Alexander Hamilton, Part Two
Narrator: In 1791, President George Washington embarks on a three-month tour to assess the effect on the country of his government's policies.
George Washington (as portrayed by actor): I have just completed my visit to the southern states and was able to see, with my own eyes, the situation of the country. Tranquility reigns among the people, and the new government is popular. Our public credit stands on a ground which three years ago only a madman would have thought possible.
The United States now enjoys a scene of prosperity and tranquility, where every man may sit under his own vine with none to molest him or make him afraid.
Narrator: George Washington knows that much of this prosperity is due to the economic policies of Alexander Hamilton. With Washington's backing, Hamilton now seems to be single-handedly running most of the Federal government. Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson has fewer than a dozen employees, and Vice President John Adams has no power in Washington's administration. Hamilton controls the Customs Service, the Coast Guard, and appoints a vast network of men to collect import duties and taxes.
Ron Chernow, Biographer: Washington is allowing, indeed encouraging, Hamilton to function as something more like a prime minister. So that when you say to people that Hamilton was the first treasury secretary, it doesn't quite capture the magnitude of his power -- or why Hamilton was so controversial.
Narrator: The controversy began with the assumption of the debt, which has vastly expanded the power of the federal government. For Hamilton though, this was just the beginning. He sees America as an undeveloped land with enormous potential. He sets out to reshape the country, to transform it into one that can hold its head high among the great nations of the world.
In a very short time, he puts a series of monumental proposals before Congress -- instituting a national currency, the dollar; establishing a national bank, the forerunner of the Federal Reserve. Hamilton's vision spurs the growth of the stock market, the engine of the country's future prosperity. He then proposes the radical idea that the government get directly involved in the development of large-scale industry. To his detractors, Hamilton seems unstoppable.
Joanne B. Freeman, Historian: The very markers of Hamilton's success -- the fact that he's proposing things, one at a time, and they're being enacted -- ironically enough, those are the very things that begin to spark opposition. Because people like Jefferson begin to see a pattern, that Hamilton in some way or another is trying to create a monarchy.
Thomas Jefferson (as portrayed by actor): Yes, I disapprove of his actions as secretary of the treasury. With his bank and funding system, he is recreating here the rottenness and corruption of England.
Alexander Hamilton (as portrayed by actor): I have now become convinced of several facts. Mr. Jefferson is at the head of a faction hostile to me and my administration. He attacks the funding of the debt, the bank. I know that he has instituted a whispering campaign bent on subverting my projects.
Narrator: Hamilton is convinced that the United States must develop industry and commerce if it is ever to become a great nation. Jefferson has a very different vision for the country. He wants America to remain primarily rural -- independent farmers working the land with little interference from government. Jefferson and his allies see Hamilton's powerful central government as a potent threat to individual liberty.
Gordon S. Wood, Historian: They wanted a different kind of country. They don't want a bureaucracy. They don't want a standing army. They don't want any of the attributes of a European state. They don't want any of the things that Hamilton wants for the United States.
Carol Berkin, Historian: Urbanization, industrialization, finance capital -- they don't want this. They want agriculture, independent farmers. Jefferson, you know, believes that the only honest profit is made by the man who tills the soil. And everything that Hamilton wanted must have seemed like a nightmare to them.
Narrator: The two most powerful men in Washington's Cabinet have become locked in bitter combat.
Alexander Hamilton (as portrayed by actor): It's the fanatical politics waged by Jefferson that threaten to disturb the tranquility and order of our government. He is the real enemy of republicanism.
Thomas Jefferson (as portrayed by actor): I am not the enemy of the republic. I am not part of that debased squadron plotting to change our republic back into a monarchy. I am not a pimp whose stock dealers have corrupted Congress.
Alexander Hamilton (as portrayed by actor): I now consider it my duty to lift the curtain and show the world that it is he who is determined to destroy the credit and honor of the nation.
Thomas Jefferson (as portrayed by actor): I will not have my reputation slandered by a man whose history -- from the moment that history stooped to notice him -- is a fabric of machinations against the liberty of this country. A country, which not only received him as a penniless immigrant and gave him food, but now heaps honors on his head.
George Washington (as portrayed by actor): There must be some harmony in my Cabinet. Differences of opinion are unavoidable of course, and to a certain extent, they may even be a good thing -- but can't we discuss these differences without each of you attacking the motives of the other? You are both men of discernment, tried patriots, and yet, without more charity for each other's views, I cannot manage the reins of government and we shall, inevitably, be torn asunder.
I don't see how the union of the states can be preserved.
