My previous blog on Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton began what will be a series of blog posts to follow on what enlightenment and wisdom we may still discover in reading on our Founding Fathers and late American colonial history.
For after all, there is so much now that has been re-written and revised, and journalist/critic Barry Gewen urges us in his piece of June 5, 2005, to consider divergent, global perspectives of our history that speak more directly to the needs of our time than do biographies of dead white Founding Fathers. We are missing, according to Gewen, the “bigger picture [that ]is in the process of being lost” and we are running out of Founding Fathers to write about. These concerns I hope to explore in reviewing some relevant historic works readers can find in Lantana Public Library’s collection.
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
818 pages [Hardback], 2004.
Lantana Public Library Call No.: B Ham
“Safety from external danger is the most powerful director of national conduct. Even the ardent love of liberty will, after a time, give way to its dictates. The violent destruction of life and property incident to war, the continual effort and alarm attendant on a state of continual danger, will compel nations the most attached to liberty to resort for repose and security to institutions which have a tendency to destroy their civil and political rights. To be more safe, they at length become willing to run the risk of being less free.” ― Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist Papers
How extraordinary and yet not at all surprising that one of our most forgotten Founding Fathers, Alexander Hamilton, observed the dynamics of post-9-11 America, the War on Terror, and a very realistic grasp of the way citizens of nations often choose to live.
It’s extraordinary that Hamilton’s observations can still be relevant to us, because for many of us not as well-read in American colonial history or American government, Alexander Hamilton and his legacy remain widely misunderstood, elusive, and ambiguous. Although he’s featured on our $10 bill and was our first treasury secretary and creator of the Federal deficit or national debt, he was vilified as our first “bankster,” plutocrat, monarchist, and war-monger. Hamilton did not lead the Continental Army against the British as Washington did, nor did he write our now famous Declaration of Independence or deliver the Louisiana Purchase to us as Jefferson did. He did not shape the powers of Congress as Madison would from the U.S. Constitution. Hamilton died infamously in a pistol duel with Vice-President Aaron Burr.
Hamilton’s extraordinary achievement was the institutional blueprint of the United States’ Federal government and much of the Executive Branch, our modern banking and financial markets, and a seemingly egalitarian meritocracy, all formed out of and underpinned by the U.S. Constitution. No other single person could have created the first Treasury Department and early customs/taxation system for the new country, chartered one of our earliest federal banks (the federal Bank of New York) and inspired the speculators of Wall Street, negotiated our first trade agreements with the Europeans and the Caribbean and tariff system, as well as founded West Point, our first Coast Guard, Hamilton College (for native Americans), and the Manumission Society to abolish slavery. Much of the Federalist party platform, of course, was influenced by Hamilton while he was alive and even after his death.
Hamilton’s vision of the American Federal system, claims Chernow, was undoubtedly shaped by what he lived under and observed of tyranny and excesses of power. A Creole/West Indian child prodigy born in Nevis/St. Croix, of illegitimate birth, a partly self-taught bilingual orphaned child later apprenticed to a merchant company, Hamilton eventually came to New York as a young immigrant and enrolled at Kings (later Columbia University). But he had come of age in the Caribbean where the most brutal forms of slavery, riots, rule of law and punishment existed, and he strongly believed in limiting and outlawing these in the new American republic, as Great Britain was doing throughout its Empire. Hamilton may likely have seen the oppressive social order and system of his childhood mirrored in the lawless excesses of French Revolution as it descended into a Reign of Terror, and he never romanticized that Revolution as Jefferson did.
Moreover, Hamilton’s vision to remake the debt-ridden, economically distressed colonial confederate state system into a stronger, stable, national system of manufacturing and commerce likely arose during his merchant apprenticeship as a youth and also later while he served American military commanders and the Continental Army in the chronically under-funded American war with the British. Beginning in the mid 1770s, he had a rapidly rising and distinguished military career in the American Colonial War both in the field and as Washington’s aide behind the lines, while educating and training himself in law, classical economics, and also while providing input to the drafting of the Constitution and its ratification at constitutional conventions on behalf of the state of New York. He would also adopt and extend the ideas of his predecessor Superintendent of Finance Robert Morris on public credit when Washington nominated Hamilton as the first Treasury Secretary.
