Friday, September 2, 2022

A Writer's Greatest Challenge - Being Abraham Lincoln's Speechwriter!

       When I wrote PRESIDENT HAMILTON, one thing that made the task relatively easy was that the real Hamilton's style of writing and speaking is unknown to most Americans - except for a select few who have devoted their lives to Hamilton scholarship.  So when I had Hamilton speak and write, I did take the time to read some of his extant letters and speeches in order to get a "feel" for his style, but I had a great deal of artistic license in the process.  Most Americans were more familiar with Lin-Manuel Miranda's version of Hamilton than they were with the real thing, and that meant I could put my words in my alternative history Alexander Hamilton's mouth with relative impunity. 

      But in my current alternative history project, WITH MALICE TOWARDS NONE, I have a much tougher road to travel if I want to present Abraham Lincoln to my readers with anything resembling authenticity. Lincoln's speaking and writing style are known to a far greater share of the American public than Hamilton's. Some of his speeches are still memorized by secondary students, and his words have been immortalized on the big screen, on public monuments, and in countless books that are still avidly consumed by historians and casual readers alike.  Not only that . . . he's Abraham Lincoln!!  I mean, Hamilton was an eloquent man, but Lincoln, despite his lack of formal education, could have been America's premiere poet and essayist had he not found his calling in politics.  So when I have Lincoln survive the cowardly attack at Ford's Theater, as he does in my book, and then speak on public occasions as he celebrates the victory of the Union and presents his plans for Reconstruction, I am having to craft words that are worthy of America's greatest President and public speaker.  It is either the most audacious, or the most presumptuous, thing I have ever tried to do as a writer.  I will leave it to you, my faithful readers, to decide which.  Here is a snippet from Chapter Ten of WITH MALICE TOWARDS NONE, in which Lincoln addresses a special session of Congress to mark the end of the Civil War and to introduce his version of the Fourteenth Amendment, which differs considerably from ours.  Read on, and please drop a comment to tell me how you think I did!


The smacking of Speaker Colfax’s gavel brought the buzz of the audience to a standstill. All eyes turned to the Speaker of the House as he stood and solemnly spoke.

“Senators and Honorable Representatives,” he said.  “Members of the Court, officers of the military, and honored guests – I present to you the President of the United States!”

The door at the rear of the House chamber opened, and the lanky, gaunt form of Abraham Lincoln came striding in at a slow, deliberate pace. The Republican senators and congressmen rose, applauding their great chief, and the Democrats, although many still wore sour expressions, also rose after a moment.  Even the most radical Southern sympathizers among them were glad Lincoln was still alive, if only so that their faction would not be blamed for his death.   For most of these men, it was the first time they had seen Lincoln since the deadly affair at Ford’s Theater, and many craned to catch a glimpse of his mangled right ear - mostly healed now, but nearly half gone.

Lincoln walked down the aisle, shaking hands with those he could reach and trying to make eye contact with those he could not.  Even though his speech to Congress was unprecedented, all were glad he had been spared from Booth’s bullet, and the relief at seeing their President, tall and unbowed, smiling in his moment of victory, warmed every heart to some degree.  The President wore the new black suitcoat that had been made for his second inauguration, but his tie was a bright blue, as was his pocket handkerchief, and his felt collar was a rich black satin – a stark contrast to his usual rumpled black suits and often-stained white shirt. He made his way to the well of the House and took the podium, and the assembly fell silent.  The President looked at the assembled legislators of the United States, and then up at the packed galleries and all the eyes that were upon him.  Mary Todd sat near the center, with Tad on one side and Mrs. Keckley on the other.  Near the back sat Frederick Douglass, flanked by Reverend Keely, Deacon Sutherland, and William Slade – who had left his duties at the White House just to hear the President speak. Lincoln reached into his coat pocket, pulled out the speech he had been crafting for some time, unfolded it on the podium, and began to speak.

“My friends and fellow countrymen,” he said.  “First of all, I would like to thank the members of this honorable House for allowing me to address you today. I realize that in coming to the Congress, to speak to you in person, I am breaking a sixty-year tradition.   In ordinary times, I would never have sought such an opportunity.  But these are not ordinary times.  Our nation has survived a fiery trial which no other Republic has ever endured and remained a Republic, and this is an occasion which merits an exceptional response.  Our great Civil War is over, and by the graciousness of God, the valor of our soldiers, and the indomitable will of our people, the Union has prevailed!”

Senators, representatives, and guests surged to their feet, and a storm of applause swelled around the President.  Lincoln smiled, and for a moment, he was tempted to let this adulation go to his head - but his common sense and humility, graven deep as they were in his character, anchored him.  They were cheering the great victory of the Union, not just him.  He was a servant of the people, a leader perhaps, but he was not and had no desire to be their master.  Such sentiments were for the Bonapartes of the world, not for sons of impoverished Kentucky farmers.

