Alexander Hamilton was one of the important pioneers in the early formation of the American government. He participated in Washington's Revolutionary War from 1777 to 1781. After the war, Hamilton co-wrote the famous 'Federalist' Papers with John Jay and James Madison, which served as a primary source for Constitutional interpretation. Hamilton signed his essays as 'Publius'. President Washington appointed Hamilton as the country's first Secretary of the Treasury in 1789. He held this post until 1795. Alexander Hamilton was a man of great intelligence and ambition.
Childhood & Personal Life
There are disputes regarding Alexander Hamilton's birth date. In the probate court papers from St. Croix, a relative, Peter Lytton, stated that when his mother died, Hamilton was only 13 years old. This indicates 1755 as the year of his birth. However, throughout his life, Hamilton identified 1757 as his birth year. Till date, the matter has not been resolved, as no birth or christening records have been found to confirm or deny either of the two birth years. Hamilton was born in Charlestown, the capital of Nevis in the British West Indies, to Rachel Faucett Lavien and James Hamilton.
Hamilton's had previously escaped an unhappy marriage, when she separated from Johann Michael Lavien (and her first-born son as well). Later on, Rachel met James, in the year 1750. As she had inherited property from her father in Nevis, they moved together to Rachel's birthplace, where Hamilton was born. He also had a brother - James Jr. In 1765, Hamilton's family moved to Christiansted, St. Croix, because of his father's business assignment. Sometime after reaching there, James dumped Rachel as well as his two sons. Following this, Rachel started working in a small store in Christiansted, to support her family.
Rachel died of a severe fever on February 19, 1768. After becoming an orphan, Hamilton started working as a clerk at Beekman and Cruger, a local import-export firm that traded with New England. In 1771, while the owner of his firm was at sea, Hamilton was left in charge for five months. Some time later, Hamilton was adopted by a Nevis merchant, Thomas Stevens. However, he continued working as a clerk. While he continued to be an avid reader, it was around this time only that he developed an interest in writing as well.
Initially, Alexander Hamilton was denied education in the church school, because his parents were not legally married. So, he had self-educated himself, with the help of a family library of thirty-four books, including Greek and Roman classics. He also developed a command on French language, after learning the language from his mother. However, in 1772, Hamilton received education from a grammar school in Elizabethtown, New Jersey. He studied with Francis Barber at Elizabethtown in 1773. He then decided to attend King's College (now Columbia University), in New York City, getting a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in just one year.
In 1775, Alexander Hamilton joined a New York volunteer militia company, called the 'Hearts of Oak', which included other students from King's College. He studied military history and tactics and achieved the rank of lieutenant in the company. He led a successful raid for British cannon in the Battery, capturing it. In 1776, Hamilton raised the New York Provincial Company of Artillery, which consisted of sixty men, through his connections with influential patriots of New York, like Alexander McDougall and John Jay.
Hamilton was later elected as the captain of New York Provincial Company of Artillery. He was offered to serve on the staff of Lord Stirling, but declined and decided to carry on his career with the artillery effectively. In the hopes of obtaining a place on Washington's staff, Hamilton declined to become an aide to Nathanael Greene and other generals. In late 1776, he joined Washington's aide as a Lieutenant Colonel. Later, he became Washington's Chief of Staff and served in the capacity for four years.
Hamilton soon become one of Washington's most trusted advisers and his responsibilities included drafting letters to Congress, state governors, and the most powerful generals in the Continental Army. He had power to issue orders from Washington under his own signature. Working with Washington Staff, Hamilton performed a variety of high-level duties, such as intelligence, diplomacy, and negotiation. In February 1781, Hamilton resigned from his post. In the same year, Washington gave him the command of a battalion of light infantry in the Marquis de Lafayette's corps.
Congress and the Army
While still serving On Washington's staff, Alexander Hamilton became frustrated with the wartime Continental Congress and the fact that was dependent upon the states for financial support and ended up resigning his commission. In November 1782, Hamilton was elected to the Congress of the Confederation, as a New York representative. While he was there, several Congressmen from that area, including Hamilton, Gouverneur Morris, James Wilson, and James Madison, were trying to provide the Congress with an independent source of revenue, which it lacked under the Articles of Confederation.
