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The Founders and Finance: How Hamilton, Gallatin, and Other Immigrants Forged a New Economy Hardcover – September 10, 2012
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A compulsively readable book that is both a dual biography of the two most influential Treasury Secretaries and a study of American exceptionalism―the way in which immigrants played a leading role in building American institutions. (Harold James, author of Making the European Monetary Union)
Tom McCraw's new book is a brilliant account of what the great immigrant financiers accomplished and why their wider-world perspectives became crucial to building the American nation and its economy. (Richard Sylla, New York University)
McCraw has observed a singular fact about this nation's early history: most of the people who directed its finances were immigrants. From Alexander Hamilton to Albert Gallatin, McCraw traces the influence of these remarkable foreign-born financiers, and reveals how their partly-imported sensibilities averted what seemed to be the fledgling republic's most likely fate: bankruptcy. This is history of the highest order. (Roger Lowenstein, author of The End of Wall Street and When Genius Failed)
McCraw sheds light on personalities and policies in this overview of the development of early American finance. The newly independent United States 'had long been bankrupt'; both the fledgling national government and the states were in hock for the War of Independence… Hamilton's decisive advocacy of a national bank and assumption of state war debts laid the basis for economic expansion and cemented the dominance of federal power. McCraw then turns to Gallatin's ascendancy in Congress, where in 1796 he denounced the growth in the national debt and decried high military spending. Starting with the still-resonant contrast between the 'big government' Hamilton and 'small government' Gallatin, McCraw's wealth of historical data should interest any lay historian, particularly when he presents the many 'what if's.' (Publishers Weekly 2012-08-06)
Only two men are honored with statues outside the U.S. Treasury building: Alexander Hamilton and Albert Gallatin. McCraw explores their qualities, foibles, achievements, and failures in order to show why both deserve credit for laying the foundations of American governmental finance...McCraw is a talented storyteller. His highly readable and fascinating work portrays the brilliance of Hamilton and Gallatin against the difficulty of their time and is strongly recommended to all readers interested in American and financial history. (Lawrence Maxted Library Journal (starred review) 2012-09-01)
If you think the current system is a mess, consider the national economy after the American Revolution... A welcome addition to business and financial history, illuminating little-known aspects of the early republic. (Kirkus Reviews 2012-09-15)
A detailed account of the financial negotiations that helped underwrite the United States might not strike some readers as inherently gripping fare, but McCraw has made it every bit as interesting as the more standard accounts of battling redcoats. Men like Morris, Gallatin, and Hamilton had enormous potential to become 'the most dangerous men in the world' (in fact they did become so, in the eyes of their many enemies), and The Founders and Finance takes us into the heart of their temptations. (Steve Donoghue Open Letters Monthly 2012-10-22)
We may not know what we are doing with our own public finances, but perhaps we may take some comfort in the fact that the Founders, two centuries ago, did not know what they were doing, either. (Gordon Wood New Republic 2012-12-07)
Well told by McCraw are the familiar stories of Hamilton's consolidation and funding of the public debt, of his incessant fighting with Thomas Jefferson, and of his final duel with Aaron Burr...McCraw shows just how different was Jefferson's party from the one doing business under the Republican banner today. (James Grant Wall Street Journal 2012-11-02)
As Thomas K. McCraw relates here, America lurched from one financial crisis to another between 1780 and 1840. At many times, it was entirely plausible that the young nation's financial troubles might disintegrate it...The achievements of Morris, Hamilton, and Gallatin cannot be overstated. They erected America's 'basic capitalist framework' by establishing a steady national currency and loosed gushing wells of both private and public credit. These immigrants also fashioned a system of taxation and collection, tamed the nation's debt, and fostered the development of a manufacturing economy. And these astonishing achievements came despite ardent political opposition...The lessons of The Founders and Finance are that America's finances have been far worse than they are today, and that good policies can triumph over political stupidity.
(Kevin R. Kosar Weekly Standard 2013-10-14)
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Top Customer Reviews
McCraw's positive effort at analysis is to stress Hamilton and Gallatin as immigrants, part of an argument he makes that immigrants played a very large role in the development of the early American economy. This argument is overblown. McCraw argues that immigrants were only a small fraction of the American population. This is correct, but small compared to what? Certainly compared to the huge influx that occurred in the later 19th century but the correct comparison would be to contemporary Britain.Read more ›
It was with this background that our first president, George Washington, recruited his most trusted military aide, Alexander Hamilton, to his cabinet in the position of Secretary of the Treasury. This was perhaps Washington's most successful act as president. Hamilton, a poor immigrant from St. Croix, proved to be a remarkable choice. He was industrious and smart, organized and persuasive, forceful and unyielding in his views. He had the vision to form the first Bank of the United States, a major step in expanding the supply of money in the economy. He paid the debts of the country at face value, a step that stimulated the extension of credit from formerly wary foreign investors. He supported the developing manufacturing industries.
For all of Hamilton's talents, he had his full share of faults.Read more ›
The biographies are short - fact filled and interesting, but contain nothing that hasn't been said before. And in the case of Hamilton, it is vastly trumped by Ron Chernow's epic "Alexander Hamilton" (though, in fairness, Chernow spends 800 pages on that 'trump'). Author Thomas McCraw does provide occasional insight that the immigrant nature of these men gave them unique perceptions of government, military, taxation, and banking. But... if you hope to learn more about the minds of these men as it relates to the details of finance you may come away disappointed. In a much earlier work, Professor Clinton Rossiter was able to analyze Hamilton's political mind with astonishing effectiveness in Alexander Hamilton and the Constitution. That kind of dissection is not even attempted here.
The book is, however, an easy read and informative. McCraw shows an even-handed approach to the Federalist - Republican political brawl (Hamilton - Jefferson), a subject on which some historians fall prey to airing their own convictions. If the read is your first for either of these two great men - you very well may rate this book higher than my tepid 3-star "Its OK", but as earlier said, these biographies have been done before and for me the promise (hope?) of financial analysis was not delivered, or at most reflected in broad philosophies rather than a detailed examination.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Every high school student (and possibly college student) should read this book. The origins of the financial systems we are still living with.Published 6 months ago by Robert Smoot
Thomas McCraw's book is an great illuminating look into the United States first generation of government financiers. Read morePublished 6 months ago by Tenchi in DC
Hamilton and Gallatin were genius in founding policies and institutions that created the greatest political economy of all time. Read morePublished 7 months ago by Lex Hubbard
A really enlightening and enjoyable read about the backgrounds of some men that we, or at least, I did not know well from my studies in U.S. History. Read morePublished 17 months ago by Ben Wechsler
The role of finance in our history is often over looked or downplayed at best. As this book points out, understanding the role of finance gives us a perspective and an appreciation... Read morePublished 21 months ago by Donald A Chambers
Great historical content, well written and insightful on the subject. Alexander Hamilton was a brilliant mind to have had such amazing foresight into the financial structure that... Read morePublished 22 months ago by Elizabeth Tantillo
A great read. It is easy to see why the author (who died late 2012) won a Pulitzer prize for history in 1985. I'm glad he finished the book before his passing. Read morePublished on January 27, 2014 by P. GIBSON
One of the great lessons of our founding fathers that in, in my opinion, should be mandatory reading in public education.Published on December 20, 2013 by John H. Baker