“Fourscore and nine years have passed since our Founders brought forth this new nation of ours, laying its foundations upon the principles of liberty and equality.  We have now passed through the greatest test of our Republic – and we have answered the question whether any government founded upon such principles can long endure.  Posterity will long debate every detail of this great contest that has engrossed the attentions and resources of our nation for the last four years, and every decision made, and every battle fought, will be examined in detail.  But the one thing upon which both sides in this unfortunate conflict will agree upon, if they remain true to the opinions they uttered during the years leading up to the secession crisis of 1860, is that the heart of the disagreement between north and south centered upon the issue of slavery.  As I wrote to a Southern friend after the election that year: ‘You think slavery is right and ought to be extended, I think it is wrong and ought to be restricted.  That, so far as I can tell, is the sum total of our differences.’  That statement was true in 1860, and it remains true today.”

The Republicans applauded this statement, while most of the Democrat members remained silent, some glowering at the President, others looking thoughtful.

“It was never my intention to interfere with slavery in the states where it already existed, even though I believed it to be a great moral evil,” Lincoln said. “The Constitution which I was bound by solemn oath to support did not give me the power to do so, and as long as I was sure that any further expansion of slavery into the national territories was checked, I was willing to abide in the belief that domestic bondage was in the course of ultimate extinction.  But the insurgents in the South were unwilling to accept the leadership of any President who was morally opposed to their peculiar institution, and rather than place their faith in the Constitution they had lived under for over seventy years, and the laws which their own representatives had crafted, they attempted to tear our country asunder.”

Lincoln paused for a moment, and once more the Republican members of the audience applauded him, and this time a few Democrats – those who had supported the Union during the war – joined them.

“For two hundred and fifty years now, the sons of Africa, brought to this continent against their will, have suffered under the horrors of lash and chain,” Lincoln continued.  “Neither north nor south was blameless in the horrors of the slave trade, for many Yankee shippers built their fortunes bearing mothers away from their children, fathers away from their sons, husbands from wives, children from parents.  I have always believed in the divine providence of God, and also that if slavery was not evil, then nothing was evil.  In this great war which tore our nation apart and robbed countless mothers of their sons, countless wives of their husbands, countless children of their fathers, I could not but see the grim justice of the Almighty demanding atonement for America’s original sin.  This terrible conflict was the woe due to those by whom the offense came!”

“So when the war afforded me the opportunity, as a military measure against the insurgents of the South, to exterminate slavery in those states that sought to shatter our Union, I seized it.  Then, to make sure that the work of the Emancipation Proclamation could not be undone after the war by some skeptical judge or wily lawyers, I urged Congress to pass the Thirteenth Amendment, abolishing slavery forever, and even now that great measure speeds towards ratification. Whatever else our civil conflict may have achieved, the days of forced bondage in America are over forever, and slavery has been cast into a grave from which there will be no resurrection!  Never again will Americans slaughter Americans to preserve such wickedness!”

This time the entire Congress rose to its feet to applaud, and many in the galleries did as well.  However they might have felt about emancipation, all could agree that the horrors of civil war must never be repeated.

“Now the war is over, and the Union has prevailed,” Lincoln said.  “Thanks to the skill and courage of Generals Grant and Sherman, Thomas and Sheridan, and so many others time does not allow me to name them all, our cause has been victorious.  The war is over, and slavery is ended.  The Union is saved, and the twin principles of democracy – the right of the majority to rule, and the necessity of the minority accepting the will of the people – have been upheld.  But there are many issues that have not been settled by the outcome of the war, and it is to address those issues that I have summoned you here today.”

There was little applause at this point, but the audience collectively leaned in a bit closer.  This was the meat of the speech, the reason they had been summoned to Washington, and every member of Congress wanted to hear what the President said next.

“The issues that I see before us are complex ones, and my goal is to deal with them in the most reasonable and humane manner possible – it is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this,” Lincoln continued.  “The first issue that we must resolve is the status of the freedmen.   Having ended slavery, we now must decide what to do with these four million people that we have delivered from bondage.  It is my firm belief that if their status is not protected by Federal law, there will be those who will try to return them to some form of bondage, some perpetuation of slavery under another name.  Freedom is meaningless if it can be arbitrarily taken away by another, so some way to preserve the freedmen’s inalienable rights must be found.”

Lincoln stepped away from the podium and began to slowly pace across the front of the House chamber, fixing different members of the assembly with his gaze for a second at a time before focusing on another.

