Alexander Hamilton

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Historical figures

Alexander Hamilton

Portrait of Alexander Hamilton by Daniel Huntington c.1865, based on a full length portrait painted by John Trumbull
1st United States Secretary of the Treasury
In office
September 11, 1789 –  January 31, 1795
President George Washington
Preceded by None
Succeeded by Oliver Wolcott, Jr.
Born January 11, 1755 or 1757
Nevis, British West Indies
Died July 12, 1804
New York City, New York
Political party The Federalist Party founder
Spouse Betsey [Elizabeth] Schuyler Hamilton
Profession Secretary of Treasury

Alexander Hamilton ( January 11, 1755 or 1757 — July 12, 1804) was an American politician, leading statesman, financier, intellectual, military officer, and founder of the Federalist party. One of America's foremost constitutional lawyers, he was an influential delegate to the U.S. Constitutional Convention in 1787; he was one of the two leading authors of the Federalist Papers, which has been the single most important interpretation of the Constitution.

He was the first Secretary of the Treasury and had much influence over the rest of the Government and the formation of policy, including foreign policy. He convinced Congress to use an elastic interpretation of the Constitution to pass far-reaching laws. They included the creation of a national debt, federal assumption of the state debts, creation of a national bank, and a system of taxes through a tariff on imports and a tax on whiskey that would pay for it all. He admired the British system and strongly denounced the French Revolution.

Hamilton created the Federalist party, the first American political party, which he built up using patronage, networks of elite leaders, and aggressive newspaper editors. His great adversary was Thomas Jefferson, who opposed his urban, financial, industrially pro-British vision and, with James Madison, created the "republican party" , eventually called the Democratic-Republican Party. Hamilton retired from the Treasury in 1795 to practice law but returned to the public arena in December, 1798 as organizer of a new army; if full scale war broke out with France, the army was intended to conquer the colonies of Spain, France's ally. Hamilton also used it to threaten political foes in Virginia. He worked to defeat both John Adams and Jefferson in the election of 1800; but when the House of Representatives deadlocked, he helped secure the election of Jefferson over Aaron Burr.

Hamilton once proposed (as recorded briefly in notes taken by James Madison) the concept of elective monarchial republicanism in a speech at the Continental Congress, although he came to doubt its possibility after the election of Jefferson. His nationalist and modernizing vision was rejected in the Jeffersonian "Revolution of 1800." However, after the War of 1812 showed the need for strong national institutions, his former opponents, led by John C. Calhoun, came to emulate his programs as they too set up a national bank, tariffs, internal improvements, and a standing army and navy. The later Whig and Republican parties adopted many of Hamilton's themes, but his negative reputation after 1800 did not allow them to acknowledge his role until his style of nationalism became dominant again about 1900, when Progressives such as Theodore Roosevelt and Herbert Croly, as well as conservative Henry Cabot Lodge, revived his reputation.

Early years

A young Alexander Hamilton.
A young Alexander Hamilton.

Alexander Hamilton was born on the West Indies island of Nevis to James Hamilton, the fourth son of a Scottish laird, and Rachel Fawcett Lavien, of part French Huguenot descent. Hamilton's mother had been married to Johann Michael Lavien on the island of St. Croix. When she moved to Nevis she left a son from that marriage. (The spelling of Lavien varies; this is Hamilton's version, which may be a Sephardic spelling of Levine.) The couple may have lived apart from one another under an order of legal separation; since Rachel was the guilty party, re-marriage was impossible.

There is some uncertainty as to the year of Hamilton's birth; he used January 11 as his birthday. Most historians now use January 11, 1755, as Hamilton's birthday, although there is disagreement. He claimed 1757 as his birth year when he first came to North America; but the Dane, Ramsing, found in 1930 that he is recorded as thirteen in the probate papers after his mother's death—which would make him two years older. He was often approximate about his age thereafter. Various explanations of this have been suggested: He may have been trying to appear younger than his college classmates, and so precocious; he may have been avoiding standing out as older; the probate document may be wrong; he may have been passing as older than he was, and so more employable, at his mother's death.

Hamilton was always sensitive about his illegitimate birth. His father abandoned his two sons in the course of breaking with Hamilton's mother. (This presumably had severe emotional consequences, even among eighteenth-century childhoods.) His mother kept a small store on Nevis, and had, it is said, the largest library on the island—some thirty-odd books. She died in 1768, leaving Hamilton effectively orphaned. A short time afterwards, Rachel's son from her first marriage appeared in Nevis, and (legally) confiscated the few valuables Hamilton's mother had owned, including several valuable silver spoons. Hamilton never saw him again, but years later received his death notice and a small amount of money.

