Thursday, July 4, 2013

For the 4th of July: Alexander Hamilton (one of America's Greatest)

In honor of the 4th of July, I'm presenting a chapter about Alexander Hamilton from my ESL book.  I think that he is one of the greatest of all Americans.

If you like this chapter, you are welcome to buy my book (as an e-book) from amazon (the book is very affordable - $3.50 - and a student can learn a lot from it).

If you do not have an e-reader, please send me e-mail at and I will send you a free copy of the book via a Word file attachment.  Please let me know whether you have Word 2010 or an earlier version.

Back to Hamilton: After the Revolution he worked hard to unify the 13 states in order to create one country with a strong central government (which would protect the rights of its citizens).  He also believed that the USA had to modernize and so he encouraged industrialization (the building of factories), but he believed that it was important for businesses to create wealth for the entire society and not just for a few people.  He was also very much anti-slavery (against slavery).

He was born poor (he was an orphan - he did not know who his parents were) and worked hard to be of service to his society.  Unfortunately, he had a terrible death - as you'll read.

So on this 4th of July I want to remember Hamilton and all the unknown heroes who have made the USA (despite its faults and problems) the country that most people want to come to in the world.

Vocabulary in boldface is defined after the reading passage.  Actually, go to the definitions first and look at the words and then try to read the passage.  My book is so useful!!!!! :) And inexpensive!

2.  An important tomb at an urban crossroads

One day I stumbled across history.  I was just wandering around lower Manhattan and came to one of the most beautiful churches in New York City: Trinity Church. 
Around the church is a cemetery - a really old cemetery, or at least old for an American city. There were graves with tombstones from the 1600s and 1700s there.
While wandering through this area I saw a name that I recognized: Alexander Hamilton.  Yeah, the guy on the American $10 bill.  I went home and did some research and I was blown away by what I learned.  Basically, I learned an amazing story and now the tomb of Alexander Hamilton is one of my favorite places in New York City.  Let me tell you about it.

The tomb of Alexander Hamilton is located in the cemetery of Trinity Church in lower Manhattan.  In order to experience the full effect of this historical monument, you need to think of the tomb in its larger urban and neighborhood context.  It is not so much the tomb itself that can make you pause in wonder, but the combination of such a humble structure, for such a great American, located in a relatively ancient cemetery in bustling Lower Manhattan, near the World Trade Center site, Wall Street and next to Trinity Church.  The combination of these factors makes this a monument that can stimulate immense reflection on history, economics, politics, New York City, fate and, of course, one’s own human mortality.

Basically Hamilton was the guy who came up with the idea of The United States of America.  I’m serious. Yes, this guy was huge.  Really huge.  Hey, they don't just put anyone on the $10 bill over here.  After The Revolutionary War, in which the original 13 American colonies/states forced England to grant them independence, not many people felt that forming one country was that important.  Hamilton, however, worked hard to convince all 13 states that they needed to form one nation, with a capitol in Washington D.C., and he established a banking system that would help business and industry to flourish.  Basically, this was the guy who gave the USA its economic blueprint - he was the visionary behind the United States.  Without his efforts, who knows what would have happened after the revolution. So this guy was huge.  He was right up there with Washington, Jefferson, Franklin...maybe he was more important than all of them. Some historians think he was more important than all these guys. He never became president only because he was born outside of the United States – in Jamaica.

Why, then, is he so obscure?  Because of the way he died.  It's like the USA has to cover up its greatest visionary because of the huge scandal in which he was involved.  Essentially, in 1804, the Vice President of the United States, Aaron Burr, shot Hamilton in a duel.  That's right, Hamilton was shot (with a  gun) by the Vice President of the USA.  Burr was the Vice President to President Thomas Jefferson and Jefferson and Hamilton HATED each other.  Basically Jefferson believed the USA should stay agricultural - a farming nation - and that each state should be stronger than the central (or federal) government.  Jefferson liked ancient history and believed the USA should try to become like ancient Rome.  Hamilton looked to the future and Hamilton believed in one strong central government, big, exciting cities and the development of industry and commerce.  The controversy between Hamilton and Jefferson led to this duel.

