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Hamilton, Alexander

Hamilton, Alexander (1757-1804) Statesman: Hamilton entered what is now Columbia College (New York) in 1773. In 1774 and 1775, he wrote pamphlets supporting the patriotic cause, and joined the army in 1776. Hamilton became General Washington's secretary and aide-de-camp in 1777, demonstrating his administrative ability. In anonymous "Continentalist" letters of 1781-2, he supported a more powerful central government and a broad program of economic development. After the war, he planned and wrote a great deal of The Federalist, in an attempt to help the ratification of the new Constitution. In 1789, Washington appointed Hamilton Secretary of the Treasury. In this post, he converted revolutionary debt to long-term bonds, established a national bank, and proposed tariffs which were adopted. Hamilton admired Britain, and supported policies which made attempts at reconciliation with the former Mother Country. He was criticized for such policies, as well as for exercising federal powers beyond the limits of the Constitution.
Hamilton retired to a lucrative New York legal practice in 1795, but remained involved in public affairs. He became second in command of the army when war with France seemed imminent in 1798. He plotted against the election of John Adams in 1796 and 1800, and tried to influence members of Adams' cabinet behind his back. In 1800, he used his political power to deter the election of Aaron Burr. This, along with other unfriendly actions, caused Burr to challenge Hamilton to a duel in July 1804, which left Hamilton dead.


Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton was born on Nevis (pronounced NEE-vus), a British-ruled island in the Caribbean Sea, around 1757. When he was about eight years old, his family moved to another British island, St. Croix (pronounced KROY). Soon after, Hamilton’s father left, and then his mother died. Hamilton and his older brother, James Jr., moved in with a cousin and then an uncle, but both guardians passed away.

Hamilton sometimes sent poems and letters to be published in the local newspaper. When he was about 15, he wrote a letter about a recent hurricane. People were so impressed with the teenager’s writing skills that in 1772, they raised the money to send Hamilton to the American colonies to get an education.


10 Surprising Facts about Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton

If you didn’t know who Alexander Hamilton was before 2015, you probably do now. After Lin-Manuel Miranda released his hit musical, theatre fans and non-historians alike now know more about our first Secretary of the Treasury than we ever did before.

Before 2015, many of us probably looked at the U.S. 10-dollar bill and never gave him a thought, or maybe said “Who’s this guy and why is he on our money?” Can you tell I’m a huge fan of the musical? Ok, onto better things! Let’s check out some interesting facts you may not have (or may have, depending on your historical background) known about Alexander Hamilton.

1. Hamilton is Not from the United States

Alexander Hamilton is an immigrant. Wait what? A founding father, an immigrant?! That’s right. Many people who helped shape the United States were immigrants like Marquis de Lafayette. Alexander though was the only Founding Father who was not born in the United States.

Hamilton was born on January 11, (his birth year is disputed as either 1755 or 1757) on the island of Nevis in the British West Indies, otherwise known as in the Caribbean. After his mother died and his father had left long ago, he left for New York as a teenager.

2. Hamilton was a Revolutionary War Veteran

During the Battle of Yorktowne, he led a charged attack with the aid of his friends on a British redoubt. With that knowledge, you could say he was a key component in the United States gaining independence.

3. He Lied About His Age

The reason historians debate about when Hamilton was born is because early on he lied about how old he was. Shortly after he was born, his Scottish father James Hamilton left him, his brother, and his mother. The family was left in poverty and his mother, Rachel Fawcett, died when he was 13 after becoming sick.

Needing to work, he changed his age to look more promising as an apprentice and got a job as a clerk with a trading company in St. Croix.

That certainly helped him, since after he wrote a letter he was going to send to his father, it was published instead in a newspaper by editor Hugh Knox (yes, the same Knox who was ordained by Aaron Burr Sr.). After it was published, many businessmen came forward to ask the identity of the person who wrote the letter. Well, the rest is history since that collection is what sent Hamilton to America to get an education at King’s College (now Columbia University).

4. He was Mostly a Self-Taught Lawyer Who Graduated in Six Months

Today, that’s completely unheard of. Lawyers go through years and years of exams and training, but Hamilton did it in record time. While living in the Caribbean, he read law book after law book and studied law at King’s College.

His studies, however, were interrupted by the impending war with Britain. After the war, he left his post as Washington’s adviser and finished up his studies. It took him only 6 months to prepare for the New York Bar Exam and he passed with flying colors.

In 1782, after he passed the exam, Hamilton became a lawyer in New York City. And as the musical says: “I practiced law, Burr worked next door.” But we’ll get to more about Aaron Burr later. On a side note, he also studied with John Jay and William Paterson. If you don’t know who they are, they became two future Supreme Court Justices.

Federalist, on the New Constitution

5. One of His Legacies was The Federalist Papers

If you remember anything from American history, one of the things maybe the Federalist Papers. What were these papers? Well, these papers helped ratify the Constitution. At the time, the United States Constitution wasn’t well received. It was a mess and contradictory.

Along with John Jay and James Madison, they developed a plan to write 25 essays to newspapers to anomalously defend the Constitution, about 9 essays each. Well, that didn’t work out as planned.

In the end, 85 essays were written between October 1787 and May 1788. John Jay became ill and only wrote 5 essays. James Madison wrote 29, and Hamilton wrote the other 51. He really does write like he’s running out of time, doesn’t he? Thanks to their efforts, the Constitution became ratified on June 21, 1788, after 9 of 13 states approved it.

6. Hamilton was Involved in the United States’ First Sex Scandal

When it comes to 2020, a sex scandal isn’t all that shocking (sometimes) and you know, it’s been done throughout history. Hell, look at Bill Clinton. But this scandal was a little different. While Hamilton’s wife and children were on vacation with her family in upstate New York, Hamilton decided to stay behind because he had too much work to do.

