The first U.S. secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804) was instrumental in developing the nation's first political party, the Federalists.
Alexander Hamilton's birth date is disputed, but he probably was born on Jan. 11, 1755, on the island of Nevis in the British West Indies. He was the illegitimate son of James Hamilton, a Scotsman, and Rachel Fawcett Lavien, daughter of a French Huguenot physician.
Hamilton's education was brief. He began working sometime between the ages of 11 and 13 as a clerk in a trading firm in St. Croix. In 1772 he left—perhaps encouraged and financed by his employers—to attend school in the American colonies. After a few months at an academy in New Jersey, he enrolled in King's College, New York City. Precocious enough to master most subjects without formal instruction and eager to win success and fame early in life, he left college in 1776 without graduating.
The outbreak of the American Revolution offered Hamilton the opportunity he craved. In March 1776 he became captain of a company of artillery and, a year later, a lieutenant colonel in the Continental Army and aide-de-camp to commanding general George Washington. Hamilton's ability was apparent, and he became one of Washington's most trusted advisers. Although he played no role in major military decisions, Hamilton's position was one of great responsibility. He drafted many of Washington's letters to high-ranking Army officers, the Continental Congress, and the states. He also was sent on important military missions and drafted major reports on the reorganization and reform of the Army. Despite the demands of his position, he found time for reading and reflection and expressed his ideas on economic policy and governmental debility in newspaper articles and in letters to influential public figures.
In February 1781, in a display of pique at a minor reprimand by Gen. Washington, Hamilton resigned his position. Earlier, on Dec. 14, 1780, he had married the daughter of Philip Schuyler, a member of one of New York's most distinguished families. In July 1781 Hamilton's persistent search for active military service was rewarded when Washington gave him command of a battalion of light infantry in the Marquis de Lafayette's corps. After the Battle of Yorktown, Hamilton returned to New York. In 1782, following a hasty apprenticeship, he was admitted to the bar.
During the Revolution, Hamilton's ideas on government, society, and economic matured. These were conditioned by his foreign birth, which obviated a strong attachment to a particular state or locality, and by his presence at Washington's headquarters, where he could see the war as a whole. Like the general himself, Hamilton was deeply disturbed that the conduct of the war was impeded by the weakness of Congress and by state and local jealousies. It was this experience rather than any theoretical commitment to a particular form of government that structured Hamilton's later advocacy of a strong central government.
From the end of the Revolution to the inauguration of the first government under the Constitution, Hamilton tirelessly opposed what he described as the "dangerous prejudices in the particular states opposed to those measures which alone can give stability and prosperity to the Union." Though his extensive law practice won him recognition as one of New York's most distinguished attorneys, public affairs were his major concern.
Attending the Continental Congress as a New York delegate from November 1782 through July 1783, he unsuccessfully labored, along with James Madison and other nationalists, to invest the Confederation with powers equal to the needs of postrevolutionary America. Convinced that the pervasive commitment to states' rights obviated reform of the Articles of Confederation, Hamilton began to advocate a stronger and more efficient central government. As one of the 12 delegates to the Annapolis Convention of 1786, he drafted its resolution calling for a Constitutional Convention "to devise such further provisions as shall appear … necessary to render the Constitution of the Federal Government adequate to the exigencies of the Union. … " Similarly, as a member of the New York Legislature in 1787, he was the eloquent spokesman for continental interests as opposed to state and local ones.
Ratification of the Constitution
Hamilton was one of the New York delegates to the Constitutional Convention, which sat in Philadelphia from May to September 1787. Although he served on several important committees, his performance was disappointing, particularly when measured against his previous (and subsequent) accomplishments. His most important speech called for a government close to the English model, one so high-toned that it was unacceptable to most of the delegates.
Hamilton's contribution to the ratification of the Constitution was far more important. In October 1787 he determined to write a series of essays on behalf of the proposed Constitution. First published in New York City newspapers under the pseudonym "Publius" and collectively designated The Federalist, these essays were designed to persuade the people of New York to ratify the Constitution. Though The Federalist was written in collaboration with John Jay and James Madison, Hamilton wrote 51 of the 85 essays. First published in book form in 1788, the Federalist essays have been republished in many editions and languages. They constitute one of America's most original and important contributions to political philosophy and remain today the authoritative contemporary exposition of the meaning of the cryptic clauses of the U.S. Constitution. At the New York ratifying convention in 1788, Hamilton led in defending the proposed Constitution, which, owing measurably to Hamilton's labors, New York ratified.
Secretary of the Treasury
On Sept. 11, 1789, some 6 months after the new government was inaugurated, Hamilton was commissioned the nation's first secretary of the Treasury. This was the most important of the executive departments because the new government's most pressing problem was to devise ways of paying the national debt—domestic and foreign—incurred during the Revolution.
Hamilton's program, his single most brilliant achievement, also created the most bitter controversy of the first decade of American national history. It was spelled out between January 1790 and December 1791 in three major reports on the American economy: "Report on the Public Credit"; "Report on a National Bank"; and "Report on Manufactures."
In the first report Hamilton recommended payment of both the principal and interest of the public debt at par and the assumption of state debts incurred during the American Revolution. The assumption bill was defeated initially, but Hamilton rescued it by an alleged bargain with Thomas Jefferson and Madison for the locale of the national capital. Both the funding and assumption measures became law in 1791 substantially as Hamilton had proposed them.
Hamilton's "Report on a National Bank" was designed to facilitate the establishment of public credit and to enhance the powers of the new national government. Although some members of Congress doubted this body's power to charter such a great quasi-public institution, the majority accepted Hamilton's argument and passed legislation establishing the First Bank of the United States. Before signing the measure, President Washington requested his principal Cabinet officers, Jefferson and Hamilton, to submit opinions on its constitutionality. Arguing that Congress had exceeded its powers, Jefferson submitted a classic defense of a strict construction of the Constitution; affirming the Bank's constitutionality, Hamilton submitted the best argument in American political literature for a broad interpretation of the Constitution.
The "Report on Manufactures, " his only major report which Congress rejected, was perhaps Hamilton's most important state paper. The culmination of his economic program, it is the clearest statement of his economic philosophy. The protection and encouragement of infant industries, he argued, would produce a better balance between agriculture and manufacturing, promote national self-sufficiency, and enhance the nation's wealth and power.
Hamilton also submitted other significant reports which Congress accepted, including a plan for an excise on spirits and a report on the establishment of a Mint. Hamilton's economic program was not original (it drew heavily, for example, upon British practice), but it was an innovative and creative application of European precedent and American experience to the practical needs of the new country.
First Political Party
Hamilton's importance during this period was not confined to his work as finance minister. As the virtual "prime minister" of Washington's administration, he was consulted on a wide range of problems, foreign and domestic. He deserves to be ranked, moreover, as the leader of the country's first political party, the Federalist party. Hamilton himself, like most of his contemporaries, railed against parties and "factions, " but when the debate over his fiscal policies revealed a deep political division among the members of Congress, Hamilton boldly assumed leadership of the proadministration group, the Federalists, just as Jefferson provided leadership for the Democratic Republicans.
Prominent Lawyer and Army General
Because of the pressing financial demands of his growing family, Hamilton retired from office in January 1795. Resuming his law practice, he soon became the most distinguished member of the New York City bar. His major preoccupation remained public affairs, however, and he continued as President Washington's adviser. The latter's famous "Farewell Address" (1796), for example, was largely based on Hamilton's draft. Nor could Hamilton remain aloof from politics. In the election of 1796 he attempted to persuade the Federalist electors to cast a unanimous vote for John Adam's running mate, Thomas Pinckney.
The high regard in which most of the country's leading Federalists held Hamilton was matched by the dislike and distrust with which many others—notably the Republicans—viewed him. He was ambitious, arrogant, and opinionated. He was also indiscreet. For example, to refute a baseless charge by James Reynolds and others that as secretary of the Treasury he was guilty of corruption, he needlessly published a defense which included a confession of adultery with Mrs. Reynolds. Such an admission undoubtedly diminished the possibility of political preferment.
