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American Machiavelli: Alexander Hamilton and the Origins of U.S. Foreign Policy Paperback – July 30, 2007

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 376 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1 edition (July 30, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521708745
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521708746
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #841,223 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Reaffirm(s) Alexander Hamilton's standing as one of the greatest of the American Founding Fathers. Recommended." R.C. Cottrell, California State University, Chico, CHOICE

"The book repays a reading...its nuance is enlightening." Kevin R.C. Gutzman, Western Connecticut State University, H-Net

"....Harper concentrates on Hamilton's role in foreign policy. He also wants to set straight all those Jefferson lovers and the school of historians - John Ferling, David McCullough, et al. - who never gave Hamilton his due or, worse, gave him a place in history as the 'manipulator and cad.' The twentieth century was surely Jefferson's century. But that's because of what Jefferson stood for - liberty and equality - not for what he actually accomplished, argues Harper....[I]n the end, though, Harper links Machiavelli and Hamilton neatly with his own worldview. Hamilton is the inspiration for those who want a US foreign policy today 'less grandiose and ideological.' Neocons beware." Weekly Standard

"...American Machiavelli [is] remarkably well-written, given Harper's background as an academic. Whereas Chernow delved up Hamilton's personality, Harper chooses instead to focus on Hamilton's propinquity to the great Florentine diplomat and philosopher, Niccolo Machiavelli." The Plain Dealer

"Amid the current revival of interest in Alexander Hamilton, American Machiavelli offers at once the freshest and cleverest contribution to the reappraisal of America's first realist statesman and state-builder. John Lamberton Harper's Hamilton is no amoral cynic in the crude sense with which we disparage men and measures as Machiavellian. Rather, Hamilton appears here as a shrewd and subtle judge of the national interests of a fledgling Republic, seeking to navigate the tumultuous currents of the 1790s much as Machiavelli sought to chart the course that his beloved Florence should follow amid the turmoil of the early sixteenth century. By juxtaposing Hamilton's concerns with Machiavelli's, Harper provides a new and provocative context within which to consider recurring dilemmas in the conduct of American foreign policy." Jack Rakove, Coe Professor of History and American Studies, Professor of Political Science, Stanford University

"Harper's premise--that we can better understand Alexander Hamilton's character, vision, and career, in all their rich complexity, in the light of the Florentine diplomatist and thinker Machiavelli--offers a fascinating point of departure for this revisionist study. By exploring the convergence of biography, intellectual history, and the larger geopolitical context in each man's life, Harper offers a fresh look at both Hamilton and the American Revolutionary project of the late eighteenth century. The result is, at one and the same time, a compelling (and largely flattering) partial biography of America's often forgotten Founding Father and a detailed reassessment of American politics and diplomacy during the turbulent decade of the 1790s." Drew R. McCoy, Jacob and Frances Hiatt Professor of History, Clark University

"A penetrating, provocative study of the brilliantly controversial founder. Hamilton might not have embraced the comparison with Machiavelli, but he certainly endorsed--and in fact embodied--many of the Renaissance realist's views on the nature of individuals and states. Harper's account is especially welcome in the increasingly Hamiltonian--dare one say Machiavellian?--current phase of American foreign policy." H.W. Brands, author of The First American and What America Owes the World

"This is the best book on the origins of American Foreign Policy since Felix Gilbert's classic To the Farewell Address. Harper has incisively delved into the mind of Hamilton and the circumstances that shaped his political thinking in general as well as in foreign policy. He has illuminated strains of thought that still shape this nation's course in the world." John Milton Cooper, Jr., E. Gordon Fox Professor of American Institutions, University of Wisconsin, Madison

"...a judicious interpretation of the key events in the history of Hamilton's foreign policy and an intriguing interpretation of how Hamilton's approach corresponded to Machiavelli's analysis of events in his own time." The Journal of Southern History, Jerald A. Combs, San Francisco State University

"American Machiavelli is a very effective and interesting account of the foreign policy of the Federalist era and of Hamilton's significant contribution to it. It is made all the more effective by Harper's heavy reliance on primary sources. It may not be accessible to all readers, but I highly recommend it for those especially interested in the subject." Gregg L. Frazer

"Harper's contention that Hamilton governed as a Machiavellian is not an original point. But what is original here is Harper's illumination of the nature of that connection and the larger similarities in the shared understanding of realpolitik that characterized both men. By seeing Hamilton as a state-builder and by connecting his thoughts on state building back to Machiavelli's very similar teachings, Harper has provided a fresh way of understanding the complex Hamilton. Additionally, by focusing on Hamilton the statebuilder, Harper has emphasized a sometimes overlooked aspect of his career, but one which is consonant with other studies emphasizing his quest for fame and glory as a driving passion." New Perspectives on the Eighteenth Century Todd Estes, Oakland University

