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Financial Founding Fathers: The Men Who Made America Rich Hardcover – May 1, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In this spry, smart history, Alexander Hamilton, Albert Gallatin, Stephen Girard, Nicholas Biddle and Andrew Jackson emerge as fully human characters-rather than a set of financial theories or beliefs-struggling to set the economic machine of America in motion. Wright and Cowen use biography to address financial history, showing, say, how Alexander Hamilton's life influenced his theory of finance, and how Hamilton's theory of finance influenced the United States. Readers will find that financial markets and instruments at the time were surprisingly sophisticated, and fully relevant to the discussion of finance today. Hamilton's genius lay in his Bank of the United States, established to allow America one day to compete with the foremost powers of Europe, and the story of his successors-Gallatin, Girard, and Biddle, who wisely navigated Hamilton's Bank-take readers through crises brought on by such familiar factors as speculative booms and busts, war debts, political opposition and special interests. If there is any flaw to this compelling account of the nation's early finances it is that the authors seem to lack faith in their subject's entertainment value, gilding the lily with human interest stories and catchy chapter titles like "Apocalypse No." Illuminating and ingratiating, this glimpse into the economics of the nation's first century could very well serve as required reading for students of American history and economics.
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Top Customer Reviews
However, I did not think the interesting concept at the core of this book was helped by the extended digressions into the private lives of the men chosen by the authors to illustrate their public policy points and financial explanations.
Stephen Girard is titled "The Saint" for both helping his fellow citizens during an epidemic and funding a school for white male orphans. At one point, Girard's complicity in slavery (in that he owned a coffee plantation) is mentioned as his "one asterisk to our dubbing him for sainthood." Two pages later, Girard is described as having bribed customs officers, evaded taxes, violated usury laws, and manipulated shipping records to gain better insurance rates. Some Saint.
The authors are better with the history of financial transactions and banking, than political history. For example, they call John C. Calhoun "illustrious" with " a distinguished career", while I think this Southern senator helped propel our country into the bloodshed of the Civil War through his long career of defending slavery as an institution and state's rights as his political God.
Adding to the economic history, the book weaves in the personal histories of the founders. Quirky and eccentric, they, like Hamilton, somehow washed up on the shores of what was to be the United States--and they and their ideas prospered. These distinct and eccentric founders built a new system. How did they do it? The book lends great insight into the distinct country that was the United States. People everywhere must have dreams, but in the U.S. a financial system developed to fund those dreams.
Let's hope we still have remnants of the liberty in that early U.S. and people somewhere like those early founders.