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Alexander Hamilton (January 11, 1755 or 1757–July 12, 1804) was an Army officer, lawyer, Founding Father, American politician, leading statesman, financier and political theorist. One of America’s foremost constitutional lawyers, he was a leader in calling the U.S. Constitutional Convention in 1787; he was one of the two leading authors of the Federalist Papers, the most important interpretation of the United States Constitution.

Hamilton served chiefly as aide-de-camp to General George Washington, though he also led troops in combat. Under President Washington, Hamilton became the first Secretary of the Treasury; and had much influence over the rest of the government and the formation of policy, including foreign and military policy. Hamilton convinced Congress to use an elastic interpretation of the Constitution to pass far-reaching laws. They included: the funding of the national debt; federal assumption of the state debts; creation of a national bank; and a system of taxes through a tariff on imports and a tax on whiskey that would help pay for it. He admired the success of the British system, and opposed the excesses of the French Revolution.

Hamilton created the Federalist party, the first American political party, which he built up using Treasury department patronage, networks of elite leaders, and aggressive newspaper editors he subsidized both through Treasury patronage and by loans from his own pocket. [1] His great political adversary was Thomas Jefferson who, with James Madison, created the opposition party (of several names, now known as the Democratic-Republican Party). This opposition party intended to counter Hamilton’s urban, financial, industrial goals for the United States, and his promotion of extensive trade and friendly relations with Britain. Hamilton retired from the Treasury in 1795 to practice law in New York City, but during the Quasi-War with France he served as organizer and de facto commander of a national army beginning in December, 1798; if full scale war broke out with France, the army was intended to conquer the North American colonies of France’s ally, Spain. He worked to defeat both John Adams and Jefferson in the election of 1800; but when the House of Representatives deadlocked, he helped secure the election of Jefferson over Hamilton’s long-time political enemy, Aaron Burr.

Hamilton’s nationalist and industrializing vision was rejected in the Jeffersonian “Revolution of 1800” as too elitist and hostile to states’ rights. However, after the War of 1812 showed the need for strong national institutions, his former opponents — including Madison and Albert Gallatin — came to emulate his programs as they too set up a national bank, tariffs, a national infrastructure, and a standing army and navy. The later Whig and Republican parties adopted many of Hamilton’s ideas regarding the flexible interpretation of the Constitution and using the federal government to build a strong economy and military. However, his negative reputation after 1800 – both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson viewed him as unprincipled and dangerously aristocratic – did not allow acknowledgment of his role until his style of nationalism became dominant again in the late 19th century, when progressives such as Theodore Roosevelt and Herbert Croly, as well as conservatives such as long-time member of the US Congress Henry Cabot Lodge, revived his reputation.

Early years

Alexander Hamilton was born on the island of Nevis[2] in the Caribbean to James Hamilton, the fourth son of a Scottish laird, and Rachel Faucett Lavien, of part French Huguenot descent. Hamilton’s mother had been married previously to Johann Michael Lavien of St. Croix.[3] To escape her unhappy marriage, Rachel left St. Croix for St. Kitts in 1750, where she met James Hamilton[4]. They moved together to Nevis, which was Rachel’s birthplace and where she had inherited property from her father[5]. They would have two sons together, James, Jr. and Alexander. The Church of England did not accept the situation, and denied Hamilton membership or education in the church school. He had to enroll in a private, Jewish school.[6] Hamilton was always sensitive about his illegitimate birth, which in the historical period had greater potential for social stigma than in modern society.

The year of Hamilton’s birth is somewhat uncertain, but he used January 11 as his birthday. Most historians now use January 11, 1755 as the date of his birth, although disagreement remains. He claimed 1757 as his birth year when he first arrived from Nevis, but Ramsing found [7] that he is recorded as thirteen in the probate papers after his mother’s death, which would make him two years older. He was often approximate about his age in later life. Various explanations for this discrepancy have been suggested: He may have been trying to appear younger than his college classmates and thus precocious; he may have wanted to avoid standing out as older; the probate document may be wrong; or he may have been passing as older than he was, and thus more employable, at his mother’s death.[8]

In 1765, a business assignment led James Hamilton to move the family to Christiansted, St. Croix. James then abandoned Rachel and their two sons. This separation, and anxiety over his illegitimate birth, presumably had severe emotional consequences for Alexander, even for eighteenth-century childhoods.[9] After James left, Rachel supported the family by keeping a small store in Christiansted. She had, it is said, the largest library on the island—some thirty-odd books. She died in 1768, leaving Hamilton effectively orphaned. After her death, Rachel’s son from her first marriage appeared and (legally, via probate court) claimed the few valuables Hamilton’s mother had owned, including several silver spoons. Hamilton never saw his half-brother again, but years later received his death notice and a small amount of money.[10]


In 1773, Hamilton attended a college-preparatory program with Francis Barber at Elizabethtown, New Jersey. There he came under the influence of a leading intellectual and revolutionary, William Livingston.[citation needed] Hamilton may have applied to the College of New Jersey (forerunner to Princeton University) but been refused the opportunity for accelerated study;[11] he therefore attended King’s College (now Columbia University) in New York City. There, with several classmates, he formed a literary and discussion group that was a precursor to Columbia’s Philolexian Society.

When Church of England clergyman Samuel Seabury published a series of pamphlets promoting the Tory cause with conviction, Hamilton struck back with his first political writings, A Full Vindication of the measures of Congress, and The Farmer Refuted written in 1774. He published two other pieces attacking the Quebec Act as “establishing arbitrary power and Popery” in Canada[12], and he wrote fourteen anonymous installments of “The Monitor” for Holt’s New York Journal. Nevertheless, Hamilton is said to have preferred civil debate over revolutionary fervor; the report that he saved King’s College president and Tory sympathizer Myles Cooper from an angry mob by persuasion alone is generally accepted.[13]

Military career

After the first engagements of American troops with the British in Boston Hamilton joined a New York volunteer militia company called the Hearts of Oak in 1775. He drilled with the company (which included other King’s students) before classes in the graveyard of nearby St. Paul’s Chapel. Hamilton studied military history and tactics on his own, and achieved the rank of lieutenant. Under fire from the HMS Asia, he led a successful raid for British cannon in the Battery, the capture of which resulted in the Hearts of Oak becoming an artillery company thereafter. Through his connections with influential New York patriots like Alexander McDougall and John Jay, he raised his own artillery company of sixty men in 1776, a company which is the only unit from the Revolutionary War still in service with the American Army. Drilling them, selecting and purchasing their uniforms with funds he helped raise and, winning their loyalty, they chose the young man as their captain. He earned the interest of Nathanael Greene and George Washington by the proficiency and bravery he displayed in the campaign of 1776 around New York City, particularly at the Battle of Harlem Heights.

