Alexander Hamilton

Hamilton Central Park

Hamilton head

About the sculpture

This section is an excerpt from Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan: A Historical Guide (OMOM). It's adapted (with scads of images added) in the Guides Who Know app Monuments of Manhattan.The numbers in the text refer to other essays in Outdoor Monuments.

Few public figures have more than one monument in Manhattan. Hamilton has four. Why? Noted orator Chauncey M. Depew explained at the dedication of the Conrads statue:

Hamilton's reputation as a statesman is beyond the reach of detraction, his service to his country is hardly capable of overestimation, and the placing of his statue at this late day in the chief popular resort of the American Metropolis is a tardy and inadequate recognition of the debt which all generations in the United States will owe him.

Conrads's Hamilton was Manhattan's first outdoor sculpture of Hamilton, but not the first in the city. Half a century after the Revolutionary War, when New Yorkers finally had the leisure and wherewithal to erect monuments, the first over life-size sculpture produced: a fifteen-foot Hamilton that stood in the Merchant's Exchange. It was destroyed later the same year in the Great Fire of 1835. Conrads's 1880 sculpture was followed by the 1892 statue now at Hamilton Grange (OMOM #53), a 1908 statue at Columbia University (near Jefferson, OMOM #50), and one created around 1940 for the façade of the Museum of the City of New York (near Clinton, OMOM #48).

If you have a camera with a zoom lens, take a photo of this Hamilton's face and compare it with the bronze face of the Grange Hamilton. You'll be surprised at the difference the medium and color make in rendering such details as eyelids, cheekbones and hair. Conrads's Hamilton is of granite. Its flecked color makes it more difficult to distinguish details, and its hardness makes rendering nuances of texture impossible. On the other hand, granite is exceedingly durable. Many Manhattan pedestals carved of it show little deterioration as compared to, say, the soft white marble of the Genius on the Columbus Monument (OMOM #35).

In discussing Eleanor Roosevelt (OMOM #40), I said that evaluating a sculpture philosophically includes judging whether the statement implied in the theme (in her case, "Thinking is important") was true or false. The other aspect of philosophical evaluation is judging the scope of the theme. Many sculptures of animals are purely decorative arrangements of line and texture. Unless they refer somehow to human experience (a family group, a playful young creature), such sculptures have a more limited scope than representations of humans.

But there are also sculptures of humans that are narrow in scope, particularly those that record the subject's physical appearance but fail to capture any of his distinctive characteristics. This sculpture of Hamilton shows a late eighteenth-century gentleman about to speak in public, without implying any particular emotion or virtue. Compare it to the Hamilton at Hamilton Grange (OMOM #53) in which Hamilton is not just performing one of his habitual actions (giving a speech) but bursting with energy - one of Hamilton's notable traits.

About the subject

This is an excerpt from Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan: A Historical Guide (OMOM). It's adapted (with scads of images added) in the Guides Who Know app Monuments of Manhattan.

Hamilton is a fascinating figure: a highly intelligent businessman and lawyer, an excellent orator, an efficient and accomplished writer. Theodore Roosevelt (OMOM #42) praised him as "the most brilliant American statesman who ever lived, possessing the loftiest and keenest intellect of his time." As Washington's first secretary of the Treasury, his actions and arguments had an enduring effect on American government.

Like Roosevelt, Hamilton was known as an advocate of "big government." Roosevelt thought government should paternally protect the welfare of Americans. In his opinion the biggest threat to Americans was big business: large corporations were by nature mendacious and corrupt.

Hamilton advocated a strong central government for a completely different reason. Under the Articles of Confederation, the thirteen states were semi-independent and correspondingly weak. Hamilton wanted a federal government capable of defending the United States and conducting foreign affairs.

