Tag Archives: Oxford History of the United States

“I, Eliza Hamilton” by Susan H Scott and other books about Alexander Hamilton

I, Eliza Hamilton

I feel like I’m sneaking up on Alexander Hamilton.

I tried to read Ron Chernow’s biography Alexander Hamilton (2005) but got bogged down. I may return to it. I “accidentally” listened to The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-178” (2007) by Robert Middlekauf, part of the Oxford History of the United States. (On a long family road trip, the driver gets to choose the recorded book, and even when interested, I sometimes doze off.) I haven’t watched the musical Hamilton, or even heard the sound track.

I accepted I, Eliza Hamilton from an historical fiction enthusiast. Conflict of interest right there…  I ask the usual question…why fictionalize an interesting and fairly well documented life? I guess some people just HAVE to have dialogue! And they can’t accept that there are questions that can’t be answered. Did Hamilton marry for money and social status?

My opinion about Scott’s book? So so. Romanticized. Sentimental. But I kept reading. Call it a C+/B-.

What I really want to understand about Hamilton (and American society at that time) was the role of dueling. Scott (in her discussion notes) says Hamilton was involved in ELEVEN duels or threatened duels. She is the first author I have read to raise the possibility that duelists did not always shoot to kill. (Their weapons were of poor quality and most were bad shots.) What was the nature of the “honor” being defended in these encounters? If, as I have read elsewhere, dueling (which was illegal or severely frowned upon) was an alternate dispute resolution system, did this reflect a flaw in the laws and courts that might better have handled the disputes? What kept dueling from spiraling down into blood feud?

Guess I better keep reading.

 

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“What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815 – 1848” by Daniel W Howe, part of “The Oxford History of the United States”

What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848 (Oxford History of the United States)

Over the recent Thanksgiving holiday I spent many hours in the car, driving to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, then to a suburb of Washington DC and finally home to New Jersey. Recorded books make grueling trips bearable! My fellow traveler is working his way (selectively) through The Oxford History of the United States.

The Oxford History (conceived in the 1950s and published starting in 1982) will eventually consist of 12 volumes. They are not strictly sequential. (Some deal with a topic rather than a time period.) We are making no effort to read them in order. My husband began with The Republic for Which it Stands, covering 1865 to 1896 (Reconstruction and the “Gilded Age”). Then we jumped back in time to What Hath God Wrought.

Initially, this book was going to be titled Jacksonian America. Wow! I didn’t realize how much there is to hate about Andrew Jackson! His attitudes toward African Americans (enslaved or free) and native Americans were ugly. The rest of the world was turning it’s back on the “peculiar institution”. How would America move forward? The US was on shaky moral ground.

Taking a step back, the value of this book is that it shows how unprecedented and experimental the newborn United States was. The future success of our country was by no means assured.

Okay, I admit to having slept through a good deal of the recorded text, but it didn’t matter. What I learned was interesting! Consider, for example, the role of violence in civic life. Why so many riots? This book was published in 2007, but it has a remarkable amount to say about politics and behavior in 2018.

Three issues in this book that particularly engaged me were

  • the abolition movement
  • “Indian removal”, as in The Trail of Tears
  • women’s rights, especially suffrage

Sometimes supporters of these movements aided each other, and sometimes they found themselves at cross purposes.

When I’m on the road, I often need music or conversation, but well written history also makes the miles roll past. Previously I’ve read popular books about World War II. Shifting towards these more scholarly works has been worthwhile.