Home / General / Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 89

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 89

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This is the grave of Alexander Hamilton.

I see little reason to rehash Hamilton’s biography, which is well known. So let me just make a few points.

1) Hamilton was a visionary when it came to developing capitalism and was obviously much more influential than Jefferson in the creation of the American economy, even if Jefferson was more influential in developing its mythology.

2) Hamilton became a horrible authoritarian and was one of the scariest people in American history by the mid-1790s. His fear of the people is to be shunned and damned. Down this path lies very bad things.

3) The Hamilton play was very good in terms of the music and production. It is nowhere close to the truth of Hamilton. Moreover, it is part of a desire to reclaim the Founders from conservatives, but creates more myth instead of a clear-headed understanding of the past. Ron Chernow is very much responsible for this, for his book is deeply flawed and he is not a real historian.

4) Hamilton was not nearly as anti-slavery as the play suggests and married into a slaveholding family, showing little regret over that. He’s hardly John C. Calhoun of course, but the idea of Hamilton as some sort of antislavery icon simply is ridiculous. He never did a damn thing about slavery.

5) There is no Leftist Hamilton we should hang our hat on.

6) Hamilton died at the right time. His anti-democratic impulses were rejected more by the year. Had he lived another 30 years, he would be seen today as a right-wing crank.

7) If you are going into a duel, shoot to kill.

Alexander Hamilton is buried in Trinity Church Cemetery, Manhattan New York.

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  • N__B

    FWIW, I was part of the team that restored this monument a few years ago. If anyone has any questions about the monument itself, not the man, let me know.

    Also, we had the monument enclosed in a construction fence during the work, and thus turned away scores of AH’s fan club. They are some of the creepiest people I’ve ever met.

    • kcr

      Creepy how so? I mean, people who go to graves of 200 year dead people are all a bit … obsessive seeming to me; how are AH fans different?

      • N__B

        Cult members.

        By prohibiting them from walking into an active construction site, we were infringing on their freedoms. (I’ve heard this kind of thing before, but not from literally every person who wanted to go on a given site.) I was an agent of the socialist conspiracy, looking to denigrate a giant. We were secretly putting quicklime in his grave. (Amusing in part because lime is one of the main ingredients in restoration mortar.) The timing of the work was suspicious, so soon before an election. (The work took the better part of a year, so it was within a year of an election no matter when it was done.) Did we have to answer a political interrogation before being allowed there and if so WHAT WERE OUR ANSWERS?

        And so on.

        And so on.

        • CaptServo

          Was this before the show came out?

          • N__B

            Yes.

        • tsam

          Wow. That sounds like a real fuckin hoot.

    • Bruce Vail

      The large pyramid seems unusual. Is that a Masonic thing? Does it have any special meaning?

      • N__B

        It’s an ancient Roman thing, and there was a lot of Rome imitation in the early republic. It may also be Masonic (by way of Rome) but I don’t know enough about them to be certain.

        • Karen24

          Probably both. The Masons are really into Egyptian iconography. (My dad was a Mason and we had the Masonic graveside service for him. It was quite beautiful.)

    • Bruce Vail

      I’ll bet it is one of the most visited graves in America. I used to work in that part of town and the daily foot traffic on nearby streets is incredibly high.

    • Snarki, child of Loki

      “I was part of the team that restored this monument a few years ago. If anyone has any questions about the monument itself, not the man, let me know.”

      Okay, where did you hide the ALL-SEEING EYE on top?

      • N__B

        After I mooned it, it shut permanently.

        • Bill Murray

          so you’re avatar is a snapshot of that incident?

        • wjts

          “Ah! My all-seeing eye! The all-seeing goggles, they do nothing!”

    • bender

      I do have a question. From a distance, the curlicues incised above Hamilton’s name bear a general resemblance to Hebrew letters. Up close, I can’t tell whether this is decorative scrolling, capital Hebrew rendered in a peculiarly cursive style, or something else. It’s not Greek. What is it?

      I think Hamilton would have been pleased by the appearance of his grave marker.

      • Origami Isopod

        I can make out the words “To” and I think “The.” So it’s English, just in a ridiculously rococo script.

