Saturday afternoon I wrote "The End" to a novel that has consumed me for the last fourteen months. PRESIDENT HAMILTON: A NOVEL OF ALTERNATIVE HISTORY, was born of a short story that I wrote and published on this blog three years ago. Called "An Interview at Weehawken," it was a retelling of the famous duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr that flipped the result, seeing Burr killed and Hamilton only wounded. The story ended with President Jefferson and his Secretary of State, James Madison, speculating whether or not Hamilton would run for President in the future.
That was it. Just a short story, a bit of speculative alternative history, with no expansion planned or anticipated. At the time, I was finishing up a novel set in ancient Rome, called THE EMPEROR AND THE APOSTLE, and cranking out the occasional short story to blow off steam when the muse quit flowing for a bit. But the idea I'd created wouldn't go away. What if Hamilton had survived that fateful day in July of 1804? How would history have changed?
Time passed. I finished THE EMPEROR AND THE APOSTLE, but my publisher politely declined to have anything to do with it, since my previous book THE GNOSTIC LIBRARY had woefully underperformed. So I shelved that book and wrote the lyrics to a musical about Theodore Roosevelt, just for the fun of it, to pass the time. Then I busied myself with teaching and all the other things I do on a daily basis. But the Hamilton idea just wouldn't go away.
I was a fan of Alexander Hamilton, the Founding Father, long before HAMILTON: AN AMERICAN MUSICAL came out. In fact, as near as I can tell, I was reading Ron Chernow's biography of the first Treasury Secretary about the same time that Lin-Manuel Miranda read it on vacation and conceived the idea for the musical. Hamilton was, in my opinion at least, the most brilliant and (at that point, at least) under-appreciated of our Founders. But then the musical did come out, and while a trip to Broadway was far beyond my budget, I listened to the sound track and was blown away by the crisp lyrics, epic narrative, and neat lessons in history and civics that Miranda had woven into Hamilton's story. But there was one line that stuck with me, and still does. In the end, after Alex's untimely death, his wife Eliza laments "You could have done so much more if you only had time!"
What would Alexander Hamilton have done with another decade of life? Was his political career truly over? What could this remarkably talented man have achieved if he had decided to run for public office? Was the Presidency within his reach? What would have changed if he had indeed been elected? And I remembered the story that I had written about the duel, and decided to play it forward from there. On January 4, 2019, I sat down and wrote the title page of PRESIDENT HAMILTON. Then I took the original short story, edited and trimmed it a bit to turn it into a true prologue rather than a self-contained narrative, and plunged forward from there.
I've taught history for nearly 30 years now and have read deeply into the Federalist era. Politically, it was a time not that different from today. Newspapers, like today's social media, could make up the most outrageous lies imaginable and print them up with zero repercussions, and fact checkers did not exist. (We have them today, of course, but people refuse to believe that they are, in fact, factual - if the fact checkers contradict their prejudices.) How else can you explain Jefferson supporters painting John Adams as "a seducer of young women?" I mean, seriously, ladies, I defy any of you to look at one of President Adams' portraits and think: "I gotta get me some of that!" Yet it was in the newspapers, so people believed it.
Another similarity was the absolute assumption of moral superiority by both sides. To the Jefferson camp, Hamilton was a monarchist, plain and simple, who wanted to destroy the Constitution and see America governed by a hereditary aristocracy. To the Federalists, Jefferson was a raving Jacobin atheist who wanted to burn their Bibles and set up guillotines on every street corner. The other party was not made up of fellow Americans who thought differently about government, but of enemies who had to be destroyed, or at least, barred from holding power forever. We've come full circle, haven't we?
But as I set out to tell the story of Hamilton, moving forward from that fateful day at Weehawken, launching a political campaign, and discovering a cause that would fire his conscience and rally his supporters, I found myself wondering: What if these guys actually talked to each other instead of hiring poison pens to slander each other? Hamilton and Madison were friends once; what if that friendship had rekindled - as Jefferson's and Adams' did in their old age? What might these men have accomplished if they simply chose to WORK together?
When you change one thing in history, it's not long before you change EVERYTHING. Over four hundred pages long, my story took twists and turns I had not even imagined when I started writing. At some moments I beamed with pride at what my protagonist accomplished; at others I literally wept at the places my story forced me to take him. But in the end, I wound up envisioning a timeline far different from the one we live in today, a glimpse - hopefully not too farfetched - at what might have been had not a brilliant life been snuffed out by a cruel bullet in 1804. "History turns on tiny hinges," I tell my students at the beginning of every course I teach. But those turns are sometimes wide and sweeping.
When will PRESIDENT HAMILTON be published? WILL it be published? The answers are "I don't know!" and "I sure hope so!" But when you finally get to hold a copy in your hands, I hope you will enjoy journeying through my re-imagined decades of American history as much as I enjoyed creating them.
In the meantime, if you would like to read something else I have written, please feel free to check me out on Amazon and buy one of my five already published novels. You can find them at this link: