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The Founders and Finance: How Hamilton, Gallatin, and Other Immigrants Forged a New Economy

3.96  ·  Rating Details ·  127 Ratings  ·  25 Reviews
In 1776 the United States government started out on a shoestring and quickly went bankrupt fighting its War of Independence against Britain. At the war s end, the national government owed tremendous sums to foreign creditors and its own citizens. But lacking the power to tax, it had no means to repay them. "The Founders and Finance" is the first book to tell the story of ...more
Hardcover, 390 pages
Published October 15th 2012 by Belknap Press of Harvard University Press (first published October 8th 2012)
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As I had enjoyed Mr. McCraw's biography of the economist Joseph Schumpeter, I decided to give this book a try. I'm glad that I did. McCraw noticed that most of the officials directly involved in public finance under the Articles of Confederation and the early administrations after the ratification of the Constitution were immigrants. The three figures that get the most attention are Robert Morris, Alexander Hamilton, and Albert Gallatin. All three immigrated after they had become old enough for

Feb 20, 2014 Jim rated it liked it
This book should have been tailor-made for me; the subject matter of the Founding generation coupled with finance and economics should be like some sort of nerd apotheosis that made it impossible to set the book down. And to be fair, i thoroughly enjoyed the first half, though it was somewhat remedial, while the second half dragged, and wandered off-topic.

The premise behind the book is that, for a variety of historical and sociological reasons, the Founding generation, brilliant as it was, lack
Matthew Richman
Apr 13, 2014 Matthew Richman rated it really liked it
Having walked by the Treasury building in DC many times and seen the statues of Hamilton and Gallatin, I realized I knew almost nothing about either figure. This book uses the biographies of both men to tell the story of the development of public finance in the early Republic. Today we accept the existence of banks as both necessary and conducive to economic development, but this viewpoint didn't always prevail. Most influential political thinkers and politicians during the early American ...more
Sep 21, 2016 David rated it really liked it
Very informative book describing how immigrants Alexander Hamilton and Albert Gallatin established our nation's economic system and helped guide it through Washington's, Jefferson's, and Madison's administrations. Well documented and thorough.
David Montgomery
Jul 29, 2016 David Montgomery rated it liked it
Basically a double-biography of Alexander Hamilton (America's first Treasury secretary) and Albert Gallatin (America's third Treasury secretary), with a focus on their financial policies. Hamilton, of course, is having a bit of a national moment. But Gallatin — the longest-serving Treasury secretary in U.S. history, and the principal economic adviser to both presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison — is much more obscure.

As someone who's read Ron Chernow's biography, there was little in the
Brad Eastman
Feb 03, 2013 Brad Eastman rated it it was ok
Mr. McCraw observes that the first two, and generally recognized as the two best, Secretaries of Treasury were immigrants, as were many of the other prominent financiers of the early republic. Ostensibly, Mr. McCraw tries to answer the question why. However, the book is more a short biography of Alexander Hamilton and Albert Gallatin. Mr. McCraw pays lip service to his theme, but does not really develop it. Nor does he address differences amongst thee immigrants, some who immigrated at very ...more
Jun 09, 2014 James rated it it was amazing
I thought that the Founders and Finance written by Thomas McCraw was very interesting and thought provoking. This book was long, however it was very interesting and contained a lot of thought provoking information. I like how McCraw set up the book to express two different viewpoints and illustrate how even though you might be looking to do what you think is best in that situation, you could be strongly opposed by others. I was also fascinated to learn of Alexander Hamilton contribution to the ...more
Jun 10, 2013 Dan rated it liked it
Shelves: 2013
McCraw's overall argument is that it was Hamilton and Gallatin's status as immigrants that gave them a "national" outlook and a predilection for finance. I found this argument unconvincing, even as it was dressed up in an effective narrative. I would grant the book 2 stars on that standard alone.

