“Since therefore the knowledge and survey of vice is in this world so necessary to the constituting of human virtue, and the scanning of error to the confirmation of truth, how can we more safely, and with less danger, scout into the regions of sin and falsity than by reading all manner of tractates and hearing all manner of reason? And this is the benefit which may be had of books promiscuously read.” -- John Milton, Areopagitica (1644)

Dr. Alexander Hamilton and Provincial America: Expanding the Orbit of Scottish Culture

Dr. Alexander Hamilton and Provincial America: Expanding the Orbit of Scottish Culture - Elaine G. Breslaw image

A cultural biography of Dr. Alexander Hamilton (26 September 1712 - 11 May 1756), a highly educated Scottish physician who immigrated from Edinburgh to Annapolis, Maryland in 1738 (not to be confused with the famous Founding Father).

Hamilton is primarily known for his 1744 lively and opinionated travel diary (itinerarium and a text on his quest which is reminiscent of, but perhaps far less dramatic than, Don Quixote's), which provides a wealth of information about mid-18th-century American society.

The Itinerarium of Dr. Alexander Hamilton, 1744.

Hamilton's massive satirical account of Maryland politics and society titled The History of the Ancient and Honorable Tuesday Club is considered by academia to be a canonical work of early American literature.

This book makes a new argument for Hamilton's historical importance. It describes him as the foremost of several highly-educated Scottish emigrants who modeled and promoted an enlightened urbanity within the British colonies. Hamilton's "legacy to America" was that he transmitted a cultural self-confidence across the Atlantic by transplanting a Scottish belief "that it was possible to create proud traditions out of local experiences."

The book explores Enlightenment-era Scotland in a broad context as a climate of improvement, sociability, and refinement and points out the connections between Hamilton's work and the ideas of other Scottish thinkers (e.g., David Hume and Charles Mackie). The author contends that Scottish intellectual culture first reached America through the efforts of relatively obscure persons in removed places.

Dr. Hamilton’s story illustrates the metamorphosis of an early American immigrant into a citizen sharing a new, but as yet unrecognized, national identity...

This story of Dr. Alexander Hamilton is not just the biography of one man; it is the story of how a piece of Scotland’s intellectual world and its own germinating Enlightenment was transplanted into new soil, took root, and was molded by a new social and economic environment.

This book unlocked a treasure trove for me. Not only did I learn more about the influence of Scottish Enlightenment in colonial America, but also I got to tap into the early roots of American vacations.

When Hamilton set out in 1744 on a horseback journey "intended only for health and recreation," he was doing something highly unusual in the America of that day: travelling for pleasure. Most settlers struggled with the notion of taking time off from work -- it generated anxiety because industriousness and discipline were the virtues that supposedly led to success not only for individuals but for the nation. Leisure and idleness led to danger, a distrust that derived from Puritan beliefs. The work ethic, which was also identified with the idea of a republic as opposed to the idleness of monarchy, dominated early America. The tension between work and play persisted in American culture to this day.


In the following two decades, a handful of other colonial gentry were seeking relaxation and fresh air at such seacoast spots as Newport, Rhode Island, and mineral springs at such primitive retreats as Berkeley Springs in Virginia and Bristol near Philadelphia. They were among America's first "vacationers," although few would use that word to describe them until the mid-19th century. Vacationing began as a privilege of the elite in colonial America, a rougher version of British and European visits to spas and grand tours.

From there, American vacations have developed into a mass phenomenon firmly entrenched as part of the American way of life. Economic prosperity and industrialization, the railroad and then the automobile, helped spread the idea of the "leisure trip" rapidly among the burgeoning white middle class in the 19th century and among factory- and office-workers in the 20th, eventually drawing in all Americans across class, racial, and ethnic lines.


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