He had a plan to get through to Congress after all. He was beaten, tired, and in need of a break. Well, one night a Maria Reynolds came to his door looking for help. She had said her husband, James Reynolds, abandoned her and she was in need of money to get to some family to stay with. Hamilton walked her home and gave her the money, and somehow they both ended up in her bedroom.

Next thing you know, Hamilton is having an extramarital affair for a few months. It wasn’t what everyone thought though. This blew into such huge proportions it made Hamilton write the Reynolds Pamphlet which cleared him of a national financial scam, but also exposed his infidelity. If he didn’t decide to piss off Thomas Jefferson, the whole thing would’ve probably remained a secret.

7. He Founded The New York Post

The newspaper wasn’t as we all know it today. During the 1800 election, Hamilton was angry that Thomas Jefferson was the Democratic-Republican candidate. He wanted then-President John Adams to win for the Federalist Party since Adams aligned more with his ideals. Well, we all know who won. In November 1801, Hamilton decided to create The New York Evening Post, which was anti-Democratic-Republican and consistently slandered Jefferson.

Today, we know the paper like The New York Post, which isn’t as reputable as a news source anymore. The paper was purchased by Rupert Murdoch in 1976 and it’s only gone downhill from there. Sadly we’ll never know how Hamilton would have felt about his beloved paper and the content they print today.

Philip Hamilton

8. His Son Was Killed in a Duel

Philip Hamilton was killed in a duel long before his father. But that’s not the interesting part, or maybe it is. On July 4th, 1801, a lawyer named George Eacker gave a speech at Columbia University about Hamilton trying to take the presidency by force and preferred monarchy over democracy. Philip read about the speech in the newspaper and quite aptly, became angry his father’s name was being slandered with lies. Four months later, he and his friend Richard Price spotted Eacker in a box at the theatre. Well, Price and Hamilton supposedly drunk stormed the box to confront Eacker and insult him. Two wrongs don’t make a right…right?

Later, both Price and Philip sent a letter to Eacker challenging him to a duel. Two duels? Well, November 22nd, 1801 was the duel with Price. Both men missed their shot and honor was satisfied. The next day it was Philip’s turn. They met at the dueling grounds in Weehawken, New Jersey, and sadly, Philip was struck and died a day later, mostly due to infection. Here’s the kicker: the same place Philip died is where Hamilton chose his duel and died three years later.

9. He Left His Family in Debt

What? THE Alexander Hamilton, a Founding Father, first Secretary of the Treasury, and a genius left his family in debt? It’s inconceivable! Ok, wrong story. After his death, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson started a rumor that Hamilton was corrupt and used his position as Secretary of the Treasury to make himself wealthy. Well, none of it was true. Hamilton never cheated the system and wasn’t corrupt. He created America’s economic infrastructure and Wall St…well, it’s hard to see that as a good thing right about now.

Serving as Secretary, he actually made less money than during his time as a lawyer. He may have even made more money if he wasn’t killed. Things got so bad for the Hamilton family is caused Eliza, his wife, to ask Congress for money and land that was given to him for his service in the Revolutionary War that he previously forfeited. Things eventually get better though. Eliza helped raise funds for the Washington Monument and started her own private orphanage in New York City.

Mrs. Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton

10. No One Knows What Really Happened

What does that mean? It means there are aspects of Hamilton’s dealings and life that no one knows for sure about. For a man who was constantly writing, there are still things left to ambiguity. A private dinner meeting between Hamilton, Jefferson, and Madison occurred but we only have evidence of Jefferson’s account.

All we know is, the meeting led to the nation’s capital (Washington, D.C.) being placed in the South along the Potomac River, and Hamilton got his votes for his financial system passed through Congress. Yes, the same system we have today.

What’s the next one? No one knows the full account of Hamilton’s death. The only witnesses were their seconds, which are basically neutral parties to negotiate terms between the two dueling parties. Did Hamilton purposely misfire? Did the dueling code obligate Burr not to shoot? Well if that was the case Hamilton wouldn’t have died. All we know is yes, both parties fired in succession but the seconds disagree on the intervening time. So, it’s a case of Han Solo vs. Greedo and who shot first. We’ll just never know.

Portrait of an older Alexander Hamilton

References
DeConde, Alexander. “Alexander Hamilton.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 10 Sept. 2020, www.britannica.com/biography/Alexander-Hamilton-United-States-statesman.
Grimminck, Robert. “10 Fascinating Facts About Alexander Hamilton.” Toptenz.net, 6 June 2017, www.toptenz.net/10-fascinating-facts-alexander-hamilton.php.
History.com Editors. “Alexander Hamilton.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 9 Nov. 2009, www.history.com/topics/american-revolution/alexander-hamilton.
NCC Staff. “10 Essential Facts about Alexander Hamilton on His Birthday.” National Constitution Center – Constitutioncenter.org, constitutioncenter.org/blog/10-essential-facts-about-alexander-hamilton/.
Staff, American History Central. “Hamilton, Alexander.” American History Central, R.Squared Communications, LLC, 27 Aug. 2019, www.americanhistorycentral.com/entries/alexander-hamilton/view/quick-facts/.

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Bibliography / Further Reading

Abercrombie, James. A Sermon, Occasioned by the death of Major Gen. Alexander Hamilton, who was killed by Aaron Burr, Esq., Vice President of the United States, in a duel, July 11, 1804. Philadelphia, PA: H. Maxwell, 1804.

Alexander, Holmes Moss. To Covet Honor: A Biography of Alexander Hamilton. Belmont, Mass.: Western Islands, 1977.

