Thursday, January 12, 2006

Light reading

Biographers are notoriously biased towards their subjects, leaving aside the hateography genre of recent years. But even before I started reading Ron Chernow's Alexander Hamilton bio, it was plain to me how Hamilton towered in every way - morally, intellectually, personally, philosophically, politically - over the indolent slaveholder who became our third president.

It seems to have taken two centuries for Hamilton to get his due, and for people to see through the Swift-boating of the late 1790s. That time, rather than a cowardly deserter attacking the military credentials of a war hero, it involved a cosseted Virginia grandee with hundreds of slaves (sold down the river when he died to pay off his debts) portraying someone who came here at age 20, penniless and from a broken family, and who also happened to be an abolitionist, as a sneering "aristocrat."

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