let us all die rather than retreat!”

Ahahahaha, Alexander Hamilton is a noble delight. I can just picture Charles Lee holding the bridge of his nose and trying to figure out how to get out of this.

Then Hamilton gets some shore leave or whatever, and guess who enters the picture!

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Angelica is already married by the time Hamilton shows up, or — Ron Chernow suggests — Hamilton might have married her instead. But he seems very into Eliza, and writes her lots of letters to explain how poor and wretched he expects to be once they are married, given that good fortune is as transitory and unconstant as the emotions of the human heart.

ROMANTIC STUFF.

Hamilton and Washington have a big fight, let’s gloss over that cause it bums me out, and nearly a year after Cornwallis surrenders at Yorktown, John Laurens is shot dead while trying to ambush some British expeditionaries in Charleston.

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Pour one out for John Laurens.

Sob sob. It is extra sad because Laurens seems to have been the absolute sweetest dear, and it would have been interesting to see what role (if any) he’d have played in the new nation. And just, like, why can’t Hamilton have his friends around, you know? Especially someone like Laurens, who offered to take his inheritance from his (wealthy, slave-owning) father “in the form of a black battalion, freed and equipped to defend South Carolina.” That is awesome, Laurens.

Hamilton and abolitionism: Sarah made the excellent point last week that Chernow’s description of Hamilton as a fierce abolitionist is a relatively recent opinion among scholars. We are consequently to be on high alert to see if Hamilton really was a fierce abolitionist, or if he was just, like, less slave-own-y than the rest of the Founding Fathers. There will be no grading on a curve. In this section, Hamilton says this:

The contempt we have been taught to entertain for the blacks makes us fancy many things that are founded neither in reason nor experience; and an unwillingness to part with property of so valuable a kind will furnish a thousand arguments to show the impracticability or pernicious tendency of a scheme which requires such a sacrifice.

It’s not exactly wholesale abolitionism (he’s arguing to free slaves who will then agree to fight in the Continental Army), but it’s a hell of a truth bomb anyway.

ALSO. I am going to start keeping count of the people who describe Hamilton as “sweet,” because I find it charming that so many people thought he was. Hamilton Sweetness Watch, chapters 6-9: The duc de La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt. Eliza not exactly but she does list among his virtues “the excellence of his heart.” Aww.

#HamAlong, Part 1: Just you wait, just you wait

I might maybe once or twice in the last few months have mentioned how I am super into Alexander Hamilton now? On account of that the cast recording of the musical Hamilton took over my whole life? You may have heard something about that. Anyway, when Alice said “Chernow biography readalong,” I was naturally like:

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(even though I don’t really read biographies and I find American history, like, pretty boring)

Ron Chernow starts by destroying everything I thought I knew about Alexander Hamilton. He was a bastard, but not an orphan (his father was alive for much of his adulthood), and his mother wasn’t a professional whore so much as a lady with a shady sexual reputation. Moreover — and y’all, brace yourselves for this one — Chernow thinks Hamilton maybe wasn’t even the son of the Scotsman James Hamilton. Chernow thinks he was maybe this other dude’s son, which like, he doesn’t have hard evidence, but the circumstantial case he makes is compelling. THE SCANDAL CONTINUES.

It is fun reading about how talented and brilliant Alexander Hamilton is. Like, you wanted him to be as talented and brilliant as Lin-Manuel Miranda constantly insists that he is, and Ron Chernow is there for you.

Nonetheless, the essay [by Samuel Seabury] made a huge popular impression and demonstrated that the patriots were being outgunned by Tory pamphleteers and needed a literary champion of their own.

Did they? Is that what they needed? HEY I HAVE AN IDEA.

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It was clear that [Hamilton] had found his calling as a fearless, swashbuckling intellectual warrior who excelled in bare-knuckled controversy.

I mean, look: If Chernow had written this biography after the Hamilton musical came out, I’d have maybe suspected him of pandering to the hungry fans. And also, I wish I were temperamentally suited to being a fearless, swashbuckling intellectual warrior who excelled in bare-knuckled controversy. But I am too pacific, I think, for that.

Okay, so, here are my three favorite things about Alexander Hamilton so far:

1. He has twice leaped in front of a mob comprised of his own political allies to stop them from doing Mob Violence upon his own political foes. Again, I’d like to say that I’d unhesitatingly confront a dangerous mob and deter them from violence using only my words, but would I?

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Far more likely response

2. Every time anyone says “Could you do this thing?” he does the thing to the nth degree. No cutting corners for this guy. His drill regiment had the shiniest buttons. His political pamphlets were ten trillion words long. He marched up to massively experienced American generals and said “I am twenty-two but yet you must do exactly as I say,” and then badgered them until they did exactly what he said.

3. He talked to himself all the time. Like you actually probably¬†would see him in the street walking by himself, talking to himself, cause that was a thing he did. I picture him being sort of like the Doctor, you know? Where he has a very whizzing-about sort of brain, so he talks more or less constantly, whether there’s anybody there to listen to him or not? That’s what I imagine.

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If you haven’t signed up for #HamAlong yet, there’s still time to join us!1 We will be reading this massively massive biography for probably ever? Like I don’t know if you’ve seen it but it’s super huge, and the whole entire thing is about Alexander Hamilton and American history. I will basically have a bachelor’s degree in American history by the time I finish it, is what I’m saying, and you can too.

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American history bros
  1. I mentioned to Alice that we didn’t get much advance warning of this readalong, and she said DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY READALONGS I HAVE HOSTED, so that’s me put in my place.