Aly, Bower. The Rhetoric of Alexander Hamilton. 1941. Reprint, New York: Russell & Russell, 1965.

Atherton, Gertrude Franklin Horn. The Conqueror A Dramatized Biography of Alexander Hamilton. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1916.

Bailey, Ralph Edward. An American Colossus The Singular Career of Alexander Hamilton. Illustrated from photographs. Boston: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Co., 1933.

Baldwin, Joseph G. (Joseph Glover). Party Leaders Sketches of Thomas Jefferson, Alex'r Hamilton, Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay, John Randolph, of Roanoke, Including Notices of Many Other Distinguished American Statesmen. 1855. Reprint, Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, 1972.

Bartram, F. S. Retrographs: Comprisiong a history of New York City prior to the Revolution Biographies of George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Nathan Hale Sketches of John Andre and Beverly Robinson Schemes of Aaron Burr, Benedict Arnold. New York: Yale Publishing Company, 1888.

Bernstein, Leonard H. "Alexander Hamilton and Political Factions in New York to 1787," Ph. D. diss., New York University, 1970.

Boutell, Lewis Henry. Alexander Hamilton, The Constructive Statesman. Chicago, S. Thompson, & Co., 1890.

Bowers, Claude G. Jefferson and Hamilton The Struggle for Democracy in America. 1925. Reprint edition, St. Clair Shores, MI: Scholarly Press, 1972.

Boyd, Julian P. Number 7, Alexander Hamilton's Secret Attempts to Control American Foreign Policy, with supporting documents. Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 1964.

Bramble, Max Edward. "Alexander Hamilton and Nineteenth-Century American Historians: A Study of Selected Interpretations of Hamilton," Ph. D. diss., Michigan State University, 1968.

Brice, Charles S. "Alexander Hamilton: Building the Nation," M. A. Thesis, University of Texas at El Paso, 1950.

Brookhiser, Richard. Alexander Hamilton, American. Thorndike, Maine: Thorndike Press, 1999.

Brown, Stuart Gerry. Alexander Hamilton. New York: Washington Square Press, 1967.

Burr, Samuel Engle. The Burr-Hamilton Duel & Related Matters A Statement. Aledo, Tex.: Burr Publications, 1971.

Burton, Alma H. Four American Patriots, Patrick Henry, Alexander Hamilton, Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant A Book for Young Americans. New York & Chicago: Werner Schoolbook Co., 1898.

Caldwell, Lynton K. The Administrative Theories of Hamilton & Jefferson: Their Contribution to Thought on Public Administration. 1944. Reprint edition, New York: Holmes & Meier, 1988.

Cantor, Milton. Hamilton. Englewod Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1971.

Chan, Michael D. "The Sinews of Liberty and Virtue: Aristotle and Hamilton on Political Economy and Statesmanship," Ph. D. diss., Claremont Graduate University, 2003.

___. Aristotle and Hamilton on Commerce and Statesmanship. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2006.

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: Penguin Press, 2004.

Chidsey, Donald Barr. Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Jefferson. Nashville: T. Nelson, [1975].

Clemens, Jeremiah. The Rivals A Tale of the Times of Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1860.

Coleman, William. A Collection of the Facts and Documents, Relative to the Death of Major-General Alexander Hamilton, With Comments Together with the Various Orations, Sermons, and Eulogies, that have been published or written on his life and character. by the editor of the Evening Post. 1804. Reprint edition, Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries Press, 1969.

Cooke, Jacob Ernest. Alexander Hamilton. 1967. Reprint edition, New York: Scribner's, 1982.

Conant, Charles A. Alexander Hamilton. Boston & New York: Houghton, Mifflin, and Co., 1901.

Crosby, Richard Wheeler. "Alexander Hamilton's Political Principles: Natural Rights, Democracy, and the Good Regime," Ph. D. diss., Cornell University, 1970.

Crouse, Anna Erskine, and Russel Crouse. Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr: Their Lives, Their Times, Their Duel. Illustrated by Walter Buehr. New York: Random House, [1958].

Culbertson, William Smith. Alexander Hamilton An Essay. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1911.

Daniels, Jonathan. Ordeal of Ambition: Jefferson, Hamilton, Burr. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1970.

Ellis, Edward S. Alexander Hamilton: A Character Sketch. with Anecdotes, Characteristics, and Chronology. Chicago, IL: The University Assocation, 1898.

Emery, Noemie. Alexander Hamilton: An Intimate Portrait. New York: Putnam, 1982.

Emery, Scott Russell. "The American Presidential Election of 1800: The Intrigues of Alexander Hamilton," M. A. Thesis, California State University, Fullerton, 2004.

Flaumenhaft, Harvey. "The Administrative Republic of Alexander Hamilton," Ph. D. diss., University of Chicago, 1980.

___. The Effective Republic: Administration and Constitution in the Thought of Alexander Hamilton. Durham: Duke University Press, 1992.

Fleming, Thomas J. Duel: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and the Future of America. New York: Basic Books, 1999.

Flexner, James Thomas. The Young Hamilton: A Biography. 1978. Reprint, New York: Fordham University Press, 1997.

Ford, Henry Jones. Alexander Hamilton. New York: C. Scribner's Sons, 1920.

Granrud, John E. (John Evenson). Five Years of Alexander Hamilton's Public Life, 1786-1791. N.p., 1894.

Green, Richard Todd. "Oracle at Weehawken: Alexander Hamilton and Development of the Administrative State," Ph. D. diss., Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, 1987.

Hacker, Louis Morton. Alexander Hamilton in the American Tradition. 1957. Reprint, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1975.

Hale, Mary Ann. "John Adams and Alexander Hamilton: A Clash of Styles," M. A. Thesis, University of Missouri-Kansas City, 2003.