Joanne B. Freeman, Historian: It's so hard for us to be in that moment and to say to ourselves, this is a government that many people thought would never make it. They sincerely don't know if it's going to persist. And that's part of why this ends up being a period of such passion and anxiety and fear -- and in many cases, dirty, nasty politics. I mean, if you feel that you know the right thing to do and you're sitting across from someone who is doing the exact opposite of what you think is the right thing to do, how can you not -- as a good citizen and a good leader and a good American -- stand up and try to crush that person for your country.
Narrator: Jefferson and his allies focus all of their energies on opposing Hamilton and his plans. They band together in a loose political alliance, calling themselves "Republicans." Hamilton and supporters of Washington's administration are called "Federalists."
This split is the first sign of what will become America's two-party system.
Carol Berkin, Historian: The men who believed that they were the continuation of the Constitutional Convention called themselves Federalists. The opposition party, Mr. Jefferson's party, they take on the name the Republican Party, which is very confusing because in fact the Republican Party of Thomas Jefferson has nothing to do with the Republican Party of today.
Narrator: The battle between the parties spills out onto the streets. In this new political culture, the opinions of ordinary people are increasing in importance. Their passions are inflamed by the appearance of highly partisan newspapers, each side out to damn the opposition.
James Callender (as portrayed by actor): The alarming progress of robbery, bribery, oppression and injustice in this country can all be traced to Colonel Alexander Hamilton. This monarchist toadeater has defrauded the public with his corrupt maze of banking and stock speculation.
Willard Sterne Randall, Writer: Both Hamilton and Jefferson hire journalists and pay them to attack the ideas of their opponents.
Peter Fenner (as portrayed by actor): Mr. Jefferson's press propagates nothing but lies and liars, like a swamp breeds maggots and mosquitoes.
Narrator: With unrestrained ferocity, these party organs attack not only the policies, but the very character and reputation of their opponents.
Ron Chernow, Biographer: There were all sorts of nasty insinuations about Hamilton's illegitimacy. There were occasionally insinuations that he was actually, you know, part black. I mean there was insinuations about almost everything.
Joanne B. Freeman, Historian: The favorite tactic in the newspapers was, during an election, to announce that the other candidate -- the opposing candidate -- had died, and it took awhile to disprove something like that because the mail is slow. You know how do you disprove ... how do you prove that someone's alive?
Ron Chernow, Biographer: This was really the golden age of literary and political assassination. And so that ... a lot of our own founders ended up really not just disliking each other, but hating each other.
David Hosack (as portrayed by actor): There was a time when gentlemen of different politics could separate the business of government from that of society. It is not so now.
Narrator: The rational debate among gentlemen anticipated by the founders has turned into a boisterous free-for-all. Butchers, bakers and even common laborers now feel they can have a say in politics.
Gordon S. Wood, Historian: I think for the founders originally, the public was quite a narrow group of men -- men like themselves. But by the 1790s, the growth of the press was just enormous. The public had expanded, ballooned out. The Founders are sensing a shaking beneath their feet that their own revolution is having democratic consequences that they hadn't quite anticipated.
Narrator: Their fears are amplified by cataclysmic events across the ocean.
Narrator: In 1793, Louis the Sixteenth is executed. Many Americans rejoice. Jefferson and the Republicans take up the French cause and organize celebrations in the streets. Another revolution is overthrowing a king, and the people are taking control of their government.
Thomas Jefferson (as portrayed by actor): They have been awakened by our revolution. They feel their strength, their lights are spreading.
Alexander Hamilton (as portrayed by actor): How can our people embrace the most cruel, bloody, and violent event that ever stained the annals of mankind? It is a monster born with teeth!
Narrator: The French Revolution widens the gulf between the two parties, pointing to a deep-seated difference in their attitude towards popular politics. The Republicans present themselves as the party of the common man.
Gordon S. Wood, Historian: Jeffersonian Republicans understood the power of public opinion, and Jefferson has his utter faith in the people. And that's simply not true of Hamilton.
Alexander Hamilton (as portrayed by actor): Men may be reasoning animals, but they are rarely reasonable. They are frequently governed by impulse and passion. This truth is well understood by our adversaries who use it to their benefit.
Narrator: Hamilton has always been fearful of mobs and anarchy. Now, he is appalled by the fact that Republican politicians are stirring up the passions of the population. He sees them as demagogues -- men who will do anything to grab power.
Joanne B. Freeman, Historian: Jefferson, in his mind, is a demagogue. Jefferson will say whatever he has to say so that the public will be happy with him. That, in Hamilton's mind, is ... that's corrupt, that's inappropriate, that's what you never do. You don't try to appeal to the public. You do what you feel is right, and if the public doesn't like you, they vote you and your friends out of office and vote somebody else in -- and that's the Hamiltonian view of how things should operate.
