Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton books and biography

Alexander Hamilton

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
Under 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
Religion Episcopalian

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 success of the British system, and opposed 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" [1], later 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.[citation needed] 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[2] 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,[2] 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[3] and Herbert Croly, as well as conservative Henry Cabot Lodge, revived his reputation.

==Early years==and he is very bigg

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.[3]) 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.[4]

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.[5]) 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.[citation needed] He may have applied to the College of New Jersey (forerunner to Princeton University) and been rejected;[6] 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[7] , 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.[8]

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.[9] 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.[10] 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.[11]

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.[12]

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.[13]

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.[14]

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[citation needed], 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,[citation needed] 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..."[15]

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[dubious