“The second issue is what to do with the insurgents themselves,” he said. “Not to the common soldier who went to war because some wily politician convinced him that his rights were threatened by my election.  But the fire-eating radicals who exacerbated the crisis at every turn, who pushed their states towards secession, and who then occupied the highest positions in the government and military of their so-called Confederacy.  What are we to do with them?”

“Hang the traitors!” shouted Charles Sumner, Senator from Massachusetts.  Ever since he had been bludgeoned with a cane by North Carolina Representative Preston Brooks, his hatred of the “slaveocracy,” as he called the planters of the South, had become irrepressible.

“No,” Lincoln said, shaking his head sorrowfully.  “I understand the sentiment, gentlemen, but I think we have proved all that can be proven by bloodshed.  With the exception of those who committed atrocities in violation of the laws of arms – especially those who killed our soldiers after they had laid down their arms and were trying to surrender – I do not wish to allow any more executions.  What would we accomplish, really, except to turn those malcontents into the martyrs of a lost cause?  No, there will be no mass hangings. But that does not mean there should be no consequences for these men who provoked the most terrible war our nation has ever seen.  I will explain what those consequences shall be momentarily, if I may beg the chamber’s patience.”

“The last issue we must decide is how soon, and under what conditions, we allow the Southern states to resume their place in this chamber, and to elect their own governors and state legislators.  Our whole point in fighting this dreadful war was to show that we are one nation; that a single state cannot simply leave the Union because of disagreement with the passage of a law, or the result of an election.  But if we are one nation, then the Constitution still applies.  And if the Constitution still applies, then the South is entitled to representation in Congress, and to elect its local leaders. Not only that, but since the so-called three-fifths compromise of the Constitution will be rendered null and void by the Thirteenth Amendment, they will return with greater representation in the lower House of Congress than they had when they left.”

There were audible gasps in the chamber – it was obvious that many lawmakers and most of the guests had not yet figured this out, and the realization was disturbing them. 

“Therefore, we need to decide now, before next year’s Congressional election, what conditions will be placed upon the Southern states’ re-entry into the national government,” Lincoln said calmly.  “Ever since it became apparent, near the end of last summer, that our arms must ultimately triumph, I have given great thought to this.  I know that many wish for a draconian peace, and a long-term occupation of the South by our soldiers, combined with an attempt to completely reshape Southern society in the process.  It is human nature to reach for what we perceive as perfection, but I fear such a policy would only create festering resentment in the South, and the resistance it would stir up would be implacable, eventually wearing down those who advocated the harsher version of Reconstruction to begin with.”

There were nods from the Democrat side, and some of the Radical Republicans were frowning – but most realized the simple truth of the President’s words.

“I have said from the beginning that my fondest desire would be to see the former relationship between North and South restored as soon as possible,” Lincoln said.  “I still wish to see this.  However, for it to happen, Southerners are going to have to agree to some reforms.  There are two fixed points upon which I will not budge: First, the Southern states must each ratify the Thirteenth Amendment before they can resume their former place in the government of our nation.  Slavery in America is done, and the Southern states must acknowledge this, once and for all.  Secondly, they must also agree to acknowledge, protect, and respect the civil rights, not only of those men who have been freed from slavery, but of all men who live within their jurisdiction.  Once there is agreement to those two conditions, the Southern states can apply for full restoration to the Union, and the life of our great nation may move on into the sunlit uplands of freedom.”

At this, the entire house rose to its feet – Republicans glad to finally see the President outline his plan, and Democrats in relief that the conditions of Reconstruction were not more draconian.  The applause washed over Lincoln like ocean waves over a great boulder; he remained unmoved in its wake.

“How do we accomplish these noble ends?” he asked when the chamber fell silent again.  “The truth is that any legislation passed by Congress can be undone by a later Congress - or challenged in federal court and perhaps declared unconstitutional.  There is only one way to permanently change the fundamental laws of our nation, and that is to amend the Constitution.  For several weeks, Attorney General Speed and I have been working with my cabinet, members of the two Houses of our Congress, and a select group of legal advisors to draft a proposed Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.  It is longer than most previous amendments, but we tried to compose it in such a way as to address all the issues that I just mentioned.  Tomorrow it will be introduced by its sponsors in each House of Congress, and I would ask the leaders of each House to bring it up for a vote before this thirty-day special session adjourns.  I will now read the amendment to you, and explain some of its provisions, before I conclude my remarks.”


Wednesday, July 13, 2022

The Journey's End - Who Tells Your Story?

