Alexander Hamilton and the Persistence of Myth

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Alexander Hamilton and the Persistence of Myth

The book explores the historical significance and political reputation of Alexander Hamilton. Stephen F. Knott investigates controversies within Hamilton’s career and presidency. Alexander Hamilton is described as arrogant, aggressive, impulsive, combative, and cocky. He was disliked by many, even hated by some. During his lifetime, his challenging character, joined with his seemingly undemocratic policies and opinions, really drew him into controversy. After his death, it was very hard for people to commemorate him in a positive light. Specifically because he was so consistently compared to Thomas Jefferson, the spokesman for America’s “democratic ideals”, Hamilton looks cold-hearted and very capitalistic to the American people. In Alexander Hamilton and the Persistence of Myth, Stephen Knott explains “the evolution of Hamilton’s controversial image in the American mind” (p. 7). He tracks the rise and fall of Hamilton’s reputation over time.

Jefferson’s frequently overshadows Hamilton throughout his career even after his death and this is portrayed in Knott’s book. Knott argues that Jeffersonians who perceived “the memory of a dead Hamilton” (p. 25) as a threat and they then tried to ruin his reputation. They took advantage of the fact that, to others, Hamilton appeared to support monarchy thus they downplayed Hamilton’s democratic idea that the House of Representatives be elected by “universal male suffrage.”

Hamilton’s only proved himself to be a greater supporter of a Monarchy during the Jacksonian era. Andrew Jackson and James Polk personally attacked Hamilton as “enemies of the people” for seeming to support wealth and power more so than was popular with democratic ideals. According to Knott, this was a misleading attempt to victimize on “fear of economic complexity and change” (p. 44). The link between Hamilton and elite privilege would form the heart of his image for...
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