During the presidency of John Adams, however, Hamilton continued to wield considerable national influence, for members of Adams's Cabinet often sought and followed his advice. In 1798 they cooperated with George Washington to secure Hamilton's appointment—over Adams's strong opposition—as inspector general and second in command of the newly augmented U.S. Army, which was preparing for a possible war against France. Since Washington declined active command, organizing and recruiting the "Provisional Army" fell to Hamilton. His military career abruptly came to an end in 1800 after John Adams, in the face of the opposition of his Cabinet and other Federalist leaders (Hamilton among them), sent a peace mission to France that negotiated a settlement of the major issues.
Retirement and the Fatal Duel
Hamilton's role in the presidential campaign of 1800 not only was a disservice to his otherwise distinguished career but also seriously wounded the Federalist party. Convinced of John Adam's ineptitude, Hamilton rashly published a long Philippic which characterized the President as a man possessed by "vanity without bounds, and a jealousy capable of discoloring every object, " with a "disgusting egotism" and an "ungovernable discretion of … temper." Instead of discrediting Adams, the pamphlet promoted election of the Republican candidates, Jefferson and Aaron Burr. When the Jefferson-Burr tie went for decision to the House of Representatives, however, Hamilton regained his balance. Convinced that Jefferson would not undermine executive authority, Hamilton also believed that Burr was "the most unfit and dangerous man of the community." He accordingly used his considerable influence to persuade congressional leaders to select Jefferson.
Although his interest in national policies and politics was unabated, Hamilton's role in national affairs after 1801 diminished. He remained a prominent figure in the Federalist party, however, and published his opinions on public affairs in the New York Evening Post. He was still an ardent nationalist and in 1804 severely condemned the rumored plot of New England and New York Federalists to dismember the Union by forming a Northern confederacy. Believing Aaron Burr to be a party to this scheme, Hamilton actively opposed the Vice President's bid for the New York governorship. He was successful, and Burr, now out of favor with the Jefferson administration and discredited in his own state, charged that Hamilton's remarks had impugned his honor. Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel. Although Hamilton was reluctant, he believed that his "ability to be in future useful" demanded his acceptance. After putting his personal affairs in order, he met Burr at dawn on July 11, 1804, on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River. The two exchanged shots, and Hamilton fell, mortally wounded. Tradition has it that he deliberately misdirected his fire, leaving himself an open target for Burr's bullet. Hamilton was carried back to New York City, where he died the next afternoon.
Henry Cabot Lodge, ed., The Works of Alexander Hamilton (2d ed., 12 vols., 1903), will be replaced by Harold C. Syrett and Jacob E. Cooke, eds., Papers, 15 volumes of which have been published (1961-1969). Hamilton's definitive biography is Broadus Mitchell's meticulous Alexander Hamilton (2 vols., 1957-1962). John C. Miller, Alexander Hamilton (1959), is an excellent one-volume life. Useful biographies are David Loth, Alexander Hamilton: Portrait of a Prodigy (1939), and Nathan Schachner, Alexander Hamilton (1946). Also recommended are Claude G. Bowers, Jefferson and Hamilton: The Struggle for Democracy in America (1925), and Richard B. Morris, Alexander Hamilton and the Founding of the Nation (1957). □
"Alexander Hamilton." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/alexander-hamilton
"Alexander Hamilton." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved February 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/alexander-hamilton
Alexander Hamilton, as a lawyer, politician, and statesman, left an enduring impression on U.S. government. His birth was humble, his death tragic. His professional life was spent forming basic political and economic institutions for a stronger nation. As a New York delegate at the Constitutional Convention, Hamilton advocated certain powers for the central government. His principles led to his rise as chief spokesperson for the federalist party. The party had a short life span, but Hamilton's beliefs carried on through his famous federalist papers. In these documents he advocated broad constitutional powers for the federal government, including national defense and finance. According to Hamilton, a lesser degree of individual human liberties and civil rights would follow federal powers. His deemphasis of freedom put him at odds with other Founders, especially Thomas Jefferson's Democrats. However, he backed his beliefs with a strong record of public service from the Revolution onward. Through his contributions in the U.S. Army, in the treasury department, and as a lawyer, many still recognize him as a commanding architect of the United States government.
Hamilton was born January 11, 1757, on Nevis Island, in the West Indies. His parents never married. His father, the son of a minor Scottish noble, drifted to the West Indies early in his life and worked odd jobs throughout the Caribbean. His mother died in the Indies when he was eleven. Hamilton spent his early years in poverty, traveling to different islands with his father. At the age of fourteen, while visiting the island of St. Croix, he met a New York trader who recognized his natural intelligence and feisty spirit. The trader made it possible for Hamilton to go to New York in pursuit of an education.
Hamilton attended a preparatory school in New Jersey and developed contacts with men who had created a movement seeking colonial independence. When he later entered King's College (now Columbia University), he became active in the local patriot movement. The American Revolution had been brewing in the background, and Hamilton took a keen interest in the battles that flared between the colonists and the British around Boston in 1775. Instead of graduating from college, he opted to join a volunteer militia company.
He reported for orders to General george washington's chief of artillery, Colonel Henry Knox. In his duties, Hamilton assisted in the famous crossing of the ice-jammed Delaware River on Christmas Night, 1776. Knox called Hamilton to Washington's attention. In March 1777, Hamilton was appointed aide to the commander in chief. With Washington, Hamilton learned his first lessons on the need for central administration in dealing with crises.
He also took advantage of his contacts with General Philip Schuyler, a wealthy and influential man within the military. In March 1780, Schuyler's young daughter, Elizabeth Schuyler, agreed to marry Hamilton. The relationship provided Hamilton with both additional contacts inside U.S. politics and generous financial gifts from his father-in-law.
"Real liberty is neither found in despotism or the extremes of democracy, but in moderate governments."
Hamilton came to resent the limits of his position as aide to Washington and aspired to greater challenges. A minor reprimand afforded him the opportunity to resign from his services in April 1781. Hamilton had already received an education beyond anything that King's or any other college could have offered. However, he
went to New York with his wife and took up the study of law in early 1782. In July of that year, he was admitted to the bar.
As a lawyer and as an intellectual who commanded growing respect, Hamilton represented New York in the continental congress of 1782, in Philadelphia. Here, he spoke with an ally, a young Virginian, james madison.The two expounded on the merits of strong central administration. Most of the other delegates represented the common fears of citizens in the United States—apprehensions about the abusive tendencies of strong central powers and, more important, the possibility of oppression in the future. Hamilton and Madison failed to sway a majority of the delegates to vote for their ideas. In the end, the Congress adopted the articles of confederation, a body of principles intended to knit the new states into a union that was only loosely defined.
Hamilton left Philadelphia frustrated. He returned to New York, built a thriving law practice, and gained fame as a legal theorist. In 1787, he spent a term in the New York Legislature and joined the movement designed to create a new Constitution. During this time, Madison and john jay—a future chief justice on the U.S. Supreme Court—helped Hamilton draft a series of essays called The Federalist Papers. The essays stand as fundamental statements of U.S. political philosophy.
The Articles of Confederation had already begun to show inadequacies, as the federal government had no real power to collect the money necessary for its own defense. The authors of The Federalist Papers argued that a strong federal government would constitute not a tyranny but an improvement over the current system of relatively weak rule. Their arguments helped allay the commonly held fears about central power.
At the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Hamilton again served as a delegate from New York. This time, his ideas were received with more favor. In the drafting of the new Constitution, and the creation of a more effective government, many of Hamilton's Federalist beliefs came into play. In the area of defense, for example, Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution read, "The Congress shall have Power … To raise and support Armies … To provide and maintain a Navy … To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia." The role of the government in raising
finances to do these things would put Hamilton's ideas to the test.
Hamilton took on the test personally. In 1789, when President Washington began to assemble the new federal government, he asked Hamilton to become the nation's first secretary of the treasury. For the following six years, Hamilton developed a fiscal and economic system based on a national coinage, a national banking system, a revenue program to provide for the repayment of the national debt, and measures to encourage industrial and commercial development. He sought a vigorous, diversified economy that would also provide the nation with the means to defend itself. He stirred a considerable amount of controversy with certain proposals, such as the need for tariffs on imports, several kinds of excise taxes, the development of natural resources, a friendship with England, and opposition to France during the French Revolution. However, without such a concrete agenda, many historians have argued, the United States could not have survived its years of initial development.