         New York was magical in so many ways.  Seeing in person many of the friends I have made on my Hamilton odyssey - Sergio, Nicole, Marianne, Nancy, and others - making new friends like Hamilton re-enactor Scott MacScott and Wanda Lundy - walking in so many of the places where Hamilton once lived, fought, and served, from the Grange to the Morris-Jumel Mansion to St. Paul's Church in Westchester to Trinity Church, Fraunces Tavern, and Weehawken - experiencing the sights and sounds of "the greatest city in the world" - seeing the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island - getting to share this trip with my darling wife Patty (I think her feet are still hurting!) and my enthusiastic, young, semi-adopted-daughter Eliza McMillan-Matic - my heart was so full by the time I collapsed into bed Monday night I just didn't think I could take or do anymore.

   So on our last day in NYC we spent a truly lazy morning.  We watched TV and snuggled until after 9 AM, then reluctantly got up and packed out our room.  BTW, a quick shout-out to the Indigo Hotel Downtown on Wall Street - it was a wonderful place to stay, great location, and the staff were so friendly and helpful!  Also, I might add, they had some of the most comfortable hotel beds I've ever slept in, and the pillows were just perfect!  After weighing our options, we decided to catch a hotel-chartered cab from downtown to La Guardia, and invited Eliza to come downtown and ride with us.  Of course, she had to make one last very quick pilgrimage to Hamilton's grave (two blocks from the subway station and about four from our hotel!) before running down to meet us.  She got there about five minutes ahead of the cabbie, and then we headed to the airport, crossing the Brooklyn Bridge (for sure this time! I asked the driver.) and then parting ways once we got inside.

   The trip home was smooth; we took off around 3 PM from La Guardia, had a 3 hour layover in Norfolk where we ate lunch (good old Burger King!), and then a final, 3 hour flight to DFW airport.  We got there around 9:30, and my son-in-law Joseph and daughter Rebecca picked us up just after 10.  Of course, we hit construction on 635 in Dallas that delayed us about a half hour, but finally, around 12:20 last night, we got HOME, where all journeys come to an end.

   It was a marvelous experience, no doubt we'll be paying off the bills for months, but I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world.  Thanks to all who made it possible, and of course, to the remarkable man whose life and deeds inspired my book and  enabled me to connect with this wonderful band of scholars, historians, and enthusiasts - Alexander Hamilton himself.

  If you'd like to read the story that was inspired by his life, here is the link:

https://www.amazon.com/President-Hamilton-Novel-Alternative-History/dp/1632137100/ref=sr_1_23?dchild=1&qid=1624931942&refinements=p_27%3ALewis+Ben+Smith&s=books&sr=1-23&text=Lewis+Ben+Smith

Monday, July 11, 2022

THE OUT OF TOWNERS - The Final Day of My NYC Hamilton Odyssey

      After yesterday's Hamilton events, all my New York friends had to get back to their other pursuits - Nancy returned home Sunday night and Marianne headed back this morning, and Sergio and Nicole left for the island of Nevis to prepare for the dedication of the new Hamilton statue there.  That left us three out of towners - me, Patty, and Eliza - to find our way around New York on our own.  After eating another pair of yummy foodcart breakfast sandwiches, we decided to keep the day (relatively) simple and easy - we would go uptown, check out the Hamilton statue in Central Park, do some wandering around Times Square and see the Rockefeller Plaza, and then head back to the hotel to rest a bit before going over to Weehawken, NJ to see the famous dueling ground in the afternoon. Simple schedule, not too busy, right?   Famous last words!

   We hit Times Square first, and paid visits to the Richard Rogers theater, since Eliza hadn't seen it, and the Lyric Theater, where "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child" plays (tip of the hat to my wife's love of the Potter series).  Then we hiked over a few blocks and visited the Drama Book Shop, a famous local store purchased by Lin-Manuel Miranda in 2019 (no, he wasn't there, but I did get the number of their book buyer, so maybe I can talk him into stocking PRESIDENT HAMILTON!).   

   After that we hopped back on the train and headed to Central Park to find the Hamilton statue there, which was gifted to the park in 1880 by Hamilton's son, John Church Hamilton.  It's a very imposing sculpture of Hamilton, and Eliza says it's her favorite. She and I both snapped quite a few pictures of it. After that, we grabbed some genuine New York pizza for lunch at a nearby pizzeria (I am going to miss those delicious slices when I get home!) Then we hopped on the train and headed back down to Rockefeller Plaza.  We had a marvelous time there - Patty and I took Eliza to the FAO Schwarz store, which she had never even heard of, and we all spent a solid 45 minutes wandering around that enchanted toyland.  Then we walked a "couple of blocks" (which is New York slang for a distance that can vary from 200 yards to 25 miles) to a gift shop to purchase souvenirs for our family.  By now Patty's plantar fasciitis was really bugging her, and she limped back to the train station and said that we would have to go to Weehawken without her.  So we rode the subway back to our hotel and got there just before six PM - only three hours past my original estimate!

