The Immersive Story of the Extraordinary Alliance That Forged Our Nation and the Unlikely Duo Behind It: George Washington & Alexander Hamilton
In the wake of the American Revolution, the Founding Fathers faced a daunting task: overcome their competing visions to build a new nation, the likes of which the world had never seen. As hostile debates raged over how to protect their new hard-won freedoms, two men formed an improbable partnership that would launch the fledgling United States: George Washington and Alexander Hamilton.
Washington and Hamilton chronicles the unlikely collaboration between these two conflicting characters at the heart of our national narrative: Washington, the indispensable general devoted to classical virtues, and Hamilton, an ambitious officer and lawyer eager for fame of the noblest kind.
Working together, they laid the groundwork for the institutions that govern the United States to this day and protected each other from bitter attacks from Jefferson and Madison, who considered their policies a betrayal of the republican ideals they had fought for.
Yet while Washington and Hamilton's different personalities often led to fruitful collaboration, their conflicting ideals also tested the boundaries of their relationshipand threatened the future of the new republic.
From the rumblings of the American Revolution through the fractious Constitutional Convention and America's turbulent first years, this captivating history reveals the stunning impact of this unlikely duo that set the United States on the path to becoming a superpower.
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Washington and Hamilton
The Alliance that Forged America
By Stephen F. Knott, Tony Williams
Sourcebooks, Inc.Copyright © 2015 Stephen F. Knott and Tony Williams
All rights reserved.
"I HEARD BULLETS WHISTLE"
YOUNG GEORGE WASHINGTON
George Washington and Alexander Hamilton could not have had more different childhoods. Washington was born to a moderately successful planter who aspired to join the upper ranks of Virginia gentry. He grew up in a world where planters like his father voraciously acquired land, raised tobacco, and owned slaves. Hamilton, on the other hand, was raised in the Caribbean by his mother and then orphaned. He worked in mercantile houses involved in the international trade in sugar and slaves before America finally offered him an opportunity to find a stage large enough for his talents.
However, Washington and Hamilton shared certain characteristics. Both lost their fathers at an early age and depended upon the patronage of important men to climb the ranks of society. They both received educations in the libraries of their patrons, where they studied the classics. The patrons provided much advice about civility and gave the young men opportunities to make their way in their respective milieus. Although their early lives were bereft of much formal education, they learned more practical subjects such as mathematics, whether for surveying land on the Virginia frontier or running a Caribbean import-export business. Each young man sought to perform heroic military deeds that would bring him lasting glory — by the time they were in their twenties, this dream would be realized, although in different wars. Washington and Hamilton were both men on the make with a burning ambition to rise in prominence militarily and politically. These characteristics would propel them to the forefront of the revolutionary opposition to British tyranny and the creation of the American republic.
George Washington's father, Augustine Washington, was a rising planter in Virginia's hierarchical society. He had the means to send his two sons from his first marriage, Lawrence and Augustine Jr., to school in England, as did many of the Virginia gentry. After Augustine lost his first wife, he quickly married Mary Johnson Ball in 1731. They had a son, George, on February 22, 1732, and christened him in the Anglican Church.
On April 12, 1743, tragedy struck young George Washington when his father died. Due to Virginia's primogeniture laws favoring the eldest son, George inherited a smaller share of his father's property, including Ferry Farm and other properties. With the death of his father, George was dependent on the patronage of important men who saw it as a civic duty to help such a talented youth rise in society. His older brother Lawrence inherited Mount Vernon and helped George with introductions to the wealthy Fairfax family.
George went often to Mount Vernon and Belvoir, the Fairfax family estate, to escape his overbearing mother and enjoy the entertainments of Virginia gentlemen — dancing, fox hunting, card playing, and fencing. Colonel William Fairfax was the master of Belvoir and took a liking to young George, frequently inviting him to Belvoir to instruct him on how to be a gentleman. Washington became a fixture at both family and formal social gatherings, where he learned the arts of manners, deference, and genteel conversation in colonial Virginia. Fairfax also helped to secure George a commission in the British navy, but his mother's intervention halted this early attempt at military glory.
Another source of character formation and civility in the education of George Washington was copying and memorizing the Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior, a book of chivalrous guidelines of proper social manners that governed genteel society. He copied down rules concerning honor such as "Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your reputation." He learned lessons that he would later instill in young soldiers under his command, including "Let your recreations be manful not sinful" and "Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience." Following these rules would promote the practice of personal virtue for all and create a cohesive civil society.