Alexander Hamilton (as portrayed by actor): I see it as my duty to show things as they are, not as they ought to be. I always speak the plain, naked truth. If men won't listen, that's their own fault, and they'll have to live with the consequences.
Narrator: Hamilton believes as fervently as Jefferson in the ideals of representative government, but he has contempt for the game of popular politics.
In the coming years, Hamilton will be cast as an elitist, while Jefferson, born into the Virginia gentry, will become the man of the people.
Thomas Fleming, Biographer: I think one of the ironies of Hamilton's duel with Jefferson, his struggle for power, was the fact that here was Jefferson -- owner of a hundred or two hundred slaves, living on his plantation, getting wealthy on their unsalaried labor -- and he became the man of the people. And Hamilton -- working for a living and like the average American -- has been painted as the patron of the rich and so forth, and it's ... history is full of ironies and this is one of the cruelest ironies in many ways.
Richard J. Payne, Historian: Hamilton, in a way, is the quintessential American. He's a self-made man. He's a guy who comes here as an immigrant with very little and he, through luck and brainpower, builds this huge reputation for himself. Hamilton believes if you work hard, you should rise to the top without any regard for your aristocratic backgrounds.
Narrator: Hamilton wants to transform the United States into a true meritocracy. A country where men of talent and ability -- men like himself -- can prosper.
Carol Berkin, Historian: All the values that we honor maybe in the breach, about -- it's not who your parents were or where you came from or how you started out, but what you can do, what you can achieve -- this was, I think, very much Hamilton's credo for himself and I think really for his country. He was interested in what would be good for the nation, including the working classes, including the poor.
Alexander Hamilton (as portrayed by actor): There are strong minds in every walk of life that will overcome the disadvantages of their birth, and will command tribute due to their merit.
Narrator: It is 1796. Hamilton has returned to New York City. Both Hamilton and Jefferson have left Washington's Cabinet. Jefferson has his eye on the presidency, and Hamilton will continue to influence public affairs as a private citizen. He has become frustrated seeing his proposals stalled in a hostile Congress.
Alexander Hamilton (as portrayed by actor): In truth, my work in government has fewer and fewer attractions for me. I am increasingly finding my projects blocked by those with a jealousy of power, and by the peculiar democratical forces operating in republics. As for gratifying a love for fame...
Narrator: Hamilton, with a growing family, has another pressing reason to retire from public life.
Alexander Hamilton (as portrayed by actor): I have resumed the practice of law. Having done my part to place the nation's finances on good footing, I must now take care of my own finances, which need my care not a little.
Narrator: Hamilton is in fact deeply in debt. He never used his position in the Treasury to make one cent -- while others around him were making millions, speculating in the stocks and bonds that he made possible. And now, even as one of New York's most sought after lawyers, Hamilton remains in financial difficulty.
Nathaniel Pendleton (as portrayed by actor): In his practice, he refuses large fees if he doesn't believe in the justice of a case. On the other hand, if a client is in the right but has no money, he takes the case for free. Yet he isn't rich. I know that for a fact because he often has to borrow money from me to take care of family needs. Nevertheless, he always insists on fair compensation and no more.
Narrator: His eldest son Philip is somewhat bemused by his father's unbending principles.
Philip Hamilton (as portrayed by actor): His fellow lawyers joke that he'd refuse to pick up money even if it was lying at his feet.
Joanne B. Freeman, Historian: He, of course, loved all of his children. But I think he had particularly bright hopes for the oldest son, which was Philip. There's something a little rakish about him when you see the image of him from the time -- sort of a chip off the old block.
Narrator: Hamilton is grooming Philip for a future in politics. Even in family affairs, Hamilton is ever the micro-managing administrator.
Alexander Hamilton (as portrayed by actor): From the first of April to the first of October, Philip is to rise no later than six o'clock. From the time he is dressed until breakfast at nine, he is to read the law. At nine, he is to go to the office until dinnertime. After dinner, he reads law at home 'til five o'clock. From this hour 'til seven, he may dispose of his time as he pleases.
Philip Hamilton (as portrayed by actor): My father has a soldier's temperament. When we're walking around the land, his step always seems to fall naturally into the cadence of a military drill.
At night, he reads us Roman history -- translating the Latin as he goes along. When he comes to the battle scenes, he reads them with such emphasis and fervor that we all think that Julius Caesar is in the room with us.
Narrator: Hamilton and his wife will eventually have eight children together. He is making plans to buy land in what is now Harlem, where he will build a large country house for Elizabeth and the family. He will call it The Grange, after his father's ancestral home in Scotland. But Hamilton still misses being at the center of power.