Hamilton's business career began in 1768 at the counting house of Nicholas Cruger. Cruger took a trip off-island in 1771-72, leaving young Hamilton in charge of business affairs for five months. He displayed a remarkable flair for business and leadership skills that involved dealing with senior ship captains and businessmen on an equal basis. Later, Hugh Knox, a Presbyterian minister, came to St. Croix. He opened his library to Hamilton and preached about the practical evils produced by slavery. He influenced Hamilton greatly; some biographers derive Hamilton's opposition to slavery from Knox. In September, Knox, who also edited the local paper, published a remarkable letter by Hamilton describing and moralizing about a devastating hurricane. The islanders, perhaps chiefly Knox and Cruger, in response to the hurricane letter, raised a fund to send the young man to America for schooling.


In 1773, Hamilton attended a college-preparatory program with Francis Barber at Elizabethtown, New Jersey. There, he most probably came under the influence of a leading intellectual and revolutionary, Robert Livingston. He may have applied to the College of New Jersey (forerunner to Princeton University) and been rejected; but he attended King's College (the predecessor of Columbia University) in New York City.

When Anglican clergyman Samuel Seabury published a series of pamphlets promoting the Tory cause with conviction, Hamilton struck back with his first political writings, A Full Vindication of the measures of Congress, and The Farmer Refuted written in 1774. He published two other pieces attacking the Quebec Act as "establishing arbitrary power and Popery" in Canada , and he wrote fourteen anonymous installments of "The Monitor" for Holt's New York Journal. Nevertheless, Hamilton is said to have preferred civil debate over revolutionary fervor; the report that he saved King's College president and Tory sympathizer Myles Cooper from an angry mob by persuasion alone is generally accepted.

Military career

Hamilton joined a New York volunteer militia company called the Hearts of Oak in 1775 after the first engagements of American troops with the British in Boston. He drilled with the company (which included other King's students) before classes in the graveyard of nearby St. Paul's Chapel. Hamilton achieved the rank of lieutenant, studied military history and tactics on his own and, under fire from the HMS Asia, led a successful raid for British cannon in the Battery, the capture of which resulted in the Hearts of Oak becoming an artillery company thereafter. Through his connections with influential New York patriots like Alexander McDougall and John Jay, he raised his own artillery company of sixty men in 1776, drilling them, selecting and purchasing their uniforms with donated funds, and winning their loyalty; they chose the young man as their captain. He won the interest of Nathanael Greene and George Washington by the proficiency and bravery he displayed in the campaign of 1776 around New York City, particularly at the Battle of Harlem Heights.

He joined Washington's staff in March 1777 with the rank of lieutenant-colonel and for four years served in effect as his chief of staff. He handled the paperwork and drafted many of Washington's orders and letters (but Washington always made the decisions and gave the commands). He negotiated with general officers as Washington's emissary. The important duties with which he was entrusted attest Washington's entire confidence in his abilities and character, then and afterward. Indeed, reciprocal confidence and respect initially took the place of personal attachment in their relations. During the war Hamilton became close friends with several fellow officers, including John Laurens and the Marquis de Lafayette.

Alexander Hamilton
Alexander Hamilton

Hamilton repeatedly sought independent command, especially of small units. He became impatient of detention in what he regarded as a position of unpleasant dependence, and in February 1781, he received a slight reprimand from Washington as an excuse for resigning his staff position. But later, through Washington, he secured a field command: he led an (elite) light infantry regiment that took Redoubt #10 of the British fortifications at Yorktown, the last necessary to force the British surrender there.

Relationship with John Laurens

Some historians contend that Hamilton had a homosexual relationship with John Laurens although it was later found out he did not while both were aide-de-camps to Washington. Laurens took leave, travelling to his home state of South Carolina, in an effort to persuade the legislature to recruit African-American troops for the Continental Army. The suspicions about their relationship are based upon letters Hamilton wrote to Laurens shortly afterward. The first correspondence that we have appears to be a response from Hamilton to Laurens, written in December, 1779.

The letter says, in part: “Cold in my professions, warm in my friendships, I wish, my Dear Laurens, it might be in my power, by action rather than words to convince you that I love you. I shall only tell you that 'til you bade us Adieu, I hardly knew the value you had taught my heart to set upon you… You should not have taken advantage of my sensibility to steal into my affections without my consent. But as you have done it, and as we are generally indulgent to those we love, I shall not scruple to pardon the fraud you have committed, on condition that for my sake, if not for your own, you will always continue to merit the partiality, which you have artfully instilled into me.”