Hall, Margaret E. (Margaret Esther). Alexander Hamilton Reader A Compilation of Materials By, and Commenting on, Hamilton. New York: Oceana Publications, 1957.

Hamilton, Alexander. Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson: Representative Selections, with Introduction, Bibliography, and Notes by Frederick C. Prescott. New York & Cincinnati, OH: American Book Co., 1934.

___. Alexander Hamilton: Selections Representing His Life, His Thought, and His Style. New York: Liberal Arts, 1957.

___. Alexander Hamiltion's Pay Book. Edited by E. P. Panagopoulos. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1961.

___. The Basic Ideas of Alexander Hamilton. New York: Pocket Books, 1956.

___. Citizen Hamilton: The Wit and Wisdom of an American Founder. Edited by Donald R. Hickey and Connie D. Clark. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006.

___. Documents Relating to American Economic History: Selections from the Official Reports. Arranged by Felix Flügel. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1929.

___. A Few of Hamilton's Letters, Including His Description of the Great West Indian Hurricane of 1772. Edited by Gertrude Atherton. New York: MacMillan, 1903.

___. The Federalist: A Collection of Essays, Written in Favour of the New Constitution, As Agreed Upon by the Federal Convention, September 17, 1787. 1788. Reprint, special ed. leaf book. Union, J.J.: Lawbook Exchange Mansfield Centre, Conn.: Martino Pub., 2001.

___. Federalist. A Commentary on the Constitution of the United States. A Collection of Essays, by Alexander Hamilton, Jay, and Madison. Also the Continentalist and other papers, by Hamilton. 1864. Reprint, edited, with an introduction, by Robert Scisliano, 2000.

___. Hamiltonian Principles: Extracts from the Writings of Alexander Hamilton. Selected and Edited by James Truslow Adams. Boston: Little, Brown, 1928.

___. Industrial and Commercial Correspondence of Alexander Hamilton Anticipating His Report on Manufactures. Edited by Arthur Harrison Cole. With a Preface by Edwin F. Gay. 1928. Reprint edition, New York: A. M. Kelley, 1968.

___. The Official and Other Papers of the late Major-General Alexander Hamilton. New York & London: Wiley & Putnam, 1842.

___. The Mind of Alexander Hamilton. Arranged and with an introduction by Saul K. Padover. New York: Harper, 1958.

___. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 26 vols. Edited by Harold C. Syrrett and Jacob E. Cooke. New York: Columbia University Press, 1961-1987.

___. Papers on Public Credit, Commerce and Finance, by Alexander Hamilton. Edited by Samuel McKee, Jr. with a Foreword by Elihu Root. 1934. Reprint edition, New York: Liberal Arts Press, 1957.

___. The Political Reformer. Philadelphia: Printed for the author, by W. W. Woodward, 1797.

___. Practical Proceedings in the Supreme Court of the State of New York: Hamilton's Practice Manual. New York: New York Law Journal, 2004.

___. Propositions of Colonel Hamilton, of New-York, in the Convention for Establishing a Constitutional Government for the United States. Pittsfield, MA: Printed by P. Allen, 1802.

___. The Revolutionary Writings of Alexander Hamilton. Edited and with an introduction by Richard B. Vernier with a Foreword by Joyce O. Appleby. Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, 2008.

___. Report of the Secretary of the Treasury on the Subject of a Mint. Philadelphia, PA: W. Young, 1791.

___. Selected Writings and Speeches of Alexander Hamilton. Morton J. Frisch, editor. Washington, D. C.: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, 1985.

___. The Works of Alexander Hamilton, Comprising His Most Important Official Reports An Improved Edition of the Federalist, on the new Constitution, written in 1788 and Pacificus, on the Proclamation of Neutrality, written in 1793. Three Volumes. New York: Williams and Whiting, 1810.

___. The Works of Alexander Hamilton: Comprising His Correspondence, and His Political and Official Writings, Exclusive of the Federalist, Civil and Military. Seven Volumes. New York: J. F. Trow, 1850-51.

___. The Works of Alexander Hamilton: Comprising His Correspondence, and His Political and Official Writings, Exclusive of the Federalist, Civil and Military. Four Volumes. New York: C. S. Francis & Co., 1851.

___. The Works of Alexander Hamilton. Nine Volumes. New York & London: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1885-86.

___. The Works of Alexander Hamilton. Twelve Volumes. New York & London, G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1904.

___. Writings. New York: Library of America: Distributed to the trade in the United States by Penguin Putnam, 2001.

Hamilton, Alexander, and Arthur Harrison Cole. Industrial and Commercial Correspondence of Alexander Hamilton Anticipating His Report on Manufactures. With a preface by Edwin F. Gay. New York: A. M. Kelley, 1968.

Hamilton, Alexander, and Henry Cabot Lodge, ed. The Works of Alexander Hamilton. New York: Haskell House Publishers, 1971.

Hamilton, Alexander, James Madison, and John Jay (writing as Publius). The Federalist. With The Letters of Brutus/ [both works] edited by Terence Ball. Cambridge, U.K. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Hamilton, Alexander, James Madison, John Jay, and Bob Blaiddell, ed. Selected Federalist Papers. Mineola, N.Y.: Dover Publications, 2001.

Hamilton, Alexander, James Madison, John Jay, and Clinton Rossiter, ed. The Federalist Papers. With a new introduction and annotations by Charles R. Resler. New York: Mentor, 1999.

Hamilton, Alexander, James Madison, John Jay, and Henry Steele Commager, ed. Selections from the Federalist: A Commentary on the Constitution of the United States. Arlington Heights, Ill.: Harlan Davidson, 1985], 1949.