In 1747, Lord Fairfax, cousin of the colonel, arrived in the colonies and opened up new opportunities for George. Lord Fairfax was impressed by his horsemanship and surveying skills, and he hired the young man to survey some of his vast tracts of land in the Shenandoah Valley. Over the next few years, George earned a respectable income with his surveying trips and acquired his own land by staking out claims himself. His surveying journeys took him far afield, including deep into the Ohio Valley, as far as what would later become Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His long-term goal was to amass enough land to become a wealthy planter with a large plantation rather than working for an income. At last, he was a rising gentleman with strong personal connections to the gentry through his brother, Lawrence, and the Fairfaxes.
Lawrence was also rising through the social ranks but suffered from tuberculosis. In 1750 and the following year, he tried the cures at warm springs in the western part of Virginia, accompanied by his brother. In September 1751, the pair of brothers traveled to Barbados in the hope that the tropical air would bring Lawrence relief. George himself became deathly ill when he suffered smallpox but recovered and developed immunity. When he recovered, George sailed for home while Lawrence desperately tried to find a cure in Bermuda. In July 1752, Lawrence finally succumbed to the disease at home.
Soon after Lawrence's death, George inherited Mount Vernon, which improved his social standing as a planter. He also angled to secure his brother's position in the Virginia militia. He called upon his relationships with the important gentlemen of the colony to lobby for the adjutancy of the Northern Neck. His hard work paid off. At twenty-one, without any military experience, George Washington became the adjutant general of the southern district, which carried a salary of £100. The following year, he secured the position for the Northern Neck. Finally, the fraternal Fredericksburg Masonic Lodge accepted Washington as a member, showing his rising social prominence and marking the beginning of his lifelong membership in this organization.
But Washington was not just interested in becoming a landed gentleman who presided over an estate worked by slaves. He was a man of action who thirsted for military glory and lasting fame. Why the obsession with fame? For someone like Washington, it was priceless because it could be earned through merit rather than merely inherited. While an unbridled passion for fame could lead one to corruption and selfish ambition, a virtuous love of fame derived from courage in battle could lead to immortality in the annals of history. This is what Washington longed for.
He did not have to wait long for a chance to win military glory, since the French were expanding into the contested Ohio Valley, where the British and the colonists, including the Ohio Company, had land claims. In the spring of 1753, Virginia lieutenant governor Robert Dinwiddie learned of French incursions into the Ohio Valley and wrote alarming letters to the Earl of Halifax, president of the Board of Trade. Dinwiddie's warnings made it all the way to King George II and his cabinet by mid-August, and they immediately ordered the Virginia lieutenant governor to respond.
The crown instructed Dinwiddie to warn off and, if necessary, to expel the French from the Ohio Valley. They emphasized, however, that the English should not be the aggressors and initiate hostilities. The colonists should build their own forts in English territory and only oust the French if they refused to leave.
When Washington heard rumors of the possible expedition, he traveled to Williamsburg and volunteered to deliver the message to the French. With pressure applied from Washington's political friends, Dinwiddie accepted. Dinwiddie dispatched the twenty-one-year-old surveyor to the area around Pittsburgh, where the French were building a fort at the Forks of the Ohio River. The young emissary was to deliver Dinwiddie's message warning them off, wait for an answer, and return. While waiting, he was to assess the French army and inspect the strength of their fortifications. Dinwiddie expressed his "especial trust and confidence in the ability, conduct, and fidelity" of the young man, who had won the powerful patronage of the royal governor.
Armed with the letters to the French and a letter for safe passage, Washington and his growing party reached the Forks of the Ohio on November 22, where he assessed the area. In his journal, Washington wrote that it was "extremely well situated for a fort; as it has the absolute command of both rivers." The following day, he traveled another seventy miles to meet the French at their settlement in Venango. On December 4, at Venango, the half-Seneca French officer, Captain Philippe-Thomas de Joncaire, politely greeted the members of Washington's expedition. Washington explained his mission to Joncaire, who patiently listened but stated he had no authority to accept such a letter from Dinwiddie. He advised Washington to continue on to Fort Le Boeuf where there was an officer of sufficient authority to receive Washington and his message.
