Hamilton and His Facility with Words

When I was in grade school, one of my favorite English teachers would often remind us, “if you can write, you can do anything.” I would always think, “well of course she’s saying that… she’s an English teacher.”

I’m reading Alexander Hamilton’s biography, and he had quite a facility with words, even when he was a teenager growing up in poverty-stricken St. Croix. When a storm devastated the island inhabitants, Hamilton wrote, “…the ear-piercing shrieks of the distressed, were sufficient to strike astonishment into Angels,” in a letter to his father at the tender age of seventeen.

Hamilton may well have stayed in St. Croix for the rest of his life had the Gazette not picked up his letter and published it in their newspaper anonymously. The island governor demanded to know who wrote the letter, and a group of local businessmen raised a fund to send Hamilton to America to be educated.

Before we had writing, we always needed to be in the same place at the same time in order to communicate. The appeal of writing is that it allows you to exchange ideas without time or place needing to be relevant. When I look at some of my role models — I often realize that they’re not particularly smarter than many of the other people in my life — rather, they document their thoughts. Without Paul Graham’s essays, his ideas about the world would be trapped in his head and few would be privy to them. Writing is much more scalable than conversations.

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