Because of Hamilton's decisive stance on some issues, a split occurred between, and even within, political parties. Hamilton and john adams spoke the ideas of the Federalists. Madison joined Jefferson in the democratic-republican party. Even though Hamilton had previously worked alongside Secretary of State Jefferson, the two were now, as Washington noted, "daily pitted in the cabinet like two cocks." Hamilton stressed the need for a strong central government, while Jefferson emphasized individuals' rights. Their rivalry, among the most famous political clashes in U.S. history, led to a significant and ongoing level of frustration for both sides. Because of the deadlock, Hamilton retired from his secretarial position in 1795 and returned to the practice of law.
Through his service in government and his connections with the Schuyler family, Hamilton became a prominent and prosperous lawyer. His practice extended to wealthy clients in New York and in other states, both individuals and partnerships. It resembled the practices of modern corporate lawyers, since he also represented banks and companies.
The bulk of his civil practice took place in maritime litigation, which boomed with European interests in the U.S. market. His most important admiralty case involved the sale and export to Europe of large quantities of cotton and indigo. Defendants Gouveneur and Kemble had incurred damages to the head merchant in their trade, Le Guen. Hamilton took on the case as attorney for Le Guen. He was assisted by aaron burr, with whom he had worked in New York.
In Le Guen v. Gouveneur, Hamilton helped the merchant successfully sue his agents for $120,000—at the time, one of the largest awards in a personal damage suit. james kent, chancellor of the New York bar, remembered Hamilton's performance in the trial as displaying "his reasoning powers … his piercing criticism, his masterly analysis, and … his appeals to the judgment and conscience of the tribunal." A grateful Le Guen wanted to pay Hamilton a fee commensurate with the size of the judgment. Hamilton refused anything more than $1,500. Burr took a much larger fee at his own discretion. This was the beginning of strained developments between Hamilton and Burr that would result in a future, climactic confrontation.
As a private citizen, Hamilton had amassed considerable power. In letters to politicians and newspapers, he continued to make a number of government-related proposals. At least four of them figured into future developments in the U.S. political structure. First, he suggested dividing each state into judicial districts as subdivisions of the federal government's judicial branch. Second, he proposed consolidating the federal government's revenues, ships, troops, officers, and supplies as assets under its control. Third, he pushed for the enlargement of the legal powers of the government by making certain already existing laws permanent, particularly the law authorizing the government to summon militias to counteract subversive activities and insurrections. Finally, he proposed the addition of laws that would give the courts power to punish sedition. Through letters to leaders and citizens, as through his Federalist Papers, Hamilton's ideas were received, although not always easily, into the political mainstream.
In 1798 the United States prepared for war with France. Hamilton decided to rejoin the Army as a major general. He was assigned the additional duties of inspector general until 1800. In 1800, Jefferson campaigned for president with Hamilton's former partner in the Le Guen settlement, Burr, as his running mate. The two received identical numbers of electoral votes for the 1800 presidential election. At that time all candidates ran for the presidency. The winner became president and the individual in second place became vice president. Hamilton, an elector for New York, refused to go along with the Federalists' plans to deny Jefferson the presidency. Hamilton voted for Jefferson instead of Burr, partly because he could stand Burr even less than his ideological rival. Jefferson won the election.
In 1804, Burr ran for governor of New York and became embittered by more of Hamilton's insults during the campaign. When Burr lost again, he challenged Hamilton to a duel. On July 11, 1804, the two men met at Weehawken Heights, New Jersey. Hamilton received a mortal wound from Burr's pistol shot, and died in New York City the next day.
As the United States evolved in political, legal, and economic dimensions, Hamilton's contributions remained part of its basic structure. His legacy went on to affect the way the rest of the world interpreted the proper role of government. Numerous political experiments took place in the following centuries, but still, Hamilton's notions of a strong central government made other systems appear weak in comparison. In a letter to the Washington Post on January 28, 1991, biographer Robert A. Hendrickson asserted that Hamilton's doctrine lives up to its model status as "a beacon of freedom and financial success in the modern world. It has peacefully discredited agrarianism, communism,and totalitarianism."
Brookhiser, Richard. 1999. Alexander Hamilton, American. New York: Free Press.
Chernow, Ron. 2004. Alexander Hamilton. New York: Penguin Press.
Cooke, Jacob Ernest. 1982. Alexander Hamilton. New York: Scribner.
Emery, Noemie. 1982. Alexander Hamilton: An Intimate Portrait. New York: Putnam.
Epstein, David F. 1984. The Political Theory of the Federalist. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.
Flaumenhaft, Harvey. 1992. The Effective Republic, Administration and Constitution in the Thought of Alexander Hamilton. Durham, N.C.: Duke Univ. Press.
Randall, Willard Sterne. 2003. Alexander Hamilton: A Life. New York: HarperCollins.
"Hamilton, Alexander." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/law/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hamilton-alexander
"Hamilton, Alexander." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. . Retrieved February 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/law/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hamilton-alexander
Alexander Hamilton (1757?-1804) was born on the West Indian island of Nevis and therefore lacked the attachment to state or region which characterized many eighteenth–century Americans. His experiences during the American Revolution and the decade of government under the Articles of Confederation reinforced his belief that American greatness must be based on a strong and energetic central government.
In 1777, five years after his arrival in the United States, he was appointed aide–de–camp to General George Washington. Viewing the Revolution from the vantage point of Washington’s headquarters, he was deeply concerned about the state rivalries, the weakness of the Continental Congress, and the absence of national sentiment that impeded the American war effort. In the years that followed independence, Hamilton worked steadily to breathe life into the moribund Confederation government. As a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1782–1783, he worked closely with such like–minded nationalists as James Madison to invest the Con federation with powers, in his phrase, “adequate to the exigencies of the Union” (Papers, vol. 3, p. 689). Despairing of this effort, he became one of the prime promoters of the Constitutional Convention and served as a delegate from the state of New York.
Political ideas. Hamilton’s proposals for a gov ernment modeled closely on the British system were unacceptable to most members of the convention, but he labored industriously to have them “tone their Government as high as possible” (ibid., vol. 4, p. 218). Although ultimately “no man’s ideas were more remote from the plan” (ibid., vol. 4, p. 253), Hamilton signed the constitution and was one of its most eloquent and persuasive de fenders. At the New York State ratifying convention, which met in June 1788, Hamilton combined the gifts of political theorist and practical politician to lead a reluctant New York into the federal fold.
Hamilton’s greatest contribution to American political thought was The Federalist (1788), a brilliant defense of the convention’s work, which he, John Jay, and James Madison wrote to persuade the people of New York to adopt the proposed con stitution. Hamilton wrote more than half of the 85 essays. Some of the issues he discussed at length are no longer important (the dangers of a standing army, for example), but his analysis of a viable federalism as a system in which laws operate di rectly upon individuals rather than upon states, his exposition of the powers of the presidency, and his arguments for the necessity of judicial review in a federal system remain among the most astute com ments on American government.
Hamilton was not an original political thinker of the stature of Hobbes, Locke, Montesquieu, Rous seau, or Hegel. His particular genius lay in the bold and imaginative way in which he adapted and ap plied the ideas of others to the needs of an infant republic. He had read many of the political philos ophers of the eighteenth century, among them Adam Smith, David Hume, and Sir William Blackstone, and he was familiar with the work of such European statesmen as William Pitt and Jacques Necker. But he learned the most from his experience in the American Revolution, the Continental Congress, and the New York legislature, namely, that a strong government is necessary to promote national prosperity and safeguard personal liberty. Like other Federalists, Hamilton believed that liberty must be predicated on order and that a just and enduring government must be one of laws and not of men. Far from subscribing to Thomas Jefferson’s dictum that that government is best which governs least, he believed that government to be best which, possessing ample powers, uses them energetically to achieve national goals. In any discussion of the state, his favorite word was “energy.” As Clinton Rossiter has remarked, to Hamilton “energy was the essence of good government, im potence the sign of bad: here was one obsessive principle of his political science that set him off sharply from the progressives of his time” (1964, p. 163).