With that, Washington tramped farther north through the countryside, guided by a couple of French troops. On December 11, the party reached Fort Le Boeuf after sundown and was officially received the following morning. The French commandant scanned Dinwiddie's letter with displeasure. Dinwiddie was instructed by King George II to "require your [the French] peaceful departure." On the evening of December 14, the French commandant Jacques Legardeur finally gave Washington an answer. In short, Legardeur claimed that the "country belonged to [the French]; that no Englishman had a right to trade upon those waters; and that he had orders to make every person prisoner who attempted it on the Ohio, or the waters of it." The same reply was made to the royal governor: "As to the summons you send me to retire, I do not think myself obliged to obey it. Whatever may be your instructions, I am here by virtue of the orders of my general." Legardeur promised to forward the communication to Marquis Duquesne, the governor general of New France.
Washington and his party set off for home, and on January 16, 1754, he arrived in the capital and immediately sought an audience with Lieutenant Governor Dinwiddie, delivering Legardeur's hostile response. The young man also offered his journal of the trip to the governor, which he hoped would "be sufficient to satisfy your honor with my proceedings; for that was my aim in undertaking the journey ... throughout the prosecution of it." Dinwiddie asked Washington to prepare it hurriedly for publication, and it soon appeared in print throughout the English-speaking world, bringing the kind of recognition he was seeking. The governor also demonstrated his trust in Washington by authorizing the adjutant general to enlist one hundred militiamen to march to the Forks to defend the newly constructed fortifications against the French.
In Washington's absence, the governor had sparred with the Virginia General Assembly over funds to mobilize for war. Dinwiddie called the body into session on February 14 and delivered the French response as well as Washington's journal to persuade the assembly to appropriate money. The Burgesses hotly debated the governor's proposals, and several members thought he was simply pursuing the private interests of the Ohio Company rather than the good of the colony. They finally voted a hefty £10,000 to protect the frontier but stipulated that a committee would decide how the money would be spent. Before disbanding, the Burgesses had voted Washington £50, which he thought an insulting pittance for his services.
With rumors swirling that the French and their Indian allies were on the march, Dinwiddie ordered Washington to "march what soldiers you have immediately to the Ohio." On April 2, the newly commissioned lieutenant colonel Washington departed and a week later met up with Captain Adam Stephen and his recruits at Winchester. The frontiersman Christopher Gist met the force there and alarmed Washington with word that the French were expected shortly at the Forks, where a small group of men pleaded for reinforcements. Washington was too far away to reach them in time. On April 17, the new French commandant, Captain Contrecoeur, and his men paddled up to the Forks in canoes with upward of one thousand men and eighteen cannon and seized the strategically important point. The French immediately tore down the colonial stockade and began construction of Fort Duquesne.
Throughout early May, Washington proceeded toward the fort. The column chopped their way through the wilderness, and Washington's exasperation boiled over as he wrote Dinwiddie, lamenting about the difficulties of the expedition: "I find so many clogs upon the expedition, that I quite despair of success." The governor, perhaps regretting making the green young colonist the leader of such an important mission, soon wrote back, shrugging off the complaints and expressing his disappointment that the officer he trusted was engaging in "complaints in general so ill-founded."
Despite his complaints, Washington continued to perform his duty. He happily received Tanacharison, "Half-King," sachem of the Six Nations, with some warriors and reached Great Meadows, which his men started to clear and "prepared a charming field for an encounter," even though it was in a bowl surrounded by wooded high grounds. While the soldiers were digging trenches and hastily erecting a stockade, Washington learned from Half-King and Gist that the French were advancing on them. The young officer presumed that the enemy had hostile intentions and sent out scouting parties to find them. Contrecoeur had indeed sent out a diplomatic mission of a few dozen men under Ensign Jumonville to find the English column and warn their leader off French territory, much like the young Virginian had unsuccessfully attempted the previous winter. Washington led four dozen men to Half-King's camp, rounded up the Indian leader and his warriors, and went to find the French. Since he considered them spies or worse, Washington and his allies stealthily crept up on their enemy with muskets drawn.
