Hamilton [College] on Hamilton: Voices from Students Past

HamCol Book


I came across an interesting collection that I wanted to share.  Franklin Harvey Head, who penned an extremely influential address on the meaning and goals of liberal arts education in the US, sponsored a prize foundation at Hamilton College that awarded the top student orator for each year a prize for preparing and delivering a speech on Alexander Hamilton.  The introduction to the collection states “Mr. Head established the prize called by his name, designating that the subject for this Prize Oration year by year should have reference to the character and career of Alexander Hamilton.”  The introduction also notes:

“No name from the rolls of our struggle for independence and our binding together as a nation awakens more intense interest or opens wider fields for consideration than that of Hamilton.  From the first appearance of the youthful student, to the tragic hour on the heights of Weehawken, the story has the attraction of romance, and in it can be found the kindling of influences potent not only for then but for all time.”

The thirty-one topics include:

  • Hamilton as a Constitutional Statesman
  • The Character and Statesmanship of Hamilton
  • Hamilton as an Expounder of the Constitution
  • The Intellectual Rank of Hamilton among his Contemporaries
  • Hamilton as a Political Prophet
  • The Relations of Hamilton and Burr
  • Our Political Indebtedness to Hamilton
  • Hamilton Compared with His European Contemporaries
  • The Position of Hamilton in American History
  • The Career and Character of Hamilton
  • Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson
  • The French Revolution and the Political Doctrines of Hamilton
  • Alexander Hamilton and Salmon P. Chase
  • Hamilton and Seward as Political Leaders
  • Alexander Hamilton and Louis Adolphe Thiers
  • The Death of Hamilton
  • The Political Doctrines of Hamilton in the Light of Recent American History
  • Hamilton and the Tariff Question
  • Alexander Hamilton and Benjamin Disraeli
  • The Political Services of Hamilton and Webster
  • The Debt of Our Government to Washington and Hamilton
  • Hamilton and the Presidential Election of 1800
  • The Military Services of Hamilton
  • The Verdict of Experience on Hamilton’s Constitutional Theories
  • Hamilton and the Constitutional Convention of 1787
  • The Influence of “The Federalist”
  • Hamilton, Webster, Seward
  • The Principles that Distinguish Hamilton and Jefferson as Statesmen
  • Alexander Hamilton and John Adams
  • Hamilton as a Lawyer
  • Hamilton and the Code of Honor
  • Hamilton’s Theory of the United States Senate

The collection of thirty-one prize-winning student oration is interesting for several reasons.  First, it offers us a snapshot of what students in the 1864-1895 time period were focused on studying.  Second, the range of topics varies from purely historical discussions of particular aspects of Hamilton’s legacy, to discussions of Hamilton in comparison to contemporary political figures.  I found the essays comparing Hamilton with contemporary politicians (Disraeli, Thiers, etc) extremely interesting.  Those orations offered an insight both into Hamilton and into the political theory of the late 1860s.  Keep in mind that these orations were being delivered for the three decades immediately after the Civil War, when the nation was still reeling.  Little wonder that students would seek lessons from the Constitutional period for guidance during another time of division and crisis.

The full text of the thirty-one orations is available via Google Books and Cornell’s Internet Archive..

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