“I wish there was a war,” a hopeful and determined 14-year-old Alexander Hamilton writes in his journal. Alexander Hamilton was a military leader, lawyer, journalist, econ- omist, and the first secretary-treasury of the United States of America. Alexander Hamil- ton was an ambitious intellectual who has made a lasting impact on America today.
Hamilton was born around January 11, 1757 (the exact date is unknown), on the is- land Nevis in the British West Indies. Hamilton’s father, James Hamilton, abandoned the family when Alexander was a young child. This left Rachel Levien, Alexander’s mother, and her sons impoverished. Determined to improve his life, Alexander began his first job at the age of 11, not long after his father left. Sadly, after working tirelessly to make ends meet, Hamilton’s mother became ill and died in 1786 (Wikipedia). Working as an accounting clerk in St. Croix, the bright and ambitious young Alexander quickly im- pressed his employer.
Through this early experience, Hamilton was first exposed to in- ternational trade, including the importing of slaves, and learned about the business of money and commerce. Hamilton’s boss, a businessman named Nicolas Cruger, so val- ued Hamilton’s insight when it came to accounting that he and other businessmen merged their resources with a minister and newspaper editor named Hugh Knox to send Hamilton to America for an education (Biography.com). Alexander had impressed Knox with an eloquent letter he had written describing a hurricane that had hit his island in 1772 (Biography.com).
In 1773, around 16 years-old, Hamilton arrived in New York and enrolled at King’s College, now known as Columbia University. Despite his appreciation toward his pa- trons, with the American colonies on the verge of a revolution, Hamilton found himself drawn towards political involvement rather than his academics (Wikipedia). A quick learner, Alexander regarded himself quite capable of becoming a self-made man. Want- ing to learn through a hands-on experience, he left King’s College before graduating to join forces with the Patriots in their protest of British-imposed taxes and commercial business management (Biography.com).
In 1775, when the Revolutionary War began, Hamilton became part of the New York Provincial Artillery Company. During his early service in the fight for American indepen- dence, he caught the attention of General George Washington, who made Hamilton his assistant and trusted adviser. For the next five years, Hamilton put his writing skills to work. He wrote Washington’s critical letters, composed numerous reports on the strate- gic reform, and restructured the Continental Army (Wikipedia).
Around the same time, Hamilton married Elizabeth Schuyler, who was from an affluent New York family. With Washington’s permission, Hamilton led a victorious charge against the British in the Bat- tle of Yorktown, in 1781. Cornwallis’ surrender during this battle would eventually lead to two major negotiations in 1783: the Treaty of Paris between the United States and Great Britain, and two treaties signed at Versailles between France and Britain and Spain (New World Encyclopedia). These treaties and several others comprise the col- lection of peace agreements known as Peace of Paris, officially marking the end of the American Revolutionary War (New World Encyclopedia).
Hamilton left his position as an adviser to General George Washington to study law. After completing a short apprenticeship and passing the bar, he established a practice in New York City. Being a lawyer inducted Hamilton further into politics, as he used his profession as a medium for achieving his political goals. After serving as Secretary of the Treasury from 1789 to 1795, he returned to his law practice in Manhattan, distin- guishing himself as one of the city’s most prestigious attorneys (Wikipedia). Throughout his law career, Alexander remained actively involved in public and political affairs and ranked among many U.S. president’s most trusted advisors (Wikipedia).
Alexander’s political agenda involved establishing a stronger federal government un- der a new Constitution. In 1787, Hamilton was chosen as the New York delegate to the Constitutional Convention. During the meeting, Hamilton expressed his view that a reli- able ongoing source of revenue would be crucial to developing a more powerful and re- silient central government (History.com). Hamilton didn’t have a strong hand in writing the Constitution, but he did heavily influence its ratification.
In collaboration with James Madison and John Jay, the plan was to write a total of 25 essays, under the title The Federalist, later known as The Federalist Papers, the work divided evenly among the three men. In the end, they wrote 85 essays; John Jay wrote 5, James Madison wrote 29, and Hamilton wrote the other 51. In the essays, he artfully explained and defended the newly drafted Constitution prior to its approval.
When George Washington was elected president of the United States in 1789, he appointed Alexander Hamilton as the first Secretary of the Treasury (USHistory.com). At the time, the nation was facing great foreign and national debt due to expenses ac- quired during the American Revolution (Wikipedia). As an advocate for a strong central government, during his occupancy as Treasury Secretary, Hamilton hit heads with fel- low cabinet members who were leery of a central government holding so much power.
Lacking their state loyalties, Hamilton went so far as to turn down New York’s opportu- nity to house the nation’s capital in favor of securing backing for his economic program, dubbed the “dinner table bargain.” Alexander believed that the Constitution gave him the authority to create economic policies that strengthened the central government (Wikipedia). His proposed financial policies initiated the payment of federal war bonds, had the federal government assume states’ debts, established a federal system for tax collection and would help the United States establish credit with other nations (USHisto- ry.com).
State loyalists were outraged by Alexander’s suggestions, until a compromise was reached during a dinner conversation between Hamilton and Madison on June 20, 1790 (History.com). Hamilton agreed that a site near the Potomac would be established as the nation’s capital, and Madison would no longer block Congress, particularly its Vir- ginia representatives, from approving policies that promoted a more powerful central government over individual states’ rights (History.com). Alexander stepped down from his position as Secretary of the Treasury in 1795, leaving behind a far more secure U.S. economy to back a strengthened federal government.
In the election of 1800, John Adams, a federalist, and Thomas Jefferson, a Demo- cratic-Republican, were vying for the presidency. Aaron Burr planned to be Jefferson’s Vice President but, surprisingly, tied Jefferson for the presidency. Alexander Hamilton, when asked who he was going to vote for, sided with Jefferson. Ultimately, the House of Representatives chose Jefferson as president, with Burr as his vice president (USHisto- ry.com). However, the standoff had damaged Jefferson’s trust in Burr (USHistory.com). During his first term, Jefferson often left Burr out of discussions on party decisions (Wikipedia). When Jefferson ran for re-election in 1804, he decided to removing Burr. Burr then opted to run independently for the New York governorship but lost (Wikipedia).
Frustrated and feeling left out, Burr hit his boiling point when he read in a newspaper that Hamilton had called Burr “the most unfit and dangerous man of the community.” Burr was livid (Biography.com). Convinced that Hamilton had ruined yet another elec- tion for him, Burr demanded an explanation. When Hamilton refused to comply, Burr, further enraged, challenged Hamilton to a duel. The duel, which began at dawn on July 11, 1804, in Weehawken, New Jersey. When both men drew their guns and shot, Hamilton was fatally wounded, but Hamilton’s bullet missed Burr. Hamilton, wounded, was brought back to New York City, where he died the next day, on July 12, 1804 (Wikipedia).
To conclude, Alexander Hamilton was a military leader, lawyer, journalist, econo- mist, and the first Secretary-Treasurer of the United States of America. Alexander Hamilton was an arduous, formidable intellectual who has made a lasting impact on America today.