The belief that Hamilton favored a government of the rich, the well–born, and the able, and that he despised democracy, has long been a commonplace of American history. That he wished to win over the wealthy to the support of the Union is indisputable; that the purpose of his policies was to en rich any particular class is debatable. The object of his statecraft, as he said, was “. . .a great Federal Republic, closely linked in the pursuit of a common interest, tranquil and prosperous at home, respectable abroad . . .” (Papers, vol. 3, p. 106). That he distrusted democracy is also certain. But by democracy he meant a government that is directly responsive to the peoples’ whims or moods, as in ancient Athens or in eighteenth–century New England towns. He was, on the other hand, “affectionately attached to the republican theory” (Works, vol. 9, p. 533), by which he meant democracy modified by a system of checks and balances such as those imposed by the U.S. constitution.
Economic ideas. By common consent Hamilton is ranked as the most forceful and influential secre tary of the treasury in U.S. history. He was appointed to that post on September 11, 1789, and within the brief span of two and a half years (1790–1792) submitted to Congress a number of reports that are among the greatest state papers in U.S. history. The first and most controversial of these papers was the “First Report on the Public Credit” (, 1934, pp. 1-50), in which he called for the payment in full of the foreign and domestic debt contracted by the Confederation gov ernment; for the assumption of the debts incurred by the separate states in the prosecution of the War of Independence; and for a system of finance and taxation adequate to meet these new national obligations. Hamilton’s report was based on the assumption that national honor, strength, and pros perity are inseparably connected with the establishment of sound national credit. After six months of acrimonious debate and a famous compromise in which Hamilton gave his support to a site on the Potomac River as the national capital in exchange for the support of his plan by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, Hamilton’s proposals were adopted in only slightly modified form.
In December 1790, six months after the funding and assumption measures became law, Hamilton submitted to Congress a “Report … on a National Bank…” ( 1934, pp. 51–95), calling for a great quasi–public institution that would provide a uniform circulating medium for the country, in crease its “active wealth,” and furnish a safe de pository for government funds and a source of government loans in time of national need.
The “Report on Manufactures” ( 1934, pp. 175–276), Hamilton’s only major report re jected by Congress, was perhaps his most impor tant state paper and certainly the clearest statement of his economic philosophy. Rejecting the laissez–faire economics of Adam Smith as well as the agrarian philosophy of Thomas Jefferson, he called on the federal government to foster and encourage manufactures. The report was based on Hamilton’s interpretation of the stage of economic development which the United States had reached and the meas ures necessary for further economic growth.
Administrative activity. Hamilton’s work as sec retary of the treasury was not confined to recom mendations for the country’s financial and indus trial growth. His organization and management of the Treasury Department was a model of efficiency and his administrative theory was, in the words of the leading student of the history of public admin istration in the United States, “the first systematic exposition of public administration, a contribution which stood alone for generations” (White  1959, p. 127).
Hamilton’s role in the Washington administration was not restricted to fiscal policy. He provided congressional leadership, preparing detailed reports for congressional guidance, drafting legislation, de fending his conduct of the treasury, and occasionally preparing speeches for political allies. Nor did he refrain from interfering in the management of other departments. His help was welcomed by his friend Henry Knox, the phlegmatic secretary of war, but resented by his political opponent Thomas Jefferson, the secretary of state. Hamilton, in brief, was the chief policy maker as well as the storm center of the administrations of George Washington.
In the perspective of a century and a half, it may well be that Hamilton’s most important contribution to American history was his interpretation of the constitution. To him it was not a mere compact among states but a grant of power to the central government. The powers conferred on the federal government were not to be construed narrowly but interpreted so broadly as to allow the exercise of powers adequate to its needs. That the constitution has been sufficiently flexible to endure for so long is due in no small part to Hamilton’s role in making it the charter for a strong national state.
Jacob E. Cooke
(1788) 1961 Hamilton, Alexander; Madison, James; and jay, johnThe Federalist. Edited with introduction and notes by Jacob E. Cooke. Middletown, Conn.; Wesleyan Univ. Press.
(1790–1792) 1934 Papers on Public Credit, Commerce and Finance. Edited by Samuel McKee, with an introduction by Harvey Williams. New York: Columbia Univ. Press. → A paperback edition was published in 1957 by Liberal Arts Press. See especially pages 1–50, “First Report on Public Credit,” pages 51–95, “Report on a National Bank,” and pages 175–276, “Report on Manufactures.”
The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. Edited by H. Syrett and Jacob E. Cooke. Vols. 1–11. New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1961–1966.
The Works of Alexander Hamilton. 2d ed., 12 vols. Edited by Henry Cabot Lodge. New York and London: Putnam, 1904. → The standard edition of Hamilton’s writings.
Hamilton, JohnC. (1857–1864) 1879 The Life of Alexander Hamilton: A History of the Republic of the United States as Traced in His Writings and Those of His Contemporaries. 7 vols. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. → Marred by J. C. Hamilton’s reverence for his father’s memory, but a storehouse of facts relating to Alexan der Hamilton’s life and times.
Miller, John C. 1959 Alexander Hamilton: Portrait in Paradox. New York: Harper. → The best one–volume work on Hamilton’s life. A paperback edition was published in 1964 as Alexander Hamilton and the Growth of a New Nation.
Mitchell, Broadus 1957–1962 Alexander Hamilton. 2 vols. New York: Macmillan. → Volume 1: Youth to Maturity: 1755–1788. Volume 2: The National Adventure: 1788–1804. The definitive biography.
Rossiter, Clinton L. 1964 Alexander Hamilton and the Constitution. New York: Harcourt. → An excellent study of Hamilton’s political philosophy.
White, Leonard Dupee (1948) 1959 The Federalists: A Study in Administrative History. New York: Mac millan. → An account of Hamilton’s contributions to administrative theory and practice.
"Hamilton, Alexander." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/hamilton-alexander
"Hamilton, Alexander." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Retrieved February 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/hamilton-alexander
Hamilton, Alexander (1755-1804)
Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804)
Member of congress, delegate to the constitutional convention, secretary of the treasury
American Nationalism. As the first secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton formulated fiscal policies and a philosophy of American nationalism that placed him at the center of decision making in the Washington administration. Hamilton improved the financial stability of the United States, but his belief that American nationalism should be based on a union of interests between the U.S. government and wealthy merchants, manufacturers, and speculators divided the country politically.
Early Years. Alexander Hamilton was born on the island of Nevis in the British West Indies on 11 January 1755 and grew up on the neighboring Danish island of Saint Croix. He was the younger of two illegitimate sons of James Hamilton, the fourth son of an aristocratic Scottish family, and Rachel Fawcett Lavien. After James Hamilton abandoned the family in 1765, Rachel opened a small store to support her sons, but she died in 1768. For the next four years the orphaned Hamilton worked for the mercantile firm of Beekman and Cruger. His intelligence, ambition, remarkably mature business judgment, and dramatic newspaper description of a hurricane that hit Saint Croix in 1772 persuaded several prominent citizens of the island to pay for Hamilton’s college education at King’s College (now Columbia University) in New York. While a student, Hamilton’s extensive reading and his friendship with William Livingston and other New York patriots introduced him to the ideas of the American Revolution. In 1774 and 1775, after the Reverend Samuel Seabury condemned the First Continental Congress for supporting nonimportation of British goods until Parliament repealed the Intolerable Acts, the nineteen-year-old Hamilton forcefully refuted Sea-bury in two pamphlets supporting colonial union as the only way to defend liberty. As a Continental Army officer Hamilton demonstrated military leadership and courage during the New Jersey campaign in 1776 and 1777 and at Yorktown in 1781. As aide-de-camp to Gen. George Washington, Hamilton impressed his superior and other important men with his intellect, organizational skills, and executive ability. He also improved his social position in 1780 by marrying Elizabeth Schuyler, daughter of Gen. Philip Schuyler, a wealthy and influential New Yorker. Hamilton was admitted to the New York bar in July 1782 after only a few months’ study, but his real interest was politics and the creation of a strong national government.
