J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Thursday, May 14, 2020

Knott on the Washington-Hamilton Relationship, 15 May

On Friday, 15 May, the Lexington Historical Society is hosting its annual Cronin Lecture—but this year the talk will be online.

The event announcement says:
Join Stephen Knott, co-author [with Tony Williams] of Washington and Hamilton: The Alliance that Forged America, to hear the tumultuous story of the nation’s founding through the unlikely duo of George Washington and Alexander Hamilton.

Despite differences in temperament and ambition, Washington and Hamilton were able to form a partnership that brought America through the battlefields of the Revolution, the Constitutional Convention, and the early years of the republic. The Library of Law and Liberty writes that Knott is able to to explore the “volatile but ultimately durable alliance of George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, showing that constitutional statesmanship is not some mythical creature.”
Knott is a Professor of National Security Affairs at the United States Naval War College in Newport. He formerly co-chaired the Presidential Oral History Program at the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia.

This event is scheduled to take place on the Zoom platform on Friday from 7:00 to 8:30 P.M. It is free, but one must register to access the feed. Refreshments will be served as long as you serve yourself refreshments. Thanks to the Lexington Historical Society for making this event available.

Knott’s book falls into the subsection of recent Founders’ biographies that look at two important people instead of one, or instead of several. The relationship between those politicians, such books argue, shaped their work and thus the republic.

If we were to plot the pairings of all those books as a network, Washington would be one of the biggest nodes, with almost everybody wanting to be close to him. In addition to Knott and Williams’s look at Washington and Hamilton, I can think of:
  • David A. Clary, Adopted Son: Washington, Lafayette, and the Friendship that Saved the Revolution
  • Thomas Fleming: The Great Divide: The Conflict Between Washington and Jefferson that Defined a Nation
  • Gerard W. Gawalt, George Mason and George Washington: The Power of Principle
  • Edward J. Larson, Franklin and Washington: The Founding Partnership
  • Eric Leibiger, Founding Friendship: George Washington, James Madison, and the Creation of the American Republic
  • Dave R. Palmer, George Washington and Benedict Arnold: A Tale of Two Patriots
Jefferson would have a lot of links, too, not all of them so friendly. In addition to Fleming’s book about Washington and Jefferson, there are:
  • Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg, Madison and Jefferson
  • Tom Chaffin, Revolutionary Brothers: Thomas Jefferson, the Marquis de Lafayette, and the Friendship that Helped Forge Two Nations
  • John Ferling, Jefferson and Hamilton: The Rivalry that Forged a Nation
  • Gerard W. Gawalt, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson: Creating the American Republic
  • James F. Simon, What Kind of Nation: Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, and the Epic Struggle to Create a United States
  • Gordon S. Wood, Friends Divided: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson
Hamilton’s recent popularity is evident in the growing number of books about his relationships, though it’s telling that most of those are about rivalries rather than long partnerships. In addition to the two titles already mentioned, I found:
  • Jay Cost, The Price of Greatness: Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and the Creation of American Oligarchy
  • Thomas Fleming, Duel: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and the Future of America
And now Madison has been paired up with three other Founders. Not to mention outliers:
  • Yuval Levin, The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left
There may well be other two-Founder biographies I’ve missed, so leave comments. I’m not including dual biographies of married couples or blood relations, nor studies of trios and larger groups.


Don Carleton said...

I'm not sure the world needs any more books about Washington for a spell, maybe it's time to take a breather!

J. L. Bell said...

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with the dual-biography approach or the number of such books from the last couple of decades. I just note the trend.

As for Washington books, they’re probably a constant in America. But would we really want to forgo The Only Unavoidable Subject of Regret, The Cabinet, or Never Caught?