January 29th, 2018 · Be the first to comment

Deep Advice from a Founding Father

In the year 1800, Alexander Hamilton sent his son Philip the following letter, which laid out a set of rules that Philip should follow to make the most out of his legal training after his graduation from Columbia College:

Rules for Mr Philip Hamilton[:] from the first of April to the first of October he is to rise not later than six o’clock—The rest of the year not later than Seven. If Earlier he will deserve commendation. Ten will be his hour of going to bed throughout the year.

From the time he is dressed in the morning till nine o clock (the time for breakfast Excepted) he is to read Law.

At nine he goes to the office & continues there till dinner time—he will be occupied partly in the writing and partly in reading law.

After Dinner he reads law at home till five o’clock. From this hour till seven he disposes of his time as he pleases. From seven to ten he reads and studies what ever he pleases.

From twelve on Saturday he is at Liberty to amuse himself.

On Sunday he will attend the morning Church. The rest of the day may be applied to innocent recreations.

He must not Depart from any of these rules without my permission.

To our modern sensibilities, this schedule might seem overly rigorous. But Hamilton, who along with Jefferson and Madison, was one our most intellectual founder fathers, had learned through experience that doing anything worthwhile with your brain requires a foundation built on thousands of hours of deep work.

His schedule for his son was meant to trim waste and get right to the hard cognitive calisthenics needed to get Philip’s mind into shape.

Perhaps not surprisingly, I like this letter. In our current age, with its emphasis on personal branding, social network marketing, clever retweets and mobile accessibility, it’s important to remember that in many fields there’s still no substitute for hard brain work.

If you want to make a difference, you can’t avoid the necessity of waking up at six to read law before breakfast.


(Hat tip: Warren S.)