Political Outlook. As a native of the West Indies, Hamilton had no attachment to any American state. His first loyalty was to the idea of national union, and his wartime experiences deepened that commitment. The states’ refusal to give Congress any taxation power forced Congress and the states to finance the war with paper currency. Farmers and merchants profited from wartime inflation by raising the prices they charged to supply the American army while the army went without pay and supplies. Hamilton, influenced by Scottish philosopher David Hume’s Political Discourses (1752), concluded that Americans could not win the war or protect their independence unless they established a national government with complete control over the economy and the states. Hamilton also accepted Hume’s conclusion that men are motivated by their passions, and the strongest passion is greed. A government that could use men’s greed to motivate them to support the government would become rich and powerful. Hamilton’s eight months as a member of Congress in 1782 and 1783 intensified his conviction that the Confederation lacked the political and financial power to maintain national union. Shays’s Rebellion in 1786 and 1787 strengthened his fear of democracy and his belief in the necessity of an effective national government to protect the property of wealthy men who would, in turn, support that government. As one of New York’s delegates to the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Hamilton proposed an extraordinarily powerful national government that would have essentially abolished the states. In order to create a national government capable of providing social stability and protecting private property Hamilton recommended a senate and president elected for life and a lower house of representatives to control democracy. The final version of the Constitution provided for a weaker national government than the one Hamilton wanted, but he enthusiastically supported it as one of the authors of The Federalist (1788) and as a delegate to New York’s Constitutional Convention.
American Prime Minister. Congress granted the secretary of the Treasury power to “digest and prepare plans for the improvement and management of the revenue, and the support of the public credit.” As the first secretary of the Treasury in 1789, Alexander Hamilton took full advantage of his policy-making role in financial affairs. Hamilton’s belief in the connection between national power and commerce meant that he did not limit himself to suggesting policies to stabilize the nation’s credit. Instead, he injected himself into every major decision on financial, domestic, and foreign policy connected to his plan to make the United States a commercial empire. President George Washington’s conception of the presidency, emphasizing independence from party politics and the legislative process, encouraged Hamilton’s view of himself as an American prime minister. Hamilton acted as the chief executive of Washington’s cabinet and the head of the Federalist Party, formulating policies and supervising the passage of legislation in Congress. His meetings with British diplomats to advance his agenda for America’s commercial future compromised Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson’s control of foreign policy and created serious divisions within the administration. By the time Hamilton retired from office in January 1795 the United States had the highest credit rating in Europe, the value of American exports had doubled, and his policies on the national debt and banking had vastly expanded American capitalistic enterprises. His policies also created vocal political opposition. Republicans attacked Federalists as pro-British monarchists and aristocrats who cared only about the rich and offered themselves as the party that would protect the interests of the common people.
Political Influence. Hamilton retired from political office in 1795, but he did not retire from politics. He remained an important party leader who advised President Washington, President John Adams’s cabinet, and Federalist members of Congress on policies and presidential candidates. His influence undermined President Adams’s authority and created a serious split in the Federalist Party. As the nation prepared for the possibility of war with France in 1798 Hamilton, appointed second in command of the enlarged army under George Washington, saw the conflict as an opportunity to gain military glory for himself and to expand the American “empire” by annexing Louisiana, Florida, and perhaps all of Spanish America, possibly through an alliance with Britain. Hamilton also contemplated the possibility of using the army to put down political opposition to Federalist policies such as the Alien and Sedition Acts. President Adams would not tolerate Hamilton’s grandiose visions of military glory, a subservient alliance with Britain, the high taxes necessary to maintain the army, or the danger of using the army to suppress political dissent. His peace mission to France in 1799 destroyed Hamilton’s plans. Hamilton had the satisfaction of seeing Adams defeated in 1800 only to have the election come down to a choice between two men he despised: Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. As much as he disagreed with Jefferson’s principles, Hamilton felt that the country was safer under him than under Burr, whom he denounced to his fellow Federalists as a thoroughly unprincipled man motivated only by personal and political ambition.
The Duel. Hamilton advised Federalists to respond to Jeffersonian democracy by spreading their principles to the common people he had long ignored through political organization and newspapers such as the New-York Evening Post, which he helped found in 1801. He was appalled when the Federalists contemplated an alliance with Aaron Burr, a long-standing political and personal rival and a man he condemned as “the most unfit and dangerous man in the community.” In 1791 Burr, who had abandoned the Federalists to run as a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate seat in New York, defeated Hamilton’s father-in-law. In 1792 Burr offered to rejoin the Federalists and run against Gov. George Clinton, but Hamilton’s opposition ended his candidacy. Hamilton also opposed Burr’s attempt to be the Federalist vice-presidential candidate in 1792. In 1804 he denounced a Federalist plan to support Burr for governor of New York in exchange for New York’s support for a northern confederacy. Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel after Hamilton refused to deny or retract derogatory statements about Burr that appeared in a New York newspaper. The death of his oldest son in a duel in 1801 had intensified Hamilton’s hatred of dueling, but his honor and his principles would not allow him to step aside and allow a man like Burr to gain public office. On 11 July 1804 Hamilton and Burr met at Weehawken, New Jersey. Like his son, Hamilton had decided not to fire at his adversary, with equally fatal results. Burr shot Hamilton, and he died the next day. Hamilton’s scorn for democracy made him unpopular in his day, but his support for an energetic national government that encouraged economic growth influenced later generations.
Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick, The Age of Federalism: The Early American Republic, 1788–1800 “New York: Oxford University Press, 1993);
John C. Miller, Alexander Hamilton: Portrait in Paradox (New York: Harper, 1959).
"Hamilton, Alexander (1755-1804)." American Eras. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/hamilton-alexander-1755-1804
"Hamilton, Alexander (1755-1804)." American Eras. . Retrieved February 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/hamilton-alexander-1755-1804
Hamilton, Alexander 1755-1804
When Alexander Hamilton was born on the small Caribbean island of Nevis, probably in 1755, he seemed destined for obscurity. His parents never married. When Hamilton was ten his father abandoned Hamilton and his mother and brother, and his mother died two years later. Strong natural abilities and the patronage of well-to-do citizens made possible Hamilton’s escape. He was sent to North America to receive a college education, which was cut short by the American Revolution. Hamilton took up arms on the American side. His abilities came to the attention of George Washington (1732–1799), who brought him into his personal staff. This began one of the most consequential partnerships in American history. Hamilton was always the junior partner, but the vigor of his character and intellect were critical for Washington’s success.
After the Revolution, Hamilton took up law as a profession and became active in local, state, and national politics. He served as member to the Continental Congress, agitated for a constitutional convention, and participated in the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. It was after the convention that Hamilton’s primary contributions to the new Republic began. Hamilton organized the writing of The Federalist Papers and contributed a little more than half the essays. He contributed mightily in the very difficult struggle to get the Constitution ratified in the critical state of New York. Washington, as the United States’ first president, appointed Hamilton his first secretary of the treasury, a role in which Hamilton distinguished himself as an original economic thinker and a model civil servant. He established the Treasury Department, dealt decisively with the nation’s financial crisis, put in place a financial system that remains in the early twenty-first century, and sketched out a plan and justification for the encouragement of manufactures. As treasury secretary, Hamilton also made a substantial contribution to the debates regarding the scope of the executive power and the proper way to interpret the Constitution.
Much was of enduring significance in Hamilton’s political and economic thought. Hamilton believed the task facing Americans was to show that, despite its historical record of failure, republican government was compatible with liberty and the public interest. In a speech at the Constitutional Convention on June 18, 1787, Hamilton advocated the inclusion of institutions, “as far … as republican principles will admit,” that would lend energy and stability to the republican form, which he defined as an equality of political rights—that is, a system without any hereditary political privileges (Hamilton 2001). At the Constitutional Convention, Hamilton proposed an elected president and senate to serve during good behavior. His suggestions about the presidency led to a charge of monarchism that followed him for the rest of his life. Although Hamilton favored a lower house that was democratic, he believed that republicanism’s best chance for success lay in establishing institutions that could check the popular spirit and pursue a steady course of administration.