Hamilton, Alexander, James Madison, John Jay, Robert Scigliano, ed. The Federalist: A Commentary on the Constitution of the United States. Modern Library ed. New York: Modern Library, 2000.

Hamilton, Alexander, and Julius Goebel, Jr., ed. The Law Practice of Alexander Hamilton Documents and Commentary. Associate editors: Francis K. Decker, Jr. [and others]. New York: Published under the auspices of the William Nelson Cromwell Foundation by Columbia University Press, 1964-1981.

Hamilton, Alexander, and Mary-Jo Kline, ed. Alexander Hamilton A Biography In His Own Words. With an introduction by Harold C. Syrett. Joan Paterson Kerr, picture editor. New York: Newsweek distributed by Harper & Row, 1973.

Hamilton, Alexander, and Morton J. Frisch, eds. Selected Writings and Speeches of Alexander Hamilton. Washington: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, 1985.

Hamilton, Alexander, and Quentin P. Taylor, ed. The Essential Federalist: A New Reading of the Federalist Papers. Madison, Wis.: Madison House, 1998.

Hamilton, Alexander, and Richard B. Morris, ed. Alexander Hamilton and the Founding of the Nation. 1957. Reprint, New York: Harper & Row, 1969.

Hamilton, John C. The Life of Alexander Hamilton. By His Son John C. Hamilton. New York: Halsted & Voorhees, 1834.

Harnett, Robert C. "The National Statesmanship of Alexander Hamilton," Ph. D. diss., Fordham University, 1946.

Harper, John Lamberton. American Machiavelli: Alexander Hamilton and the Origins of U.S. Foreign Policy. Cambridge, UK New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Hecht, Marie B. Odd Destiny, The Life of Alexander Hamilton. New York: Macmillan, 1982.

Hendrickson, Robert A. Hamilton. New York: Mason/Charter, 1976.

___. The Rise and Fall of Alexander Hamilton. 1981. Reprint, New York: Dodd, Mead, 1985.

Hicks, Howard H. Alexander Hamilton. New York: Macmillan, 1928.

Johnson, Helene Vivan. "Alexander Hamilton and the British Orientation of American Foreign Policy, 1783-1803," Ph. D. diss., University of Southern California, 1963.

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Kennedy, Roger G. Burr, Hamilton, and Jefferson: A Study in Character. Oxford New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

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Konefsky, Samuel Joseph. John Marshall and Alexander Hamilton, Architects of the American Constitution. New York: Macmillan, 1964.

Launitz-Schurer, Leopold S. "Alexander Hamiltion, Delegate to Congress," M. A. Thesis, McGill University (Canada), 1966.

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Mell, Wayne Allan. "James Wilson, Alexander Hamilton, William Blackstone: Organic Principles of Constitutional Liberty," Ph. D. diss., University of Oregon, 1976.

Miller, John Chester. Alexander Hamilton and the Growth of the New Nation. With a new introduction by A. Owen Aldridge. 1959. Reprint, New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 2003.

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___. Heritage from Hamilton. New York: Columbia University Press, 1957.

Morris, Richard B. Witnesses at the Creation: Hamilton, Madison, Jay, and the Constitution. New York: New American Library, 1985.

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Murray, Joseph A. Alexander Hamilton: America's Forgotten Founder. New York: Algora Publishers, 2007.

Nelson, John Robert, Jr., "Hamilton and Gallatin: Political Economy and Policy-making in the New Nation," Ph. D. diss., Northern Illinois University, 1979.

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Nicolay, Helen. The Boys' Life of Alexander Hamilton. New York, London: The Century Co., 1927.

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Rennie, Malcolm Fraser. "Alexander Hamiltion and the Theory of One Revolution, 1774-1787," M. A. Thesis, University of Calgary (Canada), 1980.

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Rogow, Arnold A. A Fatal Friendship: Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. New York: Hill and Wang, 1998.

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Tugwell, Rexford Guy, and Joseph Dorfman. "Alexander Hamilton: Nation-Maker." Columbia University Quarterly 29 (December 1937) and 30 (March 1938).

Vandenberg, Arthur Hendrick. The Greatest American, Alexander Hamilton An Historical Analysis of His Life and Works Together With a Symposium of Opinions by Distinguished Americans. New York, London: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1921.

___. If Hamilton Were Here Today American Fundamentals Applied to Modern Problems. New York, London: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1923.

Walker, Donald Lee, Jr., "Alexander Hamilton's American Empire: The Intellectual Foundations of Federalist Foreign Policy," Ph. D. diss., University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 2005.

Walling, Karl-Friedrich. "The Political Theory of Republican Empire: War and Liberty in Hamiltonian Politics. Ph. D. diss., University of Chicago, 1992.

___. Republican Empire: Alexander Hamilton on War and Free Government. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1999.

Whitelaw, Nancy. More Perfect Union: The Story of Alexander Hamilton. Greensboro: Morgan Reynolds, 1997.

Wilbur, William Allan. "Crisis in Leadership: Alexander Hamilton, Timothy Pickering, and the Politics of Federalism, 1795-1804," Ph. D. diss., Syracuse University, 1969.

Yates, Christopher S. Alexander Hamilton: How the Mighty are Redeemed. Washington, D.C.: Family Research Council, 2000.

Zeuli, John Anthony. "Striking A Balance: The Centrality of the Hamiltonian/Jeffersonian Debate in American Foreign Policy Development," M. A. Thesis, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 1995.


Alexander Hamilton’s Adultery and Apology

In the summer of 1791, Alexander Hamilton received a visitor.