The French were startled by the sudden appearance of the English and Indians armed to the teeth. They reached for their own arms, and although the French may or may not have been able to squeeze off a round first, the English loosed a lethal volley in their direction at point-blank range. There was another exchange of gunfire, and as many as thirteen or fourteen French lay wounded or dead while Washington's force suffered only a few casualties. At some point, the Indians apparently went on a rampage and massacred the wounded, including Jumonville. Shocked, Washington did nothing (and probably could have done little) to prevent the Indians from scalping the French. After the grisly deed was done, he stopped any further bloodshed.
Washington realized the gravity of the massacre and immediately sought justification for his actions to preserve his honor and reputation. He sincerely believed that the French were spies and deserved what they got — which was not an unreasonable assumption. He described the event in several letters to the governor to exonerate himself from any perceived wrongdoing. The French claim that they were ambassadors, Washington wrote, "is a mere pretense, they never designed to have come to us but in a hostile manner." Instead of being treated as diplomats, they ought "to be hanged for spies of the worst sort."
Washington was eager to prove his worthiness to Dinwiddie: "If the whole detachment of the French behave with no more resolution than this chosen party did, I flatter myself we shall have no great trouble in driving them to the d[amned] Montreal." He told the governor that he was guided by unselfish, patriotic intentions: "The motives that led me here were pure and noble. I had no view of acquisition, but that of honor, by serving faithfully my King and Country."
Washington was more candid about his youthful exuberance and romantic view of the battle when he wrote to his brother Jack: "I fortunately escaped without a wound, though the right wing where I stood was exposed to and received all the enemy's fire and was the part where the man was killed and the rest wounded." Despite the horrors of witnessing men with agonizing wounds being scalped, he boasted that "I can with truth assure you, I heard bullets whistle and believe me there was something charming in the sound." When the letter was published in London, King George II retorted that "he would not say so if he had been used to hear many." Washington's words may have been those of an overeager young man, but he was gaining invaluable experience and knowledge about war and empire.
Excerpted from Washington and Hamilton by Stephen F. Knott, Tony Williams. Copyright © 2015 Stephen F. Knott and Tony Williams. Excerpted by permission of Sourcebooks, Inc..
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Table of Contents
Chapter One: "I Heard Bullets Whistle": Young George Washington
Chapter Two: "I Wish There Was a War": Young Alexander Hamilton
Chapter Three: "We Must Assert Our Rights": The Growth of Revolutionary Ideology
Chapter Four: Revolutionary Band of Brothers
Chapter Five: A Continental Republic
Chapter Six: Two Roads to Philadelphia
Chapter Seven: Winning Ratification
Chapter Eight: The Indispensable President
Chapter Nine: A Time of "Folly and Madness"
Chapter Ten: "Enough to Melt a Monument of Marble"
Postscript: The Indispensable Alliance
About the Authors
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Knott and Williams have done an outstanding job of telling the story of the most important human relationship in the American founding. Washington, who is known more as a figure of marble by most Americans than as a man, is presented in human form without any diminishment of his greatness. The authors do an excellent job tracing the rise to prominence of Washington, story not well-known, and is far from a smooth ascent to greatness. Alexander Hamilton, whose vision is probably more responsible for the American Constitutional order than any founder, has unknown to most students of the American founding for far too long. Thanks to Broadway Hamilton is getting some well-deserved attention these days. For those whose interest has been peaked by “Hamilton,” they could do no better than reading Washington and Hamilton. The long, arduous rise of Hamilton from an orphan in a Caribbean backwater to national prominence is chronicled in an informative and compelling narrative. Hamilton’s story is the quintessential American story, as a striving, talented immigrant seeking to make a mark on his beloved adopted new nation. The times provided what Hamilton wished for; a war to provide the opportunity to make that mark. Hamilton rarely wasted an opportunity, using his talents to serve the revolution. It is at war that Hamilton and Washington meet. This is where Knott and Williams offer a great contribution to scholarship of the founding era, in writing a careful history of the relationship between Washington and Hamilton. This partnership both won a revolution and shaped what the new republic would be. Again, here it is presented as a true human relationship, with its ups and downs. The authors document their rise to an almost father-son relationship, their falling out over a perceived slight, and the eventual reunification when the nation called. Each man possessed talents that complimented the others, and were indispensable in “forging America.” I sincerely recommend this excellent work, as it tells a story vital to the understanding of the American Founding in a way that is entertaining and approachable.