Alexander Hamilton was a bastard. Indeed, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson never tired of calling him that – the ‘Bastard Brat of a Scots Pedlar’ who infuriated them time and again. They called him this for one reason above all: that when it came to forming the American nation, Alexander Hamilton ate their lunch. In the debate over the course America ought to take, it is Hamilton’s vision of the American economic structure, the American system of government, and the American system of federalism that prevailed over the visions of others. It was a vision that largely endured for a century and a half, and in that time saw a collection of colonies and a sleepy agrarian economy transformed into the greatest nation the world ever knew. The inventions of an aggressively active mind who did not live to see them turned out to sustain the freedoms of a people Hamilton loved with the love of an adopted son.
Had Alexander Hamilton died taking Redoubt Ten at Yorktown, bayonets fixed and muskets unloaded, he would have died a more significant American than his fellow Columbia student Barack Obama, who has now deigned to displace him from the ten dollar bill. To charge across that field under the flash of British artillery, rush into a hail of British musket fire, leap first over the parapet yelling for his fellow Patriots to follow and fight and by so doing win their freedom would have been enough for the man who had no father but became ours. He did not need to write and curate The Federalist; he did not need to construct the Constitution; he did not need to establish the U.S. Mint; he did not need to save the nation from financial calamity; he did not need to, in the aftermath of the 1800 election and in his dying act, destroy the political fortunes of the conniving traitor and would-be tyrant Aaron Burr.
Hamilton recognized Burr as a man without principle, bent on power for powers sake, who hated the Founding Fathers even as he envied their influence. He would recognize our current leadership today for its similarities. This administration has made Hamilton a casualty of the era of daily venal vituperation of people who do not care about history. We live in an era of triumphant minor social justice warrior Twitter mobs which insist upon a foothold in American currency and a casting aside of our history in favor of the priorities of modern identity politics, and under the leadership of an elite which does not care that they are wrong — and in fact is so bold as to use that to their advantage. And thus, our orphan immigrant Founding Father who fought to abolish the slave trade at the Constitutional Convention is deemed insufficient as a fulfillment of our progressive self-actualization process.
It seems so fitting in catering to our modern ignorance: Obama’s choice of which American to remove from money is the man who invented American money. “America’s currency makes a statement about who we are and what we stand for as a nation,” said Treasury Secretary Jack Lew. And what this statement indicates is that Jack Lew is a historical ignoramus if he believes that Eleanor Roosevelt, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks or Wilma Mankiller deserves to be on American currency more than Alexander Hamilton. Does not Caitlyn Jenner deserve it more than all of them combined? Indeed, by this standard, do not all the dead white men deserve to be replaced? Mollie Hemingway has a few suggestions on this point.
Back in 2009, during the height of the Tea Party, there were crotchety old Americans who warned in dark tones about the dangers of this president. He was a socialist, they said, and feckless to boot. He hated the American Founding and the men who built the foundations of this country. He would lead us into war and ruin and despair, and he would tear down the monuments to our heroes along the way. He was anti-American through and through, in ways that us youngsters did not understand. When they said this, I would disagree as politely as possible. The president is wrong about policy, wrong about direction, I said at the time, but he is not a socialist, not someone who hates America. He may have the wrong ideas, but his heart was still in the right place, or close to it.
Is it possible they were right, and I was wrong?
Alexander Hamilton loved America. He labored for her, fought for her, wrote her laws, built her structures, and died a patriot. He arrived here as a penniless immigrant with nothing but his dedication, his mind, and the strength of his beliefs going for him, and he became one of the most significant Americans to ever live. Love his ideas or hate them, they made our nation what she is: they established our federalist system of government, secured our liberty, and transformed us into an economic power that was and is the envy of the world.
Alexander Hamilton was a bastard, but he was a righteous bastard. He loved his country. And the callow men who are demoting him on our currency today are not fit to lick his boots.