   Eliza and I paused only long enough to charge our phones for a few minutes and get Patty settled in, then we headed out again, determined to see the site of the fateful duel for ourselves before returning to Texas.  We rode the train up to the proper part of NYC without a hitch and managed to find the Transit Authority bus terminal after only one unnecessary lap around the block.  We figured out which bus to get on and went through the Lincoln Tunnel, but both our Google Map aps kept losing where we are, and we overshot our bus stop by a couple of miles (at least, that's what it felt like!).  Then, when we finally reached the proper spot, we discovered the "steps of doom" - a zig zag ascent of some 25,000 steps (that is only a slight exaggeration) to get to the top of the cliffs overlooking the Hudson.  I was huffing and puffing when we got to the top! But from there it was only a relatively short half mile walk to the famous Weehawken dueling grounds, where both Alexander Hamilton and his eldest son Philip met their deaths.  Despite the trouble we had getting there, it was an inspiring place to be, and I commented to Eliza my wish that, in his final moments, Hamilton could have just gotten a single glimpse of what New York - and America - would become.  I think his vision of our country as a mighty economic powerhouse has been borne out. 

  However, as inspiring as that vista of a sunset-illuminated New York was, we both decided that we did NOT want to walk back down the steps of doom!  Instead, we split the cost of a Lyft driver and got back to the train station, and from there it was only another couple thousand paces before we got on our train and headed back down to the Wall Street Station, next to our hotel.  Eliza had a bit further to go, since she's spending the night with a friend uptown, but I got back to our room, took a quick shower, and then we confirmed our boarding passes for tomorrow and I came down to update this blog.

Tomorrow, we return to Texas, but today we took in a WHOLE lot of New York on our final day in town - 27,000 paces' worth, to be precise.  I'd like to thank my wife Patty for her wonderful patience during all this history nerd rambling, and Eliza for her wonderful, child-like enthusiasm for all things Hamilton.  It's been as much fun watching her see all of this as it has been seeing it for myself - more, at times!  And thank you, constant readers, for tagging along with me.

Tomorrow night's entry will be written from my home PC.  Good night!

Sunday, July 10, 2022

HISTORY IS HAPPENING IN MANHATTAN . . . . and This Just Happened to be An Absolutely Perfect Day!

    Even in a good life filled with good things, a man is allotted very few perfect days.  But for this man, today was one of them!  Patty and I got up around 7 and got dressed, meeting Marianne, Eliza, and Nancy at a subway station after a quick breakfast (alas, my beloved streetcar vendor takes Sundays off, so instead of a nice, filling bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich, I had to settle for a rather small, overpriced blueberry muffin from a nearby coffee shop).  Unlike yesterday, the trains were all running on time, and we took about 30 minutes to get from Fulton Station to 145th Street, the "quiet uptown" where Hamilton retired to during the last two years of his life.  It was a short walk from the station to the Hamilton Grange, the beautiful, stately home that was built for Alexander by the grateful brother of Eli Weeks, whom Hamilton successfully defended against a murder charge.  

   I should note that when I first began planning this trip, the whole "Celebrate Hamilton" weekend was very much up in the air.  I had a speaking gig at the Snyder Academy, and that was it.  New York was still emerging from COVID-19, and the Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society had not planned any other events because so many historic sites were still closed or running limited hours from the 2020 lockdowns.  But as the date grew closer, more and more sites re-opened and more new events were scheduled. So by the time we flew out Thursday, a full weekend of events were on tap, and this guided tour of the Grange was one of them.

   Not only did we all get to walk through Hamilton's home and see some of the original artifacts from the time he lived there (there's been a lot of restoration done over the years, and the house has been moved twice, but some original belongings of the Hamilton family have been re-located and placed there), but we also were greeted by re-enactors portraying the Hamilton family (Alexander, Eliza, and "Little Phil," their youngest son) as well as two members of the "Hearts of Oak" militia, who played the drum and fife for the crowd. Scott McScott (I love that name!) portrayed Hamilton very convincingly, and treated us to a lively, informative talk about his (er, Hamilton's) role in creating a stable financial system for America.  Mr. McScott loved the topic of my book and even agreed to film a short promo of it for my YouTube channel!  It was an absolutely wonderful visit, strolling around inside the Grange and soaking up the ambience of this beautiful home where Alexander lived for two years, and his beloved wife Eliza for another thirty years after his death.  Visiting with "the Hamiltons" made the time even more special.