So one fine morning, in New Jersey, Hamilton and Burr stood a certain number of feet away from each other, each man had a gun, and each man was to shoot at the other because of the hatred that had been generated between them because of their differing ideologies.  There was one problem.  Before the duel Hamilton decided that he was too moral to shoot at Burr.  So when it came time for shots to be fired, Hamilton deliberately fired his bullet (from his gun) over Burr's head.  Burr misinterpreted this gesture and fired directly at Hamilton, killing him.  Hamilton was killed and Burr's life was ruined.  He had to leave the world of politics and, believe it or not, he moved to the western part of the continent (the continent of North America – there are seven continents) and tried to set up (establish) his own state. (Burr wasn't such a bad guy - you might find him to be interesting.)

Hamilton is buried in the cemetery at Trinity Church.  Trinity is located at the intersection of Broadway and Wall Street and is one of the most historic and beautiful churches in the city.  Indeed, until 1908, the spire of Trinity Church was the tallest structure in the entire city. 


The church is a rich, chocolate, dark brown color with ornate and complex stained glass windows. The church is in contrast to the drab gray of the surrounding buildings, with their numerous clear windows rising one row after the other until a flat roof. The church’s huge spire reaching and diminishing toward the heavens contradicts the square symmetry of the neighborhood.  It is a building out of place and out of time.  Indeed, Trinity was built before Wall Street became the banking capitol of the world.  Trinity represents a pre-venture capital (before venture capital) New York City. Trinity represents New York City before it got crazy rich.
I can still remember the first time I came across the cemetery next to the church. It was unbelievable to me that a cemetery with graves from the 1600s would be located in the middle of the Wall Street area.  The cemetery is, however, beautiful!  Each spring flowers blossom and the grass is immaculately mowed.  In winter the cemetery looks dignified, stark, magnificent.  It is a significant presence, drawing one’s attention as one races toward his/her job or to a nearby store.  I have always loved seeing the lunch-time crowd sitting and eating their lunches on benches in the cemetery among the power-brokers of the 1600s and 1700s! 

The gravestones (these include the name, date-of-birth and date-of-death of the person buried) are clearly ancient, some are tipped over, some are cracked.  Some have strange, eerie skulls with angel wings on them.  I am always hit (affected) by the reality of their lives.  You begin to realize that this is history but that this is also personal: these were vital, living, compassionate, proud and successful New Yorkers.   I often calculate how long each person lived and feel sad for those who died young.   As one follows a winding path, one sees a progression of such gravestones from the 1600s to the early 1800s.
Among these graves one suddenly comes to an odd white structure, somewhat pyramidal, somewhat square.  If you look closely, you might see flowers or coins or other knickknacks that people have placed on the structure. I suppose that many people are surprised to see the name Alexander Hamilton.  Some might even realize he is on the $10 bill.  Some really good observers might even notice that his wife’s grave and his son’s grave are also close by.

What is absolutely striking to me is that Hamilton was huge in American history, and his tomb is not even in the center of the cemetery.  In fact, there are nicer tombs, grander (larger, more magnificent) tombs in the cemetery.  Dominating the cemetery, in fact, is a giant green statue of some type of judge who simply could not have done anything near what Hamilton did in the formation of the United States.

The location of Hamilton’s tomb, to me, however, has always been highly symbolic.  In fact, burying Hamilton at the intersection of Broadway (the main artery of Manhattan) and Wall Street (the hub of the financial world) always seemed especially fitting to me because Hamilton was one of the key figures involved in the economic and social development of both New York City and the United States.  New York City has literally grown and developed around his nearly anonymous tomb. But the relative anonymity of his tomb, it’s location in the cemetery, it’s shape, all this seems fitting. 

