Commonplace Book #50

Hamilton was able to overcome significant disadvantages posed by social and financial barriers…because he possessed sufficient ambition and was enough of a self-starter. Yet even a superficial engagement with the historical Hamilton would reveal that for him the essential components of American society had nothing to do with enabling others access to the heights he had scaled with such impressive speed.  Certainly his vision had nothing to do with democracy, a term that in his day mainly referred to radically populist ideas about social inequality, seething in the years leading up to and coming out of the Revolution, and just what Hamilton set out to defeat . None of the famous founders, except Thomas Paine, was a democrat; for all of their mutual conflicts, almost all agreed that participation in the electoral franchise should be limited to free white men of sufficient property and that standing for office should require even more property.

William Hogeland, “From Chernow’s Hamilton to Hamilton: An American Musical,” in Renee C. Romano and Claire Bond Potter, eds., Historians on Hamilton, 30-31.

7 thoughts on “Commonplace Book #50

  1. By the second sentence the name that came to mind was, William Hogeland. And I mean that in a good way. I’ve enjoyed his work. Declaration is certainly an interesting window to the street-level view of the struggle for democracy.

    BDS – I would throw out Ethan Allen as as possible democrat…populist…wild man that a lot of people have hoped to keep tucked safely away.

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    • Yeah, Ethan Allen is another great example. He gets even less attention than Thomas Paine. A third figure that deserves more public attention is Thomas Young, I learned of Young from reading Nature’s God by Matthew Stewart.

      The topic is working class radicalism in the American Revolution, specifically how it related to deism. All three wrote deist tracts. Most think of deism as having been a position held by elites like Thomas Jefferson. And indeed such elites did exist. But these views were much more potent since they also came from below and were challenging elite authority.

      https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2014/10/05/natures-god-and-american-radicalism/

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      • I’m going to guess that you’d like Hogeland’s Declaration. Here’s a blurb about the book:

        “…Samuel Adams, implacable in changing the direction of Congress; his cousin John, anxious about the democratic aspirations of their rabble-rousing Philadelphia allies; and those democratic radical organizers themselves, essential to bringing about independence, all but forgotten until now.”

        If you guessed that Thomas Young was among the rabble-rousing, democratic, radical organizers, you’d be correct.

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  2. “None of the famous founders, except Thomas Paine, was a democrat”

    That misses the point. The elitist (pseudo-)Federalists won the war of rhetoric. There was a constitutional coup of the new government. There were others like Paine. We don’t know of them because at the time they were written out of the historical accounts. Even Paine was largely dismissed and forgotten until quite recently, even though the revolution may never have happened without him.

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      • You wrote that, “Partly correct Benjamin. Paine was incredibly popular in the early 19th century among artisans and working people.” That is why I worded it as I did, in saying that, “Paine was largely dismissed and forgotten until quite recently”. Not entirely dismissed, but largely. His memory was isolated to the parts of society he most clearly spoke to.

        So, yeah, some Americans did remember him. Abraham Lincoln, born a few months before Paine’s death, had read about Paine and found him inspiring. Lincoln, like Paine, also wrote a deist tract — but sadly a friend threw it in the fire to save his political career, that is to save Lincoln of the same fate that destroyed Paine’s legacy.

        I know of Chants Democratic. But I haven’t read it. It seems that I may have read other writings by Wilentz, though. I’m thinking he might have an essay(s) in some collections I have. I could use a refresher on his views. So thanks for the link.

        I just now finished reading it. A decent appraisal of Paine’s life and work. Still, I think it paints him as being too isolated, whereas there were others like him. His seeming isolation is a literary creation of the writers of the history books. That isn’t to say he didn’t feel lonely at the end when the reactionary forces came to dominate near the end of his life.

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