Alexander Hamilton (as portrayed by actor): Gardening is the usual refuge of a disappointed politician. So, here I am --wearing my cultivator hat.
Carol Berkin, Historian: He didn't cope well with time on his hands. He would not have been very good at retiring gracefully, or of giving up power gracefully.
Narrator: In fact, Hamilton never retires from public life. He is advising members of the Cabinet and writing speeches for Washington. He organizes charities in New York and has become a leader of a movement advocating rights for African Americans.
Ron Chernow, Biographer: Hamilton co-founds the first anti-slavery society in New York, The Manumission Society. He's arguably the most consistent abolitionist among the founders, and it's kind of a thread that runs consistently throughout his entire life.
Carol Berkin, Historian: I think his opposition to slavery is of a piece with his general belief in meritocracy. He says slavery keeps men, who might make major contributions to our society -- prevents them from doing that and so it's inefficient. It doesn't let people who have talent use their talents well.
Alexander Hamilton (as portrayed by actor): The disadvantages of slavery are obvious. The institution relaxes the sinews of industry, clips the wings of commerce, and introduces into society misery and indigence of every shape.
Narrator: Hamilton has been out of the Cabinet for two years, and there have been big changes in the federal government. John Adams, a Federalist, has been elected the second president of the United States, and Washington has gone into retirement at Mount Vernon.
Even out of office, Hamilton is regarded as the leader of the party and he sees that the Federalists are facing a crisis. The Republicans are becoming more powerful in Congress, and his old rival, Thomas Jefferson, is gaining in popularity. Hamilton is determined to oppose him.
Alexander Hamilton (as portrayed by actor): The game we're playing is a most important one. Jefferson wants to be president. We're fighting for nothing less than true liberty, stability, and of course, heads. And I intend to do everything possible not to get mine chopped off.
Narrator: For their part, Jefferson and the Republicans are watching Hamilton warily. They fear his continuing power in the Federalist Party and see him as a possible presidential candidate. Hamilton stands for everything they hate. They determine to crush his future political ambitions.
They hold a series of incriminating letters detailing his past affair with Maria Reynolds. Republicans leak these papers to a muckraking journalist in their pay.
James Callender (as portrayed by actor): We now come to a part of my work -- more delicate perhaps than any other -- where we will see this great master of morality, though himself the father of a family, confessing that he had an illicit union with another man's wife. I feel I must expose these papers to the world. Not a word has been altered.
Narrator: It is a classic smear campaign. While his political enemies know very well that Hamilton was only paying blackmail money to Maria Reynolds' husband, they use the letters to claim that Hamilton was speculating with money from the Treasury.
Alexander Hamilton (as portrayed by actor): I trust I shall always be able to bear newspaper scurrility when they accuse me of errors of judgment. But when they so unfairly attack my integrity, I cannot control my indignation.
Narrator: Hamilton makes a reckless decision. In order to refute the charges that he stole money from the Treasury, he publishes a pamphlet explaining that he was blackmailed. To prove his case, he feels it necessary to describe every sordid detail of the affair, and publishes the passionate letters he received from Maria.
Maria Reynolds (voice over by actress): I am alone and shall be alone until Wednesday. What have I done that you should thus neglect me? My dear friend, how shall I plead enough? Let me see you and unbosom myself to you.
Alexander Hamilton (as portrayed by actor): The intercourse with Mrs. Reynolds continued with all the appearances of her having a violent attachment to me. It made it extremely difficult for me to disentangle myself.
Robert Bartlett (as portrayed by actor): He tells us, "I've been grossly charged with being a speculator, whereas I'm only an adulterer."
Karl F. Walling, Historian: Many leaders of the Federalist Party are saying -- is that how you're going to defend your ... your honor? You can imagine how much this hurt his wife. The point is Hamilton considered his public honor more important than his private honor.
Narrator: Hamilton's attempt to justify himself backfires.
Henry Lee (as portrayed by actor): He has inflicted more damage to himself than fifty of the best writers in America.
John Adams (as portrayed by actor): Colonel Hamilton doesn't seem capable of cooling his iron in his own trough.
Thomas Fleming, Biographer: Jefferson and Madison couldn't believe their eyes. It was the most ... one of the most self-destructive things they ever saw anybody do, and they just rubbed their hands. They really, more or less, realized Hamilton was finished; he never could be president now. But, after this whole thing somewhat subsided, what did Hamilton receive in the mail but a very beautiful silver bowl from Washington. Washington was no longer president now. He was telling Hamilton -- you're still my man.
George Washington (as portrayed by actor): Not for any intrinsic value, but as a token of my sincere regard and friendship for you, please accept this gift. Mrs. Washington joins me in my best wishes to Mrs. Hamilton and the family. With every sentiment of the highest regard, I remain your sincere friend.
