Treasures Hidden in Plain Sight: Two Alexander Hamilton Clocks

Alexander Hamilton is everywhere! He’s in books. He’s on our currency. He’s even on Broadway. Of course, Hamilton can also be found in the numerous museums that display his portrait and curate exhibitions about him (for examples, see here, here, here, and here).

Perhaps you even saw some pieces of Hamiltonia in these museums without noticing them. For example, how many you saw the recent Battle of Brooklyn (Long Island) exhibition at the New-York Historical Society? Did you see the copy of Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer from April 20, 1775? Here’s their description and a photo I took of the newspaper (sorry for the quality):

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Rivington’s New York Gazetteer, April 20, 1775 [New-York Historical Society] (© Michael E. Newton)

Did anyone notice this advertisement in the above newspaper?

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Rivington’s New-York Gazetter, April 20, 1775 [New-York Historical Society] (© Michael E. Newton)

Here we have A.W. Farmer (Samuel Seabury) replying to an essay entitled The Farmer Refuted. I’m sure you all know who penned that essay—the one and only Alexander Hamilton. With no mention of Hamilton in the description, few people probably paid any attention to this. (For those who are curious, Seabury’s Republican Dissected was never published.)

Much more interesting, in my opinion, are a pair of clocks directly connected to Alexander Hamilton on display at two different museums not far from each other.

In the lobby of the New-York Historical Society, not far from Hamilton’s writing desk, a portrait of Hamilton by John Trumbull, and exact replicas of the dueling pistols used by Hamilton and Burr in 1804, is a clock attributed to Robert Joyce:

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Robert Joyce, Tall Case Clock [New-York Historical Society] (© Michael E. Newton)

The NYHS explains, “According to tradition, Hamilton presented this clock to the Bank of New York in 1797 to commemorate the opening of its Wall Street headquarters… Founded by Hamilton in 1784, the Bank of New York was the center of the city’s financial life and helped the federal government establish a firm economic footing. After four years on its board of directors, Hamilton left to serve as the nation’s first secretary of treasury.” [Note: Hamilton was one of the founders of the bank, not the founder.]

A similar clock with a similar tale is also on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

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Robert Joyce, Clock [Metropolitan Museum of Art] (© Michael E. Newton)

If you didn’t see this clock the last time you visited the Met, I’m not surprised. It can found all by itself at the second-floor entrance to the American Wing in what can best be described as a hallway (technically it’s Gallery 703). I often watch dozens of people walk right by it without paying any attention. Some see me looking and taking pictures of the clock; only then do they take notice of this clock. Robert Joyce produced this clock “circa 1795” (according to the Met website) or “circa 1797” (according to the description next to the clock). According to the description, “This monumental tall clock by Robert Joyce, who trained and worked in London and Dublin before establishing himself in New York, was presented by Alexander Hamilton to the Philadelphia-based Bank of the United States around 1797.”

Thus, we have two beautiful clocks given by Alexander Hamilton in or about 1797 to the two leading banks in the country in two different museums less than a mile from each other. Please do visit these two clocks, enjoy their fine craftsmanship, and connect with everyone’s favorite Founding Father. And if you visit both clocks on the same day, be sure to stop at the statue of Alexander Hamilton as you walk from one museum to the other.

 

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Walking route between Metropolitan Museum of Art and New-York Historical Society with stop at the Alexander Hamilton statue (© Michael E. Newton)

 

Inspiration: Thomas Cole’s The Consummation of Empire and Carle Vernet’s The Triumph of Aemilius Paulus

During my recent trip to New York City, I had the great pleasure of visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the New-York Historical Society. I try to visit the Met every time I’m in New York to see the special exhibits and some of my favorites (Vermeer, Van Gogh, Emanuel Leutze’s Washington Crossing the Delaware). As the Met is so large, I never have time to see everything and am able to see different things each time.

When I’m in New York, I occasionally visit the New-York Historical Society depending on what special exhibits they have. With an exhibit on the Battle of Brooklyn (Battle of Long Island), the NYHS was on my long list of things to do during my brief visit to New York.