Maria Reynolds, a 23-year-old blonde, came to Hamilton’s Philadelphia residence to ask for help. Her husband, James Reynolds, had abandoned her—not that it was a significant loss, for Reynolds had grossly mistreated her before absconding. Hamilton, just 34, was serving as secretary of the United States treasury and was himself a New Yorker she thought he would surely be able to help her return to that city, where she could resettle among friends and relatives.

Hamilton was eager to be of service, but, he recounted later, it was not possible at the moment of her visit, so he arranged to visit her that evening, money in hand.

When he arrived at the Reynolds home, Maria led him into an upstairs bedroom. A conversation followed, at which point Hamilton felt certain that “other than pecuniary consolation would be acceptable” to Maria Reynolds.

And thus began an affair that would put Alexander Hamilton at the front of a long line of American politicians forced to apologize publicly for their private behavior.

Hamilton (whose wife and children were vacationing with relatives in Albany) and Maria Reynolds saw each other regularly throughout the summer and fall of 1791—until James Reynolds returned to the scene and instantly saw the profit potential in the situation. December 15, Hamilton received an urgent note from his mistress:

I have not tim to tell you the cause of my present troubles only that Mr. has rote you this morning and I know not wether you have got the letter or not and he has swore that If you do not answer It or If he dose not se or hear from you to day he will write Mrs. Hamilton he has just Gone oute and I am a Lone I think you had better come here one moment that you May know the Cause then you will the better know how to act Oh my God I feel more for you than myself and wish I had never been born to give you so mutch unhappiness do not rite to him no not a Line but come here soon do not send or leave any thing in his power.

Elizabeth Hamilton, 1787. Museum of the City of New York (Wikimedia Commons)

Two days later, Hamilton received a letter from James Reynolds that accused him of destroying a happy home and proposed a solution:

Its true its in your power to do a great deal for me, but its out of your power to do any thing that will Restore to me my Happiness again for if you should give me all you possess would not do it. god knowes I love the woman and wish every blessing may attend her, you have bin the Cause of Winning her love, and I Dont think I Can be Reconciled to live with Her, when I know I hant her love. now Sir I have Considered on the matter Serously. I have this preposial to make to you. give me the Sum Of thousand dollars and I will leve the town and take my daughter with me and go where my Friend Shant here from me and leve her to Yourself to do for her as you thing proper. I hope you wont think my request is in a view of making Me Satisfaction for the injury done me. for there is nothing that you Can do will compensate for it. 

Rather than leave town (and his new mark), James Reynolds allowed the relationship to continue. A pattern was established in which Maria Reynolds (by this time likely complicit in her husband’s scheme) would write to Hamilton, entreating him to visit when her husband was out of the house:

I have kept my bed those tow days past but find my self mutch better at presant though yet full distreesed and shall till I se you fretting was the Cause of my Illness I thought you had been told to stay away from our house and yesterday with tears I my Eyes I beged Mr. once more to permit your visits and he told upon his honnour that he had not said anything to you and that It was your own fault believe me I scarce knew how to beleeve my senses and if my seturation was insupportable before I heard this It was now more so fear prevents my saing more only that I shal be miserable till I se you and if my dear freend has the Least Esteeme for the unhappy Maria whos greateest fault Is Loveing him he will come as soon as he shall get this and till that time My breast will be the seate of pain and woe

P. S. If you cannot come this Evening to stay just come only for one moment as I shal be Lone Mr. is going to sup with a friend from New York.

After such trysts occurred, James Reynolds would dispatch a request for funds—rather than demand sums comparable to his initial request of $1,000 dollars (which Hamilton paid), he would request $30 or $40, never explicitly mentioning Hamilton’s relationship with Maria but referring often to Hamilton’s promise to be a friend to him.

James Reynolds, who had become increasingly involved in a dubious plan to purchase on the cheap the pension and back-pay claims of Revolutionary War soldiers, found himself on the wrong side of the law in November 1792, and was imprisoned for committing forgery. Naturally, he called upon his old friend Hamilton, but the latter refused to help. Reynolds, enraged, got word to Hamilton’s Republican rivals that he had information of a sort that could bring down the Federalist hero.

James Monroe, accompanied by fellow Congressmen Frederick Muhlenberg and Abraham Venable, visited Reynolds in jail and his wife at their home and heard the tale of Alexander Hamilton, seducer and homewrecker, a cad who had practically ordered Reynolds to share his wife’s favors. What’s more, Reynolds claimed, the speculation scheme in which he’d been implicated also involved the treasury secretary. (Omitted were Reynolds’ regular requests for money from Hamilton.)

Political enemy he might have been, but Hamilton was still a respected government official, and so Monroe and Muhlenberg, in December 1792, approached him with the Reynolds’ story, bearing letters Maria Reynolds claimed he had sent her.

Aware of what being implicated in a nefarious financial plot could do to his career (and the fledgling nation’s economy), Hamilton admitted that he’d had an affair with Maria Reynolds, and that he’d been a fool to allow it (and the extortion) to continue. Satisfied that Hamilton was innocent of any wrongdoing beyond adultery, Monroe and Muhlenberg agreed to keep what they’d learned private. And that, Hamilton thought, was that.

James Monroe had a secret of his own, though.

While he kept Hamilton’s affair from the public, he did make a copy of the letters Maria Reynolds had given him and sent them to Thomas Jefferson, Hamilton’s chief adversary and a man whose own sexual conduct was hardly above reproach. The Republican clerk of the House of Representatives, John Beckley, may also have surreptitiously copied them.

In a 1796 essay, Hamilton (who had ceded his secretaryship of the treasury to Oliver Wolcott in 1795 and was acting as an adviser to Federalist politicians) impugned Jefferson’s private life, writing that the Virginian’s “simplicity and humility afford but a flimsy veil to the internal evidences of aristocratic splendor, sensuality, and epicureanism.” He would get his comeuppance in June 1797, when James Callender’s The History of the United States for 1796 was published.

