1 Edward Rothstein, "Our
Father The Modernist," The New York Times
(September 10, 2004).
2 James Traub, "The
Stuff of City Life," The New York Times
(October 3, 2004).
3 Those interested in wandering
into the thicket of scholarly debate on these issues can consult,
among many other works: Whitney Bates, "Northern Speculators
and Southern State Debts: 1790," William and Mary
Quarterly, 3rd Series, 19:1 (1962), 30-48; Max M. Edling,
A Revolution in Favor of Government: Origins of the U.S.
Constitution and the Making of the American State (2003);
Max M. Edling and Mark D. Kaplanoff, "Alexander Hamilton's
Fiscal Reform: Transforming the Structure of Taxation in the
Early Republic," William and Mary Quarterly,
3rd Series, 61:4 (2004), 713-44; Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick,
The Age of Federalism (1993); E. James Ferguson,
The Power of the Purse: a History of American Public Finance,
1776-1790 (1961); John Ferling, A Leap in the Dark : the
Struggle to Create the American Republic (2003); Dall
W. Forsythe, Taxation and Political Change in the Young
Nation, 1781-1833 (1977); John M. Murrin, "The Great
Inversion, or Country versus Country: A Comparison of the
Revolutionary Settlements in England (1688-1721) and America
(1776-1816)," in J.G.A. Pocock, ed., Three British
Revolutions: 1641, 1688, 1776 (1980); John R. Nelson,
Liberty and Property: Political Economy and Policymaking
in the New Nation, 1789-1812 (1987); Edwin J. Perkins,
American Public Finance and Financial Services, 1700-1815
(1994); Richard Sylla, "Shaping the U.S. Financial System,
1690-1913: the Dominant Role of Public Finance," in Richard
Sylla, Richard Tilly, and Gabriel Tortella, eds., the
State, the Financial System, and Economic Modernization (1999);
Robert E. Wright, Hamilton Unbound: Finance and the Creation
of the American Republic (2002).
4 Richard H. Kohn, Eagle
and Sword: the Federalists and the Creation of the Military
Establishment in America, 1783-1802 (1975) is critical,
Karl-Friedrich Walling, Republican Empire: Alexander Hamilton
on War and Free Government (1999) is appreciative.
5 These collateral aides
include a specially commissioned playlet - a two person, 45
minute drama that resembles a cross between an old-fashioned
high-school pageant and the vintage television show This
is Your Life. The female lead, portraying Hamilton's
mother, reminds him (and us) of all his wonderful accomplishments
- Remember how well you did in Greek, Alexander? Remember
how you Invented America? - though she also (after mutating
into his wife) affectionately points out some flaws-"You
talk too much, Alexander-humanizing him (a la Parson Weems)
while retaining his essential Herohood.
The declamatory Hamilton does go on a bit much,
dialoguing not only with Mom but with cinematic characters
who pop up on a screen behind him, like a booming George Washington
("Your country needs you, my boy"), or assorted
skulking, long-haired naysayers who hiss (or darkly mutter)
one word imprecations against the Hero ("Monarchist!
Fornicator!"). Hokey as it is, the little drama is the
only piece of the entire package that assays a run-through
of Hamilton's entire life, and it even takes a stab at a psychological
interpretation of his career.
I must note, however, that its rendition of the duel offers
a worrisomely different interpretation from that embedded
in the bronze duet: Hamilton-the-actor fires his pistol straight
up while the statue directs its shot past Burr's shoulder.
It would probably be less confusing for visitors if the show
settled on a single theory. It might be easier (certainly
less costly) to have the actor lower his arm than to recast
the statue, but revisionism doesn't always come cheap: when
architects at Colonial Williamsburg discovered they had reconstructed
a house six feet from where new research showed it had actually
stood, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. immediately provided the money
to move it. "No scholar," he said, "must ever
be able to come to us and say we have made a mistake."
A so-called gallery guide, designed to look like a special
issue of today's New York Post, does offer some missing information
about Hamilton's life, tricked out in cute popularese ("Hammie
Brained at Rally"; the Maria Reynolds affair gets mentioned
on Page Six). What it's not, is a guide to the galleries,
being organized completely differently. And should bewildered
guests seek nevertheless to press it into serving as such,
it would be impossible to read while perambulating the gloom.