Joanne B. Freeman, Historian: If Washington were not around, Hamilton would have been in big trouble. I mean, it really is the fact that Washington is there and willing to vouch for him on a number of different occasions that allows Hamilton to get away with what he gets away with. Even at the time, someone calls Washington Hamilton's dishcloth. You know, he's a ... wipes up the messes around him.
Narrator: In the days to come, Hamilton will need Washington's support more than ever. Hamilton is convinced that there are two things necessary if the United States is ever to become a great nation -- the establishment of a strong economy, which he has achieved, and the building of a powerful military. He believes that only with a regular army can America survive in a hostile world
Events overseas give him a chance to realize this objective. By 1799, the French army, led by Napoleon, has invaded Egypt and Syria. Hamilton fears that the French are now contemplating conquests in the New World.
Gordon S. Wood, Historian: Many people thought that the French were going to invade and turn us into another one of the French republics that they were creating all over Europe.
Narrator: The still very popular ex-president, George Washington, is appointed commander in chief, and he insists that Hamilton be made a general and put in charge of raising a large army. There is, however, one formidable obstacle blocking Hamilton's dreams of military glory -- the current president of the United States, John Adams.
John Adams (as portrayed by actor): He's cramming Hamilton down my throat. I'm compelled to appoint the most restless, impatient, artful, unprincipled intriguer in the United States to be commander of the army.
Ron Chernow, Biographer: The relationship between Alexander Hamilton and John Adams had a slightly pathological quality. Adams, who was considerably senior to Hamilton, had been completely excluded from the inner policy circle of the Washington administration. So, Adams has to suffer the sight of this young, strutting upstart running the federal government.
Narrator: Adams makes it clear that he loathes Hamilton, and that he fully intends to make peace with France.
In a fury, Hamilton demands a meeting with the president.
John Adams (as portrayed by actor): I'm in a good humor and receive him civilly. He repeats over and over again how there's no use making a treaty with France, and how we should form an alliance with England. His eloquence and his vehemence wrought the little man up to such a degree of heat and effervescence, I thought he was going to have a fit.
I tell him calmly that I disagree with just about everything that he's saying. He is obviously completely ignorant about France, England and everywhere else. Never in my life did I hear a man talk more like a fool. I shall take no more notice of his puppyhood.
Narrator: Adams wants to get rid of the army at all costs. In this time of crisis, Hamilton suffers another blow -- George Washington dies at Mount Vernon.
Alexander Hamilton (as portrayed by actor): He was my aegis, my shield, my armor -- essential to everything I have accomplished. No one feels this loss more than I. My heart is filled with gloom.
Ron Chernow, Biographer: When Washington died, Hamilton made the revealing statement that Washington was an aegis, that is, a shield most essential. Here, Hamilton is saying that he needed a political patron and protector -- and that was George Washington. So Hamilton went from being the most powerful figure in Washington's first two terms to suddenly being this outcast under John Adams.
Narrator: Adams signs a peace treaty with France, and forces Hamilton to demobilize the army. Adams then spreads rumors to party insiders that Hamilton is a secret ally of the British -- a traitor to his country and worse.
John Adams (as portrayed by actor): He is an underhanded intriguer, a man devoid of any moral principles, a bastard and a foreigner, a Creole...
Alexander Hamilton (as portrayed by actor): The man's even madder than I thought.
Karl F. Walling, Historian: He's proud, he's extraordinarily proud, and if you want to destroy Hamilton, the way to do so is attack his reputation -- that's the Achilles heel. So he's angry with Adams for a stupid policy, but he's equally angry with Adams for saying that he's this leader of a British faction and a threat to American liberty. Hamilton decides, I'm not going to take it anymore; I'm going to take this guy down.
Narrator: It is 1800. John Adams is up for re-election. Hamilton is determined to stop him and promote another Federalist candidate. His weapon -- a vicious fifty-page pamphlet directed against the leader of his own party.
Alexander Hamilton (as portrayed by actor): I was among the many people who admired Mr. Adams for his role in the first stages of the Revolution. I saw him as a man of boldness and patriotism. But watching his actions as president, I began to lose respect for his intellectual abilities. I began to question the solidity of his mind.
Narrator: All of his experience as a writer, and his skills as a lawyer, are now put to the task of destroying the president's reputation.
Alexander Hamilton (as portrayed by actor): He has a disgusting egotism, vanity without bounds, an uncontrolled jealousy, which colors his every eccentric judgment. His ill humors have divided and distracted the supporters of the government
Ron Chernow, Biographer: Once he's no longer under Washington's guidance, Hamilton's judgment becomes increasingly erratic and he, kind of, becomes his own worse enemy.