Hamilton also advocated government regulation of internal and external trade:

The principal purposes to be answered by Union are these—The common defence of the members—the preservation of the public peace as well against internal convulsions as external attacks—the regulation of commerce with other nations and between the States—the superintendence of our intercourse, political & commercial, with foreign countries. -- The Federalist No. 23, 12/18/1787

Although he favored business, he was not a laissez-faire capitalist. In 1782 he wrote:

There are some who maintain that trade will regulate itself, and is not to be benefited by the encouragements, or restraints of government. This is one of those wild speculative paradoxes, which have grown into credit among us, contrary to the uniform practice and sense of the most enlightened nations.

Hamilton's economic ideas were based on study of the policies of such "enlightened nations" - European governments. European monarchs espoused mercantilism, which held that a country could prosper only if it kept cash within its borders by promoting production and maintaining a favorable balance of trade. An individual's right to trade for the best or cheapest products was subordinate to the wealth of the country as a whole.

Hamilton advocated mercantilism rather than an economic policy based on the concept of individual rights stated in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. This idea threw the door open for business regulation of all sorts, to an extent that Hamilton himself could probably not have imagined. Nevertheless, Hamilton deserves credit for setting the new United States government on its financial feet and promoting business to the best of his ability, because in his opinion, doing so would promote the prosperity of all Americans.

December 1, 1787:  Hamilton issues Federalist Paper #15

Immersed as I often am in history, I sometimes find myself asking "chronologically challenged" questions such as: What would the Founding Fathers have said about the United Nations? Here's an excerpt from Federalist Papers #15 (12/1/1787), by Alexander Hamilton:

There is nothing absurd or impracticable in the idea of a league or alliance between independent nations, for certain defined purposes precisely stated in a treaty; regulating all the details of time, place, circumstance and quantity; leaving nothing to future discretion; and depending for its execution on the good faith of the parties. Compacts of this kind exist among all civilized nations subject to the usual vicissitudes of peace and war, of observance and non observance, as the interests or passions of the contracting powers dictate. In the early part of the present [eighteenth] century, there was an epidemical rage in Europe for this species of compacts; from which the politicians of the times fondly hoped for benefits which were never realized. With a view to establishing the equilibrium of power and the peace of that part of the world, all the resources of negotiation were exhausted and triple and quadruple alliances were formed; but they were scarcely formed before they were broken, giving an instructive but afflicting lesson to mankind how little dependence is to be placed on treaties, which have no other sanction than the obligations of good faith; and which oppose general considerations of peace and justice to the impulse of any immediate interest and passion. --Alexander Hamilton, Federalist Paper #15 (12/1/1787)

August 16, 1788: Hamilton issues part 2 of "Concluding Remarks," the last of the Federalist Papers

Two excerpts from Federalist Paper no. 85, issued August 14 and 16, 1788:

The additional securities to republican government, to liberty and to property, to be derived from the adoption of the plan under consideration, consist chiefly in the restraints which the preservation of the Union will impose on local factions and insurrections, and on the ambition of powerful individuals in single States, who may acquire credit and influence enough, from leaders and favorites, to become the despots of the people; in the diminution of the opportunities to foreign intrigue, which the dissolution of the Confederacy would invite and facilitate; in the prevention of extensive military establishments, which could not fail to grow out of wars between the States in a disunited situation; in the express guaranty of a republican form of government to each; in the absolute and universal exclusion of titles of nobility; and in the precautions against the repetition of those practices on the part of the State governments which have undermined the foundations of property and credit, have planted mutual distrust in the breasts of all classes of citizens, and have occasioned an almost universal prostration of morals. ...

It may be in me a defect of political fortitude, but I acknowledge that I cannot entertain an equal tranquillity with those who affect to treat the dangers of a longer continuance in our present situation as imaginary. A nation, without a national government, is, in my view, an awful spectacle. The establishment of a Constitution, in time of profound peace, by the voluntary consent of a whole people, is a prodigy, to the completion of which I look forward with trembling anxiety. I can reconcile it to no rules of prudence to let go the hold we now have, in so arduous an enterprise, upon seven out of the thirteen States, and after having passed over so considerable a part of the ground, to recommence the course.

Links to each of the Federalist Papers

Further Reading