In the same letter, however, Hamilton asks Laurens to find him a wife in South Carolina: “She must be young--handsome (I lay most stress upon a good shape) Sensible (a little learning will do)--well bred. . . chaste and tender (I am an enthusiast in my notions of fidelity and fondness); of some good nature--a great deal of generosity (she must neither love money nor scolding, for I dislike equally a termagant and an economist)--In politics, I am indifferent what side she may be of--I think I have arguments that will safely convert her to mine--As to religion a moderate stock will satisfy me--She must believe in god and hate a saint. But as to fortune, the larger stock of that the better."

In preparing a biography, Hamilton's family redacted parts of the letters the two sent one another. It remains rumor whether their relationship was sexual or not. Hamilton was apparently never as emotionally open with any other man in his lifetime, but he knew no other comrade or peer in age, rank, and common war experience to share a deep platonic friendship with. Though the depth of sentiments expressed by him are equaled only in letters he wrote to his wife Eliza, the language is not uncommon between men for the historical period.

The two are pictured together in John Trumbull's "Surrender of Lord Cornwallis” and were featured together on a bicentennial US Stamp, issued May 19, 1976. A statue of two men clasping hands is attached to the larger Marquis de Lafayette statue across from the White House in Washington, D.C.. For years, it was rumored to depict Hamilton and Laurens congratulating each other after capturing the British redoubt at Yorktown, and served a popular gay rendezvous. However, the figures on the west side of the Marquis de Lafayette statue actually depict Louis Le Bègue Duportail and Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, the Comte de Rochambeau.

Under the Confederation

After the war, he served as a member of the Congress of the Confederation from 1782 to 1783, and then he retired to open his own law office in New York City. He specialized in defending Tories and British subjects, as in Rutgers v. Waddington, in which he defeated a claim for damages done to a brewery by the Englishmen who held it during the military occupation of New York. He pleaded that the Mayor's Court should interpret state law to be consistent with the 1783 Treaty of Paris that ended the Revolutionary War.

In 1784, he founded the Bank of New York, now the oldest ongoing banking organization in the United States, and was also instrumental, along with John Jay, in the revitalization of King's College, which had been severely crippled by the war and discredited for its Tory affiliations, as Columbia College. His public career resumed when he attended the Annapolis Convention as a delegate in 1786 and drafted its resolution for a Constitutional convention.

Constitution and the Federalist Papers

In 1787, he served in the New York State Legislature and was the first delegate chosen to the Constitutional Convention. Hamilton's direct influence at the Convention was limited, since New York at the time was dominated by Clintonians (under George Clinton) in opposition of a strong national government. Not long into the convention, the two other New York delegates left the convention in protest, and Hamilton remained with no vote (two representatives were required for any state to cast a vote).

Early in the Convention he made a speech proposing what was considered a very monarchical government for the United States. Though regarded as one of his most eloquent speeches, it had little effect, and deliberations continued largely ignoring his suggestions.

Based on his interpretation of history, he concluded the ideal form of government had represented all the interest groups, but maintained a hereditary monarch to decide policy. In Hamilton's opinion, this was impractical in the United States; nevertheless, the country should mimic this form of government as closely as possible. He proposed, therefore, to have a President and Senators for life, though they would be an elected assembly. He was also for the abolition of the state governments. Much later, he stated that his "final opinion" in the Convention was that the President should have a three year term. The notes of the Convention are rather brief; there has been some speculation that he might have also proposed a longer, and more republican, plan.

During the convention, he constructed a draft on the basis of the debates which he did not actually present. This has most of the features of the actual Constitution, down to such details as the three-fifths clause, but not all of them. The Senate is elected in proportion to population, being two-fifths the size of the House, and the President and Senators are elected through complex multi-stage elections, in which chosen electors elect smaller bodies of electors; they still held office for life, but were removable for misconduct. The President would have an absolute veto. The Supreme Court was to have immediate jurisdiction over all suits involving the United States, and State governors were to be appointed by the Federal Government.

Hamilton was satisfied with the proposed U.S. Constitution, and became a stalwart promoter. He took the lead in the successful campaign for its ratification in New York, a crucial victory for ratification. Hamilton recruited John Jay and James Madison to write a defense of the proposed Constitution, now known as The Federalist Papers, but he made the largest collective contribution (writing 51 of the 85 that were published). Hamilton is considered the leading interpreter of the Constitution, and his essays and arguments were influential in New York state and others during the debates over ratification. The Federalist Papers are more often cited than any other primary source by jurists, lawyers, historians and political scientists as the major contemporary interpretation of the Constitution.

In 1788, Hamilton served yet another term in what proved to be the last time the Continental Congress met under the Articles of Confederation.

