The Greatest Founding Father – Alexander Hamilton

Every 4th of July I get excited about cookouts, patriotic swimwear, and most importantly, Founding Fathers. The Founding Fathers were the men who helped found the United States of America and are remembered mostly by their white wigs and stern portraits. Many of these influential members have been in the limelight recently via the popular Broadway play Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda. This play motivated me to read about its main character, Alexander Hamilton; I thought it appropriate to use the same biography that inspired Miranda – Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow.

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Hamilton is most well known for his portrait adorning the 10 dollar bill and dying in a duel against the former Vice President Aaron Burr. Unfortunately, it was this duel that cost Hamilton his rightful place in high school textbooks – unexpectedly dying at the age of 49 allowed his enemies to perpetually smear his name and downsize his accomplishments. In opposition to history’s unfair treatment, I feel confident in declaring Alexander Hamilton the greatest Founding Father of all time. I’ve read the biographies of George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson – none of those great men matched Hamilton’s political accomplishments and moral fortitude.

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Hamilton was born as an illegitimate child on the island of St. Croix in 1757. His family life was far from ideal and he had to work extremely hard to rise up from the poverty that consumed his future prospects. He was a precocious child and by the time he was a teenager, merchants were noticing his work ethic and his magnificent writing style. Some wealthy families desired to sponsor Hamilton’s education – allowing him to move to the mainland and later enroll in what is now Columbia University in New York City.

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While studying at Columbia in 1774, Hamilton was taken under the wing of many revolutionary mentors who shaped his eventual desire to fight for American independence. Once the fighting did commence, Hamilton helped form local militias and was actually an artillery captain in several engagements: The Battle of White Plains, the Battle of Trenton, and the Battle of Princeton. Although he desired to be on the frontline, higher up officials later employed him as an aide-de-camp because of his writing skills.  His incessant work ethic caught the attention of George Washington who made Hamilton his Chief Staff Aide. As Chief Staff Aide to George Washington, Hamilton ran the Continental Army with his behind the scenes paperwork – Washington was the figurehead but Hamilton was the orchestrator.

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After the war, Hamilton took up a law practice and pushed more than any other Founding Father for the ratification of the Constitution. His famous Federalist Papers argued for a stronger central government and the states to be a united body. Once the Constitution was adopted, George Washington was elected President and he quickly nominated Hamilton as the first Secretary of the Treasury. As Treasury Secretary, Hamilton changed the United States forever by forming the first National Bank which took responsibility for state debts. This genius move forced the states to unify under the central government and showed foreign countries that America was a stable investment.

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It was Hamilton’s push for a stronger central government that drove his political opponents mad. Thomas Jefferson hated Hamilton and paid people to publish false reports that the Treasury Secretary was a monarchist and wanted to anoint a British King. This rift between Hamilton and Jefferson formed the first underpinnings for political parties in America. Hamilton was seen as a Federalist and Jefferson a Republican (no connection to the modern day party) – Federalists were stereotyped as the aristocratic class who were pro-British while Republicans were stereotyped as the agrarian class who were pro-French. Hamilton was accused of pocketing money from the Treasury Department and his reputation was constantly being smeared – all accusations were pursued by Congress but Hamilton was found completely innocent.

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The Federalists would be pushed aside by the Republicans when Thomas Jefferson was elected President; Hamilton at that time was seen as an evil adulterer, monarchist, and money monger. His political decline culminated with a duel with Thomas Jefferson’s Vice President – Aaron Burr. Hamilton purposely did not aim at Burr because he believed Burr did not wish to kill. Unfortunately, he was completely wrong. Hamilton died the day after -leaving his wife and seven children behind. A parade commemorating his death in New York City was said to be bigger than the funeral parade for George Washington.

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Alexander Hamilton is the Greatest Founding Father because in the words of Chernow, “No other founder articulated such a clear and prescient vision of America’s future political, military, and economic strength or crafted such ingenious mechanisms to bind the nation together.” Hamilton not only got his hands dirty with nation building but also kept his hands clean from owning slaves – he actually was a practicing abolitionist. I think this passage sums up his place as #1…

We have left behind the rosy agrarian rhetoric and slaveholding reality of Jeffersonian democracy and reside in the bustling world of trade, industry, stock markets, and banks that Hamilton envisioned. (Hamilton’s staunch abolitionism formed an integral feature of this economic vision.) He has also emerged as the uncontested visionary in anticipating the shape and powers of the federal government. At a time when Jefferson and Madison celebrated legislative power as the purest expression of the popular will, Hamilton argued for a dynamic executive branch and an independent judiciary, along with a professional military, a central bank, and an advanced financial system. Today, we are indisputably the heirs to Hamilton’s America, and to repudiate his legacy is, in many ways, to repudiate the modern world.
-Ron Chernow, Alexander Hamilton

Theodore Roosevelt vs. Donald Trump

The things that will destroy America are prosperity-at-any-price, peace-at-any-price, safety-first instead of duty-first, the love of soft living, and the get-rich-quick theory of life.

-Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt is my favorite president by far because he accomplished so many unbelievable feats during his lifetime:

-Preserved 150 national forests, 5 national parks, and 18 national monuments.
-He busted up 44 monopolistic corporations and enforced railroad regulations.
-Passed the Meat Inspection Act along with the Pure Food and Drug Act.
-Secured the Panama Canal and negotiated the end of the Russo-Japanese war.
-Conducted two major hunting expeditions to catalog animals for the Smithsonian.
-Published over 35 books and read over 10,000 books.
-Posthumously won the Medal of Honor.
-Was the youngest president in American history.
-He preemptively strengthened the Navy before WWI.
-Negotiated a major coal strike.
-Gave Cuba back to Cubans.
-Invited the first black man ever to dinner at the White House.

Added to these accomplishments is the fact that Roosevelt was an easy going guy who treated everyone with fairness; he was a loving husband and father; and he was passionate about making life for all Americans better. Theodore Roosevelt along with Abraham Lincoln are my two favorite Republicans because they were light years ahead of their time in championing social, economic, and racial equality.

Fast forward to today’s Republican Party. What use to be a party that represented disenfranchised blacks, immigrants, and conservationists is now the party that represents primarily whites who don’t believe in global warming but do believe in xenophobia. The Republican’s main man is now Donald Trump. I am not a fan of Trump because he is in many ways the opposite of Teddy Roosevelt. Roosevelt spent most of his life in public service while Trump spent most of his life expanding his father’s real estate business. The first 50 years of Teddy’s life could be summed up as a non-stop push to make America better. The first 50 years of Trump’s life could be summed up as a non-stop push to inflate his pockets and ego.  Here in lies the greatest difference between these two men-motivation. Roosevelt was a gentleman that treated his opponents with dignity and those who were disenfranchised with respect. Trump is a business man who uses derogatory language and authoritarian philosophies to make deals that increases his net worth regardless of the consequences. Some examples of these consequences include two divorces, four bankruptcies, and a mouth that vomits ridiculous material:

-“I will build a great wall – and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me – and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”
-“You know, it really doesn’t matter what the media write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass.”

-“The beauty of me is that I’m very rich.”

-“I’ve said if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.”

-“The point is, you can never be too greedy.”

-“My IQ is one of the highest — and you all know it! Please don’t feel so stupid or insecure; it’s not your fault.”

-“My fingers are long and beautiful, as, it has been well documented, are various other parts of my body.”

This is the current state of the Republican Party. Trump will not be remembered for his list of accomplishments but rather for his list of stupid comments. Teddy won the Nobel Peace Prize.What will Trump win as President? A spot on Comedy Central’s Roast of Hillary Clinton. Lincoln and Roosevelt would not even fit into the Republican Party of today and I’m sure Trump would find pleasant things to say about the immigrant lover and tree huger. We need a President who embodies the attributes of these two great men-not the attributes of a misogynistic-xenophobic-demagogic-school yard bully.
If you liked this article read Abraham Lincoln vs. Donald Trump for another comparison.

American Justice: The Divide Between Rich and Poor

In 2008 I was 18 years old and a senior in high school. During that year I was chasing girls, shaving for the first time, lifting weights, getting ready for college, and trying to endure my last bout of public education. Life was good and I had no idea what was going on in the world around me. Besides randy teenagers, most people were aware of the financial crisis that was taking place in 2008. This collapse in our economy was arguably the second worst financial disaster in United States history-second only to the Great Depression. In only a year, this financial crisis wiped out 40% of the WORLD’S wealth which equated to trillions of dollars of loss. Huge banks like Lehman Brothers imploded while lucky others like Bank of America and Chase were bailed out by the government. What caused the Great Recession? This question was explained to me in the amazing book, The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap by Matt Taibbi. Go read this book! This is one of the top 5 books I have ever read and honestly it has changed my perspective on the world. With that said, the book contrasts the Financial Crisis of 2008 with the current state of how the poor are treated in America. The juxtaposition of stories about the rich and poor classes is eyeopening in respect to the unfairness of the current judicial system. This blog post only scratches the surface of this books details, points, and moving anecdotes.

The 2008 Financial Crisis was first and foremost caused by illegal activity on Wall Street. Leading up to the crisis, major banks and lending agencies were addicted to subprime mortgages. A subprime mortgage is a home loan for individuals who have bad credit, have little to no down-payment, and limited knowledge of interest rates. The banks specifically targeted poor individuals to take on these high interest loans even though their financial history was dismal and their likelihood of paying the loan was extremely suspect. These loans were obviously a disaster waiting to happen but the real kicker is that the banks bundled these as secure AAA investments for other institutions (including the government) to invest in. This toxic combination lead to a housing market collapse and subsequent banking collapse because these institutions were leveraged based largely on the subprime mortgages. In the end, these fraudulent practices by America’s leading institutions destroyed countless pensions, wiped out retirement savings, and initiated the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs over the next five years. What was the punishment for the people who caused this collapse? NONE! No single person was brought to trial or prosecuted. Banks were fined but none were forced to admit that they did anything wrong. Added to that, the banks’ fines amounted to such small amounts that they recouped their losses in a matter of weeks.

