The difficult task of establishing a government for the United States required the development of a stable national economy that could deal effectively with a huge debt and other critical concerns. William Hogeland chronicles the twists and turns of the early years of the new republic in his drama-filled and insightful The Hamilton Scheme: An Epic Tale of Money and Power in the American Founding. The nation’s first treasury secretary, Alexander Hamilton, welcomed the challenge and had an approach he thought could not only save the country from catastrophe but also move it to become an imperial power. Hamilton’s plan, however, favored the elite, and failed to benefit the broader population that sacrificed much in the war. A scheme, Hogeland notes, “can mean simply a plan or design. But it can also mean a secret plan or design for nefarious ends.”

Hogeland writes of Hamilton’s biggest boosters and adversaries. Readers will not be surprised to see George Washington, who was “first and foremost a politically well-connected businessman,” among Hamilton’s supporters. On the other hand, the “flamboyant war profiteer” Robert Morris may be new to many readers. Coining the term “money connection,” Morris believed that the key to national greatness was “a consolidation of wealth and government.” His influence on the young treasury secretary was so strong that Hogeland contends that “without him the United States probably wouldn’t exist.”

Among those who disagreed with Hamilton was Albert Gallatin, “a brilliant, abstemious Genevan émigré” and treasury secretary to Jefferson and Madison who “[wore] himself down to the nub in the fetid summers of barely built Washington, D.C., trying to discover the antidote to Hamiltonianism.” Another was Herman Husband, an idealist, abolitionist and objector to the conquest of Indigenous North Americans’ land who was “so highly regarded by ordinary people in the remote western regions where he lived that he was . . . ranked by Hamilton as a danger above all others.” These finely drawn characters bring The Hamilton Scheme to life and show the divisions in postwar economic philosophy that are still at play today.

The Hamilton Scheme covers a lot of ground, sometimes at too fast a pace. However, it should be of special interest to readers who want to know about the beginnings of America’s economic history.

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