Secretary of the Treasury: 1789-1795

President George Washington appointed Hamilton as the first Secretary of the Treasury. Hamilton served in the Treasury Department from September 11, 1789, until January 31, 1795.

Within one year, Hamilton submitted five reports that amounted to a financial revolution in the American Economy.

  • First Report on the Public Credit
    • Communicated to the House of Representatives, January 14, 1790.
  • Operations of the Act Laying Duties on Imports
    • Communicated to the House of Representatives, April 23, 1790.
  • Report on a National Bank
    • Communicated to the House of Representatives, December 14, 1790.
  • Report on the Establishment of a Mint
    • Communicated to the House of Representatives, January 28, 1791.
  • Report on Manufactures
    • Communicated to the House of Representatives, December 5, 1791.

In the Report on Public Credit, the Secretary made the controversial proposal that would have had the Federal Government assume state debts incurred during the Revolution. It was a bold move to empower the federal government over State governments, and it drew sharp criticism from Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and Speaker of the House of Representatives James Madison. The disagreements between Jefferson and Hamilton extended to other proposals Hamilton made to Congress, and they grew especially bitter, with Hamilton's followers calling themselves Federalists and Jefferson's calling themselves republicans. These divisions are the first manifestations of political parties in the U.S.

Jefferson and Madison eventually brokered a deal with Hamilton that required him to use his influence to place the permanent capital on the Potomac River, while Jefferson and Madison would encourage their friends to back Hamilton's assumption plan. In the end, Hamilton's assumption, together with his proposals for funding the debt, passed legislative opposition and became law.

Hamilton's next milestone report was his Report on Manufactures. Congress shelved the report without much debate, except for Madison's objection to Hamilton's formulation of the General Welfare clause, which Hamilton construed liberally. Nevertheless, The Report on Manufactures is a classic document heralding the industrial future America would soon inhabit. In it Hamilton counters Jefferson's vision of an Agrarian American nation of farmers and gives a clear vision for a dynamic industrial economy, subservient to manufacturing interests. Hamilton discusses some problems relating to Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, while borrowing from Smith's theory at the same time. As a state paper, the report on manufactures failed to bring about any policy recommendations but was much read during the nineteenth century.

Apart from these, Hamilton helped found the United States Mint, the First National Bank, the U.S. Coast Guard, and an elaborate system of duties, tariffs, and excises. The complete Hamiltonian program is considered by many scholars to have amounted to a swift, five-year financial revolution that replaced the chaotic financial system of the confederation era with a modern apparatus to give investors the confidence necessary for them to invest in government bonds. His overall financial program is now acknowledged to have strengthened the Federal government considerably, a central objective in Hamilton's nationalist vision.

Hamilton's reports are not the only noteworthy elements of his Treasury tenure. The very act of administering his programs has drawn much interest from students of public administration. Hamilton paid attention to how a government implemented policy, as much as what policy it implemented. "Administration," said Hamilton, "this is the true touchstone." James Madison later said:

"I deserted Colonel Hamilton, or rather Colonel H. deserted me; in a word, the divergence between us took place from his wishing to administration, or rather to administer the Government into what he thought it ought to be..."

While Hamilton never penned a full theory of public administration, his practices in the domain reflect his recurring concern with energy and enterprise. The key idea was that a good administration of the government (meaning the confident and energetic assumption of power) would endear a government to the people. Hamilton worked this principle into the government through his own administration of the Treasury Department and as advisor to President Washington. However, his adherence to this principle engendered as many enemies as allies and brought into question the limits of executive power.

As a principal sources of revenue, Hamilton's system imposed an excise tax on whiskey. Strong opposition to the whiskey tax erupted into the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794; in Western Pennsylvania and western Virginia, whiskey was commonly made and used (often in place of currency) by most of the community. In response to the rebellion—on the grounds compliance with the laws was vital to the establishment of federal authority—he accompanied President Washington, General "Light Horse Harry" Lee and more Federal troops than the Continental Line. This overwhelming display of force intimidated the leaders of the insurrection, ending the rebellion virtually without bloodshed.

Founding the Federalist Party

Hamilton created the Federalist Party and dominated it until 1800. It was the first political party in the nation; some have called it the first mass-based party in any republic; others have seen its chief weakness in having too little connection to the masses. As early as 1790, Hamilton started putting together a nationwide coalition, using the contacts he had made in the Army and the Treasury. To build vocal political support in each state, he signed up prominent men who were like-minded nationalists. The friends of the government especially included merchants, bankers, and financiers in a dozen major cities. By 1792 or 1793 newspapers started calling Hamilton supporters "Federalists" and the opponents "democrats" or "republicans". Religious and educational leaders—hostile to the French Revolution—joined his coalition, especially in New England. Hamilton systematically set up a Federalist newspaper network, recruiting and subsidizing editors like Noah Webster and John Fenno; he wrote numerous anonymous editorials and essays for his papers.