Callender, a Republican and a proto-muckraker, had become privy to the contents of Hamilton’s letters to Reynolds (Hamilton would blame Monroe and Jefferson, though it is more likely Beckley was the source, though he had left his clerk’s position). Callender’s pamphlet alleged that Hamilton had been guilty of involvement in the speculation scheme and was more licentious than any moral person could imagine. “In the secretary’s bucket of chastity,” Callender asserted, “a drop more or less was not to be perceived.”

Callender’s accusations and his access to materials related to the affair left Hamilton in a tight spot—to deny all the charges would be an easily proven falsehood. The affair with Maria Reynolds could destroy his marriage, not to mention his hard-won social standing (he had married Elizabeth Schuyler, daughter of one of New York’s most prominent families, and a match many thought advantageous to Hamilton). But to be implicated in a financial scandal was, to Hamilton, simply unthinkable. As Secretary of the Treasury, he’d been the architect of early American fiscal policy. To be branded as corrupt would not only end his career, but also threaten the future of the Federalist Party.

Left with few other options, Hamilton decided to confess to his indiscretions with Maria Reynolds and use that confession as proof that on all other fronts, he had nothing to hide. But his admission of guilt would be far more revealing than anyone could have guessed.

Observations on Certain Documents, 1797 (Wikimedia Commons)

Hamilton’s pamphlet Observations on Certain Documents had a simple purpose: in telling his side of the story and offering letters from James and Maria Reynolds for public review, he would argue that he had been the victim of an elaborate scam, and that his only real crime had been an “irregular and indelicate amour.” To do this, Hamilton started from the beginning, recounting his original meeting with Maria Reynolds and the trysts that followed. The pamphlet included revelations sure to humiliate Elizabeth Hamilton—that he and Maria had brought their affair into the Hamilton family home, and that Hamilton had encouraged his wife to remain in Albany so that he could see Maria without explanation.

Letters from Maria to Hamilton were breathless and full of errors (“I once take up the pen to solicit The favor of seing again oh Col hamilton what have I done that you should thus Neglect me”). How would Elizabeth Hamilton react to being betrayed by her husband with such a woman?

Still, Hamilton pressed on in his pamphlet, presenting a series of letters from both Reynoldses that made Hamilton, renowned for his cleverness, seem positively simple. On May 2, 1792, James Reynolds forbade Hamilton from seeing Maria ever again on June 2, Maria wrote to beg Hamilton to return to her a week after that, James Reynolds asked to borrow $300, more than double the amount he usually asked for. (Hamilton obliged.)

Hamilton, for his part, threw himself at the mercy of the reading public:

This confession is not made without a blush. I cannot be the apologist of any vice because the ardor of passion may have made it mine. I can never cease to condemn myself for the pang which it may inflict in a bosom eminently entitled to all my gratitude, fidelity, and love. But that bosom will approve, that, even at so great an expense, I should effectually wipe away a more serious stain from a name which it cherishes with no less elevation than tenderness. The public, too, will, I trust, excuse the confession. The necessity of it to my defence against a more heinous charge could alone have extorted from me so painful an indecorum.

While the airing of his dirty laundry was surely humiliating to Hamilton (and his wife, whom the Aurora, a Republican newspaper, asserted must have been just as wicked to have such a husband), it worked—the blackmail letters from Reynolds dispelled any suggestion of Hamilton’s involvement in the speculation scheme.

Still, Hamilton’s reputation was in tatters. Talk of further political office effectively ceased. He blamed Monroe, whom he halfheartedly tried to bait into challenging him to a duel. (Monroe refused.) This grudge would be carried by Elizabeth Hamilton, who, upon meeting Monroe before his death in  1825 1831, treated him coolly on her late husband’s behalf. She had, by all accounts, forgiven her husband, and would spend the next fifty years trying to undo the damage of Hamilton’s last decade of life.

Hamilton’s fate, of course, is well-known, though in a way the Reynolds affair followed him to his last day. Some time before the publication of his pamphlet, Hamilton’s former mistress Maria Reynolds sued her husband for divorce. The attorney that guided her through that process was Aaron Burr.


New Research Suggests Alexander Hamilton Was a Slave Owner

For Jessie Serfilippi, it was an eye-opening moment. As she worked at her computer, she had to keep checking to make sure what she was seeing was real: irrefutable evidence that Alexander Hamilton—the founding father depicted by many historians and even on Broadway as an abolitionist—enslaved other humans.

“I went over that thing so many times, I just had to be sure,” recalls Serfilippi, adding, “I went in to this with the intention of learning about Hamilton’s connection to slavery. Would I find instances of him enslaving people? I did.”

In a recently published paper, “‘As Odious and Immoral a Thing’: Alexander Hamilton’s Hidden History as an Enslaver,” the young researcher details her findings gleaned from primary source materials. One of those documents includes Hamilton’s own cashbook, which is available online at the Library of Congress.

In it, several line items indicate that Hamilton purchased enslaved labor for his own household. While antithetical to the popular image of the founding father, that reference has reinforced the view held by a growing cadre of historians that Hamilton did actively engage in enslaving people.

“I didn’t expect to find what I did at all,” Serfilippi says. “Part of me wondered if I was even wasting my time because I thought other historians would have found this already. Some had said he owned slaves but there was never any real proof.”

One who is not surprised by the revelation is author William Hogeland, who has written about Hamilton and is working on a book about his impact on American capitalism.

“Serfilippi’s research is super exciting,” he says. “Her research confirms what we have suspected, and it takes the whole discussion to a new place. She’s found some actual evidence of enslavement on the part of Hamilton that is just more thoroughgoing and more clearly documented than anything we’ve had before.”

