Book Spotlight: Alexander Hamilton: From Obscurity to Greatness

John Kaminski, founder and director of The Center for the Study of the American Constitution at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and director and co-editor of The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution series, has a new book out on Alexander Hamilton.

In “Alexander Hamilton: From Obscurity to Greatness,” Kaminski brings Hamilton to life by publishing the words of not only Alexander Hamilton but also his contemporaries. The quotations in this volume were taken from the letters of the Founder, journals, diaries, newspaper essays, and speeches.

A few quotes I’d like to spotlight from the book –

(1) President George Washington to Alexander Hamilton, 2 February 1795 – “In every relation, which you have borne to me, I have found that my confidence in your talents, exertions and integrity, has been well placed. I the more freely render this testimony of my approbation, because I speak from opportunities of information which cannot deceive me, and which furnish satisfactory proof of your title to public regard.”

(2) John Adams to Abigail Adams, 9 January 1797 – “Hamilton I know to be a proud Spirited, conceited, aspiring Mortal always pretending to Morality, with as debauched Morals as old Franklin who is more his Model than any one I know. As great an Hypocrite as nay in the U.S. His Intrigues in the Election I despise. That he has Talents I admit. But I dread none of them. I shall take no notice of his Puppyhood but retain the same Opinion of him I always had and maintain the Same Conduct towards him I always did, that is keep him at a distance.”

(3) The Federalist No. 34, 5 January 1788 – “We must bear in mind, that we are not to confine our view to the present period, but to look forward to remote futurity. Constitutions of civil Government are not to be framed upon a calculation of exigencies; but upon a combination of these, with the probable exigencies of ages, according to the natural and tried course of human affairs. Nothing therefore can be more fallacious, than to infer the extent of any power, property to be lodged in the National Government, from an estimate of its immediate necessities. There ought to be a capacity to provide for future contingencies, as they may happen; and, as these are illimitable in their nature, it is impossible safely to limit that capacity.”

(4) Caesar No. II, 17 October 1787 – “There are always men in society of some talents, but more ambition, in quest of that which it would be impossible for them to obtain in any other way than by working on the passions and prejudices of the less discerning classes of citizens and yeomanry. — It is the plan of men of this stamp to frighten the people with ideal bugbears, in order to mould them to their own purposes. The unceasing cry of these designing croakers is, my friends, your liberty is invaded! Have you thrown off the yoke of one tyrant, to invest yourselves with that of another! Have you fought, bled, and conquered, for such a change! If you have – go – retire into silent obscurity, and kiss the rod that scourges you.”

(5) The Federalist No. 15, 1 December 1787 – “The best oracle of wisdom, experience.”

(6) The Federalist No. 30, 1 January 1788 – “In disquisition of every kind there are certain primary truths or first principles upon which all subsequent reasonings must depend. These contain an internal evidence, which antecedent to all reflection or combination commands the assent of the mind.”

I highly recommend that any fans of Hamilton, his eponymous Broadway show, or the Founders generally pick up this book! It’s available for purchase via Amazon.com here.

 

 

 

Knowledge is the Soul of a Republic: The Founders on Education

The Founding generation understood the fundamental importance of education. In 1785, John Jay wrote,  “I consider knowledge to be the soul of a republic[.]” Below is a selection of quotes from the Founding generation on the importance of education. I hope these quotes help inspire the current generation to invest in the education of our nation’s young people.

(1) “It should be your care, therefore, and mine, to elevate the minds of our children and exalt their courage; to accelerate and animate their industry and activity; to excite in them an habitual contempt of meanness, abhorrence of injustice and inhumanity, and an ambition to a excel in every capacity, faculty, and virtue. If we suffer their minds to grovel and creep in infancy, they will grovel all their lives.” – John Adams

(2) “[T]he preservation of the means of knowledge among the lowest ranks, is of more importance to the public than all the property of all the rich men in the country.” – John Adams

(3) “The infant mind is pregnant with a variety of passions; But I apprehend it is in the power of those who are entrusted with the education of youth in a considerable degree to determine the bent of the noble passions and to fix them on salutary objects, or let them loose to such as are pernicious or destructive. Here then lies the foundation of civil liberty; in forming the habits of youthful mind, in forwarding every passion that may trend to the promotion of the happiness of the community, in fixing in ourselves right ideas of benevolence, humanity, integrity and truth.” – Nathanael Greene

(4) “The slavery of a people is generally founded in ignorance of some kind or another; and there are not wanting such facts as abundantly prove the human mind may be so sunk and debased, through ignorance and its natural effects, as even to adore its enslaver, and kiss its chains. Hence knowledge and learning may well be considered as most essentially requisite to a free, righteous government.” – Samuel Phillips Payson

(5) “[I]lluminate, as far as practicable, the minds of the people at large, and more especially to give them knowledge of those facts, which history exhibiteth, that, possessed thereby of the experience of other ages and countries, they may be enabled to know ambition under all its shapes, and prompt to exert their natural powers to defeat its purposes[.]” – Thomas Jefferson, A Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge

(6) “I consider knowledge to be the soul of a republic, and as the weak and the wicked are generally in alliance, as much care should be taken to diminish the number of the former as of the latter. Education is the way to do this, and nothing should be left undone to afford all ranks of people the means of obtaining a proper degree of it at a cheap and easy rate.” – John Jay

(7) “Freedom can exist only in the society of knowledge. Without learning, men are incapable of knowing their rights, and where learning is confined to a few people, liberty can be neither equal nor universal.” – Benjamin Rush

(8) Every child in American should be acquainted with this own country. He should read books that furnish him with ideas that will be useful to him in life and practice. As soon as he opens his lips, he should rehearse the history of his own country.” – Noah Webster

(9) “In a government founded on the sovereignty of the people the education of youth is an object of the first importance. In such a government knowledge should be diffused throughout the whole society, and for that purpose the means of acquiring it made not only practicable but easy to every citizen.” – James Monroe

(10) “It is universally admitted that a well-instructed people alone can be permanently a free people.” – James Madison

(11) “Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like evil spirit at the dawn of the day.” – Thomas Jefferson.

(12) “Learned Institutions ought to be favorite objects with every free people. They throw that light over the public mind which is the best security against crafty & dangerous encroachments on the public liberty.” – James Madison

(13) “I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves: and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.” – Thomas Jefferson

(14) “It is only when the people become ignorant and corrupt, when they degenerate into a populace, that they are incapable of exercising their sovereignty. Usurpation is then an easy attainment, and an usurper soon found. Thepeople themselves become the willing instruments of their own debasement and ruin. Let us, then, look to the great cause, and endeavor to preserve it in full force. Let us by all wise and constitutional measures promote intelligence among the people as the best means of preserving our liberties.” – James Monroe

 

 

The Founders on Character

There’s a lot of talk right now about character and virtue, and so I thought I’d share some thoughts from the Founders on the topic.

(1) “Nothing is more essential to the establishment of manners in a State than that all persons employed in places of power and trust must be men of unexceptionable characters.” – Samuel Adams

(2) “The public cannot be too curious concerning the characters of public men.” – Samuel Adams

(3) “Good moral character is the first essential in a man.” – George Washington

(4) “[The people] have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge– I mean of the character and conduct of their rulers.” – John Adams

(5) “The uniform tenor of a man’s life furnishes better evidence of what he has said or done on any particular occasion than the word of any enemy.” – Thomas Jefferson

(6) “Nothing is more certain than that a general profligacy and corruption of manners make a people ripe for destruction. A good form of government may hold the rotten materials together for some time, but beyond a certain pitch, even the best constitution will be ineffectual, and slavery must ensue.” – John Witherspoon.

(7) “The same fidelity to the public interest which obliges those who are its appointed guardians to pursue with every vigor a perfidious or dishonest servant of the public requires them to confront the imputations of malice against the good and faithful one.” – James Madison

(8) “The moral sense, or conscience, is as much a part of man as his leg or arm. It is given to all human beings in a stronger or weaker degree, as force of members is given them in a greater or less degree. It may be strengthened by exercise, as may any particular limb of the body. This sense is submitted indeed in some degree to the guidance of reason; but it is a small stock which is required for this: even a less one than what we call common sense. State a moral case to a ploughman & a professor. The former will decide it as well, & often better than the latter, because he has not been led astray by artificial rules.” – Thomas Jefferson

(9) “Oh! that I could wear out of my mind every mean and base affectation, conquer my natural Pride and Self Conceit, expect no more defference from my fellows than I deserve, acquire that meekness, and humility, which are the sure marks and Characters of a great and generous Soul, and subdue every unworthy Passion and treat all men as I wish to be treated by all. How happy should I then be, in the favour and good will of all honest men, and the sure prospect of a happy immortality!” – John Adams

(10) “But I go on this great republican principle, that the people will have virtue and intelligence to select men of virtue and wisdom. Is there no virtue among us? If there be not, we are in a wretched situation. No theoretical checks–no form of government can render us secure. To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical idea. If there be sufficient virtue and intelligence in the community, it will be exercised in the selection of these men. So that we do not depend on their virtue, or put confidence in our rulers, but in the people who are to choose them.” – James Madison

(11) “As there is a degree of depravity in mankind which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust, so there are other qualities in human nature which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence. Republican government presupposes the existence of these qualities in a higher degree than any other form. Were the pictures which have been drawn by the political jealousy of some among us faithful likenesses of the human character, the inference would be, that there is not sufficient virtue among men for self-government; and that nothing less than the chains of despotism can restrain them from destroying and devouring one another.” – James Madison, The Federalist No. 55

(12) “When public Virtue is gone, when the national Spirit is fled, when a Party is Substituted for the Nation, and Faction for a Party, when Venality lurks and Skulks in Secret, and much more when it impudently braves the public Censure, whether it be Sent in the form of Emissaries from foreign Powers, or is employed by ambitious and Intriguing domestic Citizens, the Republic is lost in Essence, though it may still exist in form.” – John Adams