   But there were more events to come, so around noon we boarded the train for another quick, smooth ride back downtown.  We stopped by Marianne's hotel so the ladies could freshen up for a moment, and then grabbed lunch at a nearby pizzeria (oh, how I LOVE New York pizza!  Nothing in Texas comes close!), then strolled on down to Trinity Church at two o'clock for a wonderful, moving tribute to Alexander Hamilton at his grave site.  The events included an introductory speech by AHA Society President Nicole Scholet Villavicencio (daughter of my late, lamented friend Rand Scholet, the founder of the Society), a prayer by the pastor of Trinity Church, two brief speeches by the President of the St. Andrew's Society of New York (of which Hamilton was a member) and the Command Master Chief of the New York Coast Guard Headquarters, a blessing of Hamilton's grave by the ministers of Trinity Church, a stirring rendition of the national anthem, the ceremonial laying of two wreaths, and an impromptu but lovely rendering of "Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story" from the Hamilton musical by a young fan named Eliza who read about the event, showed up, and asked permission to sing.  It was a wonderful tribute to this remarkable man who did so much for our young country.

    Trinity Church is four blocks from our hotel, so we had a chance to put our feet up for about 45 minutes after the service there before moving on to the last official event of the day - a guided tour of the Fraunces Tavern Museum and historical site at four.  Fraunces Tavern is the oldest building in Manhattan, and was the site of the famous farewell dinner that Washington had with his officers in 1783 before resigning his commission and returning to Mount Vernon.  While the building has undergone extensive restoration, it still sits in the same spot were it was 250 years ago, and many original artifacts from the Revolutionary and Federalist era are still exhibited there - including the journal of Benjamin Tallmadge (maybe familiar to you from the TV series TURN: WASHINGTON'S SPIES), open to the pages describing that dinner, and the tearful parting of ways by the men who waged and won our war for independence.  Being in "the room where it happened" - where Washington bade farewell to Lafayette, Greene, Knox, and all the rest of his military family - was truly a "goosebump moment"!  

   But in addition to being a wonderful museum of American history, Fraunces Tavern is also a working bar and restaurant, so after the tour, Patty and I shared a delicious supper there with Sergio, Nicole, Marianne, and Eliza.   Sadly, this was our farewell to Sergio and Nicole, since they are flying out tomorrow morning for Nevis, Hamilton's Caribbean birthplace, to dedicate a statue of the first Treasury Secretary.  (For details, visit www.hamiltonstatue.com )  After a marvelous meal, the four of us who were left (Nancy had headed for home after the service at Trinity) decided to split up. Eliza wanted to see the Statue of Liberty, but didn't really want to invest the money and time for the full Liberty Island/Ellis Island tour package, and Sergio recommended taking the State Island Ferry across the harbor and back, since it passes close enough to Lady Liberty to get a good look and take some pictures, but has the benefit of being free and only taking an hour.  Patty didn't want to ride another ferry boat after the ride out to Liberty Island hurt her feet so much Friday, so she and Marianne went on a walking tour of lower Manhattan while Eliza and I went for a ride on the ferry and got a lovely view of the Statue silhouetted by the setting sun.

   When we got back, it was near dark, so I walked Eliza back to her hotel (it's only a few blocks from ours) and then I came back to our room and showered, put on some comfy clothes, and came down to write this entry before going to bed for the night.  Over 16,000 paces today!

   Thank you to New York, Sergio, the AHA Society, and all my Hamiltonian friends for such a perfect day!  Tomorrow Patty, Eliza and I will be on our own, visiting some New York sites we haven't seen yet and enjoying our last day in the Big Apple before returning home.

Thanks for joining us on this wonderful journey!

Saturday, July 9, 2022

"It's Quiet Uptown" - IF You Can Ever Get There!

   Our second full day in New York was a blast.  We got up around 7:30 and grabbed some breakfast from the ubiquitous street vendor, and then Patty and I walked the few blocks to Trinity Church where we met Eliza, Marianne, and Nancy.  Although the formal ceremony at Hamilton's grave is not till tomorrow, we walked into Trinity Church graveyard to pay our respects to our favorite founder.  Three years ago, when I first saw Hamilton's grave, I had just begun writing PRESIDENT HAMILTON.  Today I was able to stand there with a copy of the finished, published book and tell Alexander that my fondest wish was that I had done justice to his memory.  (No, he didn't answer, but I will say that I felt a certain closeness to him just standing there!)  My friend Eliza Matic is a strong admirer of Hamilton's, and standing by his grave was a powerful, emotional moment for her; it was an honor to be there and share it with her.