The Constitution of course did not meet Hamilton’s expectations, but he threw his prodigious energies into the fight for its ratification. During this debate and while serving as secretary of the treasury, Hamilton elaborated an argument for energetic government in general and energy in the executive in particular. Hamilton may have been the first to employ the term energy in a political sense, using it to mean activity, vigor, and decisiveness in government. Energy is, he reasoned, more likely to arise when power is placed in one set or a very few sets of hands. Hamilton argued for a prompt and generally strict execution of the law. He considered it his job as treasury secretary to provide guidance for the legislative branch in its deliberations on economic matters. More generally, Hamilton provided the classic argument for a broad construction of the executive power under the Constitution. During the controversy over Washington’s declaration of neutrality between revolutionary France and its enemies, Hamilton argued that Article II granted the president the executive power as a whole, including what the English philosopher and economist John Locke (1632–1704) had termed the “federative power” over foreign affairs, subject to the exceptions explicitly spelled out in the Constitution. Hamilton’s position was consistent with his overall view that the Constitution should be construed liberally, or broadly, so that it might meet not just today’s needs but “the probable exigencies of ages,” as he put it in essay No. 34 of The Federalist Papers (Hamilton 2001, p. 311).
Joseph A. Schumpeter described Hamilton’s reports as treasury secretary as “‘applied economics’ at its best” (Schumpeter 1954, p. 199). The reports contain both sophisticated economic theorizing and an extraordinary attention to the details of administration. To correct the nation’s financial crisis, Hamilton proposed a funding system that dedicated revenues to meeting the nation’s debts, new taxes, an assumption of the state debts accumulated during the American Revolution, and the establishment of an independently operated national bank that would be both the government’s banker and a facilitator of economic development. Believing that a capital shortage was the nation’s deepest economic problem, Hamilton attempted to modernize the financial system of the public and private sectors. He also proposed a plan to encourage manufacturing by providing government support for essential defense industries and for infant industries. In general, Hamilton supported free trade at home and abroad, but he was willing to make exceptions to compensate for the restrictions on trade established by other governments and to overcome the force of habit that attached Americans to agricultural employments. In this regard, Hamilton departed from the free-market prescriptions of the Scottish economist Adam Smith (1723–1790). In addition, unlike Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) and James Madison (1751–1836), Hamilton did not see anything degrading or corrupting in manufacturing.
Hamilton struggled to find a political role for himself after he resigned from the Treasury in January 1795. His chief achievements of the period were the drafting of Washington’s Farewell Address and his argument in the Croswell case. In the 1804 Croswell case Hamilton argued before the New York Supreme Court that truth ought to be a defense in libel cases. Croswell had published claims that while he was vice president, Jefferson had paid for attacks on the characters of Washington and John Adams. Hamilton lost the case, but his position soon became the law in New York and in many other states. Other ventures did not go as well. His interference with the cabinet of the second U.S. president, John Adams (1735–1826), earned him Adams’s intense hatred. His affair while treasury secretary with Maria Reynolds became the new Republic’s first great sex scandal when it was revealed in 1797. When recalled to serve as second in command of the army during the “quasi-war,” the significant but undeclared naval war with France (1798–1800), his ambitions for the army led to suspicions that he harbored imperial ambitions for himself.
Hamilton’s remarkable life came to an end in his duel with Aaron Burr (1756–1836) in 1804. Hamilton had been working to thwart Burr’s political ambitions for more than a decade, but his work to defeat Burr’s gubernatorial hopes that year was probably the last straw. The challenge to a duel was an affair of honor that Hamilton could not, as a man of the world, decline. Hamilton seems to have decided to throw away his shot, but Burr shot to kill, taking the life of one of the most consequential men of the founding generation.
SEE ALSO American Revolution; Burr, Aaron; Caribbean, The; Central Banks; Constitution, U.S.; Federalism; Law; Liberty; Public Interest; Republicanism; Washington, George
Chernow, Ron. 2004. Alexander Hamilton. New York: Penguin.
Freeman, Joanne B. 2001. Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the New Republic. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Hamilton, Alexander. 2001 Hamilton: Writings, ed. Joanne Freeman. New York: Library of America.
Knott, Stephen F. 2002. Alexander Hamilton and the Persistence of Myth. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas.
McDonald, Forrest. 1979. Alexander Hamilton: A Biography. New York: Norton.
Schumpeter, Joseph A. 1954. History of Economic Analysis. New York: Oxford University Press.
Walling, Karl-Friedrich. 1999. Republican Empire: Alexander Hamilton on War and Free Government. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas.
"Hamilton, Alexander." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/hamilton-alexander-0
"Hamilton, Alexander." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Retrieved February 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/hamilton-alexander-0
Born: January 11, 1755
Nevis, British West Indies
Died: July 12, 1804
Weehawken, New Jersey
The first U.S. secretary of the treasury, Alexander Hamilton was one of the leaders of the nation's first political party, the Federalists (a group who supported a strong central government). Hamilton remains a well-known figure in U.S. history. He is known not only for the great contributions that he made to the early United States but also for his famous duel with Aaron Burr (1756–1836) in 1804, which resulted in his death.
Birth and early life
Alexander Hamilton's birth date is disputed, but it is often listed as January 11, 1755. He was born on the island of Nevis, in the British West Indies, the illegitimate son (his parents were not married to each other) of James Hamilton, a Scotsman, and Rachel Fawcett Lavien, the daughter of a French physician.
Hamilton's education was brief. He began working between the ages of eleven and thirteen for a trading company in St. Croix, an island in the U.S. Virgin Islands. In 1772 he left to attend school in the American colonies. After a few months at an academy in New Jersey, he enrolled in King's College in New York City. Intelligent enough to master most subjects without formal instruction and eager to win success and fame early in life, he left college in 1776 without graduating.
The outbreak of the American Revolution (1775–83), when the thirteen British colonies in North America fought for their freedom, offered Hamilton the opportunity he craved. In 1777 he became a lieutenant colonel (an army officer who is above a colonel) in the Continental Army (the national army fighting for American independence) and assistant to commanding general George Washington (1732–1799). Hamilton became one of Washington's most trusted advisers. Although he played no role in major military decisions, Hamilton's position was one of great responsibility. He drafted many of Washington's important letters, he was sent on important military missions, and he wrote several reports on the reorganization and reform of the army. In December 1780 he married Elizabeth, the daughter of Philip Schuyler (1733–1804), a member of one of New York's most distinguished families. Hamilton eventually returned to New York. In 1782 he became a lawyer following a short period of apprenticeship (studying and learning a job from someone already in that position).
Hamilton's ideas on government and society had changed during the Revolution. Having been born in a foreign country gave him a different viewpoint from most people. Working for Washington had allowed him to observe how the weakness of Congress and how state and local jealousies were hurting the war effort. From this point on Hamilton believed in, and tried to work to bring about, a strong central government.
Attending the Continental Congress as a representative from New York from November 1782 through July 1783, Hamilton tried to make sure that the new government would have the powers it needed to deal with the problems it faced after it won independence from Britain. As one of the twelve delegates to the Annapolis Convention of 1786, he drafted its resolution (final decision or opinion) calling for a constitutional convention to make sure that interests of the union as a whole were placed over individual state and local concerns.
Hamilton was one of the representatives from New York to the Constitutional Convention, which was held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, from May to September 1787. In October 1787 he wrote a series of essays on behalf of the planned Constitution. First published in New York City newspapers as having been written by "Publius" and collectively titled The Federalist, these essays were designed to persuade the people of New York to ratify, or approve, the Constitution. Although others wrote for The Federalist, Hamilton wrote fifty-one of the eighty-five essays. They contain some of America's most original and important writing on politics and help explain some of the wording of the Constitution. At the New York convention in 1788, as a result of Hamilton's efforts, the Constitution was ratified.
