Alexander Hamilton and the Persistence of Myth
Stephen F. Knott
Alexander Hamilton and the Persistence of Myth explores the shifting reputation of our most controversial founding father. Since the day Aaron Burr fired his fatal shot, Americans have tried to come to grips with Alexander Hamilton's legacy. Stephen Knott surveys the Hamilton image in the minds of American statesmen, scholars, literary figures, and the media, explaining why Americans are content to live in a Hamiltonian nation but reluctant to embrace the man himself.
Knott observes that Thomas Jefferson and his followers, and, later, Andrew Jackson and his adherents, tended to view Hamilton and his principles as "un-American." While his policies generated mistrust in the South and the West, where he is still seen as the founding "plutocrat," Hamilton was revered in New England and parts of the Mid-Atlantic states. Hamilton's image as a champion of American nationalism caused his reputation to soar during the Civil War, at least in the North. However, in the wake of Gilded Age excesses, progressive and populist political leaders branded Hamilton as the patron saint of Wall Street, and his reputation began to disintegrate.
“There is no Founding Father whose reputation has waxed and waned so dramatically, who has aroused so much hatred and contempt. In his invaluable new book, Knott does a marvelous job of gathering all the different views of Hamilton and weaving them into a clear and interesting narrative.”
—David Brooks in The Weekly Standard
“An important and lasting contribution to future debates about the Foundings meaning.”
—First ThingsSee all reviews...
“An important book.”
—Claremont Review of Books
“Makes a compelling case for Hamiltons importance.”
—History: Reviews of New Books
“A superb book about how and why one of the greatest of Americans has been one of the least appreciated. Knott’s penetrating and sensitive account of the vicissitudes of Alexander Hamilton’s public image over two centuries contains within it a subtle and profound commentary on the images Americans have had of themselves.”
—Forrest McDonald, author of Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution and The American Presidency
“Knott has done for Alexander Hamilton what Merrill Peterson did for Thomas Jefferson, and in the process he has made clear, as never before, the contours of American political history. No one interested in our national trajectory or in the current prospect can afford to ignore this fine book.”
—Paul A. Rahe, author of Republics Ancient and Modern
“Tracks the ups and downs of Hamilton on the stock market of historical reputation. Its appearance now is a welcome sign that a low-selling blue chip is recovering its true value.”
—Richard Brookhiser, author of Alexander Hamilton, American
“Fascinating and illuminating.”
—John Steele Gordon, author of Hamilton's Blessing
“An exceptional book-sweeping in scope, engagingly written, and highly informative.”
—Richard K. Matthews, author of If Men Were AngelsSee fewer reviews...
Hamilton's status reached its nadir during the New Deal, Knott argues, when Franklin Roosevelt portrayed him as the personification of Dickensian cold-heartedness. When FDR erected the beautiful Tidal Basin monument to Thomas Jefferson and thereby elevated the Sage of Monticello into the American Pantheon, Hamilton, as Jefferson's nemesis, fell into disrepute. He came to epitomize the forces of reaction contemptuous of the "great beast"-the American people. In showing how the prevailing negative assessment misrepresents the man and his deeds, Knott argues for reconsideration of Hamiltonianism, which rightly understood has much to offer the American polity of the twenty-first century.
Remarkably, at the dawn of the new millennium, the nation began to see Hamilton in a different light. Hamilton's story was now the embodiment of the American dream—an impoverished immigrant who came to the United States and laid the economic and political foundation that paved the way for America's superpower status. Here in Stephen Knott's insightful study, Hamilton finally gets his due as a highly contested but powerful and positive presence in American national life.