With that said, the style/writing is very effective, I enjoyed reading it, and his footnotes were about as good as any I've ever seen in accessible writing. The footnotes were a better book, even, than t
Jul 23, 2013 Rachael rated it really liked it
A semi-biographical treatment of major early leaders in finance including Hamilton in Washington's administration and Gallatin in Jefferson's influenced the foundation of the US economy. I enjoyed the compare and contrast of the policies of these two thinkers particularly in trying to compare them to how things are run today. It was startling, for instance, to learn that the lion's share of the federal budget in Hamilton's time came from tariffs, and he was considered, as a Federalist, as ...more
Dec 25, 2012 Mark rated it it was amazing
This is more than just a history of financial policy, and I don't really think of Gallatin as a founder, per se, but these are just quibbles. This book is a surprisingly readable study of the history and development of American political economy from the 1770s to 1816, focusing especially on the policies of Alexander Hamilton and Albert Gallatin. And it explains how the combination of Hamilton's and Gallatin's policies helped establish the foundation of American capitalism. I'm not sure, though, ...more
Paul Gibson
Jan 27, 2014 Paul Gibson rated it it was amazing
A great read. It is easy to see why the author (who died late 2012) won a Pulitzer prize for history in 1985. I'm glad he finished the book before his passing. His writing is clear and he keeps his material accessible to the average reader. I read this book on the heels of reading James Madison and the Making of America (another fine book), and found that they fit well together. I enjoyed how Mr. McCraw kept focused upon history and the personalities rather than falling into ideological ...more
Margaret Sankey
Apr 02, 2013 Margaret Sankey rated it liked it
Last year, I was surprised to find that the only modern biography of Albert Gallatin was a hagiography sponsored by the Swiss government, so this is a needed although flawed corrective. McCraw focuses on Hamilton and Gallatin as "foreigners" able to introduce European ideas of finance into the new republic, although he never really explains Hamilton as being foreign except as a technicality, and doesn't get into resistance to these ideas (why the Americans didn't come up with them themselves and ...more
The American Conservative
'Thomas McCraw’s "The Founders and Finance" is not likely to be optioned by Hollywood for a big-budget motion picture. Bankers and immigrants have always been viewed with suspicion by a certain strain of American populism, and McCraw’s story is about immigrant bankers. But subsequent American history is rooted in the thoughts and actions of McCraw’s subjects, even if the tale won’t soon be coming to your neighborhood metroplex.'

Read the full review, "Founding Financiers," on our website:
May 31, 2013 David rated it really liked it
Dr. McGraw is a good storyteller -- his primary subjects, Alexander Hamilton and Alfred Gallatin, provide lots of substance to tell about. These two immigrants formed the foundation of the young United States' financial success -- in the face of lots of partisan opposition, and even, in some cases, opposition from their party leaders. For those interested in early American history, this is a good addition.
Aug 31, 2016 Tobias rated it really liked it
Interesting structure for a joint biography of the two men who built America's financial system. I wasn't sure that the emphasis on their status as immigrants worked; McCraw could have been a bit more emphatic on the extent to which Americans identified with their states first, but still it becomes clear that outsider status did make it easier for both men to think nationally instead of sectionally.
Kevin Kosar
Oct 04, 2013 Kevin Kosar rated it liked it
As Thomas K. McCraw describes, America lurched from one financial crisis to another between 1780 and 1840. At many times, it was entirely plausible that the young nation’s financial troubles might disintegrate it...(read more
Jan 04, 2014 Elizabeth rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
McCraw provides a well-researched and detailed picture of the economic development of a fledgling America, arguing that it was the "immigrants" Hamilton & Gallatin, rather than "natives" Washington, Adams, Jefferson, or Madison, who had the wide economic understanding necessary to give the US time to grow and become strong.
Daniel Farabaugh
Jan 07, 2014 Daniel Farabaugh rated it liked it
When this book kept to the purpose enshrined in the title I found it to be facinating. The author does an excellent job showing the roles that the men played in shaping national finance and his thesis point that their foriegnness is a part of what made them so successful is well proven. The only problem is that it strays into becoming a general biography of the figures at times.
Michael Harrel
Oct 12, 2013 Michael Harrel rated it really liked it
A good summary of Hamilton and Gallatin's role in the early history of America. McCraw's writing is, on the whole, easily readable and engaging; and he explains complex fiscal issues in a comprehensible way. Sometimes he paints with too broad a brush and the reader wishes for more detail, but in a book intended to be widely marketed, these faults can be forgiven.
Kevin Christiansen
Oct 29, 2015 Kevin Christiansen rated it liked it
Enjoyable read, but a fairly quick overview without a lot of depth. Nonetheless, it is reminder of the importance of Hamilton and Gallatin and their roles in laying the economic foundation of the United States.
Feb 25, 2013 Tim rated it really liked it
Not an in depth read about the men covered but it was an interesting read on how the early founders set up the economic system that the USA still follows today.
Oct 20, 2013 Mike rated it liked it
Like most I enjoyed it, particularly the first half, but it dragged on quite a bit the second half.
Jul 12, 2014 John rated it really liked it
The first section on Alexander Hamilton is really good. The book then falls off with the subsequent sections on Albert Gallatin.
Zach rated it really liked it
Sep 05, 2016
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May 08, 2014
Bryant Macfarlane
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Jan 18, 2016
Hope Dirksen
Hope Dirksen rated it it was amazing
Jun 17, 2013
Brian Burns
Brian Burns rated it liked it
May 05, 2015
Darby Holladay
Darby Holladay rated it it was amazing
Sep 26, 2014
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