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Thomas Fleming on
Hamilton's character

Thomas Fleming Q: Describe Hamilton's character.

A:Hamilton was a marvelous combination of a lot of personal charm, when he wanted to turn it on, but also this combative streak which he could also turn on, and become a really ferocious antagonist. Hamilton wiped up the floor with Jefferson and Washington's cabinet, and at one point Jefferson said that he was a colossus, a host onto himself. He really was very, very formidable when it came to politics. He could write and he could work with unbelievable energy. Hamilton would come back with a thirty or forty page essay, demolishing all of Jefferson's arguments, and it was there in about a day and a half. It was amazing how hard he could work, and how fast. As a writer, I'm really impressed that he probably never had to blot out anything, it just poured out. Men liked him; a lot of people called him the little lion because of his combative streak. He had a big head and he looked like he would fight, but he also was a rather good-looking guy, and when he turned on the charm, the ladies loved him too. He was full of good humor and wit and he liked the ladies as much as they liked him. So there was this marvelous combination of charm and manly strength, or manly vigor, that made him a most unique individual in many ways.

Q: How much did it affect Hamilton to be called a bastard brat?

A:Well, there's no question that Hamilton's combative streak really made him a bad politician when you get right down to it, or a dangerous politician. If you were associated with him, you never knew when he was gonna unleash this combative streak in your direction, and certainly in the election of 1800, this was a prime example of it. He wasn't running for office himself, but he was managing the campaign. John Adams, the president, was running for reelection. Hamilton suddenly decides that Adams just won't do, and there were some good reasons for that. Adams was a manic-depressive, among other things. At one point he stayed away from Washington for five full months and held up in his house in Massachussetts. This was not the way a president should act. What he did was he wrote this forty or fifty page pamphlet attacking Adams saying he was a member of the enemy party, and he was going to circulate this among a select group in the federalist party. The idea was he would disillusion them with Adams, and then they would make the vice president, who was running on the same ticket, the president. They would throw away electoral votes for Adams and make Mister Picknee of South Carolina the president. This was a very tricky little game, but the combative thing of attacking your own candidate just blew up in his face because Aaron Burr got his hands on this pamphlet and circulated it in newspapers all over the country. And here it is, the manager of the federalist party saying, basically, our candidate is a bum. It was insanity.

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