        • wjts

          It says “To the memory of” in some kind of blackletter-style (?) engraving.

      • N__B

        If you want to see it better, you can download a ridiculously high-resolution photo from the LoC: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/det/item/det1994020531/PP/

        It’s cursive and, to modern eyes, looks unfortunately like the font used on bad wedding invitations.

  • one of the blue

    “Hamilton was not nearly as anti-slavery as the play suggests and married into a slaveholding family.”

    So did Abe Lincoln, who also never seemed to have felt badly about having done so.

    “Had he lived another 30 years, he would be seen today as a right-wing crank.”

    Only in the context of Jackson’s herrenvolk democracy. Also who knows what an elder Hamilton out of power would have taken up? Perhaps Native American rights; perhaps he would have been an early free-soiler. I’m sure JQ Adams retained more than a little of the Federalist suspicion of democracy, but that is not what he is remembered for today.

    “There is no Leftist Hamilton we should hang our hat on.”

    The vision of activist government in and of itself is left-wing in the context of the current US of A.

    • Murc

      The vision of activist government in and of itself is left-wing in the context of the current US of A.

      No, it isn’t. There is no meaningful constituency in the US for an inactive or hands-off US government in the current context of American politics. Both political parties are fully behind the idea of a robustly active and vigorous state.

      • Bruce Vail

        True, but only up to a point. There are a bunch of influential Conservative activists — you know, the Grover Norquist types — that really do believe that the only legit function of government is killing the foreigners who oppose us.

        • Matt McIrvin

          You forget killing the underpeople when they get testy.

        • CP

          Which is totally a form of activist government. Especially when you consider that “killing the foreigners who oppose us” ends up including not only a massive military, but an equally massive domestic security state.

          • one of the blue

            I should have qualified my activist government statement. There always have been constituencies in favor of activist government for such purposes as killing Indians, hunting down runaway slaves, and as above shooting rambunctious underpeople of other descriptions. But for an activist federal role in the sense of “internal improvements” (infrastructure), support of industry, or social welfare, not nearly as much.

    • Bruce Vail

      U.S. Grant also married in to a slaveowning family.

      I wouldn’t hold marrying in to a slaveowning family against any individual of that area, unless, of course, that was the actual reason for marrying

  • rea

    Who knows what an elder Hamilton out of power would have taken up?

    He rather would have liked to be Napoleon avant la lettre

    • WabacMachinist

      Yes indeed. In that connection, the John Adams miniseries is a highly necessary corrective to the current deification of Hamilton.

    • wjts

      Perhaps he would have retired to the country to grow vegetable marrows and been half-reluctantly drawn back into public life by a particularly mysterious constitutional crisis?

  • CP

    3) The Hamilton play was very good in terms of the music and production. It is nowhere close to the truth of Hamilton. Moreover, it is part of a desire to reclaim the Founders from conservatives, but creates more myth instead of a clear-headed understanding of the past. Ron Chernow is very much responsible for this, for his book is deeply flawed and he is not a real historian.

    There’s an argument to be made that the Founding Fathers have become so broadly accepted as demigods and prophets that we’re better off trying to reclaim the narrative than pointing out that that’s not what they were.

    Which I find incredibly depressing, but not necessarily false.

    • AMK

      All societies need collective myths to function, so like every successful social/political movement ever we might as well get comfortable bending it toward our priorities. The national identity based on “a clear-headed understanding of the past” has never existed anywhere.

      • LeeEsq

        What constitutes “a clear-headed understanding of the past” is heavily dependent on ideology to. The amount of idealism or cynicism you give to the Founders will depend a lot on what you think about the United States at all. IF you see racism, imperialism, and exploitation as a big part of American history than your going to believe that “a clear-headed understanding of the past” means that the American Revolution was an entirely cynical endeavor. People with a more positive view of the United States are going to have a more idealistic opinion.

  • Sly

    Hamilton is a lot like the 1776 musical. As history its pretty bad, but as a cultural artifact its pretty valuable.

