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1 Edward Rothstein, "Our Father The Modernist," The New York Times (September 10, 2004).

2 James Traub, "The Stuff of City Life," The New York Times (October 3, 2004).

3 Those interested in wandering into the thicket of scholarly debate on these issues can consult, among many other works: Whitney Bates, "Northern Speculators and Southern State Debts: 1790," William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Series, 19:1 (1962), 30-48; Max M. Edling, A Revolution in Favor of Government: Origins of the U.S. Constitution and the Making of the American State (2003); Max M. Edling and Mark D. Kaplanoff, "Alexander Hamilton's Fiscal Reform: Transforming the Structure of Taxation in the Early Republic," William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Series, 61:4 (2004), 713-44; Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick, The Age of Federalism (1993); E. James Ferguson, The Power of the Purse: a History of American Public Finance, 1776-1790 (1961); John Ferling, A Leap in the Dark : the Struggle to Create the American Republic (2003); Dall W. Forsythe, Taxation and Political Change in the Young Nation, 1781-1833 (1977); John M. Murrin, "The Great Inversion, or Country versus Country: A Comparison of the Revolutionary Settlements in England (1688-1721) and America (1776-1816)," in J.G.A. Pocock, ed., Three British Revolutions: 1641, 1688, 1776 (1980); John R. Nelson, Liberty and Property: Political Economy and Policymaking in the New Nation, 1789-1812 (1987); Edwin J. Perkins, American Public Finance and Financial Services, 1700-1815 (1994); Richard Sylla, "Shaping the U.S. Financial System, 1690-1913: the Dominant Role of Public Finance," in Richard Sylla, Richard Tilly, and Gabriel Tortella, eds., the State, the Financial System, and Economic Modernization (1999); Robert E. Wright, Hamilton Unbound: Finance and the Creation of the American Republic (2002).

4 Richard H. Kohn, Eagle and Sword: the Federalists and the Creation of the Military Establishment in America, 1783-1802 (1975) is critical, Karl-Friedrich Walling, Republican Empire: Alexander Hamilton on War and Free Government (1999) is appreciative.

5 These collateral aides include a specially commissioned playlet - a two person, 45 minute drama that resembles a cross between an old-fashioned high-school pageant and the vintage television show This is Your Life. The female lead, portraying Hamilton's mother, reminds him (and us) of all his wonderful accomplishments - Remember how well you did in Greek, Alexander? Remember how you Invented America? - though she also (after mutating into his wife) affectionately points out some flaws-"You talk too much, Alexander-humanizing him (a la Parson Weems) while retaining his essential Herohood.

The declamatory Hamilton does go on a bit much, dialoguing not only with Mom but with cinematic characters who pop up on a screen behind him, like a booming George Washington ("Your country needs you, my boy"), or assorted skulking, long-haired naysayers who hiss (or darkly mutter) one word imprecations against the Hero ("Monarchist! Fornicator!"). Hokey as it is, the little drama is the only piece of the entire package that assays a run-through of Hamilton's entire life, and it even takes a stab at a psychological interpretation of his career.

I must note, however, that its rendition of the duel offers a worrisomely different interpretation from that embedded in the bronze duet: Hamilton-the-actor fires his pistol straight up while the statue directs its shot past Burr's shoulder. It would probably be less confusing for visitors if the show settled on a single theory. It might be easier (certainly less costly) to have the actor lower his arm than to recast the statue, but revisionism doesn't always come cheap: when architects at Colonial Williamsburg discovered they had reconstructed a house six feet from where new research showed it had actually stood, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. immediately provided the money to move it. "No scholar," he said, "must ever be able to come to us and say we have made a mistake."

A so-called gallery guide, designed to look like a special issue of today's New York Post, does offer some missing information about Hamilton's life, tricked out in cute popularese ("Hammie Brained at Rally"; the Maria Reynolds affair gets mentioned on Page Six). What it's not, is a guide to the galleries, being organized completely differently. And should bewildered guests seek nevertheless to press it into serving as such, it would be impossible to read while perambulating the gloom.