Secretary of the treasury
In September 1789, some six months after the new government was established, Hamilton was named the nation's first secretary of the treasury. This was the most important of the executive departments because the new government's most urgent problem was to find ways to pay the national debt—domestic and foreign—that had grown during the Revolution. Hamilton wrote many reports on the American economy, and many of his suggestions became law. Hamilton's ideas were not exactly original (they were similar to British policies), but they were sensible and took into account the needs of the new country.
Hamilton's importance during this period was not confined to his work as treasury secretary. As the "prime minister" of Washington's administration, he was consulted on a wide range of problems, foreign and domestic. In addition, he is considered the leader of the country's first political party. Hamilton himself disliked the idea of political parties. However, when the debate over his policies revealed disagreement among the members of Congress, Hamilton assumed leadership of the pro-administration group, known as the Federalists.
Well-known lawyer and army general
Hamilton retired from office in January 1795. He returned to his law practice to make money to support his growing family and soon became the most distinguished lawyer in New York City. His interest in public affairs continued, however, and he served as President Washington's adviser. He helped Washington write his famous "Farewell Address" (1796), in which Washington turned down a third term as president. Hamilton remained active in politics as well, speaking out in favor of candidates he liked and criticizing those he opposed.
While many held Hamilton in high regard, others neither liked nor trusted him. During the presidency of John Adams (1735–1826), however, Hamilton continued to have considerable national influence; members of Adams's cabinet often sought and followed his advice. In 1798 they cooperated with George Washington to secure Hamilton's appointment—over Adams's strong opposition—as inspector general and second in command of the U.S. Army, which was preparing for a possible war against France. Since Washington chose not to assume active command, organizing and recruiting these troops fell to Hamilton. His military career came to an abrupt end in 1800 after President Adams sent a peace mission to France that achieved a settlement of the major issues.
Retirement and the fatal duel
Although his interest in national policies and politics was still strong, Hamilton's role in national affairs after 1801 became smaller. He continued to publish his opinions on public affairs in the New York Evening Post. In 1804 he took a stand against a rumored plot by New England and New York Federalists to break up the Union by forming a northern confederacy (a separate union). Hamilton believed that Vice President Aaron Burr (1756–1836), whom he referred to as "the most unfit and dangerous man of the community," was involved with this plan. Hamilton also actively stood against Burr's bid for the New York governorship. After Burr lost the race, he angrily challenged Hamilton to a duel. Hamilton believed that his "ability to be in [the] future useful" demanded that he meet the challenge.
After putting his personal affairs in order, Alexander Hamilton met Burr at dawn on July 11, 1804, on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River. The two men exchanged gunshots, and Hamilton fell, mortally wounded. Many believe that he missed Burr on purpose, leaving himself an open target for Burr's bullet. Hamilton was carried back to New York City, where he died the next afternoon.
For More Information
Brookhiser, Richard. Alexander Hamilton, American. New York: Free Press, 1999.
Flexer, James Thomas. The Young Hamilton: A Biography. Boston: Little, Brown, 1978. Reprint, New York: Fordham University Press, 1997.
Knott, Stephen F. Alexander Hamilton and the Persistence of Myth. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2002.
McDonald, Forrest. Alexander Hamilton: A Biography. New York: Norton, 1979.
"Hamilton, Alexander." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hamilton-alexander-1
"Hamilton, Alexander." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved February 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hamilton-alexander-1
Alexander Hamilton (1755–1804) was the first Secretary of the Treasury of the United States and a primary contributor to The Federalist Papers. Among the founding fathers, he was the man whose vision was largely responsible for the creation of the American nation as it is today. Samuel Eliot Morison wrote in The Oxford History of the American People that it was Hamilton's genius that enabled the new government to function successfully.
Born in 1755, Hamilton was an illegitimate child. He had a difficult upbringing in the West Indies. His father, an aristocratic but unsuccessful Scottish trader, abandoned the family when the boy was about 10 years old. At age 11 Hamilton began work in the West Indies office of a New York mercantile firm. When his mother died in 1768, he was taken under the wing of her relatives. They and other sponsors recognized the boy's exceptional intelligence and energy and arranged for him to attend preparatory school in New Jersey; he was then enrolled at King's College (now Columbia University) in 1773.
As a student Hamilton wrote and published three brilliant pamphlets. He defended the colonists' cause in protesting the actions of the British government which brought on the War of Independence and he upheld recent decisions of the Continental Congress. These very influential writings brought the young man to the attention of General George Washington (1732–1799). At only age 22 Hamilton joined the general's military staff as aide-de-camp with the rank of lieutenant colonel. Remaining on the staff for four years, he became indispensable to Washington. Hamilton was entrusted with his general's correspondence, sent on many sensitive missions, and eventually made Washington's liaison with French military commanders who supported the Revolutionary army. At Yorktown, in the final battle of the war, Hamilton led a successful assault on a key British position.
Following the war, Hamilton married Elizabeth Schuyler, a member of one of New York's wealthiest and most distinguished families, and he settled down to practice law in New York City. He was soon, however, caught up in national politics. He recognized almost immediately that the Articles of Confederation, which defined the relationships among the states, were weak and unenforceable. As a delegate to the 1787 Philadelphia meeting of the Constitutional Convention, Hamilton argued for a strong national government with almost unlimited power over the states. His views were in the minority and were particularly unpopular in New York, where the prevailing sentiment was in favor of political power remaining with the individual states.
With James Madison (1751–1836), a delegate from Virginia, and John Jay (1745–1829), the secretary for foreign affairs, Hamilton wrote a series of essays which were published in a New York newspaper between October 1787 and May 1788. These essays, comprising The Federalist Papers, effectively argued the case for a strong national government. They were enormously influential among the framers of the Constitution and they remain relevant more than 200 years later. Hamilton is credited with two-thirds of the 85 essays. In his essays he described the proposed powers of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. He also explained how, as a final check on legislative powers, the Supreme Court would be able to declare unconstitutional even those laws passed by Congress and signed by the executive.
Named by President George Washington (1789–1797) to be the first Secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton acted swiftly to establish a strong economy. The country's foreign debt was repaid by the end of 1795; the national domestic debt was paid off by 1835. The Bank of the United States was chartered and funded under Hamilton's watch. By August 1791, U.S. currency was strong on domestic and world markets.
Hamilton's three great reports to Congress (the Report on the Public Credit of 1790, the Report on the Bank of the United States of 1790, and the Report on Manufactures of 1791) laid down the basic economic principles on which the U.S. government has, in general, operated ever since. Hamilton believed that the states should be subordinate to the federal government. The federal government, in turn, should protect the states from foreign intervention and from each other through a single military force.
An important duty of the federal government, Hamilton argued, was to promote a strong capitalist economy through a strong currency and public investment in infrastructure. He encouraged new industry in both the South and the North by protecting infant U.S. industries until they were able to compete on an equal basis with imports.
Hamilton was the opposite of a populist. The government, in his opinion, should not be run by amateurs but by a trained and educated elite. In many of his views he was strongly opposed by Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), the author of the Declaration of Independence and future president, who believed that the American republic rested firmly on an agrarian democracy.
Hamilton's last years were spent in the midst of political turmoil. Through various political intrigues he managed to sow dissension in his own Federalist party and to incur the enmity of several important political leaders in both the Federalist and Republican parties. Along with Jefferson, these included John Adams (1735–1826), a Federalist and the second president of the United States, and Aaron Burr (1756–1836), a Republican and Jefferson's Vice President. In 1804 Hamilton opposed Burr's unsuccessful bid to be governor of New York. On the grounds of some insulting remarks Hamilton had allegedly made about him, Burr challenged his old rival to a duel following the election. Hamilton died in the duel at Weehawken, New Jersey, on July 11, 1804.
See also: Bank of the United States (First National Bank), Thomas Jefferson, Report on Manufactures
Cooke, Jacob E. Alexander Hamilton, a Biography. New York: Scribner's, 1982.
Hendrickson, Robert. Rise and Fall of Alexander Hamilton. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1981.