Narrator: The pamphlet was written for the benefit of Federalist insiders, but even Hamilton's closest allies are astounded.
Nathaniel Pendleton (as portrayed by actor): It's one of your best performances, General Hamilton -- and more unfortunate for the cause of the Federalists than anything ever written.
Joanne B. Freeman, Historian: You know, it's not the first time that Hamilton has done something stupid in print. You know, it's not the first time Hamilton's done something stupid, period. But by this point, he's building up a happy little reputation for himself as the man without discretion, the guy who doesn't know when to shut up, the guy who keeps getting his friends, his political allies, in trouble. He's literally the loose cannon. And that, in itself, is sort of tragic -- to hear his friends come to a point where even they are saying, you know we just can't do this anymore. He's just out of control.
Peter Fenner (as portrayed by actor): I don't know what the effect will be on President Adams, but I do know that the effect of it on Hamilton's character is extremely unfortunate. It is now general opinion that he's radically deficient in discretion. In brief -- unfit to head the party.
Narrator: The infighting between Hamilton and John Adams has devastating long-term consequences.
Thomas Jefferson (as portrayed by actor): Federalists pounce on Federalists and brothers taunt brothers, spitting at each other like roasted apples.
Narrator: Now, split in two, the Federalist Party will never hold national power again.
Willard Sterne Randall, Writer: Hamilton, because he so detested Adams personally, killed his own baby. He destroyed his own party, the Federalist Party, which he had done so much to set up.
Narrator: In the race for the presidency in 1800, only two men end up with a chance of winning and they are both from the Republican Party. One is Hamilton's hated enemy, Thomas Jefferson himself. The other is a genial, politically savvy New York lawyer. His name is Aaron Burr.
Aaron Burr (as portrayed by actor): The rule of my life is to make business a pleasure, and pleasure my business.
Narrator: Aaron Burr was born into an American aristocracy. His father was president of Princeton University and a pillar of New England society.
Hamilton and Burr know each other very well. They are both involved in national politics, but hold very different views about the role of a political leader. While Hamilton considers public service a sacred trust, Aaron Burr has other motives for trying to get elected.
Aaron Burr (as portrayed by actor): Compared to the drudgery of the law, the life of a politician is honorable, fun ... and very profitable.
Narrator: Burr has become a contender for the presidency. Hamilton now has to make an agonizing decision.
Alexander Hamilton (as portrayed by actor): Jefferson or Burr? If there be a man in the world I ought to hate, it is Jefferson. But Burr has absolutely no morals, private or public. He listens to nothing but his own ambition.
Joanne B. Freeman, Historian: He ends up, in this moment in 1800, where what are his options? Well it is either Burr or Jefferson for president. I mean, that's like the ultimate Hamiltonian nightmare.
Narrator: He sees both men, not as statesmen, but as contemptible politicians -- pandering to the populace by telling voters what they want to hear. Hamilton must now choose the lesser of two evils
Alexander Hamilton (as portrayed by actor): Jefferson has a tincture of fanaticism, it's true. He is much too earnest in his democracy. Crafty, not too scrupulous in politics, and he's not very mindful of the truth. In short, he's a contemptible hypocrite. But ... but, he's as likely as any man I know to compromise.
Carol Berkin, Historian: Even though he disagreed totally with Jefferson, Jefferson at least was interested in trying to do something that would be good for the United States. Burr -- Burr was in it for Burr.
Alexander Hamilton (as portrayed by actor): Here's a telling incident. When I headed the Treasury, he criticized me for not using my power to alter the government for my own advantage. I told him that I could never do such a thing in good conscience. "Conscience!" Burr replied. "Great souls do not worry themselves with little details." Can you imagine such a man holding the power of the presidency?
Narrator: The vote among the electors is a tie and is sent to the House of Representatives, where again there is a tie. In a flurry of letters, Hamilton urges one congressman to switch his vote. The tie is broken. Thomas Jefferson becomes the third president of the United States.
The Republicans are now firmly in control of the government. Populist politics, which Hamilton so hates, seems to be the order of the day. In his mind, the country, which he has fought for most of his life, is headed towards disaster.
Alexander Hamilton (as portrayed by actor): No army, no navy, no national defense, as little government as possible...
Carol Berkin, Historian: Hamilton sees not just his life coming apart, but what is his future? In some ways, he really was a person who found his identity in making a contribution. He wasn't interested in great wealth. He really wanted to do something for the country that he came to. I mean, to give back to America -- and after 1800, nobody wanted him to.