He joined Washington’s staff in March 1777 with the rank of lieutenant-colonel and for four years served in effect as his chief of staff.[14] He handled the paperwork and drafted many of Washington’s orders and letters (but Washington always made the decisions and gave the commands). He negotiated with general officers as Washington’s emissary.[15] The important duties with which he was entrusted attest Washington’s entire confidence in his abilities and character, then and afterward. Indeed, reciprocal confidence and respect initially took the place of personal attachment in their relations. During the war Hamilton became close friends with several fellow officers, including John Laurens and the Marquis de Lafayette. Jonathan Katz argues that Hamilton’s letters to Laurens reveal at least a homosocial attachment and perhaps, in coded allusions to Greek history and mythology, a relationship modern readers would label homosexual; Ron Chernow implies this in discussing Laurens. Thomas Flexner portrays a similar homosocial relationship with Lafayette. These biographers may well be over-reading the literary conventions of the late eighteenth century, an age of sentiment [16]

Hamilton repeatedly sought independent command, especially of small units. He became impatient of detention in what he regarded as a position of unpleasant dependence and, in February 1781, he used a slight reprimand from Washington as an excuse for resigning his staff position. Through Washington, he later secured a field command. Hamilton was chosen to lead an elite light infantry battalion that took Redoubt #10 of the British fortifications at Yorktown, alongside French troops that took Redoubt #9. This action forced the British surrender at Yorktown, ending the British effort to reclaim the Thriteen Colonies and so win the Revolutionary War.[17]

Under the Confederation

After the war, he served as a member of the Congress of the Confederation from 1782 to 1783, and then he retired to open his own law office in New York City. He specialized in defending Tories and British subjects, as in Rutgers v. Waddington, in which he defeated a claim for damages done to a brewery by the Englishmen who held it during the military occupation of New York. He pleaded that the Mayor’s Court should interpret state law to be consistent with the 1783 Treaty of Paris, which had ended the Revolutionary War.[18]

In 1784, he founded the Bank of New York, now the oldest ongoing banking organization in the United States. Hamilton was one of the men who restored King’s College as Columbia College, which had been suspended since the Battle of Long Island in 1776 and severely crippled by the Revolutionary War, then to be discredited afterward for its Tory affiliations before the war. His public career resumed when he attended the Annapolis Convention as a delegate in 1786 and drafted its resolution for a Constitutional convention.

Constitution and the Federalist Papers

In 1787, he served as assemblyman from New York County in the New York State Legislature and was the first delegate chosen to the Constitutional Convention. Hamilton’s direct influence at the Convention was limited, since New York had chosen two Clintonians (under George Clinton), who opposed a strong national governments, as the other two delegates. While they were present, they decided New York’s vote; and when they left the convention in protest, Hamilton remained with no vote (two representatives were required for any state to cast a vote).

Early in the Convention he made a speech proposing what was considered a very monarchical government for the United States; though regarded as one of his most eloquent speeches, it had little effect, and deliberations continued largely ignoring his suggestions. Based on his interpretation of history, he concluded the ideal form of government had represented all the interest groups, but maintained a hereditary monarch to decide policy. In Hamilton’s opinion, this was impractical in the United States; nevertheless, the country should mimic this form of government as closely as possible. He proposed, therefore, to have a President and elected Senators for life. He was also for the abolition of the state governments. Much later, he stated that his “final opinion” in the Convention was that the President should have a three year term. The notes of the Convention are rather brief; there has been some speculation that he might have also proposed a longer, and more republican, plan.[19]

During the convention, he constructed a draft on the basis of the debates which he did not actually present. This has most of the features of the actual Constitution, down to such details as the three-fifths clause, but not all of them. The Senate is elected in proportion to population, being two-fifths the size of the House, and the President and Senators are elected through complex multi-stage elections, in which chosen electors elect smaller bodies of electors; they still held office for life, but were removable for misconduct. The President would have an absolute veto. The Supreme Court was to have immediate jurisdiction over all suits involving the United States, and State governors were to be appointed by the Federal Government.[20]

Hamilton was satisfied with the proposed U.S. Constitution, and became a stalwart promoter. He took the lead in the successful campaign for its ratification in New York (1788), a crucial victory for ratification. Hamilton recruited John Jay and James Madison to write a defense of the proposed Constitution, now known as The Federalist Papers, but he made the largest collective contribution (writing 51 of the 85 that were published). Hamilton’s essays and arguments were influential in New York state and others during the debates over ratification. The Federalist Papers are more often cited than any other primary source by jurists, lawyers, historians and political scientists as the major contemporary interpretation of the Constitution.

In 1788, Hamilton served yet another term in what proved to be the last time the Continental Congress met under the Articles of Confederation.

Secretary of the Treasury: 1789–1795

President George Washington appointed Hamilton as the first Secretary of the Treasury. Hamilton served in the Treasury Department from September 11, 1789, until January 31, 1795.

Within one year, Hamilton submitted five reports that amounted to a financial revolution in the American Economy.

• First Report on the Public Credit
   o Communicated to the House of Representatives, January 14, 1790.
• Operations of the Act Laying Duties on Imports
   o Communicated to the House of Representatives, April 23, 1790.
• Report on a National Bank
   o Communicated to the House of Representatives, December 14, 1790.
• Report on the Establishment of a Mint
   o Communicated to the House of Representatives, January 28, 1791.
• Report on Manufactures
   o Communicated to the House of Representatives, December 5, 1791.