Why?  Hamilton was an American who loved his country more than anything and he lies at the center of the world’s economy: secure, not ostentatious.  Hamilton lies here in humility - clearly, his tomb attracts attention, but it is not gaudy like that of the green judge – almost as if declaring that the experiment he helped to launch was destined to succeed, and that he was just one of the many now obscure heroes who acted from pure love and who requires no great thanks or praise.                


Definitions of terms
a tomb – This word is pronounced: toom. This is a structure, usually made of concrete or stone, in which a corpse (a dead body) is laid in a cemetery.  It is usually, if not always, above ground.  A cemetery is a place where there are many graves and tombs.  A grave is usually a hole which has been dug into the ground, into which a coffin is placed and then covered with dirt.  A coffin is usually a wooden box in which a dead body is placed. If a person chooses to have his body burned instead of buried, that process is called cremation.  To bury a body is to put it in a coffin and then to place it in a grave in a cemetery.
urban – the opposite of rural.  An urban environment is a city environment.
a crossroads – literally a place where two major roads cross: figuratively or symbolically a crossroads is a place in one’s life when one must make critical decisions about one’s future.
to stumble across – to find accidentally.  To stumble literally means to nearly trip (fall) while you are walking.
a cemetery – this is a place where the dead are buried; the area into which many dead bodies are placed in the ground (six feet underground to be exact - about 2 meters).
a grave – is an individual place in a cemetery where a dead body is placed.  A grave is 6 feet deep.

a tombstone or gravestone – this is the stone that is placed above a grave to give the dead person’s name and birth date and date of death.

to be blown away – means to be really surprised and impressed.
a monument - is a type of structure, often in stone, meant to represent an achievement or a person who achieved something.

neighborhood – students seem to confuse neighborhood with neighbor.  A neighbor is someone who lives close to you.  A neighborhood is the area in which you live.  In New York City, SoHo is a neighborhood, Chelsea is a neighborhood, Chinatown is a neighborhood etc.
the context – the context of any situation would be the factors making up that situation within which you would find details.  Sometimes it is easy to understand the meaning of a word by looking at its context.

to pause – to temporarily stop.
humble – the opposite of arrogant.  A humble person does not act as if he/she is special or great, even if he/she is special or great.

ancient – very old.
bustling – very busy with activity

to stimulate – to cause, to activate, to provoke.
a reflection – a prolonged or sustained amount of thought about something.

fate – what has been determined for a person by a higher power or God.  Fate is usually something bad while destiny is usually something good.
mortality – the fact that we are all going to die some day.  The limited condition of our lives.  Some religious people believe that after death we will experience immortality.  Ha ha ha. Who knows?!

The Revolutionary War – This war was fought from about 1775 to about 1781.  Basically England had colonized North America and was trying to use the colonies to make money.  The colonization had begun in 1608 and by 1775 many people in these colonies felt that they were different from people in England.  They demanded more rights and especially opposed being taxed by England to support a mother country in which they had no political power or representation.  It was a miracle that the people in America won the war, because England had the most powerful military in the world at that time.  It helped that France, Spain and Holland helped the Americans, as well as other European individuals who believed in freedom.
to grant someone something – to give someone something.

to flourish – to do extraordinarily well, to spread, to prosper.
a blueprint – before any building can be built there should be blueprints of what the building will look like to guide the builders.  So a blueprint for anything is a design to be followed to create something.

a visionary – someone who can form a vision of a future development or situation.
obscure – not well known.

to cover something up – to hide something, to make sure nobody learns about something.
a scandal – the results of a negative situation when people begin spreading news or rumors of the negative situation.  When a politician is caught cheating on his wife, that leads to a big scandal in the newspapers.

