He was a brash New Yorker who was not afraid to speak his mind. He was arrogant and rude. He was a master at bending the media to his will. Both his enemies and friends feared his unapologetic wrath. Anyone who dared to oppose him soon regretted it when reading his sharp words the next day. He wanted a lasting legacy, craved notoriety and frequently considered becoming President of the United States. His ambition could not be contained.
He was constantly battling rumors about his finances, character and philandering. He strenuously denied all but one adulterous affair which became very well known and publicized. For anyone else, such a scandal would have ruined his career, but not for him. His influence in New York and in nationwide politics never waned.
His reputation concerned him the most. He cultivated it. He defended it. He died for it.
No one influenced him but his own ideas which he defended vigorously. As a result, he often did not do what was expected.
He agreed to a compromise that was against the best interests of his beloved New York City so he could achieve something he believed was in the best interest of the entire country.
He was accused of fraud and, to disprove the accusation, admitted publicly to being bribed to keep his wife from knowing about a sensational affair.
He was asked to endorse a fellow New Yorker for President but instead endorsed a Virginian who was vocally opposed to him for a decade because he believed the Virginian to be the better candidate.
Everything about him was scandalous. Everything about him made our country better. Everything about him is what our country needs now.
He never did satisfy his hunger for the Presidency. It was another similarly brash New Yorker over 200 years later who did. While Donald Trump has a lot of similarities, he does not match the integrity of Alexander Hamilton.
Hamilton always put his country first. He had a set of beliefs and never wavered from them. His beliefs made him many enemies and certainly destroyed his chances to be President but they were firmly rooted in creating the strongest democracy ever conceived. With the hindsight of history, there is no doubt Hamilton was one of the most important founding fathers and worthy of admiration by current politicians.
The politics of the Revolution and the first 20 years of the United States were brutal. Like today, elected officials were in one of two camps (Federalists led by Hamilton and Democratic Republicans led by Thomas Jefferson) who were tribal and unwilling to compromise. They despised each other and fought bitterly. Hamilton was no saint but he was always more interested in the bigger picture. Whatever further strengthened the country was more important than political expediency to Hamilton. He believed creating and sustaining a strong government would cement his legacy which he cared about more than anything else.
In order to get Congress to agree to assume the debts of all states after the Revolution and create a central bank, Hamilton sold out his home state of New York by agreeing to support the capitol of the country being located in Virginia rather than in New York City. While doing this angered many northerners, it secured a strong financial position for the country. Even Jefferson, who viciously opposed Hamilton, would agree years later that Hamilton was right about the importance of a central bank.
When accused of defrauding the government as Treasury Secretary, Hamilton admitted publicly to being bribed over an affair in order to keep it a secret which explained why he was paying a man in jail for taking money from Revolutionary War veterans. He was respected for his honesty even though it ended his opportunity to be President and was extraordinarily painful for his wife, Eliza.
When the election of 1800 ended in a tie between Thomas Jefferson of Virginia and Arron Burr of New York, it was Hamilton who convinced several delegates to vote in favor of Jefferson. Hamilton and Jefferson were always on opposite sides and hated each other but Hamilton rose above politics to support the candidate he felt would be better for the country, rather than support a fellow New Yorker who would be indebted to him politically.
All of these incidents were seen as scandalous. Hamilton did not choose what was best for him. He chose to do what was best for the country, believing his reputation and lasting legacy would be more secure by independent thought, bold action and an enduring future rather than what would be convenient, easy and immediately beneficial.
Our politicians today are nothing like Hamilton. They are beholden to their party. They listen to polls instead of their conscience. They are untethered from the truth when it does not suit their personal or political party interests. They work more to convince us we do not see what we see instead of doing their duty to defend the Republic and the people they serve.
Hamilton was arrogant and unapologetic. He vigorously defended his ideas, often making friends into enemies but he did what he felt was right and sacrificed tremendously for it. For this he was quite scandalous and achieved a legacy worthy of adulation today.
We could use more of such scandalous leaders.
Father of 4, Husband, Catholic, Historian, published author, LGBTQ+ ally, runner, sports fan (he/him/his)