Lind, Michael. "Hamilton's Legacy." The Wilson Quarterly, Summer 1994.
Mcdonald, Forrest. Alexander Hamilton: a Biography. New York: Norton, 1979.
Miller, John C. Alexander Hamilton: Portrait in Paradox. New York: Harper, 1959.
Morison, Samuel Eliot. "Alexander Hamilton." The Oxford History of the American People. New York: Oxford University Press, 1965.
Rossiter, Clinton. Alexander Hamilton and the Constitution. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, Inc., 1965.
"Hamilton, Alexander." Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hamilton-alexander-0
"Hamilton, Alexander." Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. . Retrieved February 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hamilton-alexander-0
Alexander Hamilton, 1755–1804, American statesman, b. Nevis, in the West Indies.
He was the illegitimate son of James Hamilton (of a prominent Scottish family) and Rachel Faucett Lavien (daughter of a doctor-planter on Nevis and the estranged wife of a merchant). Orphaned and impoverished at around the age of 12, the brilliant, ambitious youth arrived in the North American colonies late in 1772 and studied (1773–74) at King's College (now Columbia). In the troubled times leading to the American Revolution, he wrote articles and pamphlets espousing the colonial cause so well that the works were popularly attributed to John Jay.
In the war he became a captain of artillery, attracted George Washington's notice, and, as Washington's secretary and aide-de-camp, performed invaluable services. Desiring more active duty, he left Washington's staff in 1781 and performed brilliantly in the field at Yorktown. His marriage to Elizabeth Schuyler, daughter of Gen. Philip J. Schuyler, connected him with an old and powerful New York family. He practiced law in New York City and was a member of the Continental Congress.
By 1780 Hamilton had outlined a plan of government with a strong central authority to replace the weak system of the Articles of Confederation, and as delegate (1782–83) to the Continental Congress he pressed continually for strengthening of the national government. It was Hamilton who proposed at the unsuccessful Annapolis Convention (1786) that a constitutional convention be called at Philadelphia in May, 1787, and he was one of New York's three delegates when it was convened.
Although he believed the Constitution to be deficient in the powers that it gave the national government, he did much to get it ratified, particularly by means of his contributions to The Federalist. In New York, Hamilton was a powerful constitutional supporter, fighting vigorously against the opposition of George Clinton and becoming perhaps the strongest advocate of the new instrument of government aside from James Madison.
In the first decade of the republic, Hamilton played a decisive role in shaping domestic and foreign policy. As Secretary of the Treasury under George Washington, he presented (1790) a far-reaching financial program to the first Congress. He proposed that the debt accumulated by the Continental Congress be paid in full, that the federal government assume all state debts, and that a Bank of the United States be chartered. For revenue, Hamilton advocated a tariff on imported manufactures and a series of excise taxes. He hoped by these measures to strengthen the national government at the expense of the states and to tie government to men of wealth and prosperity.
Hamilton was a well-to-do lawyer and banker (he helped to found the Bank of New York), and his own high connections aroused suspicion among the less conservative; his policies alienated agrarian interests and drew opposition from those who feared concentration of power in the federal government. Widespread antipathy to party divisions muted the opposition, however, and Congress adopted the Hamiltonian program.
Foreign affairs soon brought this unity to an end. Hamilton's program depended for success on continued trade with Great Britain. He supported Jay's Treaty (1794), and, opposed to the French Revolution, encouraged strong measures against France in the near-war of 1798—measures bitterly opposed by the pro-French Thomas Jefferson.
Two opposing parties formed: the Federalists, led by Hamilton and John Adams (then President), and the Democratic Republicans (see Democratic party), led by Jefferson and James Madison. Hamilton was perhaps the most powerful of the Federalists, but he was not in complete command of the party (he had even resigned his cabinet post in 1795, largely for financial reasons). There was little personal liking between Hamilton and Adams, and friction between them grew in the course of the Adams administration. Both were swept under in the election of 1800.
Because the Constitution did not provide for the election of the President and Vice President on separate ballots, a tie between Jefferson and his running mate, Aaron Burr, left the choice of chief executive to the House of Representatives in 1800. Hamilton's influence made Jefferson President and Burr Vice President—an outcome in accord with the popular will, but Burr was disgruntled.
When in 1804 Hamilton again thwarted Burr, keeping him from the governorship of New York, Burr accused Hamilton of having called him a "dangerous" man and, when Hamilton replied to the charge, challenged him to a duel. The two men met at Weehawken Heights, N.J., and Hamilton was mortally wounded.
See the definitive edition of Hamilton's papers (ed. by H. C. Syrett, 27 vol., 1961–87) and law papers (ed. by J. Goebel, Jr., and J. H. Smith, 5 vol., 1964–81) as well as Alexander Hamilton: Writings (ed. by J. B. Freeman, 2001). See also biographies by H. C. Lodge (1898), N. Schachner (1946, repr. 1961), B. Mitchell (2 vol., 1957–62), J. C. Miller (1959, repr. 1964), F. McDonald (1979), R. Brookhiser (1999), W. S. Randall (2002), R. Chernow (2004), and one in his own words, ed. by M.-J. Kline (2 vol., 1973); R. Morris, ed., Alexander Hamilton and the Founding of the Nation (1957); C. Rossiter, Alexander Hamilton and the Constitution (1964); J. E. Cooke, ed., Alexander Hamilton: A Profile (1967); G. Stourzh, Alexander Hamilton and the Idea of Republican Government (1970); B. Mitchell, Alexander Hamilton: The Revolutionary Years (1970); S. Elkins and E. McKitrick, The Age of Federalism (1993); A. A. Rogow, A Fatal Friendship (1998); T. Fleming, Duel: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr and the Future of America (1999); R. G. Kennedy, Burr, Hamilton, and Jefferson: A Study in Character (1999); M. P. Federici, The Political Philosophy of Alexander Hamilton (2012); J. Ferling, Jefferson and Hamilton: The Rivalry That Forged a Nation (2013).
"Hamilton, Alexander." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hamilton-alexander
"Hamilton, Alexander." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved February 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hamilton-alexander
Hamilton's wartime experiences convinced him that only a strong central government led by a natural aristocracy could preserve American liberty. In 1782, he entered the Confederation Congress, a body he worked to invigorate; Hamilton's Annapolis Convention report (1786) summoned the 1787 Constitutional Convention. At the Philadelphia meeting, he pushed a powerful national government; thereafter he wrote fifty‐one of the celebrated Federalist Papers.
As the first Treasury secretary (1789–95), Hamilton issued three brilliant, controversial reports to Congress, aimed at strengthening the national government. The first, favoring funding of the federal deficit at par and assuming state debts, helped establish national credit; the second proposed a national bank; the third (never enacted) advocated bounties and subsidies to boost manufacturing. Taken as a whole, Hamilton designed his program to win the public creditors to the government's support and to help the nation develop economically. His financial and diplomatic policies inspired the formation of the Republican opposition.
Hamilton's vision for national grandeur included a military establishment. Through a series of crises—including the Whiskey Rebellion, which Hamilton personally helped quell—the Federalists built a professional force despite the public's fear of standing armies. Appointed Inspector General in 1798 under Washington, Hamilton broke with John Adams when the president negotiated America's differences with France instead of waging war. In 1804, fearing a secessionist conspiracy, Hamilton opposed Aaron Burr's bid to become New York's governor. After his defeat, Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel, wounding him mortally at Weehawken, New Jersey.
[See also Jefferson, Thomas; Madison, James; Revolutionary War: Military and Diplomatic Course.]
Forrest McDonald , Alexander Hamilton, a Biography, 1979.
Jacob Cooke , Alexander Hamilton, a Biography, 1982.
"Hamilton, Alexander." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hamilton-alexander
"Hamilton, Alexander." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Retrieved February 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hamilton-alexander
"Hamilton, Alexander." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hamilton-alexander
"Hamilton, Alexander." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved February 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hamilton-alexander
Stephens, Alexander Hamilton
"Stephens, Alexander Hamilton." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/stephens-alexander-hamilton
"Stephens, Alexander Hamilton." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved February 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/stephens-alexander-hamilton