Vice President – As well as the president of the United States there is a Vice President. Basically his job is easy.  He is there to take over the job if the president dies or gets killed.
a duel – this was when two men would take guns, stand a certain distance away from each other and then shoot at each other upon some signal.  A duel was usually the result of some insult or offense.

commerce – business.
an ideology – a belief system concerning some aspect of behavior or social life.

to be moral – to be good, to be conscientious, to be concerned with doing good things.
deliberately – not accidentally, something chosen to be done.

a gesture – a movement, usually of the hand and arm but more broadly any action meant to signal something to another person.
to ruin s/t– to destroy something, to mess up something, to screw up something.

to be buried – to be placed in the ground and covered with dirt.
an intersection – the place where two roads or streets cross.

the spire – this is the part of the church that stands out the most – it is usually quite long and usually diminishes to a point at the very tip.  There is often a crucifix (+) at the top of a spire.
ornate – fancy, detailed.

drab – plain, boring, gray.
diminishing – slowly disappearing.  After I took the aspirin my backache slowly diminished to nothing.

symmetrical – having equal proportions on both sides.
out of place, out of time -  the building doesn't seem to belong where it is or at this current time; the building looks different from what surrounds it and it seems to belong to a different era

venture capitalism – an aspect of capitalism in which money is provided for a project based on the guess (venture) that the project will make lots of money.  Capital means money.
to blossom – to bloom, to develop, to reach fruition, full development.

immaculate – pure, clean, white.
to mow – to cut grass.

stark – plain, bleak, having no details, standing out.
as one races – as one runs.

a power-broker – one who makes important decisions, one who decides significant issues.
to tip over – to push something so that it is not upright but not completely fallen over.

eerie – creepy, scary, sinister.
vital – full of life.

compassionate – capable of feeling sadness or sorrow for others, having a fellow feeling for others.
winding – not straight, curving. This word has a long “i” sound. Weyeding.

odd – strange.
pyramidal – shaped like a pyramid, those huge things in Egypt in which dead pharaohs were placed.

a knickknack – a little thing, maybe a souvenir.
striking – something is striking if it stands out, really noticeable.

a judge – this is a person who works for the state and who sits in a courtroom and hears legal cases.  He might determine whether a person is “guilty” or “not guilty” or he might determine whether one person owes another person money.
symbolic – if a thing is symbolic, it represents a higher idea or ideal.  A tree can symbolize a type of bridge between the earth and God. A horse can symbolize the concept of inner movement or transition.

an artery – this is something connected to the heart that takes blood away from the heart; figuratively it can mean a road or river or canal or anything that carries many people or things.
a hub – an area that attracts a lot of people or traffic, a place that draws much activity.

to be fitting – to be appropriate.
anonymous – not knowing a person’s name.

secure – safe.
ostentatious – showy, flashy, gaudy.

humility – the personal quality of being simple, not arrogant, acting as if one is simple even if one is special or great.
gaudy – showy, flashy, ostentatious.

to launch s/t – to get something started, to begin something.

Grammar stuff:  tell vs. say

The distinction between these two verbs really seems to drive foreign students nuts.  Nuts means crazy.  Nobody knows how nuts came to mean crazy.  The difference between “to tell” and “to say” is so easy however.  And, you can often use these words interchangeably.  He told me that I should go to the Met Museum.  He said that I should go to the Met Museum.  Do you see one of the big differences between how these verbs are used?

You use “tell” when you can follow it with an object pronoun or other object.  Tell me the latest news from Hong Kong!  Can you please tell me where the nearest bathroom is?  I tried to tell her that going to that neighborhood might be dangerous.

“To say” does not take this direct object pronoun.  What did he say about coming to Philadelphia tomorrow?  I remember that you once said to me that you were born in Berlin.  You can also say: You once told me that you were born in Berlin.  He said that Bob was coming along with us for the ride.

Often times you’ll use “say” when you are quoting or kind of quoting someone.  A quote is something like this: Bob said, “I will go on vacation soon.”  A quote is surrounded by quotation marks.  Did you once say that Bob is gay?  I want to know what she said about me.  But you could also have said, Did you once tell me that Bob is gay?  I want to know what she told you about me.

