Hamilton, Alexander c. 1755–1804

Alexander Hamilton, merchant, lawyer, soldier, statesman, and first secretary of the treasury, was born on the island of Nevis, in the British West Indies,
on January 11 in either 1755 or 1757. He was the illegitimate son of a poor Scottish merchant of aristocratic descent, James Hamilton, and a French
Huguenot physician’s daughter, Rachel Fawcett Lavine. In 1765, his father abandoned the family; three years later, his mother died.

A leader of the Federalist party and an advocate for a strong central government, Alexander Hamilton served as the first U.S. secretary of the treasury.
He established sound fiscal policies and financial credit for the young nation. (Brown Brothers, Sterling, Pennsylvania)

Hamilton, who had recently been apprenticed as a clerk to a firm of New York merchants, excelled in the pursuit of commerce and was soon left in charge
of the firm. Recognizing his talents, friends raised enough funds to send him to Barber’s Academy in Elizabethtown, New Jersey, and, in the autumn of
1773, he went to New York City to study at King’s College (now Columbia University).

Hamilton was a successful student, but his studies were soon interrupted by the Revolutionary events in North America. Throwing his support behind the
American cause, he wrote several pro-Whig pamphlets in 1774 and 1775, supporting the colonists’ grievances. Receiving a commission as an artillery
captain in 1776, he participated in some of the fiercest fighting of the war, including the battle of Trenton, where he and his men prevented the British
from crossing the Raritan River.

In February 1777, Hamilton was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel, and he served as George Washington’s aide-de-camp, a position he held for
the next four years. In July 1781, he took a field command position under the marquis de Lafayette. Later that year, at the battle of Yorktown, he led an
assault on a British garrison, which he captured with little loss of life.

Hamilton married Elizabeth Schuyler, the daughter of a well-connected, aristocratic New York family, in early 1781 and resigned his military commission in
November of that year. He subsequently moved with his family to Albany, New York, where he studied law. He opened a practice but soon became
involved in politics.

In July 1782, he was elected by the New York legislature to the Continental Congress, and, in April 1786, he won a seat in the state legislature and
represented New York at the convention in Annapolis, Maryland. At the convention, he, together with James Madison and John Dickinson, pushed
through a resolution calling for another convention in Philadelphia the following May to address problems facing the nation.

Intended as a convention for the alteration and improvement of the Articles of Confederation, the Philadelphia convention took on a new life and became
a gathering place for the framing of a new constitution. Hamilton, who was one of three delegates representing New York, played a small role in the
proceedings. He gave one major speech, endorsing a strong federal government in which the executive and members of the Senate would be elected for
life, members of the legislature would be elected for three-year terms by universal manhood suffrage, and members of the Supreme Court would be
appointed for life.

While Hamilton’s role was small at the Philadelphia convention, his role in the state ratification process was much larger. Collaborating with James
Madison and John Jay, he wrote fifty-six of the eighty-five essays in The Federalist Papers, a persuasive series of arguments in favor of the new

After the state ratifications of the Constitution and while serving another term in the Continental Congress, Hamilton was appointed by President
Washington as the first secretary of the treasury. He set to work immediately, establishing a financial program to support public credit and promoting
manufacturers. In order to stabilize the nation’s debt, Hamilton put together a funding scheme, whereby the entire foreign debt was to be refinanced in
Holland at lower interest rates and domestic debt, both federal and state, was to be funded by public tax money at the federal level. Hamilton, moreover,
proposed the creation of a national bank; Congress passed the bank charter, and Washington signed it into law on February 25, 1791.

Hamilton’s economic program, together with his pro-British stance and opposition to the French Revolution, eventually brought him into conflict with
Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, who went so far as to accuse Hamilton of being a monarchist. The quarrel escalated, with Jefferson resigning as
secretary of state in December 1793, and it subsequently led to the formation of the first political party system in the United States the Federalists and
the Democratic-Republicans.

In January 1795, Hamilton, satisfied with his achievements, resigned from the cabinet to improve his own financial situation. He resumed his law practice
in New York City, while maintaining his influence in both federal and state politics. President Washington and other officials in the cabinet continued to
seek his advice on matters of policy.

In 1796, Hamilton used his political influence to oppose John Adams’s election to the presidency. When that effort failed, he secretly used his influence in
Adams’s cabinet to affect policy. During the 1800 presidential election, Hamilton again used his influence to oppose Adams; when Jefferson and Aaron
Burr tied for the presidency, he threw Federalist support behind Jefferson, as he distrusted Burr even more.

Hamilton’s aversion to Burr reemerged in 1804, when he used his influence to prevent Burr from being elected governor of New York. Infuriated, Burr
challenged Hamilton to a duel. Early in the morning of July 11, 1804, the two men met at Weehawken, on the New Jersey shore of the Hudson River,
where the first shot hit Hamilton and mortally wounded him. He died the next day, leaving behind a wife and seven children.

Michael Sletcher

See also: Politics and Government (Chronology); Politics and Government (Essay); Revolutionary War; Washington, George.
Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: Penguin, 2004.
Cooke, Jacob Ernest. Alexander Hamilton: A Biography. New York: Scribner’s, 1982.
Flaumenhaft, Harvey. The Effective Republic: Administration and Constitution in the Thought of Alexander Hamilton. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1992.
Hecht, Marie B. Odd Destiny: The Life of Alexander Hamilton. New York: Macmillan, 1982.
McDonald, Forrest. Alexander Hamilton: A Biography. New York: W. W. Norton, 1979.
Miller, John Chester. Alexander Hamilton: Portrait in Paradox. New York: Harper, 1959.
Mitchell, Broadus. Alexander Hamilton. 2 vols. New York: Macmillan, 19571962.
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