Odd Destiny Analysis
Lomask has produced a sympathetic portrait of Hamilton, but he has also succeeded in avoiding the hagiography that characterizes so much of juvenile biography, especially that concerning American revolutionary leaders. The author emphasizes the greatness of Hamilton’s achievements, such as his drive to create the Constitution, his role in New York’s ratification of that document, and his capable stewardship of the new government’s finances. At the same time, however, the reader becomes painfully aware of Hamilton’s many character flaws, including vanity, arrogance, adultery, and reckless disregard for obvious danger. The overall effect will impress the reader with the “largeness” of Hamilton’s personality, or his inclination to exaggerate most of what he did, thought, and felt. Lomask also indirectly instructs his readers on the complexities and contradictions inherent to human behavior when he contrasts Hamilton’s rational political life and precise intellect with his unmanaged lust and indiscriminate physical courage.
Politically, the author succeeds in separating the “real Hamilton” from the Republican Party rhetoric of the 1790’s. Lomask thus aligns his biography with more recent historiographical trends concerning his subject. This approach may perhaps be his most important service to young readers, who will leave this book permanently disabused of several false notions about Hamilton that have become standard fare in secondary school history courses during the last two centuries—for example, that Hamilton was an enemy of democracy and desired to institute a monarchy in the United States. In the process, readers will also become acquainted with a different, more unsavory side of three of the United States’ most revered revolutionary icons: Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe. Locked in mortal political combat with the Federalists through the 1790’s, these gentlemen displayed more than an ordinary capacity to distort the truth and handle their foes roughly for the sake of partisanship, Hamilton being their primary target.
Discerning readers will also benefit from Lomask’s discussion of Hamiltonian political philosophy. The author starts with the basics of this often abstruse subject, using Hamilton to illustrate that a leader’s political ideology depends heavily upon an evaluation of human nature. In Hamilton’s case, his experiences as a boy growing up on the Caribbean islands of Nevis and St. Croix and his revolutionary war service caused him to judge people harshly, skeptically, and—as the author would have it—more realistically than many others. Starting from this foundation, the reader is gently guided to Hamilton’s own, inescapable conclusion: Democracy, absent constitutional restraints upon its excesses, could not function for the benefit of the majority in American society.
Concerning Hamilton’s personality and...
(The entire section is 670 words.)