In addition to a set of genial Acoustiguide offerings by
Brookhiser (whose comments on specific items are usually of
interest, though they often either avoid the big issues or,
as discussed, tackle them in problematic ways), a second series
- aimed at children - presents a running colloquy between
one Tommy Tabloid, a reporter on hand to "dig the dirt,"
and an insufferably hi-toned Mrs. Hamilton, on hand to edify
him (and us). In stop after stop, the plebeian Mr T. - all
"dese" and "dose," he's the only working-class
figure in the galleries, apart from the on-screen naysayers
- gets hectored by the patrician Mrs. H., until he (and presumably
the school kids) finally breaks down and admits that Mr. H.
was a "great man and a great American".
There's also a Hamilton section of the N-HYHS
web site, which apart from its provision of transcriptions
(for only four) of the documents, is at best a missed opportunity,
notable primarily for its reminder - through a link to an
on-line presentation of a former N-YHS exhibition,
its Enemies in New York" (2001) - that the Society
has in the past done serious social history.
On the distinctly positive side, the N-YHS organized a splendid
series of talks by eminent scholars - Ron Chernow among them
– and put together a diversified package of books and
documents, which was sent out to thousands of school teachers.
6 Chernow has penned a short
essay to this effect: "Alexander Hamilton, City Boy,"
The New York Times (April 25, 2004), Section 14,
7 For this missing Manhattan
context, E. James Ferguson's The Power of the Purse; a
History of American Public Finance, 1776-1790 (1961)
remains an indispensable source: "Hamilton's circle of
friends and social companions in New York included the very
speculators who could gain heavily from advance knowledge
of his proposal. Craigie employed Hamilton's legal services,
and Constable, who was an agreeable fellow, dined occasionally
with him and counted him as a close friend. . . . Hamilton
was scrupulous, but he could not keep from imparting information
to such companions." See pp. 251-72, quotation on p.
8 Here the alternative
show would benefit, as the current presentation does not,
from the insights of Alfred Young's The Democratic Republicans
of New York; The Origins, 1763-1797 (1967).
9 The current exhibit argues
that "Hamilton led his contemporaries in envisioning
the future growth of industry in America." But this manages
to ignore the manufacturers themselves, who were quite vocal
on the subject, and indeed many of them complained repeatedly
about Hamilton's privileging of mercantile over industrial
concerns. For qualifications of the approach (on offer in
the Visionary cabinet) about the Jeffersonians' opposition
to manufacturing, and an alternative argument that they were
in practice more supportive of actually existing manufacturers
than Hamilton was - one reason they deserted his Federalists
and voted for Jefferson's Republicans - see John R. Nelson,
Jr., Liberty and Property: Political Economy and Policymaking
in the New Nation, 1789-1812 (1987), especially Chapter
3, "Hamilton and Manufacturing: A Reexamination".
10 See: Paul Starobin, "Welcome
to the Club," National Journal (January 28,
1995), 219-225; Glenn Frankel, "As Their Support Thins,
Candidates Run on Faith; Forbes Fashions Self-Financed Bid
Into Supply-Side Economics Crusade, The Washington Post
(March 12, 1996), A01; John B. Judis, "Rubin Sandwich,"
The New Republic (August 25, 1997), 11; Bill McAllister,
"Wisconsin Backers of Gingrich Termed Hill's Biggest
The Washington Post (September 10, 1998), 19; Michael
Profile: Richard Gilder (with Tess)," Mother
Jones (March 5, 2001);
Ben White, "Shaping
Conservative Agenda; 'Monday Meeting' in New York Draws Influential
Crowd," The Washington Post (February 12,
2004), A08; "Fourteen Key Club for Growth Candidates
Swept to Victory on Pro-Growth Message"
11 At one point Karl Rove's
tutoring program for George Bush promoted T.R. as role model.
Less has been heard of Teddy recently, perhaps because some
staffer discovered such Rooseveltian epigrams as "the
rich have a peculiar obligation to pay taxes at a higher rate
than others." Or his 1912
assertion that "the limitation of governmental power,
of governmental action, means the enslavement of the people
by the great corporations which can only be held in check
through the extension of governmental power."
12 Nordquist's Ronald Reagan
Legacy Project - an offshoot of his Americans for Tax Reform
- hasn't had much luck as yet, nor has the campaign to chisel
the Great Communicator into Mt. Rushmore gained traction.
It has, however, made some progress at sites directly controlled
by Big Gov'mt - perhaps because the Project's Board of Advisors
includes the likes of John Ashcroft and Tom DeLay - and we
now have a Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site
in the Marshall Islands. Nordquist, remember, is the guy who
wants to "cut government in half in twenty-five years,
to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub,"
an aspiration echoed by Gilder, who's on record as hoping
to see government shrink every day of the rest of his life.