While Hamilton was still in Congress, most of the army was posted at Newburgh, New York, paying for its own supplies. The dissatisfied soldiers, who had not been paid in eight months, began to pose a danger to the young United States. After Valley Forge, in May 1778, the Continental officers had been promised, a pension of half their pay, after they were discharged. A group of officers at Newburgh organized under the leadership of General Henry Knox and sent a delegation to lobby Congress. Their three demands were: the Army's pay, their own pensions and the commutation of pensions into a lump-sum payment.
Hamilton and other congressmen decided to use the event, to gain support for funding for the federal government in Congress and from the states. He also proposed national funding system. However, the plan was not successful. In April 1783, Congress ordered the officially disbanding of the Army. In the same month, a new measure for a twenty-five-year impost was passed by the Congress and Hamilton voted against it. Perturbed and annoyed at the weakness of the central government, Hamilton drafted a call to revise the Articles of Confederation while in Princeton.
Resigning From Congress & Law Practice
Alexander Hamilton resigned from the Congress in July 1783. Following this, he began a law practice in New York City. In 1784, he founded the Bank of New York (the oldest ongoing banking organization in the United States till date). Hamilton was one of the men who restored King's College, which had been severely damaged in 1776 - during the Battle of Long Island, as Columbia College. While attending the Annapolis Convention in 1786, as a delegate, he drafted its resolution for a Constitutional convention, in which he desired to have a more powerful, more financially independent federal government.
Constitution and Federalist Papers
In 1787, Hamilton was the first New York delegate chosen to the Constitutional Convention. He also served as assemblyman in the New York State Legislature, but his influence was quite limited. The other two delegates of the New York legislature, along with Hamilton, were John Lansing and Robert Yates and both of them opposed his goal of a strong national government. His most important speech in the Convention called for a new government in United States, which seemed to other delegates as 'monarchial' and was unacceptable to most of them. Hamilton constructed a draft for the Constitution during the convention, on the basis of the convention debates, but these drafts were never presented.
According to Hamilton's draft, the Senate was to be elected in proportion to population and it had to be two-fifth to the size of the House. He also proposed that the President and Senators be elected through multistage elections, in which chosen electors would elect smaller bodies of electors. They would hold office for life, but could be removed for misconduct. The Supreme Court was to have immediate authority over all law suits involving the United States. Last, but not the least, Hamilton's draft required that State governors be appointed by the federal government. Though he was not too impressed with the final form of constitution, he signed it and urged other delegates to do the same.
In 1787, Hamilton decided to write a series of essays on behalf of the proposed Constitution. He wrote 51 of them and got 29 written by Madison and 5 by Jay. These essays were first published in New York City newspapers, under the pseudonym "Publius", and later collectively called 'The Federalist Papers'. These essays were designed to convince the people of New York to ratify the Constitution. In 1788, these essays were published in the book form. Later, 'The Federalist Papers' were republished in many editions and languages. Today, they constitute one of America's most original and important contributions to political philosophy
Secretary of the Treasury
On September 11, 1789, Hamilton was appointed the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, by George Washington and held the post till January 1795. In 1790-91, he submitted five reports. The first Report was on the Public Credit, which was communicated to the House of Representatives on January 14, 1790. In this report, Hamilton made a proposal that the federal government should assume state debts which were sustained during the Revolution. The proposal faced several controversies and criticism.
Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and Representative James Madison criticized 'Public Credit' by arguing that the plan has passed beyond the scope of the new Constitutional government. In the end, Hamilton's proposals for funding the debt overcame legislative opposition and were passed on July 26, 1790. Hamilton's second report was 'Operations of the Act Laying Duties on Imports', which was communicated to the House of Representatives on April 23, 1790. On December 14, 1790 Hamilton submitted 'Second Report on Public Credit', a Report on a National Bank.
The fourth report submitted by Hamilton was on the 'Establishment of a Mint', communicated on January 28, 1791 (He later helped in founding the United States Mint, such as the first national bank, a System of Cutters - forming the Revenue Cutter Service that is now known as the United States Coast Guard, and an elaborate system of duties, tariffs, and excises. This whole program was aim at replacing the messy financial system of the confederation, with a modern system that gave financial stability to the new government and sufficient confidence to investors to invest in government bonds (the aim was successful).