Alexander Hamilton (as portrayed by actor): Mine is an odd destiny. Perhaps no man in the United States has sacrificed or done more for the present Constitution than myself. And, contrary to all my expectations, I still have to work to prop up its frail and worthless fabric. For my reward, I have a few murmurs from its friends and loud curses from its enemies. The best thing I can do is withdraw from the scene. Every day proves to me more and more that this American world is not made for me.
Karl F. Walling, Historian: Hamilton, he was a great statesman and a terrible politician. He could not make himself speak what he thought was untrue -- he was too honest, too candid. People could provoke him by attacking his honor in such a way that he became extraordinarily self-destructive. Hamilton, in many ways, is a tragic figure because the love of honor, which is the source of his greatness I would argue, is completely consistent with Greek tragedy -- also the source of his downfall.
Narrator: Hamilton may be out of political power, but he refuses to give up the fight. Now age forty-six, he co-founds an opposition newspaper, the New York Evening Post, and he passionately defends Federalist editors in court when they are attacked by the Republican administration.
He also has great hopes for the political career of his eldest son, Philip.
Joanne B. Freeman, Historian: Hamilton invested a lot of hope in this son. Really thought that he saw a grand and glorious future for Philip.
Narrator: It is not to be. In 1801, Philip Hamilton gets into a heated and very public argument with an arrogant Republican politician. The argument degenerates into insults, and Philip is challenged to a duel.
Joanne B. Freeman, Historian: Duels -- affairs of honor -- in this time period are very ritualized and of course, they need to be because they are potentially deadly and because everything is at stake. If your honor is at stake, that's pretty much the entire game. So apparently, Philip went to his father and described what had happened and, and sort of asks his father for advice. Now what happens dad, what do I do?
Karl F. Walling, Historian: And Hamilton says, look, we've envisioned this great political career for you. You know you might be president some day. But you know if you turn down the challenge, you'll be considered a coward and your political career will be over. You'll be a social outcast.
Well, the son follows dad's advice.
Philip Hamilton's School Mate (as portrayed by actor): On the bed lay poor Phil, pale, his rolling eyes darting in flashes of delirium. On one side of him, his agonized father. On the other side, his distracted mother. At the funeral, Hamilton, half collapsing, had to be supported. Down into the grave went all his hopes.
Joanne B. Freeman, Historian: It's just crushing to Hamilton. His friends talked about how it was stamped on his face, the tragedy of that duel and of Phillips death, that he never recovered from it. But you can actually see that in the portraits of him that were painted at that time.
Karl F. Walling, Historian: They didn't create the eighteenth century gentleman's code of conduct, they inherited it. It was there before they got there. They had to conform to it or they would become social pariahs. That said, you don't see Jefferson fighting duels. And you don't see Franklin fighting duels.
Narrator: It is two and a half years after Philip's death. Word reaches Hamilton that Aaron Burr is running for the office of governor of New York. Once again, Hamilton has a cause -- he launches into a campaign against Burr.
Robert Bartlett (as portrayed by actor): At a meeting of Federalists, General Hamilton makes a speech declaring that he looks on Mr. Burr as a dangerous man, not to be trusted with the reigns of government.
Narrator: Hamilton attacks Burr in writing, and at political gatherings around the state.
Burr has many political enemies, but he focuses on Hamilton.
Aaron Burr (as portrayed by actor): For years, he's lent his name to base slanders which I have passed over. The only result of my forbearance has been a repetition of injury. I can only conclude that Hamilton has a settled and implacable malevolence towards me. Well, these things must have an end.
Narrator: Burr demands that Hamilton retract his latest insults or face him on the field of honor.
Karl F. Walling, Historian: There's a delicate dance that's played around duels -- you do the dance, you find a way to make apologies without sounding like you made an apology. Everyone's honor is satisfied and it ends.
Aaron Burr (as portrayed by actor): You may perceive, Sir, the necessity of a prompt and unqualified acknowledgement or denial...
Alexander Hamilton (as portrayed by actor): I cannot, without impropriety, make the avowal or disavowal which you seem to think necessary.
Karl F. Walling, Historian: Hamilton tries to dance with Burr. He comes as close to a full retraction as he could under the circumstances. Burr won't accept it. This indicates to me that Burr really wanted to fight.
Alexander Hamilton (as portrayed by actor): I have known for a long time that my life must inevitably be exposed to that man. The duel cannot be avoided. My ability to be useful in public affairs depends on how men of character regard me. All consideration of what men of the world call honor impresses on me a necessity to answer this challenge.
