Tag Archives: Alexander Hamilton

A Thumbnail for the 4th of July — By Juliet Waldron

AhamiltonHe wasn’t born here, but in the British West Indies, on the small volcanic island of Nevis, the son of a strong-willed woman and the younger son of a Scottish Duke. He’s been more or less been (except for his appearance on our Ten Dollar Bill) pushed out of the American pantheon, but here, the day before our national holiday, I’d like to say a few words about Alexander Hamilton.

Hamilton was sent here at seventeen to attend King’s College (now Columbia) by planters who thought such a bright kid should have a chance to become something more than a clerk. (Working in an office, learning the realities of the three-corner trade, had been his only means of support from the age of eleven.) When the Revolution broke out, Hamilton was at first a loyalist, but, fortunately for us, he changed his mind. Soon, the college money went to outfit an artillery company of which he became the captain, a rank earned in our fledgling military because he knew trig, and therefore could use his weapons. BTW 18th Century artillerymen stood on the front lines and took fire, both from the enemy and from the not infrequent explosions of the rusty old French & Indian War cannons they’d commandeered from local armories. Hamilton survived the first years of the war in this way until he came to the attention of George Washington, who was in need of bright young men who knew how to push paper and assist their over-worked commander-in-chief as aides de camp.

On the issue of slavery, Hamilton differed from other prominent founders. During the Revolutionary War, he and his South Carolina planter friend, John Laurens, proposed our Congress declare that slaves willing to bear arms on the Patriot side would be set free, formed into companies and armed to fight. You can imagine the kind of reception this out-of-the-box notion received. He also expressed the then broad-minded belief that blacks’ “natural facilities” were “as good as that of whites.” Later, after the Revolution, he joined John Jay’s New York Manumission society and was active in the cause of ending slavery in that state. He, personally, never owned slaves.

Although there are plenty of other ways in which Hamilton was a man who saw far ahead of his agrarian-minded contemporaries, his fame has steadily diminished. I think this is because neither Left nor Right can completely claim him. He marched to his own drummer, and that drummer was a strong pragmatism—what is now called “the real world solution”—which still doesn’t seem to be very popular among our legislators. He wasn’t drawn to ivory tower thinking, but to what would work—what would make America a great nation. He wanted roads and bridges. He wanted “manufacturies;” he wanted insurance and banks, and all the related industrial development which has carried us into the forefront of nations. Of capitalism, he had no illusions. He knew that wealthy, privileged people might do the “right thing,” but only if they could be motivated by self-interest. He knew how to horse trade and thoroughly understood the concept of “mutually beneficial.”

More than all these things, though, I think he wanted to see America become a meritocracy, where the cream rose to the top. He believed in justice, too, and in his legal career, tried to see it done, and not just available for those who had the coin to pay. As a young man, he defended a small business owner, a ferryman who’d been whipped by a wealthy landowner for refusing to be always at his beck and call. Hamilton never forgot what it had been like to try to make his way in a world governed by privilege, without wealth or family. Surely, this man is a stellar example of “the American Way.”

~~~Juliet Waldron

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Schuyler RIP

We lost a cat recently. He was one of the “legendary” one. Every lover of the domestic feline knows what I mean. These cats have strong personalities and compelling backstories, rather like the best kind of character.

Cat owners usually have a pair or more of the furry dominators in residence, and this is because   “You can’t have just one” is as true of cats as it is of potato chips. The standouts aren’t common. You may only host two or three of these in a lifetime of pet parenthood. It isn’t just that these special cats are sociable, interested  in the doings of their owners and in keeping them company. These cats possess an elusive, mystical aura.  

Schuyler came off the hard streets of an adjacent comatose steel town. He was about two years old when we found him at that Humane Society, with a tail broken in several places and a bad hip.  He called to us, then reached through the cage bars to hook my sleeve. It didn’t take my husband and I long to realize he was the one. We learned that he had been dropped off by some people who couldn’t keep him, but thought well enough of him to try this last resort method of finding him a home. I was working on Revolutionary War  novels at that time, and already had a “Hamilton,” so he was named for another favorite character: “Major General Philip Schuyler.”

He was skinny and roman-nosed. He would always favor one back leg, but when our Vet first checked him out, she said he was basically healthy. “Just feed him up, and he’ll be fine,” was her advice. As you can see from the picture, “feeding him up” was not a problem.

There were three other cats here when he came, but he quickly promoted himself to what the German’s call “Furst” a/k/a  Top Cat. I don’t remember much fighting, but his long Tom-Cat-hood and streetfighting experience probably gave him the edge to psych out his new mates. Schuyler quickly became my husband’s favorite. He spent most of his fourteen years either in his lap or curled up beside him.  He greeted Chris when he came home from work, and said good-bye, too, every morning.  Sky stayed with him tirelessly while my husband endured a slow recovery from cancer surgery.

He was a pretty cat, the kind you’d see in a Flemish painting, curled on a bench in a black-and-white tiled kitchen scene. He had pink paws and a pink nose and shell pink ears. One of my online friends, seeing his picture, observed that he had “TES.” I had never heard of TES, so she explained that her cat also had this condition. She said it meant “translucent ear syndrome.”

Sky was a hunter, as you’d expect from an ex-stray, and merciless to mousies and voles. Many mornings we found them laid as offerings on our front steps. He had a musical purr. He also had a great fondness for doughnuts. We quickly learned that we had to hide these inside a cupboard, because if we simply set them on the counter, they’d be on the floor in the next second, the bag torn apart, the contents spilled and hastily gobbled. So much for the notion that cats don’t enjoy sugar!

Sadly, he’s with his mates now, in our pet necropolis. This autumn, I’ll plant daffodils on his grave. RIP Schuyler.

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