By 1793, Jefferson and Madison started the republican party, which eventually became the Democratic Republicans. The state networks of both parties began to operate in 1794 or 1795, thus firmly establishing what has been called The First Party System in all the states. Hamilton had over 2,000 Treasury jobs to dispense, while Jefferson had only one. Jay's Treaty of 1794 injected foreign policy into the party debates, with Hamilton and his party favoring Britain and denouncing the French Revolution, while the Jeffersonians tended to the opposite position.

The Federalist and Democratic-Republican newspapers of the 1790s traded "rancorous and venomous abuse." John Fenno had founded the Gasette of the United States in 1789, on Hamilton's side; Philip Freneau, known as the "Poet of the Revolution," was a Democratic-Republican editor. The Democratic Republicans attacked Hamilton as a monarchist who betrayed America's true values; after the Reynolds affair became known they used salacious humor relentlessly. One poem began:

ASK—who lies here beneath this monument?
L o!—’tis a self created MONSTER, who
E mbraced all vice. His arrogance was like
X erxes, who flogg’d the disobedient sea,
A dultery his smallest crime


Statue of Hamilton by Franklin Simmons, overlooking the Great Falls of the Passaic River in Paterson, New Jersey. Hamilton envisioned the use of the falls to power new factories.
Statue of Hamilton by Franklin Simmons, overlooking the Great Falls of the Passaic River in Paterson, New Jersey. Hamilton envisioned the use of the falls to power new factories.

Hamilton was among the first to predict an industrial future. In 1778, he visited the Great Falls of the Passaic River in northern New Jersey and saw that the falls could one day be harnessed to provide power for a manufacturing centre on the site. In the 1790s, he helped to found the Society for the Establishment of Useful Manufactures, a private corporation that would use the power of the falls to operate mills. Although the company did not succeed in its original purpose, it leased the land around the falls to other mill ventures and continued to operate for over a century and a half.

Out of the Cabinet


In 1794, Hamilton became intimately involved in an affair with Maria Reynolds that badly damaged his reputation. Reynolds's husband, James, blackmailed Hamilton for money by threatening to tell Hamilton's wife, Eliza. When James Reynolds was arrested for counterfeiting, he contacted several prominent members of the Democratic-Republican Party, most notably James Monroe, touting that he could finger a top level official for corruption. When they visited Hamilton with their suspicions (believing Hamilton had abused his position in Washington's Cabinet), Hamilton insisted he was innocent of any misconduct in public office and admitted to the affair with Maria Reynolds. When rumors began spreading, Hamilton published a confession of his affair, shocking his family and supporters by not merely confessing but narrating the affair in detail. At first Hamilton accused Monroe of making his affair public, and challenged him to a duel. Aaron Burr stepped in and persuaded Hamilton that Monroe was innocent of the accusation. His well-known vitriolic temper led Hamilton to challenge several others to duels in his career.

1796 presidential election

Hamilton's resignation as Secretary of the Treasury in 1795 did not remove him from public life. With the resumption of his law practice, he remained close to Washington as an adviser and friend. Hamilton influenced Washington in the composition of his Farewell Address, and Washington often consulted with him, as did members of his Cabinet.

In the election of 1796, each of the presidential Electors had two votes, which they were to cast for different men; the one with most votes to be President, the second Vice President. This system was not designed for parties, which had been thought disreputable and factious. The Federalists planned to deal with this by having all their Electors vote for Adams and all but a few for Thomas Pinckney of South Carolina, then on his way home from a successful embassage to Spain. Jefferson chose Aaron Burr as his vice presidential running mate.

Hamilton, however, disliked Adams and saw an opportunity. He urged all the Northern Electors to vote for Adams and Pinckney, lest Jefferson get in; he cooperated with Edward Rutledge to have South Carolina's Electors vote for Jefferson and Pinckney. If all this worked, Pinckney would have more votes than Adams; Pinckney would be President, and Adams would remain Vice President. It did not. The Federalists found out about it (even the French minister to the United States found out about it), and Northern Federalists voted for Adams but not for Pinckney, in sufficient numbers that Pinckney came in third and Jefferson became Vice President.