I visited the New-York Historical Society first. When I entered Dexter Hall, the main painting gallery of the museum on the second floor, I was pleasantly surprised to and see my favorite paintings: Thomas Cole’s five-painting-series The Course of Empire (1833-1836).

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Thomas Cole’s The Course of Empire [New-York Historical Society] (© Michael E. Newton)

A brief intro for those who don’t know about these paintings. The Course of Empire shows the rise and fall of an empire. Thomas Cole clearly had ancient Rome as his inspiration but painted them as a warning to the United States to not follow the same course. Thomas Cole starts with The Savage State (1834) where the landscape is in its natural state with just a few nomads in view, moves on to The Arcadian or Pastoral State (1834) as farmers move in and start to develop agriculture, jumps to The Consummation of Empire (1836) with the great wealth and power of an imperial city on display, declines into Destruction (1836) as the empire falls and the city is destroyed by barbarians, and concludes with Desolation (1836) where all that remains are the ruins of a formerly great city.

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Thomas Cole’s The Savage State [New-York Historical Society] (image courtesy of Wikimedia)

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Thomas Cole’s The Arcadian or Pastoral State [New-York Historical Society] (image courtesy of Wikimedia)

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Thomas Cole’s The Consummation of Empire [New-York Historical Society] (image courtesy of Wikimedia)

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Thomas Cole’s Destruction [New-York Historical Society] (image courtesy of Wikimedia)

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Thomas Cole’s Desolation [New-York Historical Society] (image courtesy of Wikimedia)

I am not sure when Cole’s The Course of Empire returned to the museum but they had been in storage and away on loan for some time. The last few times I visited the NYHS, these paintings were not on display, but I did see them in July 2013 at the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown in an exhibit on The Hudson River School: Nature and the American Vision (no photography was permitted). Prior to that, I saw them at the New-York Historical Society in June 2010 when the museum was closed for renovation but they granted me access to see them in storage because I had used two of the paintings for the cover of my first book, The Path to Tyranny, because that book, like the paintings, detailed the rise and fall of free societies.

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Michael E. Newton with copy of The Path to Tyranny in front of Thomas Cole’s The Consummation of Empire [New-York Historical Society] (© Jay  G. Newton)

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Michael E. Newton with copy of The Path to Tyranny in front of Thomas Cole’s Destruction [New-York Historical Society] (© Jay G. Newton)

After years of not seeing these paintings at NYHS, I had forgotten they were there and was pleasantly surprised to see them. As usual, I stood gazing at them for a few minutes as I soaked in their greatness. Unfortunately, I had other things to do that day and could not stay longer.

A few days later I made my customary trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I was there mainly for their special exhibits on Jerusalem 1000–1400: Every People Under Heaven and Valentin de Boulougne: Beyond Caravaggio, but wandered through my favorite parts of the museum. They recently rearranged some of the European art. One such room (Gallery 613) is now called “The Salon on the Eve of the Revolution.” Here, I happened across a painting I had either never seen before or just never noticed, Carle Vernet’s The Triumph of Aemilius Paulus (1789).

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Carle Vernet’s The Triumph of Aemilius Paulus [Metropolitan Museum of Art]

 I was immediately struck by how similar the triumphal parade in this painting is to that in Cole’s The Consummation of Empire.

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Thomas Cole’s The Consummation of Empire [New-York Historical Society] (image courtesy of Wikimedia)

The similarities of which I speak are more evident after zooming in on the triumphs/parades taking place in the two paintings.

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Detail from Carle Vernet’s The Triump of Aemilius Paulus [Metropolitan Museum of Art]

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Detail from Thomas Cole’s The Consummation of Empire [New-York Historical Society]

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Detail from Thomas Cole’s The Consummation of Empire [New-York Historical Society]

Clearly, they are not identical, but Cole’s triumphal parade with its ostentatious display of wealth to show his imagined empire at its peak and an honored hero holding a scepter in one hand and a tree branch in another is reminiscent of the parade in Vernet’s painting. I have no idea if Thomas Cole saw Vernet’s The Triumph of Aemilius Paulus when he was in Paris in 1831–32 or if the paintings by Vernet and Cole were both inspired by an earlier work, but the two appear remarkably similar in my inexpert opinion. (In my searches, I have been unable to find anyone else comparing these two paintings.)