By the way, “tell” can also mean "determine" or “see.”  This is very confusing for foreign students. I can tell that it is raining outside because you came in all wet.  I could tell that he was angry because he was not smiling as usual.  I think I have a few gray hairs, can you tell?  I can tell that you are in a good mood today.  Practice a little! Please.

11 essential vocab words.  Fill-in-the-blanks

to stumble, a cemetery, humble, to stimulate, fate, mortality, to flourish, obscure, a scandal, commerce, moral

Very few tourists expect to find an ancient ___________ in lower Manhattan – an area known for its liveliness.

It is almost every immigrant’s dream to come to America, start a family and to ___________ economically so that one’s children can receive an American education.

Macbeth, by Shakespeare, is, in part, a play about __________; do we have free will and can we shape our futures or are our futures determined ahead of time as Macbeth’s seemed to be?

Because there is such a large crack in the sidewalk many people are tripping over it and ____________.  I am afraid that someone will fall and hurt himself.

When normal, everyday people meet celebrities they are often surprised by how ___________ they are.  They often expect to meet difficult and arrogant “stars” or “divas.”

Researchers have determined that it is essential to _____________ a baby’s senses, mind and curiosity from the very start in order to ensure (make sure) that the child will develop a sharp intellect.

The presence of the cemetery near Wall Street should stimulate even the greedy and aggressive bankers to think about their own _____________ and whether the lives they have chosen are as meaningful as they could be.

Even though Alexander Hamilton remains __________ to most Americans, historians consider him to be one of the most important of America’s founding fathers.

Does a politician need to be _____________?  Although Bill Clinton certainly violated many ethical principles as president, many people still think he did a good job.

One group of economists believes that the USA can best change the world and spread democratic values through _____________.  They point out that when a country develops a strong business class, it tends to become more democratic.

Recent New York State Governors seem to have suffered from many strange __________.  One involved Governor Spitzer, who was paying to have sex with prostitutes, while another involved his successor, Governor Patterson, who seems to have tried to cover up illegal activity among his staff.


Answers: cemetery, flourish, fate, stumbling, humble, stimulate, mortality, obscure, moral, commerce, scandals,


11 more essential vocab words from this chapter

deliberately, to ruin, drab, to diminish, immaculate, vital, compassionate, a knickknack, a hub, anonymous, to launch

One of the most ___________ or lively neighborhoods of New York City is Flushing, Queens.  There are numerous Korean and Chinese markets and the streets are often crowded with people who are out shopping.

Many young and talented actors come to New York City in order to try to __________ an acting career, but many find that there are only so many opportunities available and many talented actors will never achieve stardom (celebrity status).

Although the fat man did not _____________ bump into Bob on the subway, Bob was still offended and felt that the fat guy should have been more careful.

We all expected to have a good time at the annual (yearly) Halloween parade, but the whole event was _____________ by the rain; nobody had a good time.

The director of the charitable organization was so grateful to receive an _____________ donation of $50,000.  Although he didn’t know who the donor was, he wished that good things might happen for that person.

Even though this winter had been especially cold and wet, it did not ___________the amount of joy and pleasure that Jeongyon had: she tried to do something new every day she was here and had a memorable time.

Times Square remains the ________ of Manhattan; virtually every tourist wants to go there and even New Yorkers find themselves attracted to this area at times.

Although the tomb of Alexander Hamilton seems ___________ and unremarkable, it contains the remains of one of the greatest Americans ever.

There are a number of .99 stores (ninety-nine cent stores) in Manhattan where you can buy all kinds of _____________: from souvenir cups, to toiletries, to various items that might be needed by a tourist.

No politician seems to have an _____________ reputation in New York City or State; every elected official seems to be less than pure.

I was surprised to see a church in the Bronx which is run by the nuns (women in the Catholic Church who serve a religious function) who follow the teachings and life of Mother Teresa.  This church stands as a ______________ presence in a part of New York City where the government does not seem to show much concern for the people.


Answers: vital, launch, deliberately, ruined, anonymous, diminish, hub, drab, knick-knacks, immaculate, compassionate

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