Adams resented this because, from the non-partisan point of view, his services and seniority were much greater than Pinckney's. Relations between Hamilton and Washington's successor, John Adams, however, were frequently strained. Adams resented Hamilton's influence with Washington and considered him overambitious and scandalous in his private life; Hamilton compared Adams unfavorably with Washington and thought him too emotionally unstable to be President. During the Quasi-War of 1798-1800, and with Washington's strong endorsement, Adams reluctantly appointed Hamilton a major general of the army (essentially placing him in command since Washington could not leave Mt. Vernon).

Hamilton proceeded to set up an army, which was to guard against invasion and march into the possessions of Spain, then allied with France, and take Louisiana and Mexico. His correspondence further suggests that when he returned in military glory, he dreamed of setting up a properly energetic government, without any Jeffersonians. Adams, however, derailed all plans for war by opening negotiations with France. Adams had also held it right to retain Washington's cabinet, except for cause; he found, in 1800 (after Washington's death), that they were obeying Hamilton rather than himself and fired several of them.

1800 presidential election

In the 1800 election, Hamilton acted against both sides. He proposed that New York, which Burr had won for Jefferson, should have its election rerun with carefully chosen districts. John Jay, who had given up the Supreme Court to be Governor of New York, declined to support this unbecoming proposal. John Adams was running this time with Pinckney's elder brother Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. On the other hand, Hamilton toured New England, again urging Northern Electors to hold firm for this Pinckney, in the renewed hope to make Pinckney President; and he again intrigued in South Carolina. This time, the important reaction was from the Jeffersonian Electors, all of whom voted both for Jefferson and Burr to ensure that no such deal would result in electing a Federalist. (Burr had received only one vote from Virginia in 1796.) On the Federalist side, Governor Arthur Fenner of Rhode Island denounced these "jockeying tricks" to make Pinckney President, and one Rhode Island Elector voted for Adams and Jay. The result was that Jefferson and Burr tied for first and second; and Pinckney came in fourth.

In September, Hamilton wrote a pamphlet (Letter from Alexander Hamilton, Concerning the Public Conduct and Character of John Adams, Esq. President of the United States) which was highly critical of Adams, although it closed with a tepid endorsement. He mailed this to two hundred leading Federalists; when a copy fell into Democratic-Republican hands, they printed it. This also hurt Adams's 1800 reelection campaign and split the Federalist Party, virtually assuring the victory of the Democratic-Republican Party, led by Jefferson, in the election of 1800, and destroyed Hamilton's position among the Federalists.

So Jefferson had beaten Adams; both he and his nominal running mate, Aaron Burr, received 73 votes in the Electoral College. With Jefferson and Burr tied, the United States House of Representatives had to choose between the two men. (As a result of this election, the Twelfth Amendment was proposed and ratified, adopting the method under which presidential elections are held today.) Several Federalists who opposed Jefferson supported Burr, but Hamilton reluctantly threw his weight behind Jefferson, causing one Federalist congressman to abstain from voting after 36 tied ballots. This ensured that Jefferson was elected President rather than Burr. Even though Hamilton did not like Jefferson and disagreed with him on many issues, he was quoted as saying, "At least Jefferson was honest." Burr then became Vice President of the United States. When it became clear that he would not be asked to run again with Jefferson, Burr sought the New York governorship in 1804 but was badly defeated by forces led by Hamilton.

Family life

In spring 1779, Hamilton asked his friend John Laurens to find him a wife in South Carolina: [Mitchell vol 1 p 199]:

"She must be young—handsome (I lay most stress upon a good shape) Sensible (a little learning will do)—well bred. . . chaste and tender (I am an enthusiast in my notions of fidelity and fondness); of some good nature—a great deal of generosity (she must neither love money nor scolding, for I dislike equally a termagant and an economist)—In politics, I am indifferent what side she may be of—I think I have arguments that will safely convert her to mine—As to religion a moderate stock will satisfy me—She must believe in God and hate a saint. But as to fortune, the larger stock of that the better."

Hamilton however found his own bride. On December 14, 1780, he married Elizabeth Schuyler, daughter of General Philip Schuyler, and thus joined one of the richest and most political families in the state of New York.

Hamilton grew extremely close to Eliza's sister Angelica Church, who was married to John Barker Church, a Member of Parliament.

Hamilton's widow, Elizabeth (known as Eliza or Betsey), survived him for fifty years, until 1854; Hamilton had referred to her as "best of wives and best of women." An extremely religious woman, Eliza spent much of her life working to help widows and orphans. After Hamilton's death, she co-founded New York's first private orphanage, the New York Orphan Asylum Society. Despite the Reynolds affair (and several others), Alexander and Eliza were very close, and as a widow she always strove to guard his reputation and enhance his standing in American history.

Duel with Aaron Burr

Hamilton fights his fatal duel with Aaron Burr.
Hamilton fights his fatal duel with Aaron Burr.

