American Experience: Alexander Hamilton



9 p.m., Monday, May 14
KCET (Los Angeles)

One of the unarguably most clever and least celebrated of our Founding Fathers was an illegitimate and impoverished orphan immigrant from the West Indies. At least now he's celebrated in an excellent "American Experience" profile, simply "Alexander Hamilton."

Yes, he was the one who was summarily shot dead at age 49 in one of those stupid manly duels that were popular back then, this one with hated political nemesis Aaron Burr.

It's solidly turned by Twin Cities Public TV in association with Middlemarch Films, as produced-directed by Muffie Meyer and smartly written by Ronald H. Blumer.

In addition to the historical observers and usual re-enactors, our righteous, deadly honorable star is played grit-jawed by the gifted Irish actor Brian F. O'Byrne.

Hamilton was a fierce pragmatist who took an effectively bankrupt baby nation just coming out of a costly war of independence and, as secretary of the treasury for President Washington, shaped the financial architecture for today's Wall Street.

Of particular relevance to our malevolent moods these days, those times were said to be "the golden age of literary and political assassination," that there was "no disliking each other but hating." (Seem familiar?) Hamilton's Federalists and Thomas Jefferson's so-called Republican Party (nothing akin to today's GOP) set the tone that eventuated into the two-party system we wallow in today.

It was vicious. Hamilton was a "monarchist toad eater." Some journalists were hired to endorse party lines. Some foes were "maggots" and "mosquitoes." Ah, the good old days.