Friday, July 1, 2016

Alexander Hamilton Fixed a Broken Nation

Due to the groundbreaking play, Alexander Hamilton has vaulted skyward to become an icon of popular cultural. It couldn’t happen to a better man. Hamilton was my favorite character when writing Tempest at Dawn. At the time of the Constitutional Convention he was only thirty years of age, yet he had already proved his physical courage and mental agility.
When writing my novel, I used the following excerpt to illustrate the economic conditions faced by the infant nation. Most of the states had not paid off the war bonds that financed the Revolution, foreclosures were rampant, inflation raged, there was no common money, and production, especially for ships and foodstuffs, had declined to the point of alarm. These were the dire circumstances inherited by Alexander Hamilton when he became our first Secretary of the Treasury. In a tour de force, he righted the country’s finances and economy by the end of Washington’s first term.

When Baldwin emerged from behind the building, he failed to notice his friends on the other side of the road, so he walked into the tavern. He spent only a few minutes inside and emerged with a wooden bowl and an oversized spoon. Looking around, he finally spotted Sherman and Hamilton on the log across the way.

As he took a seat next to Sherman, Baldwin asked, “What’s this?”

Hamilton leaned forward to look around Sherman. “Squirrel, I think.”

“God, I hate traveling.”

“Throw it away, and I’ll give you a pear.”

Baldwin dipped his spoon deep into the concoction and let the goo plop back into the bowl. “This looks like pig swill.” He ceremoniously turned the bowl over, and they all watched the pottage spill onto the ground in bumpy chunks.

“My money says that blob will still be there on my return trip,” Hamilton said.

Baldwin turned the pear a couple times and then took a huge bite. After a noisy chomp, he spoke with a mouth half full. “I’ll not take that bet; forest animals have more dignity.”

“How’d you like the privy?”

“My God, can’t they dig another one?”

“Takes work.” Hamilton absently wiped pear juice from his chin. “There’s no place more convenient to stop.”

“If you’ll excuse me, gentlemen,” Sherman said, “I think I’ll stroll into the woods for my respite.”

When Sherman returned, he noticed that the coach had reappeared in front of the tavern, and Hamilton and Baldwin were talking to two men on horseback. As Sherman approached, he saw enough resemblance to realize it was father and son.

“I kick myself for being so foolish,” the older man said.

Baldwin saw Sherman approach. “Roger, meet Mr. Russell and his son, Charles.”

Sherman shook both men’s calloused hands.

“They own a farm six miles north. Seems they intend to foreclose.”

“Bastards,” the boy muttered.

The man gave his son a forlorn look. “Headin’ down to Trenton to see if I can talk ’em into more time.”

“How much do you owe?” Sherman asked.

“One hundred and sixty shillings. More’n I got. And the bastards won’t accept my New Jersey bonds. Three years I fought, and all I got was bloody worthless paper. Makes a man want to fight a revolution all over again.”

Sherman thought a minute. “How much money do you have?”

“Sixteen shillings, five pence. Sold my hogs.”

“That won’t stop them,” Hamilton said.

Sherman opened his purse and found his last sovereign. He didn’t know the measure of a British sovereign against a New Jersey shilling, but he knew hard money carried a heavy premium. Sherman held the heavy coin up and raised an eyebrow at Hamilton and Baldwin. Baldwin paused and then pulled out some coins that amounted to almost two sovereigns.

“How do you expect to buy ale this evening?” Hamilton asked.

“Keep one sovereign.” Sherman held his hand out to Hamilton. “Alex?”

“You’re mad. We don’t know these men. And besides⎯”

“We’re good, honest farmers,” the boy exclaimed, “and my father carries a ball in his shoulder to prove he’s a patriot. We don’t want your money.”

“The boy’s right. It’s not enough. We didn’t come begging.”

“How much can you spare, Alex?” Sherman asked.

“You ol’ skinflint,” Baldwin said. “As a founder of the Bank of New York, you can afford it better than we can.”

Hamilton looked as angry as Sherman had ever seen him. Finally, his features softened, and he said, “I’ll contribute another sovereign, but if they want his land, they’ll foreclose anyway.”

“They want my land, all right. It’s fertile, with a ready supply of water.”

The coachman walked over and insisted that they climb into the carriage. Sherman gave him a no-nonsense look and said, “We’ll be five minutes, and you will wait.”

The driver looked ready to argue but instead said, “Five minutes, and you’ll hear the crack of my whip.”

Sherman followed the coachman back to the carriage and took out his satchel. He extracted a piece of fine paper and his travel writing materials. It took him only a minute to write the brief letter.

Walking back to the group, he waved the paper to dry the ink. “Here, each of you sign.” Hamilton and Baldwin quickly scribbled their signatures. Sherman blew the ink dry and handed the letter to the farmer still mounted on his mare.

Embarrassed, the farmer handed the letter to his son. “I can’t read.”

After reading the note to himself, the boy sounded incredulous. “These men are congressmen. One is Alexander Hamilton.”

“Aid to Gen. Washington?”

The boy handed the letter back to his father. “The letter pleads to accept a partial payment and to extend the final payment until next September.”

“That might work. It’ll look like I have powerful friends. To think, a mile back I damned Congress.”

“As well you should,” Baldwin said. “A useless enterprise. We’re members of the Federal Convention that will put an end to the tomfoolery.”

“How can I ever repay you?”

“With three sovereigns mailed to me in New Haven, care of Yale University,” Sherman said.

The man looked down at the letter. “It may be a while.”

“I’m a patient man. Now we must get along.” Sherman handed him the coins. “Good luck.”

“Bless you. I’ll remember you in my prayers.”

“Remember us with a post,” Hamilton said. “In the meantime, when you hear of our work, support the new Constitution.”

“I’ll support anything proposed by you gentlemen. You’ve saved my family.”

Sherman grabbed his companions by the shoulders. “We must go.” As the three men raced for the coach, Sherman saw the driver make a show of whirling his whip. After scrambling into their seats, Baldwin sighed and said, “I haven’t felt so good since I left Georgia.”

As the coach lurched forward, Hamilton suddenly seemed to find something amusing.

With a head bow, Hamilton touched two fingers to his tricorn and said, “Roger, I apologize for laughing when you said you were colorful. I had no idea.”

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