Ron Chernow, Biographer: This honor became such an obsession with him that even though he had done such extraordinary things in the world, and had tried so hard to escape from that world of his boyhood -- on some level, he never did, and was still fighting that battle. You know, I think that he doesn't realize that the war is over. You know, and that he won and that he established this life. I think on some level he still is trapped back in the darkness of his own past.
Narrator: Early morning, July 11, 1804. The duel will take place across the Hudson River, in Weehawken, New Jersey.
Alexander Hamilton (as portrayed by actor): This letter, my very dear Eliza, will be delivered to you only after my death. If it had been possible for me to have avoided the interview, my love for you and my precious children would have been motive enough. I needn't tell you my pain, not only at leaving you, but in exposing you to the anguish I know you will feel. I cannot dwell on this topic or it will unman me. Fly to the bosom of your God and be comforted. I shall cherish the hope of meeting you in a better world. Adieu, best of wives and best of women. Embrace all my darling children for me.
Nathaniel Pendleton (as portrayed by actor): We marked out the ten paces. I read the final instructions. Burr and the General took their positions and we handed them the pistols. The General raised and lowered his gun a few times and then said to Burr, "I beg your pardon, Sir, for delaying you." And then he put on his spectacles. He had previously told me that he intended to satisfy both his religious principles and his honor by not firing. But there was no way for Colonel Burr to know that.
David Hosack (as portrayed by actor): I was called to him half sitting on the ground, supported in the arms of Mr. Pendleton. The bargemen aided us in conveying him into the boat. He knew right away. "This is a mortal wound, Doctor," he said, and then he fainted. The ball had passed through the liver and the diaphragm.
Narrator: Hamilton survives for thirty-one agonizing hours. He dies on July 12, 1804. He is forty-nine years old.
New York City prepares for the largest funeral in its history.
Ron Chernow, Biographer: There was a tremendous outpouring of grief and emotion. The funeral cortege went on for hours. I think literally every person in the city was lining the streets, looking out of windows, standing on roofs. It was said that every woman in particular was crying at the time of Hamilton's death.
Federalist Newspaper Man (as portrayed by actor): Gouverneur Morris, with four of General Hamilton's sons at his side, rose to speak.
Gouverneur Morris (as portrayed by actor): I struggle with a bursting heart to portray that heroic spirit which has now departed.
Fellow citizens. You know how well he performed his duties. How he never sacrificed his principles to court your favor or gain your adulation. You have seen him contending against you and protecting your dearest interests, in spite of yourselves. Because of this, you now enjoy the benefits resulting from the firm energy of his work.
Remember this testimony to the memory of my departed friend. I charge you to protect his good name. It is all he has left. It is all these poor children will inherit from their father.
Narrator: No one, at the time, fully appreciated Hamilton's enormous legacy. But because of his visionary thinking, America had the highest credit rating of any country in the world. When France gave Jefferson the opportunity to purchase the Louisiana Territory and double the area of the United States, money and credit were readily available.
In the nineteenth century, first came the canals, then the railroads, then heavy industry and the huge cities, the boom in technology, and a greater prosperity than the world had ever seen -- all built on bonds and banks, Hamilton's world.
In the coming years, a grateful people celebrate the men who created the country. In the nation's capital, they build large monuments to Washington and Jefferson -- but none to Hamilton.
Carol Berkin, Historian: That he is not acknowledged, I think has a lot to do with the fact that he doesn't talk about liberty. He doesn't talk about the republic. There's not a lot of that. He's really much more about creating policies and institutions. And I don't think we like to memorialize people who do practical things. I think the things that Hamilton did don't fit well on monuments.
Joanne B. Freeman, Historian: Hamilton is about the beginnings of systems, you know. He's someone who sees, has a vision, and knows how to put it into effect. It's really the beginnings of a national government, something that we take for granted -- the beginnings of something orderly and powerful and national, something that sometimes we like and sometimes we don't like so much. But either way, it's not the sort of person that we stand up and cheer for.
Richard J. Payne, Historian: Hamilton focused on one thing. He devoted his whole life to one thing, and that was creating the United States. Whether it's financial, whether it's constitutional, whether it's the army, you name it, its Hamilton's. He doesn't need a monument. We live in Hamilton's monument -- this United States. This is Hamilton's monument. And when we talk about the American dream, we're talking about Hamilton's dream.
Narrator: Hamilton's grave is behind Trinity Church in New York City. It is steps away from the site of the Treasury Office, where he first laid out his blueprint for America's future as a strong, united, self-reliant nation. Around the corner is Wall Street and the Stock Exchange, that mighty financial engine that he helped create.
Throughout his life, this orphan immigrant from the West Indies felt that he never really belonged -- that this American world was not made for him. This was only partly true. Alexander Hamilton did belong -- he belonged to the future.
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