Art experts, feel free to comment on the similarities and differences between these two painting or to suggest common inspiration for both works.

N.B. Thank you to art historian Dianne Durante for your critique and advice.

Alexander Hamilton’s Participation in the Newburgh Conspiracy Reexamined

The following essay is based on a speech, my first public speech about Alexander Hamilton, given on July 28, 2013, at the New Windsor Cantonment in conjunction with the Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society. It is reproduced below after some editing and links added to the relevant sources. An inquiry by Dianne Durante, who is writing a series of blog posts linking primary sources to lyrics in Hamilton: An American Musical, reminded me of this speech and I was prevailed upon to make it available to others researching this important topic. 

The Newburgh Conspiracy

Throughout the War for Independence, Congress and the various states were unable or unwilling to provide for the army. The soldiers often went without clothing, without food, and without pay. Some in the Continental Congress wanted to do justice for the men who sacrificed so much for their countrymen, but the national government lacked the power of taxation and therefore never had enough money to provide for the soldiers.

Upset at the neglect of them and fearing that the end of the war would mean being sent home without receiving what was owed to them, army discontent rose. Mutinies were common. Many soldiers talked of refusing to disband after peace was declared and some threatened to revolt against Congress.

General Washington sympathized with his men. A look through his writings reveals that much of his correspondence dealt not with military matters but with the inability of the continental and state governments to properly provide for the army. Despite this, Washington believed strongly in civilian control of the army.

In March 1783, an anonymous “Address to the Officers” circulated through the army camp at Newburgh. It called for a meeting to discuss the the demands of the soldiers and decide how to pursue their rightful claims. Fearing a mutiny or a coup against himself or Congress, Washington canceled the unauthorized meeting and called one of his own. At Washington’s meeting, which took place right here [at the New Windsor Cantonment], Washington pledged to do all he could to help the men of the army and urged them to be patient. Washington was at his best. He begged the assembled crowd, “Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray, but almost blind in the service of my country.” Upon hearing these words and recognizing the sacrifice General Washington made for his country and fellow Americans, many officers were brought to tears and the so-called Newburgh Conspiracy evaporated.

Hamilton advising Washington

By early 1783, Washington and Hamilton had not written to each other for over a year. In February, Hamilton broke the silence, providing his former boss with valuable information regarding the growing unrest in the army, of which the Commander-in-Chief was not aware. Hamilton then advised Washington:

The claims of the army urged with moderation, but with firmness, may operate on those weak minds which are influenced by their apprehensions more than their judgments; so as to produce a concurrence in the measures which the exigencies of affairs demand. They may add weight to the applications of Congress to the several states… But the difficulty will be to keep a complaining and suffering army within the bounds of moderation. This Your Excellency’s influence must effect. In order to it, it will be adviseable not to discountenance their endeavours to procure redress, but rather by the intervention of confidential and prudent persons, to take the direction of them… Your Excellency should preserve the confidence of the army without losing that of the people. This will enable you in case of extremity to guide the torrent, and bring order perhaps even good, out of confusion.

Hamilton as a conspirator?

Some believe that Hamilton encouraged mutinous behavior in the army to pressure Congress into establishing funds for the continental government. For example, Ron Chernow writes, “Hamilton was coaxing Washington to dabble in a dangerous game of pretending to be a lofty statesman while covertly orchestrating pressure on Congress. The letter shows Hamilton at his most devious, playing with combustible forces.” (Chernow, Alexander Hamilton 177.)

But Washington did not see things this way. Replying to Hamilton, Washington wrote that he was “pursuing the suggestions of your letter, which I am happy to find coincides with my own practice for several months past, & which was the means of directing the business of the Army into the Channel it now is, leaves me under no great apprehension of its exceeding the bounds of reason & moderation, nothwithstanding the prevailing sentiment in the Army is, that the prospect of compensation for past Services will terminate with the War.”

Thus, according to Washington, he and Hamilton were in complete agreement about the course to follow: pushing for a funding system and trying to keep the anger of the army within “the bounds of reason & moderation.”

