Monday, July 4, 2011

Alexander Hamilton, Hypomanic Founding Father

This Fourth of July special is lifted from a much longer article on mcmanweb, a review of John Gartner's "The Hypomanic Edge" ...

"Danger, Hypomanic on Board," could well be the other title of "Washington Crossing the Delaware." With him that historic night was Alexander Hamilton, most famous for being on the losing end of a duel with Aaron Burr. Biographer Ron Chernow describes Hamilton as "a volatile personality," and an "exuberant genius" who was prone to poor judgment and "prey to depression." Dr Gartner surveyed five of Hamilton's biographers without telling them the illness he was investigating. Even though only one biographer had suggested in his book that Hamilton may have had bipolar disorder, all of them overwhelmingly in the survey awarded the Founding Father very high marks for hypomania.

Soon after graduating from Columbia University in two years, Hamilton caught revolutionary fever. In one two-week period he spewed out the equivalent of a book in the form of 60,000 words of propaganda. During a raid, when everyone else had ducked for cover, Hamilton walked straight into an artillery bombardment. He soon caught the attention of George Washington and became his aide de camp, only to impulsively quit a few years later. At Yorktown, now with a battlefield command, he paraded his troops in front of British cannons. The British were too dumbstruck to open fire. Later in the battle, Hamilton led a reckless charge that turned out right for all the wrong reasons.

Hamilton was the main instigator of the Constitutional Convention, but one biographer described him during this period as "restless and depressed," and another "like he was on something." He delivered an impassioned six-hour speech, then walked out for good in disgust, unable to appreciate why the delegates couldn’t simply settle their differences and back his brilliant proposals. Nevertheless, once the document was ready for ratification by the states, Hamilton became its greatest champion, cranking out 51 of the 85 op-ed pieces collectively known as the Federalist Papers. He was also the political point man in winning over New York.

By the time Hamilton assumed his post as first Secretary of the Treasury, the new nation was on the brink of financial collapse. Hamilton’s inspired plan was to consolidate state debts and federal debts into one restructured national debt, paid off in monthly installments. The result was a strong and robust federal government that set the scene for a nation of capitalist go-getters, much to the consternation of Thomas Jefferson who envisioned a pastoral utopia. Fittingly, Hamilton is buried in a graveyard on Wall Street.

See full article: Hypomanic Nation

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