In addition to a set of genial Acoustiguide offerings by Brookhiser (whose comments on specific items are usually of interest, though they often either avoid the big issues or, as discussed, tackle them in problematic ways), a second series - aimed at children - presents a running colloquy between one Tommy Tabloid, a reporter on hand to "dig the dirt," and an insufferably hi-toned Mrs. Hamilton, on hand to edify him (and us). In stop after stop, the plebeian Mr T. - all "dese" and "dose," he's the only working-class figure in the galleries, apart from the on-screen naysayers - gets hectored by the patrician Mrs. H., until he (and presumably the school kids) finally breaks down and admits that Mr. H. was a "great man and a great American".

There's also a Hamilton section of the N-HYHS web site, which apart from its provision of transcriptions (for only four) of the documents, is at best a missed opportunity, notable primarily for its reminder - through a link to an on-line presentation of a former N-YHS exhibition, "Independence and its Enemies in New York" (2001) - that the Society has in the past done serious social history.

On the distinctly positive side, the N-YHS organized a splendid series of talks by eminent scholars - Ron Chernow among them – and put together a diversified package of books and documents, which was sent out to thousands of school teachers.

6 Chernow has penned a short essay to this effect: "Alexander Hamilton, City Boy," The New York Times (April 25, 2004), Section 14, Column 1.

7 For this missing Manhattan context, E. James Ferguson's The Power of the Purse; a History of American Public Finance, 1776-1790 (1961) remains an indispensable source: "Hamilton's circle of friends and social companions in New York included the very speculators who could gain heavily from advance knowledge of his proposal. Craigie employed Hamilton's legal services, and Constable, who was an agreeable fellow, dined occasionally with him and counted him as a close friend. . . . Hamilton was scrupulous, but he could not keep from imparting information to such companions." See pp. 251-72, quotation on p. 271.

8 Here the alternative show would benefit, as the current presentation does not, from the insights of Alfred Young's The Democratic Republicans of New York; The Origins, 1763-1797 (1967).

9 The current exhibit argues that "Hamilton led his contemporaries in envisioning the future growth of industry in America." But this manages to ignore the manufacturers themselves, who were quite vocal on the subject, and indeed many of them complained repeatedly about Hamilton's privileging of mercantile over industrial concerns. For qualifications of the approach (on offer in the Visionary cabinet) about the Jeffersonians' opposition to manufacturing, and an alternative argument that they were in practice more supportive of actually existing manufacturers than Hamilton was - one reason they deserted his Federalists and voted for Jefferson's Republicans - see John R. Nelson, Jr., Liberty and Property: Political Economy and Policymaking in the New Nation, 1789-1812 (1987), especially Chapter 3, "Hamilton and Manufacturing: A Reexamination".

10 See: Paul Starobin, "Welcome to the Club," National Journal (January 28, 1995), 219-225; Glenn Frankel, "As Their Support Thins, Candidates Run on Faith; Forbes Fashions Self-Financed Bid Into Supply-Side Economics Crusade, The Washington Post (March 12, 1996), A01; John B. Judis, "Rubin Sandwich," The New Republic (August 25, 1997), 11; Bill McAllister, "Wisconsin Backers of Gingrich Termed Hill's Biggest Patrons,"
The Washington Post (September 10, 1998), 19; Michael Scherer, "Donor Profile: Richard Gilder (with Tess)," Mother Jones (March 5, 2001);
Ben White, "Shaping Conservative Agenda; 'Monday Meeting' in New York Draws Influential Crowd," The Washington Post (February 12, 2004), A08; "Fourteen Key Club for Growth Candidates Swept to Victory on Pro-Growth Message"

11 At one point Karl Rove's tutoring program for George Bush promoted T.R. as role model. Less has been heard of Teddy recently, perhaps because some staffer discovered such Rooseveltian epigrams as "the rich have a peculiar obligation to pay taxes at a higher rate than others." Or his 1912 assertion that "the limitation of governmental power, of governmental action, means the enslavement of the people by the great corporations which can only be held in check through the extension of governmental power."

12 Nordquist's Ronald Reagan Legacy Project - an offshoot of his Americans for Tax Reform - hasn't had much luck as yet, nor has the campaign to chisel the Great Communicator into Mt. Rushmore gained traction. It has, however, made some progress at sites directly controlled by Big Gov'mt - perhaps because the Project's Board of Advisors includes the likes of John Ashcroft and Tom DeLay - and we now have a Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site in the Marshall Islands. Nordquist, remember, is the guy who wants to "cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub," an aspiration echoed by Gilder, who's on record as hoping to see government shrink every day of the rest of his life.

