HamilTEN Questions with Michael E. Newton
Michael E. Newton graduated summa cum laude with honors and multiple degrees from Arizona State University. He is the author of The Path to Tyranny: A History of Free Society's Descent into Tyranny as well as Angry Mobs and Founding Fathers: The Fight for Control of the American Revolution.
His current book Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years provides a comprehensive and accurate account of Alexander Hamilton’s origins, youth, and indispensable services during the American Revolution. Read the full book summary.
HamilTEN Questions with Michael E. Newton on Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years
1. How were you first introduced to Alexander Hamilton?
I’ve always been a fan of history, especially American history and most especially the American Revolution and Founding. As a child, I read books on the major Founding Fathers—Washington, Jefferson, Franklin. Oddly, Hamilton was missing, though he appeared in many of those other books. In 2004, I read Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton, which I believe was the first Hamilton bio I read.
2. Why did you decide to write a book about Alexander Hamilton?
After reading Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton in 2004, I did nothing more with Hamilton for a while. When I wrote Angry Mobs and Founding Fathers (published in 2011), I was surprised to learn that Hamilton was not only involved in virtually every aspect of the American Revolution and Founding, but also that nearly everything he did and even the facts of his life are surrounded by so much controversy. It was then that I decided I needed to learn more about Hamilton, that I needed to know whether Hamilton was an indispensable Founding Father who Washington relied on and the Federalists followed, or if he was the villain that Jefferson portrayed him to be.
3. What separates your book from what is already out there in the Hamiltonian literature?
Aside from the many new discoveries presented in Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years, I focused on separating the facts of Hamilton’s life from the many uncorroborated tales that have been told. Instead of simply repeating what previous Hamilton biographers have written, I examined every assertion to ensure that they are backed up by solid evidence, eyewitness testimony, or objective analysis of the relevant evidence. If they are not, I determine the plausibility of that information.
This means that many interesting stories about Hamilton have been debunked or shown to be based on flimsy evidence, but it also enables us to find new details that previously had been overlooked. Additionally, even though this volume follows a chronological path for the most part, it is actually organized by topic, enabling a more detailed analysis and deeper understanding of the various aspects of Hamilton’s life.
4. What most surprised you during your research on Hamilton's life?
I was most surprised by Hamilton’s personal interactions with the leading men of his day. At every stage of his life—from his time working at a mercantile company in St. Croix to his schooling at Elizabethtown Academy in New Jersey to his attendance at King’s College in New York City to his captaincy of an artillery company to his serving as Washington’s aide-de-camp to his command of a battalion of light infantry—Hamilton attracted the attention and became friends with virtually every important figure he dealt with. We all know about Hamilton’s genius and work ethic, but his friendships and interactions with the other leading men of his age is less well known but equally as important and perhaps even more interesting.
5. If you could ask Alexander Hamilton any question, what would it be?
How to fix our current economic and political problems. By this, I don’t mean a theoretical solution, but a practical, step-by-step plan to implement said solution. Hamilton lived alongside many great thinkers and statesmen, but it was Hamilton who implemented their grandiose scheme of a new nation under the U.S. Constitution.
6. What is a new discovery (or two) that is being introduced with your book?
Two of the most interesting discoveries are: 1) In June 1775, within weeks of enlisting in the New York militia, Hamilton was recommended for promotion by being included in a “List of Gentlemen who were deemed Qualified to Serve as Officers in the Provincial Army . . . if one should be raised.” 2) In November 1777, when Hamilton was just 20 years old and not even old enough to vote, the outgoing adjutant general of the army recommended Hamilton be appointed to fill the vacant position. At the time, Hamilton was deathly ill and therefore unable to fill the post, so the appointment was given to someone else.
7. If you could be present for any event in Hamilton's life, which would you choose?
I would want to be present when Hamilton met Washington for the first time. Not only because this event is so important to our nation’s history, but also because we don’t know when they first met. There are varying accounts of their first meeting, so I’d love to know which one is correct and be there to see what happened.
8.What about Alexander Hamilton do you relate to the most?
I have a deep interest in finance and economics (studied finance in college, wrote honors thesis in economics), so I am naturally attracted to Hamilton. Among all the major Founding Fathers, Hamilton was the most well versed in these important issues. Moreover, it is amazing how much Hamilton got right considering this was a time when economics was just starting to develop into its own discipline and that this was a nation lacking any banks before the American Revolution.
9. What are your future plans with regards to Hamilton?
God willing, I will write many more books about Hamilton. This volume covers only a small portion of his life and ignores many aspects of his life during this period. I’d love to write a book about Hamilton’s work in creating the new nation, a book on his finance and economics, a book on his defense and foreign policy, a book on his personal life, and one about his so-called “decline” which culminated in the duel with Aaron Burr.
10. When and how can people get Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years?
The book is scheduled for publication in mid-June. Once it is published, it will surely be available at Amazon and probably elsewhere as well. Until then, one can pre-order copies through a Kickstarter campaign designed to fund the initial print run of the book.
To learn more about Michael E. Newton, visit his official website.