  Then we boarded the train and the REAL adventure began.  Our destination was St. Paul's Episcopal Church and Museum in Westchester, but the problem is that the NYC Transit Authority does all their maintenance work on the subways over the weekend, and the line that should have taken us within a few blocks of our destination was closed for repairs. So we caught a train headed uptown and got as far up as 165th Street, where a shuttle bus was supposed to connect us to another train that would help us complete the journey - but it was also down for repairs.  So we caught a THIRD train that got us about 20 minutes from our destination, and then had to catch a 20 minute Uber ride the rest of the way.  We got there moments before the lecture was supposed to begin, and squeezed into the museum there at the church. St. Paul's uptown has a remarkable history - the building was used as a field hospital by the British during the war, and after the war when its construction was complete it doubled as a church and a court house - it is confirmed that Aaron Burr argued several cases there, and Hamilton may have as well, although there's no written evidence to confirm that at the moment - but certainly he practiced law in the area and would have ridden through the community many times. The lecture was a bit dry ion delivery but interesting incontent - it dealt with the stereotypes that Americans felt about themselves, their French allies, and their Hessian adversaries during the war.  

   After leaving St. Paul's, we took another Uber to the Morris-Jumel Mansion, the oldest residence still standing in uptown New York.  During the Revolution, it was used as a military headquarters by George Washington of the Continentals, and then after the Americans lost control of the city it was commandeered by General Clinton of the British Army and also was used briefly by Major General Knyphausen, commander of the Hessian forces fighting for the British.   After the war, in 1790, George Washington dined at this house with his entire cabinet and Vice President Adams. Later on, the mansion was owned by a wealthy widow named Eliza Jumel, who in 1832 married the aging but still seemingly irresistible Aaron Burr (the marriage only lasted a few months, and then she was in the midst of divorcing him when he died). Standing there in the rooms where Washington met with Jefferson, Hamilton, Knox, and Joh Randolph was a genuine goosebump moment! The tour guide was wonderful, and everyone loved the experience. 

   After the tour, we walked to a nearby restaurant and had a wonderful supper together with lots of stories, philosophy, and fellowship.  After that Sergio left us to head home, and we intrepid five caught the A-train back down to lower Manhattan.  There Patty and I parted company with Marianne, Eliza, and Nancy, and then we made the error of deciding to see the 9/11 Memorial before heading back to the hotel.  The reflecting pools were closed, so we couldn't get very close, and walking back to our hotel we got a bit turned around (although we did see the famous Wall Street Bull on the way!).  We were both tired when we started and pretty well shagged out by the time we navigated our way back to the familiar area around Battery Park and thence back to our hotel room. All in all, it was an enjoyable day - although, like every day in NYC, it left us with sore feet and aching calves!

Tomorrow we get to visit the Hamilton Grange, the only home Alexander ever owned.  I can't wait! 

Friday, July 8, 2022

"Everything is Legal in New Jersey" . . . Day 2 of My Hamilton Odyssey

   After yesterday's marathon, we both slept in this morning!   I finally woke up grumpy (although she was happier after a bit of caffeine) and we both got dressed and out the door a little after 9.  Our hotel is only a couple of blocks from the harbor (hence "Water Street," the original shoreline was right in front of the door!), so we bought breakfast from a street vendor and ate while watching the ships go back and forth.   A word about New York food:  This is my second trip here, and I have never once gotten BAD food in NYC!  I'll admit, the burger we ate at Planet Hollywood back in 2019 wasn't great, but it certainly wasn't bad.  But these breakfast sandwiches - I got turkey bacon, egg, and cheese and my wife got ham and egg - were DELICIOUS!  I polished off every bite of mine; Patty could only eat half of hers but took the rest up to our room to have later because it was too good to throw away!

Next stop was Times Square.  We hopped on the subway and, by luck or my natural navigation skills, got off at exactly the right spot to wander out into the glory and wonder that is the heart of New York.  No matter how many movie scenes you see that are set there, nothing can prepare you for the sheer eclectic weirdness of Times Square.  Superheroes, cartoon characters, and scantily dressed performers clamor to pose for pictures with you (for a small fee, of course) while Buddhists try to sell you bracelets to support their local temples and shills for Broadway plays try to hand you fliers.  In a single block you will hear six different languages, and people from all over the world are wandering about in every kind of dress (and undress, my wife got to meet the Naked Cowboy for the first time!) imaginable.  We dropped by the Richard Rogers Theater where HAMILTON plays every night (I hate that we can't try to squeeze in a performance this trip, but Saturday and Sunday are full of historical, "real" Hamilton related events, and there are no shows on Monday.), and also the Lyric Theater where "The Cursed Child" (a Harry Potter sequel play) was showing.  All in all, we had a marvelous time, but then we had to come back to our hotel to get ready for my speaking gig this evening.

