Paul Greenberg

Once they realized that no government funds had been involved in their political opponent's purely personal folly, his visitors agreed to keep the matter in strictest confidence. And they did. There were gentlemen in those days.

Nothing further was said about the unfortunate matter. Until an unscrupulous journalist (or is that a tautology?) used it for partisan purposes in that era's version of the National Enquirer.

Alexander Hamilton may not have known any better than to let his libido overwhelm his good judgment, but he did know enough not to lie about it. He did not denounce rumors of his peccadillo as "tabloid trash," and he would never have denied the truth under oath.

Instead, he published a complete, forthright and, as always, eloquent account of the entire affair in his own newspaper. (Did I mention that he was also a talented writer and editor?) In response to the scheming husband's accusation that he had mishandled public funds, Hamilton confessed: "My real crime is an amorous connection with his wife."

The truth was told, justice done, the public interest served, and even Hamilton's marriage preserved by the grace of a tender and forgiving wife. To quote one historian, "It was an amazing performance. Never in American history has a public man showed greater candor."

Choosing to sacrifice his private life in order to vindicate his public one, Alexander Hamilton had saved both. Once again honesty had proven the best policy - an old and simple truth, but one that some of our brainiest politicians seem incapable of grasping.

It is hard, indeed almost impossible, to imagine so civilized an outcome in this time of 24/7 scandal when politicians, even on a presidential level, choose to lie about some personal weakness until they can no longer get away with it. And it's always the cover-up that is the greater offense against the public trust, and the soul.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.