In the Report on Public Credit, the Secretary made the controversial proposal that would have had the Federal Government assume state debts incurred during the Revolution. It was a bold move to empower the federal government over State governments, and it drew sharp criticism from Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and Speaker of the House of Representatives James Madison. The disagreements between Jefferson and Hamilton extended to other proposals Hamilton made to Congress, and they grew especially bitter, with Hamilton’s followers known as federalists and Jefferson’s as republicans. As Madison put it:

“I deserted Colonel Hamilton, or rather Colonel H. deserted me; in a word, the divergence between us took place from his wishing to administration, or rather to administer the Government into what he thought it ought to be…”[21]

These became the first political parties in the U.S. as the First Party System emerged.

Jefferson and Madison eventually brokered a deal with Hamilton that required him to use his influence to place the permanent capital on the Potomac River, while Jefferson and Madison would encourage their friends to back Hamilton’s assumption plan. In the end, Hamilton’s assumption, together with his proposals for funding the debt, passed legislative opposition and became law.

Hamilton’s next milestone report was his “Report on Manufactures.” Congress shelved the report without much debate, except for Madison’s objection to Hamilton’s formulation of the General Welfare clause, which Hamilton construed liberally. Nevertheless, The Report on Manufactures is a classic document heralding the industrial future America would soon inhabit. In it Hamilton counters Jefferson’s vision of an Agrarian American nation of farmers and gives a clear vision for a dynamic industrial economy, subservient to manufacturing interests.

Hamilton helped found the United States Mint, the First National Bank, the United States Coast Guard, and an elaborate system of duties, tariffs, and excises. The complete Hamiltonian program replaced the chaotic financial system of the confederation era, in five years, with a modern apparatus to give financial stability to the new government and give investors the confidence necessary for them to invest in government bonds.

As principal sources of revenue, Hamilton’s system imposed an excise tax on whiskey. Strong opposition to the whiskey tax erupted into the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794; in Western Pennsylvania and western Virginia, whiskey was commonly made and used (often in place of currency) by most of the community. In response to the rebellion—on the grounds compliance with the laws was vital to the establishment of federal authority—he accompanied President Washington, General “Light Horse Harry” Lee and more Federal troops than the Continental Line to the site of the rebellion. This overwhelming display of force intimidated the leaders of the insurrection, ending the rebellion virtually without bloodshed.

Founding the Federalist Party

Hamilton created the Federalist Party and dominated it until 1800. It was the first political party in the nation; some have called it the first mass-based party in any republic; others have seen its chief weakness in having too little connection to the masses.[22] As early as 1790, Hamilton started putting together a nationwide coalition, using the contacts he had made in the Army and the Treasury, building vocal political support in each state by signing up prominent men who were like-minded nationalists. The friends of the government especially included merchants, bankers, and financiers in a dozen major cities. By 1792 or 1793 newspapers started calling Hamilton supporters “Federalists” and the opponents “democrats” or “republicans”. Religious and educational leaders—hostile to the French Revolution—joined his coalition, especially in New England. Hamilton systematically set up a Federalist newspaper network, recruiting and subsidizing editors including Noah Webster and John Fenno; he wrote numerous anonymous editorials and essays for his papers.

In 1801, Hamilton founded his own newspaper, the New-York Evening Post, edited by William Coleman.

The Federalist and Republican newspapers of the 1790s traded “rancorous and venomous abuse.”[23] John Fenno had founded the Gasette of the United States in 1789, on Hamilton’s side; Philip Freneau, known as the “Poet of the Revolution,” was a Republican editor.[24] The Republicans attacked Hamilton as a monarchist who betrayed America’s true values; after the Reynolds affair became known they used salacious humor relentlessly.

By 1792, Jefferson and Madison started an opposition called the Republican party (which historians sometimes call the Democratic Republican Party). By 1795, Federalists and Republicans had organized in every state and city, thus firmly establishing what historians call The First Party System. Hamilton had over 2,000 Treasury jobs to dispense, while Jefferson had only one. Jay’s Treaty of 1794 injected foreign policy into the party debates, with Hamilton and his party favoring Britain and denouncing the French Revolution, while the Jeffersonians strongly opposed the treaty as a sellout to the archenemy.


Hamilton was among the first to predict an industrial future. In 1778, he visited the Great Falls of the Passaic River in northern New Jersey and saw that the falls could one day be harnessed to provide power for a manufacturing center on the site. In the 1790s, he helped to found the Society for the Establishment of Useful Manufactures, a private corporation that would use the power of the falls to operate mills. Although the company did not succeed in its original purpose, it leased the land around the falls to other mill ventures and continued to operate for over a century and a half.

Retirement from Federal Service


In 1794, Hamilton became sexually involved in an affair with Maria Reynolds that badly damaged his reputation. Reynolds’s husband, James, blackmailed Hamilton for money by threatening to tell Hamilton’s wife, Elizabeth. When James Reynolds was arrested for counterfeiting, he contacted several prominent members of the Democratic-Republican Party, most notably James Monroe and Aaron Burr, touting that he could finger a top level official for corruption. When they visited Hamilton with their suspicions (believing Hamilton had abused his position in Washington’s Cabinet), Hamilton insisted he was innocent of any misconduct in public office and admitted to the affair with Maria Reynolds. When rumors began spreading, Hamilton published a confession of his affair, shocking his family and supporters by not merely confessing but narrating the affair in detail, thus injuring Hamilton’s reputation for the rest of his life.

At first Hamilton accused Monroe of making his affair public, and challenged him to a duel. Aaron Burr stepped in and persuaded Hamilton that Monroe was innocent of the accusation. His well-known vitriolic temper led Hamilton to challenge several others to duels in his career.

1796 presidential election

Hamilton’s resignation as Secretary of the Treasury in 1795 did not remove him from public life. With the resumption of his law practice, he remained close to Washington as an adviser and friend. Hamilton influenced Washington in the composition of his Farewell Address; Washington and members of his Cabinet often consulted with him.

In the election of 1796, each of the presidential Electors had two votes, which they were to cast for different men; the one with most votes to be President, the second Vice President. This system was not designed for parties, which had been thought disreputable and factious. The Federalists planned to deal with this by having all their Electors vote for John Adams, the Vice-President, and all but a few for Thomas Pinckney of South Carolina, then on his way home from a successful embassage to Spain. Jefferson chose Aaron Burr as his vice presidential running mate.