Hamilton evolved into one of the country’s most high-profile and competent administrator and dedicated public servants of his time, loyal to his adopted country to the last. Only Madison is arguably the other great Founding Father who exercised such abilities of implementation. Although the small scale of the Federal government of Hamilton’s and Washington’s day cannot be imagined today, Henry Cabot Lodge was largely correct in observing that “we honor Jefferson, but we live in Hamilton’s country.” MIT economist Simon Johnson observes in his November 2011 article in Vanity Fair, “Debt and Dumb” that Hamilton’s legacy — of a stable, secure, powerful country with a strong Executive branch, with a durable system of U.S. Treasury securities, credit, and power to tax us — remain with us today, and mostly for our betterment — our common defense, infrastructure, and so much more. What a refreshingly bold and accurate observation to make in this day and age, when we have a dysfunctional Congress and Tea Party conservatives and social conservatives, of course, who consider taxes for all and large government as our downfall, and who aim to take power back to the states.
Chernow in this wonderfully written and researched biography makes an extraordinarily convincing case for Hamilton as the founding father of our Federal government, while showing us how Hamilton remained a person of his time, flaws and all. He believed the early republic to be under continual threats of anarchy, disorder, sedition, and even invasion, His relations with with Madison (an early friend but a later critic and political enemy), Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Monroe, Gouverneur Morris, Edward Stevens, and Burr, and others, as well as his wife Eliza and family and intimates, were at times turbulent, alongside with his scandalous misconduct and arrogantly blind, political miscalculations.
Before I read Chernow’s work, I understood little of the historical context of the American Federal government system. I highly recommend this to anyone who wants to understand its historical origins and to understand the modern superpower United States later in the 20th century would become. Moreover, Chernow may also help readers better understand, no doubt, how Thomas Jefferson’s folksy, populist, idealized vision of confederate, independent states and an austerely simple, rustic/agrarian, free America came to prevail for much of 19th century America, culminating, of course, in the American Civil War that nearly toppled the Union and the country.
Chernow also talked further about this work on C-SPAN on May 26, 2004. Enjoy!
How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia
by Moshin Hamid
[Hardcover] 228 pages
Lantana Call No. F Ham
What a strange, funny, jaw-dropping read this book was. It’s a story of a young South Asian man in twelve acts doubling satirically as a self-help book.
The twelve acts or parts sum it all up far better than anything I could write here in this review. Some of these should sound familiar:
One: Move to the City
Two: Get an Education
Three: Don’t Fall in Love
Four: Avoid Idealists
Five: Learn from a Master
By the story’s end, simple beginnings have become complex lives (only perhaps to end suddenly).
Moreover, use of 2nd person narration (where the man/narrator addresses readers as “you,”) renders the views of events ironic and somewhat impersonal, and yet other times unexpectedly peculiarly funny or touching. At times it seems as if the “you” the narrator refers to is really himself.
Certainly, the man’s story allows readers a view of individuals who are swept along by modernity in a part of the world many of us may know less about.
By Tom Shirley
[Hardcover] 288 pages
Lantana Call No: Fla 363.68 Shi
South Floridians…who remembers when water stretched everywhere we looked or stepped, in the savannahs of sawgrass, as well as hammock islands of pine, palm, mahogany, and cypress, brimming with life?
Or remembers beautiful intra-coastal lagoons of lush mangrove and the fresh or sweet waters Miami, Loxahatchee, and St. Lucie rivers?
Or remembers the rollicking life of Hialeah, the poachers of Homestead, and the famous Opa-Locka airport?
Tom Shirley remembers, of course. He recalls much of it for us with gusto in his memoir of his service in the Florida Game and Fresh Water Commission, from the 1950’s into the 1980’s.
With South Florida’s urban sprawl and the Everglades in retreat, it is impossible to know of the drained wetland and coastal shelf we actually live on, its shifting boundaries with the natural world, as well as the dangers and challenges it once posed, as the Seminoles and glades people once did or perhaps still do.
While working his own businesses and while in service with the Commission, Shirley was one of several pioneering men to re-design and improve on Glenn Curtiss’s famous Scooter airboat and recreational vehicles, first introduced to Florida in the 1920’s. These airboats and RV’s enabled modern travel into one of the last unknown areas of the United States.