On March 12, Washington again wrote to Alexander Hamilton:

After the arrival of a certain Gentleman, who shall be nameless at present, from Philadelphia, a storm very suddenly arose with unfavourable prognostics… There is something very misterious in this business. It appears, reports have been propagated in Philadelphia, that dangerous combinations were forming in the Army; and this at a time when there was not a syllable of the kind in agitation in Camp… From this, and a variety of other considerations, it is firmly believed, by some, the scheme was not only planned but also digested and matured in Philadelphia; but in my opinion shall be suspended till I have a better ground to found one on.

Was there a conspiracy originating in Philadelphia? If so, Washington refused to believe it without further evidence. Was Hamilton a conspirator? If so, Washington did not say so. Rather, Washington asked Hamilton to continue on the same course he had been pursuing so far.

Let me beseech you therefore, my good Sir, to urge this matter earnestly, and without further delay… To prevail on the Delegates of those States through whose means these difficulties occur, it may, in my opinion, with propriety be suggested to them, if any disastrous consequences should follow, by reason of their delinquency, that they must be answerable to God & their Country for the ineffable horrors which may be occasioned thereby.

So who is Washington blaming for the ineffable horrors that may result? Definitely not Hamilton. In fact, he relied on Hamilton to “urge this matter earnestly.” Instead, Washington blamed “the Delegates of those States through whose means these difficulties occur.”

Upon receiving this letter, Hamilton replied, “I am happy to find You coincide in opinion with me on the conduct proper to be observed by yourself. I am persuaded more and more it is that which is most consistent with your own reputation and the public safety.” Yet again, Hamilton and Washington were in complete agreement and were working together to prevent “dangerous combinations.”

For the next month, Hamilton and Washington corresponded about how to promote the funding system and keep the army in check.

On April 4, Washington wrote to Hamilton, “Some men (& leading ones too) in this Army, are beginning to entertain suspicions that Congress, or some members of it” were using them “as mere Puppits to establish Continental funds.” Washington warned Hamilton “that the Army…is a dangerous instrument to play with.” The critics cite this as proof that Washington was disappointed with Hamilton’s playing with the army to promote a stronger national government. As Ron Chernow comments, “Washington must have seen that Hamilton, for all his brains and daring, sometimes lacked judgment and had to be supervised carefully” (Chernow, Alexander Hamilton 179-180).

But Washington had not accused Hamilton of playing with the army. Washington wrote his warning generally and never implied that Hamilton was one of those men under suspicion. In fact, in that letter, Washington called out “the Financier,” Robert Morris, as the one “suspected to be at the bottom of this scheme.” He made no mention of Hamilton being involved in any way.

Less than two weeks later (April 16), George Washington apologized to Alexander Hamilton: “My last letter to you was written in a hurry, when I was fatigued… possibly, I did not on that occasion express myself (in what I intended as a hint) with so much perspicuity as I ought—possibly too, what I then dropped, might have conveyed more than I intended; for I do not, at this time, recollect the force of my expression.” Washington then noted, “To Mr. Morris…or rather to Mr. G[ouverneur] M[orris] is ascribed, in a great degree, the ground work of the superstructure which was intended to be raised in the Army by the Anonymous Addresser.” Yet again, Washington did not accuse Hamilton of being involved in this conspiracy nor did he say that others had mentioned him as a conspirator. Rather, it was Gouverneur Morris who stood accused of egging on the discontented. But this accusation against Morris came not from Washington himself but from the very men who had threatened a mutiny against Washington and an overthrow of Congress and who now argued that they had been used as “Puppits.” Perhaps Morris had indeed encouraged these men. Or perhaps these men were now trying to shift the blame in an attempt to exonerate themselves.

At this point, there is no evidence Hamilton was involved in any conspiracy. Some members of Congress had been accused of using the army as “Puppits,” but those were unsubstantiated accusations and only Robert Morris and Gouvernour Morris had been named as possible conspirators. No one pointed a finger at Hamilton.