Hamilton, however, disliked Adams and saw an opportunity. He urged all the Northern Electors to vote for Adams and Pinckney, lest Jefferson get in; he cooperated with Edward Rutledge to have South Carolina’s Electors vote for Jefferson and Pinckney. If all this worked, Pinckney would have more votes than Adams; Pinckney would be President, and Adams would remain Vice President. It did not. The Federalists found out about it (even the French minister to the United States found out about it), and Northern Federalists voted for Adams but not for Pinckney, in sufficient numbers that Pinckney came in third and Jefferson became Vice President.[25]


Adams resented this; from the non-partisan point of view, his services and seniority were much greater than Pinckney’s.[26] Adams also resented Hamilton’s influence with Washington and considered him overambitious and scandalous in his private life; Hamilton compared Adams unfavorably with Washington and thought him too emotionally unstable to be President. During the Quasi-War of 1798–1800, and with Washington’s strong endorsement, Adams reluctantly appointed Hamilton a major general of the army (essentially placing him in command since Washington could not leave Mt. Vernon).

Hamilton proceeded to set up an army, which was to guard against invasion and march into the possessions of Spain, then allied with France, and take Louisiana and Mexico. His correspondence further suggests that when he returned in military glory, he dreamed of setting up a properly energetic government, without any Jeffersonians. Adams, however, derailed all plans for war by opening negotiations with France.[27] Adams had also held it right to retain Washington’s cabinet, except for cause; he found, in 1800 (after Washington’s death), that they were obeying Hamilton rather than himself and fired several of them.[28]

1800 presidential election

In the 1800 election, Hamilton acted against both sides. He proposed that New York, which Burr had won for Jefferson, should have its election rerun with carefully chosen districts – a definitely non-legal maneuver. John Jay, who had given up the Supreme Court to be Governor of New York, endorsed the letter as “proposing a measure for party purposes which it would not become me to adopt”, and declined to reply. [29] John Adams was running this time with Pinckney’s elder brother Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. On the other hand, Hamilton toured New England, again urging Northern Electors to hold firm for this Pinckney, in the renewed hope to make Pinckney President; and he again intrigued in South Carolina. This time, the important reaction was from the Jeffersonian Electors, all of whom voted both for Jefferson and Burr to ensure that no such deal would result in electing a Federalist. (Burr had received only one vote from Virginia in 1796.)

In September, Hamilton wrote a pamphlet (Letter from Alexander Hamilton, Concerning the Public Conduct and Character of John Adams, Esq. President of the United States) which was highly critical of Adams, although it closed with a tepid endorsement. He mailed this to two hundred leading Federalists; when a copy fell into Democratic-Republican hands, they printed it. This also hurt Adams’s 1800 reelection campaign and split the Federalist Party, virtually assuring the victory of the Democratic-Republican Party, led by Jefferson, in the election of 1800, and destroyed Hamilton’s position among the Federalists.[30]

On the Federalist side, Governor Arthur Fenner of Rhode Island denounced these “jockeying tricks” to make Pinckney President, and one Rhode Island Elector voted for Adams and Jay. The result was that Jefferson and Burr tied for first and second; and Pinckney came in fourth.[31]

So Jefferson had beaten Adams, but both he and his running mate, Aaron Burr, received 73 votes in the Electoral College. With Jefferson and Burr tied, the United States House of Representatives had to choose between the two men. (As a result of this election, the Twelfth Amendment was proposed and ratified, adopting the method under which presidential elections are held today.) Several Federalists who opposed Jefferson supported Burr, but Hamilton reluctantly threw his weight behind Jefferson, causing one Federalist congressman to abstain from voting after 36 tied ballots. This ensured that Jefferson was elected President rather than Burr. Even though Hamilton did not like Jefferson and disagreed with him on many issues, he was quoted as saying, “At least Jefferson was honest.” Burr then became Vice President of the United States. When it became clear that he would not be asked to run again with Jefferson, Burr sought the New York governorship in 1804 but was badly defeated by forces led by Hamilton.

Family life

In spring 1779, Hamilton asked his friend John Laurens to find him a wife in South Carolina: [Mitchell vol 1 p 199]:

“She must be young—handsome (I lay most stress upon a good shape) Sensible (a little learning will do)—well bred. . . chaste and tender (I am an enthusiast in my notions of fidelity and fondness); of some good nature—a great deal of generosity (she must neither love money nor scolding, for I dislike equally a termagant and an economist)—In politics, I am indifferent what side she may be of—I think I have arguments that will safely convert her to mine—As to religion a moderate stock will satisfy me—She must believe in God and hate a saint. But as to fortune, the larger stock of that the better.”

Hamilton however found his own bride. On December 14, 1780, he married Elizabeth Schuyler, daughter of General Philip Schuyler, and thus joined one of the richest and most political families in the state of New York.

Hamilton grew extremely close to Eliza’s sister Angelica Church, who was married to John Barker Church, a Member of Parliament.[32] It is believed by many that the two had an affair, although, due to extensive editing of much Hamilton-Church correspondence by Hamilton’s later descendants, it is impossible to know for sure. Hamilton, however, all but admitted to his relationship with Maria Reynolds, and in later years the mixed-race abolitionist William Hamilton claimed to be Alexander’s son.[33]

Hamilton’s widow, Elizabeth (known as Eliza or Betsey), survived him for fifty years, until 1854; Hamilton had referred to her as “best of wives and best of women.” An extremely religious woman, Eliza spent much of her life working to help widows and orphans. After Hamilton’s death, she co-founded New York’s first private orphanage, the New York Orphan Asylum Society. Despite the Reynolds affair, Alexander and Eliza were very close, and as a widow she always strove to guard his reputation and enhance his standing in American history.

Hamilton and Elizabeth had 10 children, although there is some confusion due to the fact that two sons were named Philip and two were named “John C.” The elder Philip, Hamilton’s first child, was killed in 1801 in a duel with George I. Eacker whom he had publicly insulted in a Manhattan theater. The second Philip, Hamilton’s last child, was born in 1802, after the first Philip was killed.

Duel with Aaron Burr

Hamilton fights his fatal duel with Vice President Aaron Burr. The depiction is inaccurate: Only the two seconds actually witnessed the duel.

