Alexander Hamilton has always been one of my favorite of our Founding Fathers. Long before Lin-Manuel Miranda made him a household word with his brilliant work HAMILTON: AN AMERICAN MUSICAL, I admired this young man whose story was so quintessentially American. Rising by virtue of guts and smarts from the most impoverished of backgrounds to become the most powerful cabinet member in American history, Hamilton is the epitome of America's immigrant experience, but more than that, he was the archetype of the American dream. He became the right hand man of our first President, the closest thing to to a Prime Minister America has ever had - but he was also the arch-nemesis of men like Jefferson and Adams, who did their best to bury him on the ash heap of history after his untimely death. He was vilified as a monarchist, an unprincipled scoundrel, the serpent of America's Eden by his enemies, and dismissed by many.
But the twentieth century was kinder to Hamilton than his contemporaries were, and for years as I taught American history, Hamilton's four-point plan for restoring America's economy, and his key role in founding the Federalist Party were an integral part of the lesson. The question always came up: Why was he never President? There were several answers, of course. Most of them came back to Hamilton's own missteps and mistakes. The Reynolds affair, and his disastrous response to it, diminished his moral authority, and his pamphlet against the re-nomination of John Adams split the Federalist Party and certainly helped ensure Adams' defeat in the election of 1800. In short, Hamilton shot himself in the foot, and died before he could recover from his self-inflicted political injuries. But what if he hadn't?
In May of 2017, shortly after my beloved father Ben Smith passed away after a long battle with dementia and other health issues, I wrote a short story called AN INTERVIEW AT WEEHAUKEN. It was a pleasant bit of historical escapism for me, re-imagining the famous duel but changing the outcome, leaving open the possibility that Hamilton might, indeed, re-ignite his political career and strive for the Presidency in the future. (You can read the story here on my blog if you scroll back to May 2017.) I wrote it, enjoyed a few favorable responses, and continued with the writing project I was working on at the time - a historical novel set in ancient Rome at the end of the First Century AD.
But INTERVIEW AT WEEHAUKEN kept popping up in my mind and I wondered, how would Hamilton proceed in restoring his reputation if he survived the duel? How could he re-ignite his career when he was - let's be honest - a has-been at the time of his death? Meanwhile, like many Americans, I watched the unfolding protests against systemic racism and police brutality with a mixture of sympathy and horror. America's sins were coming home to roost - our failure to establish racial equality at the end of the Civil War, or to follow through fully on the great gains of the Civil Rights movement, were all culminating in a great national outcry of pain and frustration. I don't know the solutions to all the conundrums facing our country, but as a writer, the thought came to me - what if we'd dealt with all of this sooner? What if we had avoided a Civil War altogether, by crushing slavery while we were still a new nation? In short, what if I could re-write history?
Of course, in the middle of all this, HAMILTON: AN AMERICAN MUSICAL burst onto the scene. I bought the sound-track and fell in love with it, used the songs as a launching point for my lectures in history class, and even got tickets to see the musical when it came to Dallas. Lin-Manuel Miranda's work is brilliant, catchy, funny and tragic by turns. Of course it takes a lot of artistic license, but it still managed to plug a new generation into the Founding Fathers and get them interested in history again. As a teacher, I tip my hat to Mr. Miranda for making my job easier and more enjoyable. But there was that one line, from the last song in the show, that kept popping up in my head: "You could have done so much more if you'd only had time."
So in January of 2019, I sat down and pulled up AN INTERVIEW AT WEEHAUKEN. I changed the ending a little bit, and I added the words "Prologue" at the top. And then . . . I continued the story. It took me a little over a year to finish it, and there were a lot of twists and turns along the way. I rewrote most of a decade of American history, with Hamilton making the abolition of slavery in the national territories the primary focus of his administration, as well as encouraging the slave states to liberate their captives in a program of voluntary, compensated emancipation. I re-imagined Hamilton's relationships with his fellow founders - Adams, Jefferson, and Madison, among others. I humbled Alex, and set him to building bridges instead of burning them. I re-cast some of the second generation of American leaders - men like Clay, Webster, and Calhoun - into new roles. I prevented one war and wound up creating another. I discovered, once you change one thing, you change EVERYTHING. For years I told my students: "History turns on the tiniest of hinges." I discovered this to be more true than I knew, as Hamilton's survival and re-entry into national politics cast a ripple effect that grew into a tidal wave.
PRESIDENT HAMILTON: A NOVEL OF ALTERNATIVE HISTORY is scheduled for release on July 6, 2021. I'll be hosting a book launch party and signing event at Half Price Books in Rockwall on July 24, with subsequent signing events all over Texas following afterward. I'd like to invite all of my Texas readers to come out and get a signed copy, and give me a chance to meet you in person! I am more excited for this book, I think, than for any of my previous five. I've let a couple of people read it, one a PhD historian in the A&M system, the other my wonderful beta reader, Ellie, and gotten some very positive feedback. The HAMILTON fan community that I have joined has also been encouraging and enthusiastic in their responses to some of my teasers. It's coming, guys, "just you wait!" I also have sent a copy of the manuscript to Lin-Manuel Miranda himself, and I'm hoping that he will read it and maybe even give me a plug. This story will have something for everyone: fans of the musical will see their beloved "Alex" and his Eliza continuing their journey together, historians will be intrigued by the possibilities it raises, and maybe it will even do something to encourage a more constructive and peaceful dialogue on race, history, and the future of our country. Most of all, it is, I think, what every writer strives to create: a good story, one that readers will enjoy, share, and discuss for years to come.
Now if July will only get here!!!
But while we are waiting, I'd like to invite all of you to check out my previous novels, available on Amazon.com. Here's a link to my most popular book:
Till next time, stay warm, and Happy President's Day!