Historiography: 1820

In 1820, a man going by the name of John Montgars, who claimed to have “been employed, for several years, upon a history of the United States,” was now looking into the Newburgh Conspiracy. Montgars wrote that “a letter was received by the Commander-in-Chief from a Mr. Hardy [later changed to a Mr. Harvie], of Virginia, then a member of Congress, advising him that a conspiracy of the very worst character, having for object the demolition of our free constitutions, and the destruction of the General’s authority, was in embryo, and would soon show itself in some overt act; and that Robert and Gouverneur Morris and Alexander Hamilton, &c, were at the bottom of the plan.”

Here we have the first accusation against Hamilton of not only encouraging a conspiracy to overthrow Washington and the civilian government but that he was “at the bottom of the plan.” Yet again, the two Morrises also stood accused of being “at the bottom of the plan” alongside Hamilton.

Who was this John Montgars? Was he a trustworthy, non-biased historian, as he claimed? And what was the source for his information?

It turns out that Montgars invented this story, or at the least he never provided any evidence in support of it. Timothy Pickering, Nicholas Fish, John BrooksDavid Cobb, Ebenezer Huntington, James Thacher, and others all said that they were eyewitness to the events that day or talked to those who had been and that Washington received no such letter from a Hardy, Harvie, or anyone else implicating Hamilton and the Morrises.

Furthermore, it just so happens that this John Montgars was none other than John Armstrong. (Montgars is an anagram for Armstrong, except one “r” has been dropped.) Armstrong had been one the worst offenders in the Newburgh Conspiracy. He had written the anonymous “Address to the Officers,” though he denied it for decades, leading a number of historians to believe that someone else, possibly Gouverneur Morris, had been the author. Armstrong had also been an aide to Major General Horatio Gates, an old rival of Washington who had falsely accused Hamilton in 1777 of stealing a letter he had received from Thomas Conway attacking Washington. It was Gates who would have probably become commander-in-chief had Washington been overthrown or forced to resign. Thus, the long-lasting enmity between Gates and Armstrong on one side and Hamilton and Washington on the other reappeared during the Newburgh Conspiracy. Armstrong renewed this rivalry in 1820 as he tried to change the narrative of the affair in which he was involved.

With Montgars’s identity revealed and his account refuted by other eyewitnesses, there is good reason to believe that the Newburgh conspirators, including Armstrong, were merely trying to shift the blame off themselves and onto Washington’s supporters—i.e., Hamilton and the Morrises. Certainly, their accusations against Hamilton and others remain meager and unsubstantiated.

Historiography: 1970

That is how things stood for the next 150 years. John Armstrong was known as the author of the “Address to the Officers” and one of the leaders of the conspiracy. The idea that Hamilton and the Morrises were involved in the Newburgh Conspiracy was occasionally mentioned, but was not believed by most because the evidence was meager and unreliable. Just read any Hamilton biography written prior to 1970. Few, if any, mention Hamilton’s involvement in any sort of conspiracy. In fact, the term “Newburgh Conspiracy” was rarely used in Hamilton bios prior to 1970. Thus, up until 1970, for all intents and purposes, Hamilton had no role in the Newburgh Conspiracy and was not only completely innocent, but was often commended for being a great help to Washington in preventing a disaster by warning him and providing him with solid advice.

Then, in 1970, Richard Kohn wrote an essay called “The Inside History of the Newburgh Conspiracy.” In this essay, Kohn argued that Hamilton and the Morrises organized the Newburgh Conspiracy. Ever since, this version of history has become mainstream and Kohn’s essay is cited by nearly all who write on this subject.

The essay is too long (34 pages) and complex to quote here in full or to provide the relevant excerpts. I thoroughly encourage you to read Kohn’s essay and decide for yourself whether Hamilton was culpable. But I will give you a few short quotes from the essay to give you the gist of Kohn’s argument.

“This is speculation.”
“My speculation.”
“could imply”
“imply to me”
“does not imply.”
“in no way implies.”
“There is no direct evidence”
“circumstantial evidence”
“The evidence…is circumstantial.”
“The evidence cited, as I admitted, was circumstantial.”
“The exact nature of the group and its plans will probably never be known.”
“no proof”
“strong hints.”
“an educated guess.”
“cannot be gauged with certainty.”