Soon after the gubernatorial election in New York—in which Morgan Lewis, greatly assisted by Hamilton, defeated Aaron Burr—a newspaper published a letter recounting a dinner party in upstate New York during which Hamilton said he could reveal “an even more despicable opinion” of Colonel Burr.[34] Burr, sensing an attack on his honor, and surely still stung by the political defeat, demanded an apology. Hamilton refused on the grounds that he could not recall the instance.

Following an exchange of three testy letters, and despite the attempts of friends to avert a confrontation, a duel was nevertheless scheduled for July 11, 1804, along the west bank of the Hudson River on a rocky ledge in Weehawken, New Jersey, a common dueling site at which, three years earlier, Hamilton’s eldest son, Philip, had been killed.

At dawn, the duel began, and Vice President Aaron Burr shot Hamilton. Hamilton’s shot broke a tree branch directly above Burr’s head. A letter that he wrote the night before the duel states, “I have resolved, if our interview [duel] is conducted in the usual manner, and it pleases God to give me the opportunity, to reserve and throw away my first fire, and I have thoughts even of reserving my second fire.” The circumstances of the duel, and Hamilton’s actual intentions, are still disputed. Neither of the seconds, Pendleton or Van Ness, could determine who fired first. Soon after, they measured and triangulated the shooting (both men were the same height), but could not determine from which angle Hamilton fired. Burr’s shot, however, hit Hamilton in the lower abdomen above the right hip. The bullet ricocheted off Hamilton’s second or third false rib, fracturing it and caused considerable damage to his internal organs, particularly his liver and diaphragm before becoming lodged in his first or second lumbar vertebra.

If a duelist decided not to aim at his opponent there was a well-known procedure, available to everyone involved, for doing so. Hamilton did not follow this procedure. (If so, Burr might have followed suit, and death may have been avoided.) It was a matter of honor among gentlemen to follow these rules. Because of the high incidence of septicemia and death resulting from torso wounds, a high percentage of duels employed this procedure of throwing away fire. Years later, when told that Hamilton may have misled him at the duel, the ever-laconic Burr replied, “Contemptible, if true.” [35]

Hamilton was ferried back to New York. Among Hamilton’s last actions was to formally renounce the practice of dueling. He also requested the sacramental of unction from Rev. Benjamin Moore of Trinity Episcopal Church and received the eucharist[2]. After considerable suffering, he died the following day and was buried soon after in the Trinity Churchyard Cemetery in Manhattan. Gouverneur Morris, a political ally of Hamilton’s, gave the eulogy at his funeral and secretly established a fund to support his widow and children.


From the start, Hamilton set a precedent as a Cabinet member by dreaming up federal programs, writing them in the form of reports, pushing for their approval by appearing in person to argue them on the floor of Congress, and then implementing them.

Another of Hamilton’s legacies was his pro-Federal interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. Though the Constitution was drafted in a way that was somewhat ambiguous as to the balance of power between Federal and state governments, Hamilton consistently took the side of greater Federal power at the expense of states. Thus, as Secretary of the Treasury, he established—against the intense opposition of Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson—the country’s first national bank. Hamilton justified the creation of this bank, and other increased Federal powers, on Congress’s constitutional powers to issue currency, to regulate interstate commerce, and anything else that would be “necessary and proper.” Jefferson, on the other hand, took a stricter view of the Constitution: parsing the text carefully, he found no specific authorization for a national bank. This controversy was eventually settled by the Supreme Court of the United States in McCulloch v. Maryland, which in essence adopted Hamilton’s view, granting the federal government broad freedom to select the best means to execute its constitutionally enumerated powers, specifically the doctrine of implied powers.

Hamilton’s policies as Secretary of the Treasury have had an immeasurable effect on the United States Government and still continue to influence it. In 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the U.S. Navy was still using inter-ship communication protocols written by Hamilton for the original U.S. Coast Guard. His constitutional interpretation, specifically of the necessary and proper clause, set precedents for federal authority that are still used by the courts and are considered an authority on constitutional interpretation. The prominent French diplomat Charles Maurice de Talleyrand once said “I consider Napoleon, Fox, and Hamilton the three greatest men of our epoch, and if I were forced to decide between the three, I would give without hesitation the first place to Hamilton. He divined Europe.”[36]

Hamilton’s portrait began to appear during the American Civil War on the $2, $5, $10, and $50 notes. His face continues to appear on the front of the ten dollar bill. Hamilton also appears on the $500 Series EE Savings Bond. The source of the face on the $10 bill is John Trumbull’s 1805 portrait of Hamilton that belongs to the portrait collection of New York City Hall.[37]

On the south side of the Treasury Building in Washington, D.C. is a statue of Hamilton. Hamilton’s upper Manhattan home is preserved as Hamilton Grange National Memorial.

On slavery

In the nineteenth century, Hamilton earned a reputation for having been a staunch opponent of slavery: Abraham Lincoln, for example, characterized Hamilton as among “the most noted anti-slavery men of those times.” A member and officer of the New York Manumission Society, Hamilton used his influence to press the New York legislature to adopt a law prohibiting the export of slaves from the state (import was already illegal).[38]

Some modern scholars believe that the historical record confirms Hamilton as a “steadfast abolitionist”; others see him as a “hypocrite.”.[39] For example, Hamilton returned an escaped slave to a friend.[40] Hamilton’s first polemic against King George’s ministers contains a paragraph which speaks of the evils which “slavery” to the British would bring upon the Americans. One biographer sees this as an attack on actual slavery;[41] such a view was not uncommon in 1776.[42]

During the Revolutionary War, there was a series of proposals to arm slaves, free them, and compensate their masters.[43] Freeing any enlisted slaves had also become customary by then both for the British, who did not compensate their American masters, and for the Continental Army; some states were to require it before the end of the war.[44] In 1779, Hamilton’s friend John Laurens suggested such a unit be formed under his command, to relieve besieged Charleston, South Carolina; Hamilton wrote a letter to the Continental Congress to create up to four battalions of slaves for combat duty, and free them. Congress recommended that South Carolina (and Georgia) acquire up to three thousand slaves, if they saw fit; they did not, even though the South Carolina governor and Congressional delegation had supported the plan in Philadelphia.[45]

