Articles/Biographies/Politicians/Hamilton, Alexander

Alexander Hamilton was born on January 11, 1755 in the city of St. Croix on the island of Nevis in the British West Indies. He was the illegitimate son of a Scottish landowner and a woman named Rachel Fawcett Lavien, a fact that he was always sensitive about. His father father abandoned the family while he was young and his mother died in 1768, leaving him as an orphan at the age of thirteen.

To survive, he got a job as a clerk in a counting house owned by Nicholas Cruger. When his boss, Cruger, took a six month trip in 1771, he left Hamilton in charge of the business and returned to see that he had done a great job alone. In May of 1772, a Presbyterian minister named Hugh Knox came to St. Croix and opened his library to Hamilton. Knox frequently spoke with Hamilton about the evils of alcohol and slavery, greatly influencing his future beliefs.

In September of 1772, Hamilton wrote a letter to the local paper speaking about a devastating hurricane that struck the island. After it was published, the locals raised money to send Hamilton to America for a proper education and he journeyed to New Jersey. Hamilton started taking classes in the city of Elizabeth in preparation for college in 1773.

After applying to several colleges in the area, he was accepted at Princeton, but elected to go to King's College (now known as Columbia) in New York City instead. He found himself drawn into the revolutionary spirit in the area and published "A Full Vindication of the Measures of Congress" and "The Farmer Refuted" in 1774 and 1775. He also published essays that criticized the Quebec Act and other articles for the New York Journal.

When the Revolutionary War began, Hamilton organized an artillery unit using donated funds. He led them into battle as their captain and spent most of the time defending the city of New York against British forces. In March of 1977, he joined George Washington's staff and was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel. For four years, he worked as Washington's chief of staff and drafted letters from Washington to other military units.

However, Hamilton began to tire of working as a staff member and sought command of a field unit. In February of 1781, he resigned from the staff and took command of an infantry regiment that seized British fortifications near Yorktown. When the war finally ended, he had established quite a reputation with Washington and other leaders of the revolution.

In 1779, Hamilton began seeking a wife and asked his friend John Laurens to help him find a young, handsome, sensible, and tender woman. However, he accomplished the task himself and married a woman named Elizabeth Schuyler on December 14, 1780.

In 1782, he was delegated to serve in the Congress of the Confederation until 1783. At that point, he returned to New York City, where he opened a law office. He spent much of his time defending people loyal to the British during the war. In the case of Rutgers v. Waddington, he successfully argued that damages done by English individuals occupying a brewery could not be recovered since the Mayor's Court overruled state law.

In 1784, Hamilton founded the Bank of New York, which is at present the oldest banking institution in the United States. He also worked closely with his friend John Jay to revitalize King's College and rename it Columbia College. In 1786, he attended the Annapolis Convention and drafted a resolution for a constitutional convention.

In 1787, Hamilton was elected to serve in the New York State Legislature. He was also chosen as the first delegate to attend the Constitutional Convention. While at the convention, he delivered a speech outlining a government that would best suit the United States. His ideal government would represent all interest groups, but also have a hereditary monarch that would decide policy. He acknowledged that a monarchy was not practical in the United States and therefore proposed that a president and senators be instated for life, along with an elected assembly that would take over the role of state governments.

While at the Convention, Hamilton wrote a rough draft of the Constitution, basing it on debates that he participated in over the rules of the new government. The proposed constitution only slightly differed from his early version and he agreed with it, despite the fact that the president and senators would not have lifelong terms, unlike the supreme court. He returned to New York and immediately began campaigning for its adoption.

Hamilton worked closely with James Madison and John Jay to defend the constitution. Together, they wrote up a series of 85 articles that became known as the Federalist Papers. The documents helped to further sway public opinion towards supporting the new constitution before the vote. In 1788, he was again delegated to the Continental Congress for its final year.

After the constitution was ratified and George Washington was selected to serve as the first president, he chose Hamilton to serve as the first Secretary of the Treasury. Hamilton took the office on September 11, 1789 and would serve until January 31, 1795. One of his first acts was to propose the creation of a naval branch of the military that would prevent smuggling and tariff/import tax evasions. In 1790, Congress took action on this request and established the Coast Guard. Hamilton also supported creating the United States Navy and was a large force behind the Naval Act of 1794.

To protect and encourage domestic manufacturing and business, Hamilton proposed the creation of import duties on imported commodities that threatened domestic business. He also drew up plans for the First Bank of the United States in an effort to organize the nation's currency.

One of the biggest problems at the time was the looming debt that the United States had created during the Revolutionary War. Hamilton solved the problem of the debt by establishing the independent central bank and the tax system for generating revenue. In 1790, he proposed to pay off the entire international debt, which would allow the United States to issue bonds to pay off domestic debt.

Hamilton was a strong opponent of perpetual debt and believed that it should only be used in times of dire need. In 1790, he published his "Report on the Public Credit", which praised the United States for recovering from its original status as a debt-ridden country. Hamilton's plans did not come without opposition, however, and he faced staunch opposition from Thomas Jefferson and James Madison to his national bank plan. They worked out the Compromise of 1790, which solved numerous political problems and left everyone mostly satisfied.

In the early 1790s, Hamilton lobbied for an excise tax on whiskey to help reduce national debt. It was granted by Congress, much to the horror of alcohol producers and purchasers in the United States. A "Whiskey Rebellion" was formed in Pennsylvania and Virginia in 1794 to oppose the excise tax, but he stood his ground and accompanied the United States Army when it put down the rebellion.

In 1794, Hamilton also became involved in an affair with the wife of James Reynolds, Maria. The affair was uncovered by her husband and he blackmailed Hamilton for money in exchange for not publicly revealing the incident. Reynolds kept quiet, but later he was arrested for making counterfeit money and contacted several politicians, including James Monroe, to reveal the affair. Hamilton was confronted, he admitted to the affair and later published a confession to the incident.

The resulting scandal led him to resign from his position as Secretary of the Treasury in 1795. He returned to practicing law and continued working with George Washington on political issues. When Washington left office, his successor, John Adams, took issue with Hamilton, but appointed him as a major general in the Army when the Quasi-War started in 1798. After the "war" started, Hamilton formed an army with intent to invade Spanish territory, but Adams managed to derail the war by negotiating with France.

After Thomas Jefferson became president and Aaron Burr became vice president in 1800, a rumor started that Hamilton had made some despicable comments about Burr. Burr demanded an apology from Hamilton and Hamilton refused, stating that he could not recall having made the comments. They exchanged a series of hostile letters that led to the scheduling of a duel on July 11, 1804 in Weehawken, New Jersey, along the bank of the Hudson River.

The two met at dawn in the designated location and Burr managed to shoot Hamilton. Hamilton's own shot missed Burr completely, but it was later revealed that he may have done so on purpose. Nonetheless, Hamilton died on July 12, 1804 as a result of his wounds and was buried in Manhattan.