There you have it! The argument that Hamilton was a leading participant in the Newburgh Conspiracy is based on speculation, implications, circumstantial evidence, and hints.

Even Richard Kohn admitted that he cannot prove his case because this conspiracy was “an event that never even happened, using evidence that probably never existed, or was immediately destroyed.”

(Richard Kohn followed up his 1970 essay with another in 1974, coauthored by C. Edward Skeen, entitled “The Newburgh Conspiracy Reconsidered” and repeated the same arguments in a 1975 book, Eagle and Sword: The Beginnings of the Military Establishment in America.)

Hamilton as a Hero

Although John Armstrong, Richard Kohn, and their historical heirs accuse Hamilton of being involved in the Newburgh Conspiracy, there are a number of facts that are known with certainty that shows Hamilton to be blameless and even deserving of credit. We know that Hamilton forewarned Washington. We know that Washington and Hamilton were in agreement on the course to pursue. We know that Washington followed Hamilton’s advice. We know that Washington encouraged Hamilton to continue on the same course he had been pursuing in Congress. We know that Hamilton and the two Morrises became leading advisers to Washington after the conspiracy had ended, which Washington would not have done if he believed they encouraged a conspiracy to overthrow the civilian government and replace it with a military one.

As the man to warn and advise Washington, as one who fought for truth and justice throughout the affair, Hamilton deserved the utmost credit, second only to Washington for his role in quelling this conspiracy.

It is a real shame that Alexander Hamilton has been portrayed by so many biographers and historians as a villain or as an unsuspecting contributor to the Newburgh Conspiracy when, in reality, he was one of the heroes who helped Washington save the infant United States of America from impending collapse.

Douglas Southall Freeman’s tips for historians and biographers.

Douglas Southall Freeman (1886-1953) was one of America’s best historians and biographers. Widely known for his in-depth, comprehensive research, he was among a small group that brought historical research into the modern era (but pre-computer/digital research). He is best known for his four-volume biography of Robert E. Lee, three volumes on Lee’s Lieutenants, and his seven-volume biography of George Washington (the last volume written by John Alexander Carroll and Mary Wells Ashworth, based on Freeman’s research). He won a Pulitzer for his Lee biography and won another posthumously for his Washington series.

I had previously read the 2 1/2 volumes of George Washington related to the American Revolution but now decided to attempt the entire seven volumes. This is partly for research into my next Hamilton tome but also for enjoyment as most of the series is not directly related to my current project.

I was pleasantly surprised by the “Introduction” to the first volume. In addition to explaining the purpose of the series and a bit about Washington’s early life and ancestry, he goes into his perspective on how history and biographies should be written when there is doubt regarding the facts. As any reader of Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years knows, the doubts regarding Alexander Hamilton’s life and predecessors are even greater than those with Washington.

Here are some quotes from Douglas Southall Freeman’s “Introduction” to the first volume of his seven-volume George Washington biography, which I think are great tips for any historian or biographer to follow:

It has seemed best to confine the narrative to the passing event and neither to refer to later occurrences in the life of Washington nor to make comparisons with them. The aim has been to portray him, year by year, through each new experience, as if nothing were known and nothing were certain about his future. If this has excluded some analogies that might be interesting, it likewise has saved on from an overready assumption of cause and effect. When one does not anticipate, one is less apt to theorize. (p. xviii)

Regarding “traditions and myths” that may be “valid, probable or manifestly untrue,” Freeman concludes:

It is better to disappoint than to deceive. (p. xx)

In other words, Freeman disagrees with those biographers who to sell books present every fascinating tale without regard to truth. Accuracy is primary, telling a good story is secondary.

Freeman then discusses the trouble of how to present uncertainties:

The mildest signpost of the probable, as set off from the known, was the use of “apparently,” “doubtless,” “it seems,” or “no doubt.” These monitory words are embarrassingly few in the English language and they are employed with tedious frequency in this work… The alternative was the worse fault of failing to draw the line between fact and what one believed to be fact. With respect to some issues, it has been necessary to enter a blunt caveat because the evidence is disputable or contradictory. (p. xxi)

There is much more in Freeman’s “Introduction” that the historian/biographer may find of interest, including his thoughts on when and how to modernize archaic spelling, grammar, and punctuation; the term(s) to be used when speaking of the book’s subject (Washington, George, the General, etc.); when and how to introduce supporting characters in the story.