Hamilton argued that blacks’ natural faculties were as good as those of free whites, and he forestalled objections by citing Frederick the Great and others as praising obedience and lack of cultivation in soldiers; he also argued that if the Americans did not do this, the British would (as they had elsewhere). One of his biographers has cited this incident as evidence that Hamilton and Laurens saw the Revolution and the struggle against slavery as inseparable.[46] Hamilton later attacked his political opponents as demanding freedom for themselves and refusing to allow it to blacks.[47]

In January 1785, he attended the second meeting of the (New York) Society for Promoting Manumissions. John Jay was president and Hamilton was secretary; he later became president.[48] He was also a member of the committee of the society which put a bill through the New York Legislature banning the export of slaves from New York.[49]

Three months later, Hamilton returned a fugitive slave to Henry Laurens of South Carolina; he was later to be Washington’s intermediary in getting the Collector of Customs for Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to ship a runaway slave-woman back to Mount Vernon if it could be done quietly; it could not be, and she remained there.[50]

Hamilton never supported forced emigration for freed slaves; it has been argued from this that he would be comfortable with a multiracial society, and this distinguished him from his contemporaries. In international affairs, he supported Toussaint L’Ouverture’s black government in Haiti after the revolt that overthrew French control, as he had supported aid to the slaveowners in 1791 — both measures hurt France.[51]

He may have owned household slaves himself (the evidence for this is indirect; one biographer interprets it as referring to paid employees[52]), and he did buy and sell them on behalf of others. He supported a gag rule to keep divisive discussions of slavery out of Congress, and he supported the compromise by which the United States could not abolish the slave trade for twenty years.[53] When the Quakers of New York petitioned the First Congress (under the Constitution) for the abolition of the slave trade, and Benjamin Franklin and the Pennsylvania Abolition Society petitioned for the abolition of slavery, the NYMS did not act.[54] Historian James Horton concludes that Hamilton’s racial views, while not entirely egalitarian, were relatively progressive for his day.[55]

On economics

Alexander Hamilton is sometimes considered the “patron-saint” of the American School of economic philosophy that, according to one historian, dominated economic policy after 1861.[56] He firmly supported government intervention in favor of business, after the manner of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, as early as the fall of 1781.[57] He inspired the writings and work of Friedrich List and Henry C. Carey.

Memorial at colleges

Alexander Hamilton served as one of the first trustees of the Hamilton-Oneida Academy when the school opened in 1793. When the academy received a college charter in 1812 the school was formally renamed Hamilton College. There is a prominent statue of Alexander Hamilton in front of the school’s chapel (commonly referred to as the “Al-Ham” statue) and the Burke Library has an extensive collection of Hamilton’s personal documents. Columbia College, Hamilton’s alma mater, whose students formed his makeshift artillery company and fired some of the first shots against the British, has official memorials to Hamilton. The college’s main classroom building for the humanities is Hamilton Hall, and a large statue of Hamilton stands in front of it. The university press has published his complete works in a multivolume letterpress edition.

The main administration building of the Coast Guard Academy is named Hamilton Hall, because he founded the Coast Guard.

In pop culture

• Saturday Night Live’s comedy music video Lazy Sunday refers to the infamous duel with Aaron Burr. The characters state, “you can call us Aaron Burr from the way we’re droppin’ Hamiltons”, referring to $10 bills, which feature Hamilton’s picture.
• In the North American Confederacy alternate history books of L. Neil Smith, followers of Alexander Hamilton (“Hamiltonians”) are the recurring villains.
• In October 1993, an ad for “Got Milk?” featured a security guard at an American history museum (played by Sean Whalen) stuffing a huge peanut butter sandwich into his mouth and listening to a classical music radio channel. The DJ announces a $10,000 trivia question, “Who shot Alexander Hamilton?” The camera pans past memorabilia from the famous duel, including a portrait of Burr and the actual bullet preserved in a glass curio. Mouth crammed and unable to respond, the pitiable guard reaches for the milk only to find it empty. Desperate, he can only mutter “Aaaawon Buuuuhh.”


Secondary sources

• Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick: Age of Federalism (New York, Oxford University Press, 1993)
• Samuel Eliot Morison and Henry Steele Commager: Growth of the American Republic (New York, Oxford University Press, 1969; other eds as cited.)