    1776 was a pastiche to musical theater, using a common cultural frame of reference so that the audience plainly understood the form of the production as distinctly and appropriately American. Hamilton, likewise, is not a tribute to the titular character but to hip-hop as a distinctly American art form, and a call embrace its distinct “Americanness,” as we do with jazz or baseball or modern dance.

    • jamesepowell

      Or Mormonism?

  • LeeEsq

    Hamilton was one of the few if not the only founder to reject federalism. He wanted America to be a unitary state with the states as mere administrative subdivisions. Considering what a mixed blessing federalism has been at best, we might be better off if Hamilton’s vision of a unitary rather than federal America prevailed.

    • HeRocksInALab

      I thought the fifth and sixth American Civil Wars lacked the zesty drama of Civil Wars one through four. It started to feel like everyone was just going through the motions.

      Seriously though, I think the states were far too distinctive, and too used to being independent, for a unitary USA to have succeeded. Our history might have looked much more like that of Grand Colombia or the Federal Republic of Central America.

      • LeeEsq

        A unitary United States was most likely impossible because the thirteen colonies had a long history of being treated as distinct places by the British government. They had different origins, structures, cultures, and demographics.

  • Joe_JP

    The Hamilton Grange is worth a visit too.

  • CJColucci

    Hamilton was a terrific second-in-command when the commander-in-chief had the judgment, sense, and gravitas to rein in his excesses. The thought of Hamilton as the big boss would have been scary.

  • njorl

    “7) If you are going into a duel, shoot to kill. ”

    He did.

    The eyewitness accounts of the duel have Hamilton shooting into the trees above Burr. No one threw away their shot like that. They shot into the dirt. He was trying to kill Burr.

    That makes his letter doubly damning. Not only did he try to kill Burr, but he left a letter behind saying he would throw away his shot. If he killed Burr, he would have destroyed the letter, but since Burr killed him, he leaves behind the letter which defames Burr.

    • CP

      Christ, what an asshole.

  • witlesschum

    If Chernow is out, is there a Hamilton bio that Loomis or others recommend?

    • Bruce Vail

      Try Gore Vidal’s “Burr.”

      Not very academic, but a fun read.

  • royko

    It’s kind of telling that for all the play’s omissions and distortions to make Hamilton look good, he still comes off as an idiot. The show doesn’t offer up much of a good explanation of why he started sleeping with the Reynolds woman or why he kept sleeping with her even after being blackmailed. The show makes him into a tomcat (which may just be Adams propaganda) but doesn’t really explore what that means in the context of his supposed devotion to Eliza, a relationship the play desperately doesn’t want to tarnish even as its being tarnished.

    It does try to explain his idiotic response to the Reynolds affair by giving him the characterization of thinking he could write his way out of anything. It’s an explanation, but still leaves him looking incredibly foolish.

    And the play doesn’t do much to explain why he did the duel or what he was attempting to do, especially in the context of what happened to his son. Sure, it fits with the arrogant and reckless Hamilton from earlier in the show, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense in the subdued post-Philip/post-Reynolds Hamilton, who just calmly goes and gets into and effs up a duel. It almost comes off as though he wanted to get killed. I suppose that’s a choice, but it’s an odd one. I think the trouble was showing character growth when your main character still ends up losing his life via something so stupid and petty.

    I mean, I love the show. But it has to work really hard to make Hamilton look good, and I’m not even sure it succeeds at that. Real Hamilton was quite an asshole.

  • Latverian Diplomat

    7) If you are going into a duel, shoot to kill.

    “Tell me about it.”
    — Barry Lyndon

  • BethRich52

    I’m glad to see someone agrees with me that Hamilton would most likely have bcome a crank if he’d lived long enough.

  • Jake the antisoshul soshulist

    If we are going to hold slave holding in a family against people, a lot of us would be left out. I have at least a couple of direct ancestors who were slave holders. I also had at least one who fought for the Confederacy in the WOTIDOS. I also had at least two that fought in the American Revolution. There were possibly more, including a couple that were Tories. My siblings and I are the first generation in maybe 300 years to not be farmers.

    • Bruce Vail

      Me too. I only recently learned that there were slaveholders among my ancestors. Tories too.

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