The fifth, and the last report of Hamilton, was on 'Manufactures', which he communicated to the House of Representatives on December 5, 1791. Without much debate, Congress rejected this report. Hamilton also submitted other significant reports while serving as the U.S. Secretary of State, many of which Congress accepted. One of the reports included a plan for an excise tax on whiskey, which became the main reason for Whiskey Rebellion in 1794.
Retirement From Federal Service
During his term as the U.S. Secretary of State, Hamilton was repeatedly investigated for some of the most serious charges, such as the Reynolds affair. In 1790, he was involved in an incident, in which the money that Congress had appropriated to pay the European creditors of the United States was used by Hamilton, towards his domestic expenditure.Hamilton was not able to provide any evidence against this charge, proving his innocence. He tried to give excuse by saying that he had been authorized to act so, by Washington.
When consulted Washington was confronted in this context, he could not remember the transaction and simply preferred to remain away from the case.Hamilton was very angry with Washington that he was trusted unconditionally and resigned as Secretary of the Treasury, on December 1, 1794. Hamilton's resignation as Secretary of the Treasury became effective in 1795.Even after that, he remained close to Washington and his family, mainly as an adviser and a friend.
Last Years & Death
In his last years, Alexander Hamilton worked as a Prominent Lawyer and Army General. Hamilton also established a daily newspaper, New-York Evening Post, in the year 1801 (the oldest continually-published daily newspaper in the U.S., now known as the New York Post). It was with the help of Hamilton that Morgan Lewis defeated Burr, in the election in New York, in 1804. This proved to be the reason of a conflict between Hamilton and Burr. On July 11, 1804, the two exchanged shots, on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River, leaving Hamilton mortally wounded. Being fatally injured, Hamilton died the next afternoon.
On December 14, 1780 Hamilton married Elizabeth Schuyler at Schuyler Mansion in Albany, New York. She was daughter of General Philip Schuyler. After marrying Elizabeth, Hamilton became member of one of the richest and most political families in the state of New York. They had eight children - Phillip, Angelica, Alexander, James Alexander, John Church, William Stephen, Eliza and Phillip. In 1791, he became involved in an affair with Maria Reynolds, the wife of James Reynolds. The affair badly damaged his reputation for the rest of his life. Hamilton's wife Elizabeth survived him for fifty years, until 1854.
By formulating federal programs, Hamilton set an example as a Cabinet member. Another legacy of Hamilton was his pro-federal interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. As a Secretary of the Treasury, he established the country's first national bank, against the intense opposition of Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson.During the Cuban Missile Crisis, in 1962, the Navy of the United States used the intership communication protocols that Hamilton had written for the original U.S. Coast Guard. His constitutional interpretation of the 'Necessary and Proper Clause' is still used by the courts and is considered as an authority on constitutional interpretation.
Hamilton's portrait began to appear on U.S. currency, by the time of the American Civil War. It could be seen on the notes of US $2, $5, $10, and $50. Even after the Civil War, his face continues to appear on the US $10 bill, in the form of John Trumbull's portrait. It was picked up from the portrait collection of New York City Hall. Hamilton can also be seen on the $500 Series EE Savings Bond. A statue of Hamilton can be seen on the south side of the Treasury Building in Washington, D.C.
Hamilton's upper Manhattan home has been preserved as Hamilton Grange National Memorial, with his statue adorning its entrance. There are many towns throughout the United States, which have been named after him. Alexander Hamilton was one of the first trustees of the Hamilton-Oneida Academy. The school was formally renamed as Hamilton College in 1812. In front of the school's chapel, one can find a big statue of Alexander Hamilton, which is commonly referred to as the "Al-Ham" statue.
An extensive collection of Hamilton's personal documents can be found in the Burke Library. In Columbia College,the main classroom building for humanities is referred to as the 'Hamilton Hall' and has a prominent statue of Hamilton stands in the front. Hamilton's complete works have been published in a multivolume letterpress edition, by the university press. Last, but not the least, the main administration building of the Coast Guard Academy has been named Hamilton Hall, in the memory of great man.