• Brookhiser, Richard. Alexander Hamilton, American. Free Press, (1999) (ISBN 0-684-83919-9).
• Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. Penguin Books, (2004) (ISBN 1-59420-009-2). full length detailed biography
• Ellis, Joseph J. Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation (2002), won Pulitzer Prize.
• Flexner, James Thomas. The Young Hamilton: A Biography. Fordham University Press, (1997) (ISBN 0-8232-1790-6).
• Fleming, Thomas. Duel: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and the Future of America. (2000) (ISBN 0-465-01737-1).
• McDonald, Forrest. Alexander Hamilton: A Biography(1982) (ISBN 0-393-30048-X), biography focused on intellectual history esp on AH’s republicanism.
• Miller, John C. Alexander Hamilton: Portrait in Paradox (1959), full-length scholarly biography; online edition
• Mitchell, Broadus. Alexander Hamilton (2 vols, 1957–62), the most detailed scholarly biography; also published in abridged edition
• Randall, Willard Sterne. Alexander Hamilton: A Life. HarperCollins, (2003) (ISBN 0-06-019549-5). Popular.
• Don Winslow Alexander Hamilton: In Worlds Unknown (Script and Film New York Historical Society)
Specialized studies
• Arming slaves : from classical times to the modern age, Christopher Leslie Brown and Philip D. Morgan, eds. esp. 180–208 on the American Revolution, by Morgan and A. J. O’Shaubhnessy.
• Chan, Michael D. “Alexander Hamilton on Slavery.” Review of Politics 66 (Spring 2004): 207-31.
• Douglas Ambrose and Robert W. T. Martin, eds. The Many Faces of Alexander Hamilton: The Life & Legacy of America’s Most Elusive Founding Father (2006)
• Elkins, Stanley M. and Eric McKitrick, The Age of Federalism. (1993), the most advanced history of politics in 1790s online edition
• Fatovic, Clement. “Constitutionalism and Presidential Prerogative: Jeffersonian and Hamiltonian Perspectives.” American Journal of Political Science 2004 48(3): 429-444. Issn: 0092-5853 Fulltext in Swetswise, Ingenta, Jstor, Ebsco
• Flaumenhaft; Harvey. The Effective Republic: Administration and Constitution in the Thought of Alexander Hamilton Duke University Press, 1992
• Harper, John Lamberton. American Machiavelli: Alexander Hamilton and the Origins of U.S. Foreign Policy. (2004)
• Horton, James Oliver. “Alexander Hamilton: Slavery and Race in a Revolutionary Generation” New-York Journal of American History 2004 65(3): 16–24. ISSN 1551-5486 online version
• Roger G. Kennedy; Burr, Hamilton, and Jefferson: A Study in Character Oxford University Press, 2000
• Knott, Stephen F. Alexander Hamilton and the Persistence of Myth University Press of Kansas, (2002) (ISBN 0-7006-1157-6).
• Harold Larsen: Alexander Hamilton: The Fact and Fiction of His Early Years The William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Ser., Vol. 9, No. 2. (Apr., 1952), pp. 139–151. JSTOR link
• Littlefield, Daniel C. “John Jay, the Revolutionary Generation, and Slavery.” New York History 2000 81(1): 91–132. ISSN 0146-437X
• Martin, Robert W. T. “Reforming Republicanism: Alexander Hamilton’s Theory of Republican Citizenship and Press Liberty.” Journal of the Early Republic 2005 25(1): 21-46. Issn: 0275-1275 Fulltext online in Project Muse and Ebsco
• McManus, Edgar J. History of Negro Slavery in New York. Syracuse University Press, 1966.
• Mitchell, Broadus: “The man who ‘discovered” Alexander Hamilton”. Proceedings of the New Jersey Historical Society 1951. 69:88–115
• Monaghan, Frank: John Jay. Bobbs-Merrill (1935).
• Nettels, Curtis P. The Emergence of a National Economy, 1775–1815 (1962).
• Rossiter, Clinton. Alexander Hamilton and the Constitution (1964)
• Sharp, James. American Politics in the Early Republic: The New Nation in Crisis. (1995), survey of politics in 1790s
• Sheehan, Colleen. “Madison V. Hamilton: The Battle Over Republicanism And The Role Of Public Opinion” American Political Science Review 2004 98(3): 405–424.
• Smith, Robert W. Keeping the Republic: Ideology and Early American Diplomacy. (2004)
• Staloff, Darren. “Hamilton, Adams, Jefferson: The Politics of Enlightenment and the American Founding.” (2005)
• Stourzh, Gerald. Alexander Hamilton and the Idea of Republican Government (1970),
• Trees, Andrew S. “The Importance of Being Alexander Hamilton.” Reviews in American History 2005 33(1): 8-14. Issn: 0048-7511 Fulltext: in Project Muse
• Trees, Andrew S. The Founding Fathers and the Politics of Character. (2004)
• Wallace, David Duncan: Life of Henry Laurens, with a sketch of the life of Lieutenant-Colonel John Laurens Putnam (1915)
• Weston, Rob N. “Alexander Hamilton and the Abolition of Slavery in New York” Afro-Americans in New York Life and History 1994 18(1): 31–45. ISSN 0364-2437 An undergraduate paper, which concludes that Hamilton was ambivalent about slavery.
• White, Leonard D. The Federalists (1949), coverage of how the Treasury and other departments were created and operated.
• Richard D. White; “Political Economy and Statesmanship: Smith, Hamilton, and the Foundation of the Commercial Republic” Public Administration Review, Vol. 60, 2000
• Wright; Robert E. Hamilton Unbound: Finance and the Creation of the American Republic Praeger (2002)
Primary sources
• Hamilton, Alexander. (Joanne Freeman, ed.) Alexander Hamilton: Writings (2001), The Library of America edition, 1108 pages. ISBN 978-1-93108204-4; all of Hamilton’s major writings and many of his letters
• Syrett, Harold C. ed. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton (27 vol, Columbia University Press, 1961–87); includes all letters and writing by Hamilton, and all important letters written to him; this is the definitive letterpress edition, heavily annotated by scholars; it is available in larger academic libraries; there is also a separate Law series.
• Morris, Richard. ed. Alexander Hamilton and the Founding of the Nation (1957), excerpts from AH’s writings
• Selected Writings and Speeches of Alexander Hamilton. Morton J. Frisch ed. (1985).
• The Works of Alexander Hamilton edited by Henry Cabot Lodge (1904) full text online at Google Books online in HTML edition. This is the only online collection of Hamilton’s writings and letters. Published in 10 volumes, containing about 1.3 million words.
• Federalist Papers under the shared pseudonym “Publius” by Alexander Hamilton (c. 52 articles), James Madison (28 articles) and John Jay (five articles)
• Report on Manufactures, his economic program for the United States.
• Report on Public Credit, his financial program for the United States.
• Cooke, Jacob E. ed., Alexander Hamilton: A Profile (1967), short excerpts from AH and his critics.
• Cunningham, Noble E. Jefferson vs. Hamilton: Confrontations that Shaped a Nation (2000), short collection of primary sources with commentary.
• George Rogers Taylor; ed, Hamilton and the National Debt 1950, excerpts from all sides in 1790s


