Recently I wrote about how now, more than ever, our stories are important. As a writer of American historical fiction and American historical fantasy, I know our history is full of amazing stories. Reading these stories enlarges our understanding of the human experience. It helps us make sense of the present.
“Understanding our history informs our understanding of how we move forward into our future.” (Emma D. Dryden)
Two of my favorite reads this year were Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton (the inspiration for the Broadway play) and David McCullough’s John Adams. What better reads to learn about how politics work! No two men were more contrary in life and character than Adams and Hamilton.
“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” (Adams)
Adams grew up in a “tidy” New England village. He was born into a well-respected family who could trace their lineage to the first Pilgrims. He was well-educated with a passion for the law. He craved “Honour” and was zealous in his pursuit for independence. He had a keen sense of fairplay. In fact, he became the defense lawyer for the British soldiers who fired upon civilians in what became known as the Boston Massacre. He was diplomatic, although sometimes he could be thin-skinned when he perceived criticism. When this happened, he depended upon his wife, the incomparable Abigail Adams, for clarity. Their marriage remains one of the most enduring love stories in American history.
“It's not tyranny we desire; it's a just, limited, federal government.” (Hamilton)
Born on the island of Nevis in the Leeward Islands (of the Caribbean), Hamilton was the illegitimate son of a woman who, according to local island myth, was mulatto. He grew up in a “…a tropical hellhole of dissipated whites and fractious slaves…” The shame of his birth dogged him all of his life, but it also may have influenced his "enlightened" ideas about abolitionism. Orphaned at an early age, he was taken into the care of a wealthy merchant, and eventually sponsored to attend King’s College in New York City, where he too developed a passion for law. Although married and father to eight children, he enjoyed many affairs. He was brilliant, outspoken and ambitious. He was also arrogant with the confidence and temper to match. An aristocrat at heart, he had little patience for the "common man."
“There are seasons in every country when noise and impudence pass current for worth; and in popular commotions especially, the clamors of interested and factious men are often mistaken for patriotism.” (Hamilton)
Hamilton’s feud with Adams was the stuff of legend (as was his feud with Thomas Jefferson and, of course, with Aaron Burr. We remember how that one turned out, right?) When Adams was running for a second term as president, Hamilton published a pamphlet weeks before the election, titled “Letter…Concerning the Public Conduct and Character of John Adams.” For 45 pages, he lamented on Adams’ incompetency as president, passing it around to the electors, a system he helped create. (Does this sound familiar or what?) Adams didn’t win the election.
Adams and Hamilton had a complicated and contentious relationship. But it was the coming together of these two brilliant minds that created such a grand experiment.
“All communities divide themselves into the few and the many. The first are the rich and wellborn, the other the mass of the people…The people are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge or determine right. Give therefore to the first class a distinct, permanent share in the government. They will check the unsteadiness of the second, and as they cannot receive any advantage by a change, they therefore will ever maintain good government.” (Hamilton)
“Because power corrupts, society's demands for moral authority and character increase as the importance of the position increases.” (Adams)
What do you think?