Shirley and fellow patrol officers spent thousands of hours tracking, chasing down, and arresting armed and dangerous poachers and monkey fisherman, rescuing wildlife including distressed and stranded deer and ornery alligators. When not out in the glades, he also traveled widely — including trips with his family to the Amazon.
Readers also learn of Shirley’s efforts for the restoration of the Everglades. (See his website, Evergladesrestorationfear.org).
See also the Sept. 6, 2012, article in the Tampa Bay Times article by Terry Tomalins, “A man for wilder times.”
Last night’s Friends of the Lantana Public Library’s first Quarter Auction at the Lantana Recreation Center was a great success, with plenty of laughter, food, prizes, bids, bargain purchases, and donations. Mayor Dave Stewart started the Auction and Friends President Teresa Wilhelm presided as Auctioneer, with assistance. Library Director Sid Patchett was also in attendance.
*Table raffles and bids for luxury items were priced at no more than a dollar — yeahh!
*Local businesses garnered new customers — awesome!
*The Friends and the Library received renewed support — cool!
*Friends, family, and associates reconnected — nice!
Doors opened at 6pm sharp. After paying the modest admission fee, the public stopped by vendor tables and displays to view, purchase, and enter raffles for wares or merchandise. The latter included designer handbags, jewellry, clothes, shoes, delicious snacks, cookware and gourmet foods, thermal lunch totes, spa items, glassbottle creations and lighting, natural/handmade scented candles, as well as healthy teas, coffees, and luxury cosmetics.
Thanks to the vendors and volunteers who came out last night — their names will be listed as they become available. Also, of course, a warm thanks to our supporting public. The biggest cheer goes to Teresa Wilhelm for organizing the Auction. Another will take place in July — mark your social calendar. Be sure to bring your $, family, and friends!
The Filter Bubble:
What the internet is hiding from you
By Eli Pariser
[Hardcover], 293 pages
Call No.: 004.67 Par
The Net Delusion: The Dark Side Of Internet Freedom
By Evgeny Morozov
[Hardcover], 432 pages
Call No.: 303.4834 Mor
Eli Pariser is a well known activist and a founder of Moveon.org, a liberal leftwing political action committee (PAC). In The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding from You, Pariser briefly explains how he became aware of the “invisible algorithmic editing” and filtering of his personal search results using Google and his Facebook newsfeed. How will such editing, filtering, and personalization likely hinder what we as informed people need to see, Pariser asks. Are we, the users, even aware of how our “information diets” are not balanced but instead are based on our own keystrokes and wants, tracked by the internet, and fed back to us? Pariser claims we largely aren’t.
I had never understood how personalized search results are actually based on induction — on many of our previous searches, as well as a multitude of other factors, including our IP addresses/locations, of course.
Watch Pariser’s TED Talk in March of 2011 to promote his book and then check the book out at Lantana Public Library. Evgeny Morozov also writes a thoughtful review of Pariser’s book, as well, titled “Your Facts,” on the New York Times website, June 10, 2011.
Morozov’s The Net Delusion: The Dark Side Of Internet Freedom analyzes internet freedom in recent history and criticizes recent political attempts to reinvent it as a new form of the Cold War.
Morozov criticizes the Western media’s claims that Twitter, along with widely available gadgets and internet connectivity and foreign support, helped to coordinate the Iranian June 2009 election protests by the Green Movement. Citing credible sources, Morozov reveals that U.S. State Department requests to Twitter to delay its scheduled maintenance of its website minimally helped the protests; Iran had proportionately fewer Twitter users actually in Iran, and Twitter feeds were probably not needed to inform Tehran residents of street protests.
Indeed, Morozov is critical of the Google Doctrine – best expressed by Secretary of State Hilary Clinton in January 2010 as the optimism that internet freedom is essential to fighting authoritarian governments. Morozov observes that the three activities of Orwellian-style authoritarianism – propaganda, censorship, and surveillance – are not ultimately overturned by the 24 hour information news cycle, social networking, or the high speeds offered by internet. Undemocratic governments persist, not rendered illegitimate either: extreme nationalism, economic prosperity, and other developments may used by such governments to rationalize their actions.
Morozov isn’t entirely pessimistic, however. He prescribes cyberrealism, in the form of decentralized regional policies, non-technological solutions to political problems, and recognition that the internet doesn’t automatically bring democracy.
These are must-reads for anyone who wants to understand other perspectives on the internet!