Hamilton Now

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It’s amusing and sometimes provocative for historians to ask questions like “What would Hamilton do about the state of the economy if he were alive today?” Or “What would Washington do about foreign policy, Madison about civil liberties?” But the answers to such questions are inevitably a reflection of what the author of such a piece himself believes should be done about the matter: the only thing we can know for sure that any historic figure would do about anything at all is what he actually did do in his own time given his own problems, opportunities, and character.

Even that knowledge is hard to come by and to interpret. Alexander Hamilton, for example, has been seen by historians as a dictatorial opportunist who exalted the moneyed interests; he has also been seen—more convincingly—as a champion of personal merit and liberty, an essentially humane and incorruptible man who wished to establish our economy on principles of growth and fairness. The contradictions in these views of the man are simply evidence of the complex nature of history and the individual. Nevertheless, John Steele Gordon’s piece in this issue should help. It tells us exactly how Hamilton went about the business of rescuing a frightened, fledgling nation from the terrors of bad debt and uncertainty. As for what that quintessential financial expert would do today , I hope he would at least reply to any personal challenge by hiring the right press agent to defend his honor—so he might live to fight another day for the public credit and the public good.

Housekeeping: In our December issue we casually invited readers to contribute short items telling of their personal brushes with history. So many responded that it was a simple matter to begin the regular column we’ve been publishing since April. Obviously we will never have enough space or issues to run every item we receive, but don’t hesitate to continue to send them on. We’ll choose the ones we think are the best or the most appropriate and pay you for those used.

We’re pleased to announce that for the sixth consecutive year American Heritage has been a finalist in the National Magazine Awards. This year we were chosen in the categories of General Excellence and Design. We now have been named as a finalist for a total of nine times—six times for General Excellence, twice for Design, and once for Single-Topic Issue. We have won the award twice for General Excellence and once for Single-Topic.

This year we have also won the National Cowboy Hall of Fame Western Heritage Award—our seventh—for the best magazine article on a Western theme. (It was Oakley Hall’s “Powder River Country,” April 1989.) The award is a handsome bronze statue of a wrangler on horseback. If we have the good fortune to win any more of them, we’ll have to build a corral.

Byron Dobell