"...truly original is in its explicit paralleling of Hamilton and the sixteenth century Florentine politico Niccolo Machiavelli." -Kevin M. Gannon, JOURNAL OF THE EARLY REPUBLIC

Book Description

This book is a narrative study of the career of Alexander Hamilton (1757-1804), the illegitimate West Indian emigrant who became the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury and President George Washington's closest collaborator. It focuses on Hamilton's controversial activities as a foreign policy adviser and aspiring military leader during the 1790s, a decade of bitter division over the role of the Federal government in the economy. Drawing parallels between Hamilton and the sixteenth century Italian writer and political adviser, Niccolò Machiavelli, prize-winning historian John Lamberton Harper provides and original and highly readable account of Hamilton's famous clashes with Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, and his key role in defining the national security strategy of the United States.

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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Jorje Chica on August 24, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Alexander Hamilton no doubt read Niccolo Machiavelli, but his writings indicate he looked elsewhere for his inspiration. Instead, Hamilton was inspired by the virtuous lives described by Plutarch (Machiavelli also studied Plutarch) and by the English Constitution so praised by Montesquieu. Our modern instinct (as reflected by another reviewer here) is to reject any similarity between Machiavelli and one of the greatest of our Founding Fathers. The term Machiavellian has become, unfortunately, a political epithet. It wasn't for nothing that Aaron Burr was dubbed the "modern Machiavelli."

Nevertheless, Professor Harper makes a persuasive case for the similarity of outlook between Machiavelli and Hamilton. Both were democrats who saw that energy in an executive was essential to the proper functioning of a republic, both in foreign as well as domestic affairs. Hamilton also recognized that sometimes the executive, to use Machiavelli's phrase, has "to be not good."

Harper's work is very well written and documented. Considering Harper is a diplomatic historian by trade, he is to be applauded for his intense study and mastery of the literature of the revolutionary and founding era. American Machiavelli admirably fills a gap in the otherwise voluminous and well-trodden historiography of Alexander Hamilton.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Rocco Dormarunno on June 4, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I sort of wish that Professor Harper hadn't pushed so hard the Machiavelli/Hamilton comparison. Hamilton tried to model himself after so many other political thinkers and theorists, and a case could be made that some of his policies and initiatives were anti-Machiavellian. But that's my only gripe, and it's not a major one. John Harper's "American Machiavelli : Alexander Hamilton and the Origins of U.S. Foreign Policy" is a brilliant examination of a facet of Hamilton's career that hasn't been spotlighted. Most biographies of Hamilton and/or the Founders tend to focus mainly on Hamilton's economic prowess and his dedication to a commercial American society versus the more Jeffersonian agrarian society.
But Hamilton kept an astute eye on the goings-on in Europe, like the need to trade with Great Britain and the growing horrors of the revolution in France. In one regard, the need to trade with Great Britain was an outgrowth of his economic concerns but, more importantly, to maintain a commercial link with it nearly guaranteed peace with a nation that had so huge a navy. Harper goes to great lengths to emphasize Hamilton's frustration with John Adams' foreign policy. Because of his alleged "monarchist" sympathies, Hamilton was essentially dismissed by the Republicans. He warned that the failure to maintain friendly ties with Great Britain might lead to future tensions. Unfortunately, Hamilton was right and in 1812... well, we know what happened. Fortunately, Hamilton didn't live to see his dark prophecy fulfilled.
In any event, Professor Harper's study is worth reading for students of American history and people interested in the tangled world of international policy.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By 1. on June 3, 2004
Format: Hardcover
According to Harper, Alexander Hamilton was a pragmatist just like Machiavelli. Hamilton favored greater ties to England because the United States needed the English navy for its protection and England was the main market for American goods. Hamilton's pragmatic policies toward England were in direct contrast to the ideologically driven Jefferson who favored an impratical alliance with the French because France was a republic after 1792.Hamilton was also concerned about the French retaking Louisiana since this might threaten American interests in the southern part of the United States. However, after 1796, Hamilton's concerns were ignored by John Adams, who supported an alliance with France. The only weakness of this book is that Harper spends too much time describing the 1796 election which had little to do with the foreign policy issues mentioned in the rest of the book. Otherwise this is an extremely well written analysis of Hamilton's views on the foreign policy of the early Republic.
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