13 It's interesting that
Hamilton's prime sponsor is Julian Robertson - he
reportedly kicked in a million dollars - as Robertson was
one of the premier hedge fund operators of the 80s-90s booms.
A "Titan of Wall Street," right up there with George
Soros and William Buffet in the speculative hurly burly of
the era, he rode the tiger brilliantly for a time. Funds under
his management soared to $22 billion by 1998, only to crash
and burn two years later in one of the era's most spectacular
financial disasters. Facing plummeting returns and mounting
withdrawals he liquidated the Tiger Fund's remaining $6 billion,
returned it to investors, and shut up shop (though he continued
to manage his remaining $850 million fortune). ["The
Taming of the Shrewd: the World's Best-known Investors No
Longer Understand Financial Markets," The Economist
(May 6, 2000); Gary Weiss, "The Buck Stops with
Julian Robertson, Not the Market," Business Week
(April 17, 2000), 168; Weiss, "What Really Killed
Tiger," ibid., 166].
14 See Kevin M. Guthrie,
The New-York Historical Society: Lessons from One Nonprofit's
Long Struggle for Survival (1996).
15 For the text of both
letters, see http://www.gothamcenter.org/hamilton/resources.
16 Ironically, for all
the vault's vaunted depth, especially in this area and era,
its holdings didn't add much to the exhibition. Traub thought
"the Gilder-Lehrman Collection would furnish most of
the material for the Hamilton show," but in fact it supplied
only 19 items out of 175 (and some of these duplicated items
in the N-YHS holdings). It would indeed be a great pity for
the research library if G&L picked up their marbles and
went home - though for all the undoubted strengths of their
forty-plus thousand item collection, it pales in comparison
to the truly spectacular (and far broader) two million plus
item collection the N-YHS itself has amassed over the centuries.
And from the Museum's perspective - especially if it wasn't
tethered to early Americana exhibitry - it wouldn't be much
of a loss; when original artifacts were needed, they could
be borrowed from other major institutions, as was done for
17 For an excerpt from the
original proposal, click here.
In the interim, a stripped-down version has found a home and
is scheduled to open on December 9, at the AXA Gallery, 787
Seventh Avenue at 51st Street, and run through March, 2005.
For a sense of the national significance of the history of
Times Square, see my review of recent books on the subject
in "Babylon on the Subway," New York Review
of Books (June 24, 2004).
18 The merger with the Museum
of the City of New York was also definitively laid to rest
(by both parties), along with the notion of a core exhibition
spanning the city's entire history. The Gotham Center suggested
the two might collaborate (with other institutions) in creating
a New York City
History Center at Ground Zero. This went nowhere. See
19 See for example the work
of the League of Historical Cities, which holds World Conferences
every two years by the urban heritage conservation and development.
20 Russell Shorto, "The
Future of the Past," The New York Times
(September 12, 2004).
21 And problems can crop
up when the collections-cart drives the exhibition-horse -
when the stuff you've got constrains the questions you ask
- as Gilder and Lerhman found out when they underwrote a documentary
history of America through the Civil War (The Boisterous
Sea of Liberty,) but wanted the editors (the eminent
historian David Brion Davis and Steven Mintz) to use only
materials from their collection to tell the story. An H-Net
reviewer concluded that, "Boisterous Sea is just
not suited for use in a survey course. While Davis and Mintz
have done the historical profession a service by providing
an illustration of just what is available in the Gilder Lehrman
Collection, the limitations of restricting themselves to that
one collection and compiling a useful teaching text were just
too great to overcome. . . . In his note on the 'Nature and
History of the Gilder Lehrman Collection,' Davis does acknowledge
that, on the earliest colonial period and nineteenth century
women's rights, he and Mintz 'felt it necessary ... to include
some outside documents to ensure an accurate and coherent
view of a given subject' (p. 562). One wishes they had strayed
outside the collection a little more often." Also see:
Louis P. Masur, "History
by the Letter," The Nation (February 15,
22 See my "Visiting
the Past: History Museums in the United States," in Mike
Wallace, Mickey Mouse History and Other Essays on American
23 See my "The Battle
of the Enola Gay," in Wallace, Mickey Mouse History
(1996). Also Edward T. Linenthal and Tom Engelhardt, History
Wars: The Enola Gay and Other Battles for the American Past
(1996), and Eric Foner, Who Owns History?: Rethinking
the Past in a Changing World (2002).
24 Francis Morrone, "Statues
and Civic Memory," City Journal (Summer
25 See my "Razon Ribbons,
History Museums, and Civic Salvation," in Wallace, Mickey
Mouse History (1996).