1. ^ ANB “John Fenno”
2. ^ Nevis is the island that Hamilton claimed to be his birthplace, but no records have ever been found to confirm this.
3. ^ The spelling of Lavien varies; this is Hamilton’s version, which may be a Sephardic spelling of Levine; Chernow, p. 10. The couple may have lived apart from one another under an order of legal separation; since Rachel was the guilty party, re-marriage was impossible on the island of St. Croix. When she moved to Nevis, she left behind a son from that marriage.
4. ^ Chernow, page 12
5. ^ Chernow, page 17
6. ^ Glimpses Into American Jewish History, The Jewish Press, May 2, 2007
7. ^ From the records of St. Croix; Ramsing published in 1930, in Danish, so his findings took a while to enter the Hamilton literature
8. ^ Chernow, Flexner, Mitchell’s Concise Life. “Most historians” from McDonald, 366, n.8, who nevertheless gives 1757; he discounts the probate document because the clerk gives another spelling of “Lavien” and therefore showed himself unreliable.
9. ^ For conjecture on this, see, for example, Flexner, passim.
10. ^ Flexner, McDonald
11. ^ :There is some dispute about this. The original source was a collection of anecdotes by Hercules Mulligan, published well after Hamilton’s death; some biographers, including Mitchell and Flexner, consider him unreliable. Mulligan asserted that Hamilton demanded the right to advance from class to class at his own speed, and John Witherspoon refused. Witherspoon had just overseen similar programs for James Madison and Joseph Ross, but this may have been the problem: Madison had then collapsed from overwork and Ross had died young (as Elkins and McKitrick comment).
12. ^ Morison and Commager, p. 160; Miller p. 19
13. ^ McDonald (p.14), Mitchell (I 75), Chernow (63), and Flexner (78). Flexner even answers the objection that Cooper wrote a poem about the incident and did not mention Hamilton, by suggesting that Cooper did not see Hamilton, who was on the other side of the building.
14. ^ Chernow p 90
15. ^ Lodge 1: 15–20; Miller 23–26
16. ^ Gay American History 1976; Flexner, Young Hamilton. For Chernow, and the criticism see Trees, Andrew S. “The Importance of Being Alexander Hamilton.” (a review of Chernow) Reviews in American History 2005 33(1): 8-14
17. ^ Mitchell, p. 254–60; Morison and Commager, p. 160
18. ^ Chernow, p. 197–9, McDonald p. 64–9
19. ^ Mitchell, p. 394–6, who sees only the monarchist speech here mentioned and the draft below.
20. ^ Mitchell, p. 397 ff.
21. ^ Max Farrand, ed., The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787 (RFC), 4 vols. (New Haven, Conn., 1937), 3:533–34
22. ^ Britain had groupings inside Parliament that can be called parties, but they did not reach out to the voters.
23. ^ Jacobin and Junto Charles Warren (1931) pp 90–91.
24. ^ Miller p. 344
25. ^ Elkins and McKitrick; Age of Federalism.pp.523–8, 859; Rutledge had his own plan, to have Pinckney win with Jefferson as Vice-President.
26. ^ Elkins and McKitrick, p.515
27. ^ Morison and Commager, p.327
28. ^ ANB James McHenry; he also fired Timothy Pickering
29. ^ Monaghan, p. 419–421.
30. ^ Elkins and McKitrick, like other historians, speak of Hamilton’s self-destructive tendencies in this connection.
31. ^ Elkins and McKitrick, p. 734–40
32. ^ Chernow, p. 133
33. ^ Chernow, p. 133–4
34. ^ Kennedy, Burr, Hamilton, and Jefferson, p. 72
35. ^ Joseph Wheelan, Jefferson’s Vendetta: The Pursuit of Aaron Burr and the Judiciary, New York, Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2005, ISBN 0786714379, p. 90
36. ^ “Je considère Napoleon, Fox, et Hamilton comme les trois plus grands hommes de notre époque, et si je devais me prononcer entre les trois, je donnerais sans hesiter la première place à Hamilton. Il avait deviné l’Europe.” Talleyrand, Études sur la République.
37. ^ The New York Times. Dec 6, 2006. “In New York, Taking Years Off the Old, Famous Faces Adorning City Hall.” [1]
38. ^ Craig Steven Wilder, A Covenant With Color: Race and Social Power in Brooklyn 1636–1990 (2001) p 53 shows New York City actively imported slaves (after the law was passed).
39. ^ Quotes describing the historiography from Weston, who disagrees with both, finding Hamilton ambivalent.
40. ^ Littlefield, p.126, citing Syrett: 3:605-8. See also Wills,Negro President p. 209
41. ^ McDonald
42. ^ McManus; “Many national leaders including Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, John Adams, John Jay, Gouverneur Morris, and Rufus King, saw slavery as an immense problem, a curse, a blight, or a national disease.” David Brion Davis, Inhuman Bondage p.156; Morison and Commager quote Patrick Henry’s regrets at being unable to give up the comforts of slave-owning.
43. ^ The first of these projects was made in August 1776, by Jonathan Dickinson Sargeant, see Arming slaves pp. 192–3, 206; Rhode Island had formed the First Rhode Island regiment in 1777. which fought the Battle of Rhode Island; and there were other black units. Sidney Kaplan: The Black Presence in the Era of the American Revolution, p.64ff
44. ^ McManus, pp. 153-58.
45. ^ Mitchell 1:175–77, 550 n.92; citing the Journals of the Continental Congress for March 29, 1779; Wallace p 455. Congress offered to compensate their masters after the war.
46. ^ letter to Jay of 14 March 1779; Chernow p.121. McManus, p. 154-7
47. ^ McDonald, p. 34; Flexner, p. 257–8,
48. ^ McManus, p. 168.
49. ^ Chernow, p. 216
50. ^ Littlefield, p.126, citing Syrett: 3:605-8. Wills, p. 209.
51. ^ Horton; Kennedy 97–98; Littlefield. Wills, p. 35, 40
52. ^ McDonald
53. ^ Flexner. 39
54. ^ McDonald, p. 177
55. ^ Horton p.19.
56. ^ Lind, Michael. Hamilton’s Republic (1997) pages xiv-xv, 229–30.
57. ^ Chernow, 170; citing Continentalist V, Syrett: 3:77; published April 1782, but written Fall 1781


6 Responses to “Alexander Hamilton”

  1. 1 Kelly September 17, 2009 at 3:20 am

    The information’s great, though i didn’t notice that it was derived from Wikipedia, yet it’s more like a concised version. Anyways, this website was a HUGE savior for my AP US hmwk on Hamilton..but i suggests there should be an addition of his perspectives on the voting system: by land or by people. 🙂

  1. 1 On the Eve of Destruction « Suzie-Q Trackback on October 22, 2007 at 3:39 pm
  2. 2 On the Eve of Destruction « Friends of the American Revolution Trackback on October 22, 2007 at 3:41 pm
  3. 3 John Adams’s Prayer: May none but Honest and Wise Men ever rule under this Roof « Suzie-Q Trackback on October 22, 2007 at 8:33 pm
  4. 4 John Adams’s Prayer: May none but Honest and Wise Men ever rule under this Roof « Friends of the American Revolution Trackback on October 23, 2007 at 6:58 am
  5. 5 Pages « Friends of the American Revolution Trackback on July 22, 2008 at 10:49 am

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