We got back to our room, changed, and then headed up to Penn Station to meet several of our Hamiltonian Friends - Sergio Villavicencio, the VP of the Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society; Hamilton scholar and defender Marianne Als, financial scholar Nancy Spannaus (author of HAMILTON VS. WALL STREET), and our own friend and Hamilton aficionado from Texas, Eliza Matic (founder of the "Alexander Hamilton: Life and Legacy" FB page). We had an early supper together, and then hopped on the New Jersey transit for an hour's ride to Elizabeth, NJ. When we got there it was pouring down rain - I mean, an absolute deluge.  So we huddled under the railway overpass and called an Uber instead of walking the four blocks to the Snyder Academy. By the time we got there, the rain had quit, and the 200-year-old, un-air conditioned building was rapidly turning into a sauna.  

About 20 people showed up for the lecture, including my niece Katharine Smith, who brought several relatives with her.  I spoke for about 40 minutes on "President Hamilton vs. the Hamilton of History," then took questions and sold several copies of my book. It was a pleasant time; I got some very interesting questions and everyone seemed to enjoy the lecture a great deal.  Afterward, we took a walk through the beautiful cemetery next to the church - many of the graves there over 300 years old!  Then we caught the train back and went our separate ways - Sergio to his home uptown, while Patty and I went with Marianne and the others down to Manhattan, since their hotel is only one subway stop away from ours.  

By the time we got back, I was so tired and sweaty felt like a banana that had been covered in cling wrap and left on the hood of the car!  But a long shower made me feel human again, and reminded me that the 4 PM cheeseburger had completely worn off.  So I put on some comfortable clothes and went down on the street, and found a pushcart vendor directly across from the hotel!  I got some wings and fries, and now with a comfortably full belly and sore feet, I'm ready to crash until tomorrow, when several more major Hamilton sites wait for us to visit!

Thanks for coming along.

Thursday, July 7, 2022

We Just Happen to be In The Greatest City in the World!

 Wheeew - it has been a LOOOOONG day today!


Our flight out of DFW airport was at 7:30 AM, so we got up at 3, left the house at 4, and got to the airport just before 6 AM.  The flight was smooth and pleasant and we arrived in NYC a little bit after noon.  Spirit Airways managed to get our luggage to the same terminal we arrived at, and by 1:30 we were at our hotel, the Indigo on Wall Street.  It's an interesting location - sandwiched between two buildings, the entire hotel is maybe fifty feet wide, but it's 25 stories tall!  Our room is on the 10th floor and it is very small but VERY nice and clean, with all the amenities the limited floor space will allow.

We unpacked pretty quickly, and then walked down Pearl Street towards Battery Park in search of lunch.  We ate at a sandwich shop (the "Lenwich") which was really good, and then strolled on down to Battery Park and caught the boat out to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.  My only other visit to NYC was three years ago, and our trip to Lady Liberty got rained out that day - we snapped a couple of pictures of our drenched seniors and then got back on the boat pretty quickly.  Then the rain stopped, the sun came out, and Ellis Island became a sauna.  Today the weather was absolutely perfect - sunny, a nice breeze, and a high in the mid-80's.  FACT: It was cooler at 4 PM in Manhattan than it was at 4 AM in Greenville, TX!  I am going to try and cram some of this weather into my suitcase to take home when we leave, because 105 degrees Fahrenheit is stinking HOT, even for a Native Texan!

We had a blast walking all around Liberty Island and took a ton of pictures of the Statue, the Manhattan skyline, each other, and the beautiful harbor.  Then we boarded the same boat and went over to Ellis Island, and toured this place where so many immigrants came to America a hundred years ago.  We got there late in the day and didn't get to see everything we wanted to, but it was still a memorable and worthwhile experience. At 6 we boarded the boat and headed back to Battery Park.  My wife discovered that even the gentle rolling of a ferry boat is hard on your feet if you suffer from plantar fasciitis - although as soon as we were on land she was a lot more comfortable; a few minute's rest made a world of difference.

We bought a drink from a street vendor and then headed back towards our hotel.  After some discussion, we decided to eat at a little ramen shop right around the corner from the hotel.  The soup was absolutely delicious and so spicy it made me break into more of a sweat than the entire 13,000 steps I walked today!  After that we returned to the hotel, and I went across the street to a Duane Read store (a branch of Walgreen's, lots of snacks, meds, and other essentials) and got us some sodas and snack food for the next couple of days.  

All day long, I had worn one of my PRESIDENT HAMILTON  T-shirts, with the book cover on the front and the tag line on the back.  I'd gotten a few curious glances but not a single comment until this moment.  A local, walking by with his family, took one look and said: "I love that &^%$!!ing shirt!!" I smiled and said, "Well, I wrote the book!" We stood on the street corner and chatted for a minute, and the upshot of it was that he is planning on coming to my lecture at the Snyder Academy tomorrow!  With that I returned to our room, and having been up for about fifteen hours, I think both of us are going to drop into a travel coma for the next 12 hours or so!

More tomorrow, so stay tuned!