I am pleased that I find myself largely in agreement with Freeman on all these points. This could partly because I had already read 2 1/2 volumes of his work a few years back and was highly impressed. It could also be because I have discovered these same difficulties in researching and writing about Hamilton, and like Freeman decided that accuracy and precision is more important than including fictional or dubious stories. Even if you don’t like Freeman’s matter-of-fact writing style or believe that telling a good story is more important than accuracy, you certainly will learn a thing or two by reading some Douglass Southall Freeman.

Big Government and Demagoguery: Are We on the Path to Tyranny?

I recently gave a speech (twice) about how demagogues use the promise of big government to gain power. Here it is:

A “forgotten” essay by Alexander Hamilton? Reasons to be cautious.

Today, Stephen Brumwell presents a “forgotten” essay possibly written by Alexander Hamilton. Brumwell argues “there’s compelling evidence” that Hamilton penned this essay. According to Brumwell:

A long article…appeared on Thursday October 12 in The New-York Packet, and the American Advertiser… The essay of October 12, 1780, which sought to exploit the widespread anger over Arnold’s treason to revitalize the flagging and divided Patriot war-effort, was anonymous, but carried the bold, capitalized pseudonym “PUBLIUS.” Typical for that era, the same piece was swiftly re-published by other newspapers, making the front page of The Pennsylvania Gazette of October 18, 1780 (“From the New York Packet, Fishkill, October 12”) and later surfacing in The Norwich Packet, and the Weekly Advertiser on Tuesday October 24 (“From the Fish Kill Papers”).

Considering this coverage, including a conspicuous slot in one of early America’s best-known newspapers, it is surprising that neither Hamilton’s biographers nor the editors of his writings have noted this article, if only to eliminate it as the work of some other, less celebrated, “Publius.”

Publius, of course, is the pseudonym Hamilton, Madison, and Jay used to write the Federalist essays in 1787–88. Hamilton had also used it in 1778 to criticize Samuel Chase for “allegedly deploying insider knowledge in an unfair – and unpatriotic – bid to monopolize the flour market.” Read Brumwell’s post for this and more evidence he presents.

As I had done in Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years regarding other essays attributed to Hamilton, I decided to do a simple stylometric analysis of this Publius essay, the complete text of which Mr. Brumwell was kind enough to provide in a link. Looking at word length and sentence length compared to known Hamilton essays, here are the results:

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It clearly appears based on sentence length that Hamilton did not pen this essay. Although it is possible that Alexander Hamilton chose to write this essay in a different style, this is strong evidence against Hamilton’s authorship.

Of course, I also read this Publius essay and I think it does not read like something Hamilton wrote, but that is just the personal opinion of one person.

Mr. Brumwell also writes of an essay by A.B. that Hamilton may have also authored:

Previously unrecorded, however, is the fact that “A. B.” had also been used by the anonymous author of an article published in Loudon’s newspaper on April 20, 1780. Written at a time when Hamilton was with Washington at Morristown, New Jersey, this essay tackled a topic close to his heart: the worsening state of his country’s finances as the paper currency issued by Congress fueled rampant inflation. In particular, it criticized Congress’s decision of March 18 to fix “Continental money at forty to one.”

“A.B” was the pseudonym Hamilton used for his Continentalist essays and he may have also used it to try to convince British General Henry Clinton to trade Benedict Arnold for John André. Unfortunately, Mr. Brumwell did not provide the complete text of this essay for analysis.

I salute Mr. Brumwell for his great find and surely hope other evidence can be found regarding the authorship of these essays, but until then we must be cautious when trying to attribute anonymous works to certain people without any direct evidence.

Michael E. Newton interviewed on Gene Pisasale’s “Living History” Program

On December 2, 2015, Gene Pisasale interviewed Michael E. Newton, author of Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years, about Hamilton’s wartime service on his “Living History” radio show.

http://wche1520.libsyn.com/living-history-12-2-15