Soon after the gubernatorial election in New York—in which Morgan Lewis, greatly assisted by Hamilton, defeated Aaron Burr—a newspaper published a letter from a dinner party in upstate New York, during which Hamilton, discussing Burr, said he could reveal "an even more despicable opinion" of Colonel Burr. Burr, sensing an attack on his honour, and surely still stung by the defeat, demanded an apology. Hamilton refused on the grounds that he could not recall the instance.

It was an exchange of three testy letters, and despite the attempts of friends to avert a confrontation, a duel was nevertheless scheduled for July 11, 1804, along the bank of the Hudson River on a rocky ledge in Weehawken, New Jersey. It was a common dueling site at which two years earlier Hamilton's eldest son, Philip, had been killed in a duel with a prominent Jeffersonian whom he had publicly insulted in a Manhattan theatre.

At dawn, the duel began, and Vice President Aaron Burr shot Hamilton. Hamilton's shot broke a tree branch directly above Burr's head. A letter that he wrote the night before the duel states, "I have resolved, if our interview [duel] is conducted in the usual manner, and it pleases God to give me the opportunity, to reserve and throw away my first fire, and I have thoughts even of reserving my second fire." The circumstances of the duel, and Hamilton's actual intentions, are still disputed. Neither of the Seconds, Pendleton or Van Ness, could determine who fired first. The next day they measured and triangulated the shooting (both men were the same height) and determined that Hamilton, probably more nervous than Burr, had fired from the hip. The guns had hair-trigger settings, but according to both seconds were not used. The same guns were used in Philip Hamilton's duel and still exist today.

If a duelist decided not to aim at his opponent there was a well-known procedure, obvious to everyone present, for doing so. Hamilton did not follow this procedure. (If so, Burr might have followed suit, and death may have been avoided.) It was a matter of honour among gentlemen to follow these rules. Because of the high incidence of septicemia and death resulting from torso wounds, a high percentage of duels employed this procedure of throwing away fire. Years later, when told that Hamilton may have misled him at the duel, the ever-laconic Burr replied, "Contemptible—if true."

After considerable suffering, Hamilton died the next day and was buried in the Trinity Churchyard Cemetery in Manhattan (Hamilton was Episcopalian). Governor Morris, a political ally of Hamilton's, gave the eulogy at his funeral and secretly established a fund to support his widow and children.


Alexander Hamilton on the current U.S. $10 bill
Alexander Hamilton on the current U.S. $10 bill

From the start, Hamilton set a precedent as a Cabinet member by dreaming up federal programs, writing them in the form of reports, pushing for their approval by appearing in person to argue them on the floor of Congress, and then implementing them.

Another of Hamilton's legacies was his pro-Federal interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. Though the Constitution was drafted in a way that was somewhat ambiguous as to the balance of power between Federal and state governments, Hamilton consistently took the side of greater Federal power at the expense of states. Thus, as Secretary of the Treasury, he established—against the intense opposition of Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson—the country's first national bank. Hamilton justified the creation of this bank, and other increased Federal powers, on Congress's constitutional powers to issue currency, to regulate interstate commerce, and anything else that would be "necessary and proper." Jefferson, on the other hand, took a stricter view of the Constitution: parsing the text carefully, he found no specific authorization for a national bank. This controversy was eventually settled by the Supreme Court of the United States in McCulloch v. Maryland, which in essence adopted Hamilton's view, granting the federal government broad freedom to select the best means to execute its constitutionally enumerated powers, specifically the doctrine of implied powers.

Hamilton's policies as Secretary of the Treasury have had an immeasurable effect on the United States Government and still continue to influence it. In 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the U.S. Navy was still using inter-ship communication protocols written by Hamilton for the original U.S. Coast Guard. His constitutional interpretation, specifically of the necessary and proper clause, set precedents for federal authority that are still used by the courts and are considered an authority on constitutional interpretation. The prominent French diplomat Charles Maurice de Talleyrand once said "I consider Napoleon, Fox, and Hamilton the three greatest men of our epoch, and if I were forced to decide between the three, I would give without hesitation the first place to Hamilton. He divined Europe."

Hamilton’s portrait began to appear during the American Civil War on the $2, $5, $10, and $50 notes. His face continues to appear on the front of the ten dollar bill, but after the death of Ronald Reagan, some suggested replacing Hamilton with Reagan. Hamilton also appears on the $500 Series EE Savings Bond.

On the south side of the Treasury Building in Washington, D.C. is a statue of Hamilton. Hamilton's upper Manhattan home is preserved as Hamilton Grange National Memorial.