This total lack of justice for the ultra wealthy has become the norm in America. There is a ridiculous amount of evidence against bank executives which is not being pursued by the justice department. This is contrasted in the book by the ridiculous police methods being enforced on poor individuals. New York has search and seizure laws that essentially allow police to detain anyone (almost always blacks) for no reason at all. The nation as a whole has laws that don’t allow immigrants any due process of law and the right to hold these individuals indefinitely. Welfare recipients have forced home searches where officials can rummage through all their belongings to ensure they are actually poor enough to receive benefits. If you are an immigrant or poor, the American justice system looks much different then if you are a rich bank executive on Wall Street. Of course we all know this to some degree but the author’s point is that our country’s justice system has to be in a vacuum; treating rich and poor alike. We roll over and let the ultra-rich get away with crime while systematically imprisoning more people (mainly poor) then any other country in the world. This injustice needs to be addressed and we need to at least try to change the system for the better. Again, this book is a must read and goes into these topics in much greater detail. America is currently an oligarchy that is run by very wealthy individuals and institutions. Does this mean we should role over and take it? No. It means we need to be aware of the injustices of the system so we can slowly bring back the balance of equality. Success doesn’t come over night but the sum of small efforts overtime can make America a great place no matter how much is in your wallet, no matter where you live, and no matter what you look like in the mirror.

Hendrick Meijer: The Paradox of Thrifty Generosity

Do you have a favorite grocery store that you frequently visit? There are many different reasons to like a grocery store: price, cleanliness, food selection, location, fellow shoppers, familiarity, etc. My Mom loves “Hardings” because they play good music-even though they have awful food selection and people are regularly caught shopping lifting (the most recent story was of a woman running out of the store with a package of bacon concealed under her armpit). My favorite grocery store is Meijer (pronounced My-er) because it has low prices, great food variety, and a clean store. I try to avoid Kroger because it is a little dirty and Walmart is more circus then grocery store (I was there a couple days ago and witnessed a employee yelling at a customer for asking a question). I have gone to Meijer my entire life so I thought it would be good to learn more about its founder Hendrick Meijer in the book Thrifty Years: The Life of Hendrick Meijer by Hank Meijer.

Hendrick Meijer (1883-1963) was born in the Netherlands and lived a very hard life as a manual laborer during his teen years. The Netherlands did not allow for upward mobility and had strict class divisions between the rich and poor. Feigning the arduous labor of factory work, Meijer set sail for America to build a better life for himself. Hendrick settled in Holland, MI which was a Dutch town that emulated the piousness and tight-knit community of the old-world. For the next five years he did odd jobs in foundries but never found a niche that fit his dynamic personality. Eventually, he took up the trade of barber and found a stable job in Greenville, MI. Thereafter, his childhood sweetheart, who had been waiting 5 years for him to get a steady job, moved to America to be his wife. Meijer had two children and continued his barber profession until the Great Depression. At nearly 50 years old, the Great Depression took away most of Meijer’s clients and he needed to figure out some other form of income. He had an empty building and the advice he was given was to open up a grocery store-“everyone needs food, even in a Depression.” At that time however, the small town of Greenville had over 20 grocers with almost a 100% failure rate; as soon as one would fail someone would change the sign and open a new store. Meijer was different from the other grocers because he was honest, cut prices even while sacrificing profits, and cared for the customer above all else. His determination to offer the lowest prices and work 16 hour days, 7 days a week led to more customers and eventually several stores. When Meijer died in 1963 he had dozens of stores throughout west Michigan and a business that had millions of dollars of sales annually. Today, Meijer is privately owned with 213 stores, 72,200 employees, and 15 billion dollars in yearly revenue.

Hendrick Meijer is a very admirable man because of his character and generosity towards other people. When Meijer was running his first store he was the only grocer who accepted “taboo” food stamps from the downtrodden of the Great Depression. Meijer was obsessed with getting the lowest prices for his customers even if he didn’t make money on the sale; for most of his life his business was barely profitable because of this approach. He had three of his stores burn down and each time he said “we will rebuild” without flinching-living a creed that you can’t worry about the things outside of your control. He was a practical joker who loved to make people laugh and would always talk with his employees and customers as if they were his long-time friends. Meijer was a innovator who wasn’t afraid to fail and who made a whole new life for himself at the ripe age of 50. I learned a lot from Meijer and I think that his life has inspired me to live with more character and less worry about the future. I think many people struggle today because they try to figure out their life story before it happens. Emulate Meijer with his openness to change and his resilience in the face of life’s obstacles. My goal is to be less thrifty with my generosity and hopefully impact people positively just like Hendrick Meijer did throughout his entire life.