When I visited Mount Vernon last summer, I noted that I might be considered contrarian for reading Ron Chernow’s biography of Washington, while the rest of the world was reading his Alexander Hamilton. I enjoyed the Washington bio so much, however, that I too succumbed — & found the Hamilton work equally enjoyable & fascinating.
Paterson’s Great Falls & Hamilton statue
So much so that it led me to visit a place very important for his vision of establishing a vibrant manufacturing economy – Paterson, New Jersey. This was the site of the Great Falls of the Passaic River, which Hamilton envisioned as the water power source for a planned industrial city that would allow the new country to become economically independent. He described his vision in a ‘Report on Manufactures’, and established the Society for Establishing Useful Manufactures (SUM), New Jersey’s first corporation. The water channels and raceways developed did indeed lead to a booming manufacturing hub, for locomotives, textiles, sailcloth, airplane engines, and a host of other manufactured products. Today, the Paterson Museum documents this industrial history, while the Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park has a statue honoring SUM’s patron and the city’s founder.
Hamilton memorial in Weehawken
And since I was in northern New Jersey, I also visited a place that was a lot more familiar: Weehawken, site of his famous (and ultimately fatal) duel, and my weekday home for four years during my United Nations posting. Every morning I would run along the palisades overlooking the Hudson River, passing by the memorial marking the site above river where the duel took place (and holding the large boulder he leaned against after receiving the fatal wound). Today, the skyline across the river is itself an even greater tribute to his genius.
There is one problem in reading such illustrious biographies, however — the recognition of just how far our political system has devolved. The conflict amongst parties remains the same…. but some current participants have succeeded by leaving science – and now even basic facts – far behind, in a scary political fantasy. It portends a rather troubling future when the facts catch up (as they surely will).