On slavery

In the nineteenth century, Hamilton earned a reputation for having been a staunch opponent of slavery: Abraham Lincoln, for example, characterized Hamilton as among "the most noted anti-slavery men of those times." A member and officer of the New York Manumission Society, Hamilton used his influence to press the New York legislature to adopt a law prohibiting the export of slaves from the state (import was already illegal).

Some modern scholars believe that the historical record confirms Hamilton as a "steadfast abolitionist"; others see him as a "hypocrite.". For example, Hamilton returned an escaped slave to a friend. Hamilton's first polemic against King George's ministers contains a paragraph which speaks of the evils which "slavery" to the British would bring upon the Americans. One biographer sees this as an attack on actual slavery; such a view was not uncommon in 1776.

During the Revolutionary War, there was a series of proposals to arm slaves, free them, and compensate their masters. Freeing any enlisted slaves had also become customary by then both for the British, who did not compensate their American masters, and for the Continental Army; some states were to require it before the end of the war. In 1779, Hamilton's friend John Laurens suggested such a unit be formed under his command, to relieve besieged Charleston, South Carolina; Hamilton wrote a letter to the Continental Congress to create up to four battalions of slaves for combat duty, and free them. Congress recommended that South Carolina (and Georgia) acquire up to three thousand slaves, if they saw fit; they did not, even though the South Carolina governor and Congressional delegation had supported the plan in Philadelphia.

Hamilton argued that blacks' natural faculties were as good as those of free whites, and he forestalled objections by citing Frederick the Great and others as praising obedience and lack of cultivation in soldiers; he also argued that if the Americans did not do this, the British would (as they had elsewhere). One of his biographers has cited this incident as evidence that Hamilton and Laurens saw the Revolution and the struggle against slavery as inseparable. Hamilton later attacked his political opponents as demanding freedom for themselves and refusing to allow it to blacks.

In January 1785, he attended the second meeting of the (New York) Society for Promoting Manumissions. John Jay was president and Hamilton was secretary; he later became president. He was also a member of the committee of the society which put a bill through the New York Legislature banning the export of slaves from New York.

Three months later, Hamilton returned a fugitive slave to Henry Laurens of South Carolina; he was later to be Washington's intermediary in getting the Collector of Customs for Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to ship a runaway slave-woman back to Mount Vernon if it could be done quietly; it could not be, and she remained there.

Hamilton never supported forced emigration for freed slaves; it has been argued from this that he would be comfortable with a multiracial society, and this distinguished him from his contemporaries. In international affairs, he supported Toussaint L'Ouverture's black government in Haiti after the revolt that overthrew French control, as he had supported aid to the slaveowners in 1791 — both measures hurt France.

He may have owned household slaves himself (the evidence for this is indirect; one biographer interprets it as referring to paid employees), and he did buy and sell them on behalf of others. He supported a gag rule to keep divisive discussions of slavery out of Congress, and he supported the compromise by which the United States could not abolish the slave trade for twenty years. When the Quakers of New York petitioned the First Congress (under the Constitution) for the abolition of the slave trade, and Benjamin Franklin and the Pennsylvania Abolition Society petitioned for the abolition of slavery, the NYMS did not act. Historian James Horton concludes that Hamilton's racial views, while not entirely egalitarian, were relatively progressive for his day.

On economics

Alexander Hamilton is sometimes considered the "patron-saint" of the American School of economic philosophy that, according to one historian, dominated economic policy after 1861. He firmly supported government intervention in favour of business, after the manner of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, as early as the fall of 1781. He inspired the writings and work of Friedrich List and Henry C. Carey.

Memorial at colleges

Alexander Hamilton served as one of the first trustees of the Hamilton-Oneida Academy when the school opened in 1793. When the academy received a college charter in 1812 the school was formally renamed Hamilton College. There is a prominent statue of Alexander Hamilton in front of the school's chapel (commonly referred to as the "Al-Ham" statue) and the Burke Library has an extensive collection of Hamilton's personal documents. Columbia College, Hamilton's alma mater, whose students formed his makeshift artillery company and fired some of the first shots against the British, has official memorials to Hamilton. The college's main classroom building for the humanities is Hamilton Hall, and a large statue of Hamilton stands in front of it. The university press has published his complete works in a multivolume letterpress edition.

The main administration building of the Coast Guard Academy is named Hamilton Hall, because he founded the Coast Guard.

In pop culture

In Saturday Night Live's comedy music video Lazy Sunday, one of the lyrics reference the infamous duel with Aaron Burr stating, "you can call us Aaron Burr, by the way we droppin' Hamiltons."

Retrieved from ""