Monday, July 20, 2015

the last book I ever read (Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow, excerpt six)

from Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow:

For those who knew Hamilton, his generally passive behavior during the first three weeks was mystifying. He had never been known to hug the sidelines. As the convention split over the Virginia and New Jersey plans, Hamilton stayed conspicuously aloof from both camps. Robert Yates noted on June 15, “Col. Hamilton cannot say he is in sentiment with either plan.” Madison recorded Hamilton as saying that he had been self-effacing partly because he did not wish to dissent from those “whose superior abilities, age, and experience rendered him unwilling to bring forward ideas dissimilar to theirs” and partly owing to the split in his delegation.

It was predictable that when the wordy Hamilton broke silence, he would do so at epic length. Faced with a deadlock between large and small states, he decided to broach a more radical plan. On Monday morning, June 18, the thirty-two-year-old prodigy rose first on the convention floor and in the stifling, poorly ventilated room he spoke and spoke and spoke. Before the day was through, he had given a six-hour speech (no break for lunch) that was brilliant, courageous, and, in retrospect, completely daft. He admitted to the assembly that he would adumbrate a plan that did not reflect popular opinion. “My situation is disagreeable,” he admitted, “but it would be criminal not to come forward on a question of such magnitude.” He said people were tiring in their enthusiasm for “democracy,” by which he meant direct representation or even mob rule, as opposed to public opinion filtered through educated representatives. “And what even is the Virginia Plan,” he asked, “but democracy checked democracy, or pork with a little change of the sauce?” Of all the founders, Hamilton probably had the gravest doubts about the wisdom of the masses and wanted elected leaders who would guide them. This was the great paradox of his career: his optimistic view of America’s potential coexisted with an essentially pessimistic view of human nature. His faith in Americans never quite matched his faith in America itself.

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