13 It's interesting that Hamilton's prime sponsor is Julian Robertson - he reportedly kicked in a million dollars - as Robertson was one of the premier hedge fund operators of the 80s-90s booms. A "Titan of Wall Street," right up there with George Soros and William Buffet in the speculative hurly burly of the era, he rode the tiger brilliantly for a time. Funds under his management soared to $22 billion by 1998, only to crash and burn two years later in one of the era's most spectacular financial disasters. Facing plummeting returns and mounting withdrawals he liquidated the Tiger Fund's remaining $6 billion, returned it to investors, and shut up shop (though he continued to manage his remaining $850 million fortune). ["The Taming of the Shrewd: the World's Best-known Investors No Longer Understand Financial Markets," The Economist (May 6, 2000); Gary Weiss, "The Buck Stops with Julian Robertson, Not the Market," Business Week (April 17, 2000), 168; Weiss, "What Really Killed Tiger," ibid., 166].

14 See Kevin M. Guthrie, The New-York Historical Society: Lessons from One Nonprofit's Long Struggle for Survival (1996).

15 For the text of both letters, see

16 Ironically, for all the vault's vaunted depth, especially in this area and era, its holdings didn't add much to the exhibition. Traub thought "the Gilder-Lehrman Collection would furnish most of the material for the Hamilton show," but in fact it supplied only 19 items out of 175 (and some of these duplicated items in the N-YHS holdings). It would indeed be a great pity for the research library if G&L picked up their marbles and went home - though for all the undoubted strengths of their forty-plus thousand item collection, it pales in comparison to the truly spectacular (and far broader) two million plus item collection the N-YHS itself has amassed over the centuries. And from the Museum's perspective - especially if it wasn't tethered to early Americana exhibitry - it wouldn't be much of a loss; when original artifacts were needed, they could be borrowed from other major institutions, as was done for this show.

17 For an excerpt from the original proposal, click here. In the interim, a stripped-down version has found a home and is scheduled to open on December 9, at the AXA Gallery, 787 Seventh Avenue at 51st Street, and run through March, 2005.

For a sense of the national significance of the history of Times Square, see my review of recent books on the subject in "Babylon on the Subway," New York Review of Books (June 24, 2004).

18 The merger with the Museum of the City of New York was also definitively laid to rest (by both parties), along with the notion of a core exhibition spanning the city's entire history. The Gotham Center suggested the two might collaborate (with other institutions) in creating a New York City History Center at Ground Zero. This went nowhere. See also

19 See for example the work of the League of Historical Cities, which holds World Conferences every two years by the urban heritage conservation and development. See and

20 Russell Shorto, "The Future of the Past," The New York Times (September 12, 2004).

21 And problems can crop up when the collections-cart drives the exhibition-horse - when the stuff you've got constrains the questions you ask - as Gilder and Lerhman found out when they underwrote a documentary history of America through the Civil War (The Boisterous Sea of Liberty,) but wanted the editors (the eminent historian David Brion Davis and Steven Mintz) to use only materials from their collection to tell the story. An H-Net reviewer concluded that, "Boisterous Sea is just not suited for use in a survey course. While Davis and Mintz have done the historical profession a service by providing an illustration of just what is available in the Gilder Lehrman Collection, the limitations of restricting themselves to that one collection and compiling a useful teaching text were just too great to overcome. . . . In his note on the 'Nature and History of the Gilder Lehrman Collection,' Davis does acknowledge that, on the earliest colonial period and nineteenth century women's rights, he and Mintz 'felt it necessary ... to include some outside documents to ensure an accurate and coherent view of a given subject' (p. 562). One wishes they had strayed outside the collection a little more often." Also see: Louis P. Masur, "History by the Letter," The Nation (February 15, 1999).

22 See my "Visiting the Past: History Museums in the United States," in Mike Wallace, Mickey Mouse History and Other Essays on American Memory (1996).

23 See my "The Battle of the Enola Gay," in Wallace, Mickey Mouse History (1996). Also Edward T. Linenthal and Tom Engelhardt, History Wars: The Enola Gay and Other Battles for the American Past (1996), and Eric Foner, Who Owns History?: Rethinking the Past in a Changing World (2002).

24 Francis Morrone, "Statues and Civic Memory," City Journal (Summer 1999).

25 See my "Razon Ribbons, History Museums, and Civic Salvation," in Wallace, Mickey Mouse History (1996).

26 Discussion Boards