On Nov. 18, The Haverford School welcomed Yale University Professor of History & American Studies Joanne B. Freeman as the 26th annual Davis R. Parker Memorial History Lecture speaker. She presented "Dirty Nasty Politics in Early America," exposing the intense politics of the late 18th century as our Constitution – "an experimentation in government" – was being trialed.
The following day, Freeman engaged Upper School students in discussion of the Burr-Hamilton duel that cost Hamilton his life in 1804. Freeman framed her lecture through the eyes of the Federalists and Republicans, who, although divided in their political ideals, were united in their fear of the new government's potential failure and the Union's resulting collapse. Politicians knew they were on the world stage, and that both their successes and missteps were being watched and recorded. Reflecting this unease, which was at times both exhilarating and terrifying, Hamilton wrote in 1787, "It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force. If there be any truth in the remark, the crisis at which we are arrived may with propriety be regarded as the era in which that decision is to be made; and a wrong election of the part we shall act may, in this view, deserve to be considered as the general misfortune of mankind." The potential crises of the moment – inciting anarchy amongst the 13 states or slipping back into a monarchy – seemed to demand extreme political action, including producing false reports and making character attacks. In the end, it became clear that the party that understood popular politics would win the game. The power rested with the public, and glory would come from serving the general good.