A 1784 entry from Hamilton's cash books documenting the sale of a woman named Peggy (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)

Hamilton’s connection to slavery is as complex as his personality. Brilliant but argumentative, he was a member of the New York Manumission Society, which advocated for the emancipation of the enslaved. However, he often acted as legal arbiter for others in the transactions of people in bondage.

Serfilippi points out that by conducting these deals for others, Hamilton was in effect a slave trader—a fact overlooked by some historians.

“We can’t get into his head and know what he was thinking,” she says. “Hamilton may have seen enslavement of others as a step up for a white man. That’s the way many white people saw it in that time period.”

Serfilippi works as an interpreter at the Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site in Albany, New York, the home of Hamilton’s father-in-law Philip Schuyler, a Revolutionary War general and U.S. senator. Her paper came about as part of her research on the many African Americans enslaved by Schuyler. According to the mansion, Schuyler enslaved as many as 30 laborers between his two properties in Albany and Saratoga, New York. Sefilippi initially looked at Schuyler’s children, including Eliza, who married Hamilton in 1780, and as she examined the founding father’s cashbook, the evidence jumped out at her in several places.

One line item, dated June 28, 1798, shows that Hamilton received a $100 payment for the “term” of a “negro boy.” He had leased the boy to someone else and accepted cash for his use.

“He sent the child to work for another enslaver and then collected the money that child made,” Serfilippi says. “He could only do that if he enslaved that child.”

The smoking gun was at the end of the cashbook, where an anonymous hand is settling Hamilton’s estate following his death. That person wrote down the value of various items, including servants. It was a confirming moment for Serfilippi.

“You can only ascribe monetary value to a person you are enslaving,” she says. “There were free white servants who he hired but they were not included there.”

She adds, “Once you see it in his own handwriting, to me there’s really no question.”

An 1893 photograph of Hamilton's estate, the Grange (Public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

In late-18th century New York, according to historian Leslie Harris, the words “servant” and “slave” were often used interchangeably—especially in New York, where enslaved workers were likely to be members of the household staff. Harris, a professor of African American studies at Northwestern University, points out it is an important distinction in understanding the many guises of slavery in 18th-century America.

“In casual usage, enslavers used the term ‘servant’ to refer to people they enslaved, especially if they were referring to those who worked in the household—the idea of a 'domestic servant' could be inclusive of enslaved, indentured or free laborers,” she says. “So in reading documents that refer to people as servants, we have to be careful to find other evidence of their actual legal status."

Harris is impressed by the research in Serfilippi’s paper and how it is reshaping the way we view the founding father. “It’s clear that Hamilton was deeply embedded in slavery,” she adds. “We have to think more carefully about this [idea of Hamilton as] anti-slavery.”

Hamilton played an important role in the establishment of the American government and creation of many of its economic institutions, including Wall Street and a central bank. The illegitimate son of a Scot, he was born and raised in the Caribbean, attended college in New York and then joined the Continental Army at the outbreak of the American Revolution in 1775. He eventually became aide-de-camp to General George Washington and saw action at the Battle of Yorktown.

Largely self-taught and self-made, Hamilton found success as a lawyer and served in Congress. He wrote many of the Federalist Papers that helped shape the Constitution. He served as the first Secretary of the Treasury when Washington became president in 1789 and was famously killed in a duel with Vice President Aaron Burr in 1804.

Despite being on the $10 bill, Hamilton remained generally ignored by the public until the publication of Ron Chernow’s 2004 biography Alexander Hamilton. The bestseller was read by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who turned it into a watershed Broadway hit in 2015, winning 11 Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize.

For the most part, Chernow and Miranda hewed to the accepted dogma that Hamilton was an abolitionist and only reluctantly participated in the sale of humans as a legal go-between for relatives and friends. Though Chernow states Hamilton may have owned slaves, the notion that he was ardently against the institution pervades his book—and not without some support. The belief is rooted in a biography written 150 years ago by Hamilton’s son, John Church Hamilton, who stated his father never owned slaves.

That idea was later refuted by Hamilton’s grandson, Allan McLane Hamilton, who said his grandfather did indeed own them and his own papers proved it. “It has been stated that Hamilton never owned a negro slave, but this is untrue,” he wrote. “We find that in his books there are entries showing that he purchased them for himself and for others.” However, that admission was generally ignored by many historians since it didn’t fit the established narrative.

“I think it’s fair to say Hamilton opposed the institution of slavery,” Hogeland says. “But, as with many others who did in his time, that opposition was in conflict with widespread practice on involvement in the institution.”

A portrait of Elizabeth Schuyler, Hamilton's wife (Public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

In an e-mail, Chernow applauds Serfilippi’s “real contribution to the scholarly literature” but expresses dismay over what he sees as her one-sided approach to Hamilton’s biography. “Whether Hamilton’s involvement with slavery was exemplary or atrocious, it was only one aspect of his identity, however important,” he writes. “There is, inevitably, some distortion of vising by viewing Hamilton’s large and varied life through this single lens.”

In her paper, Serfilippi cites the work of other historians who have similarly investigated Hamilton’s past as enslaver, including John C. Miller, Nathan Schachner and Sylvan Joseph Muldoon. Hogeland also cites a 2010 article by Michelle DuRoss, then a postgraduate student at the University at Albany, State University of New York, who claims Hamilton was likely a slave owner.

“Scholars are aware of this paper,” Hogeland says. “It’s gotten around. It predates Serfilippi’s work and doesn’t have the same documentation, but she makes the argument that Hamilton’s abolitionism is a bit of a fantasy.”

Chernow, however, holds steadfast on his reading of Hamilton. “While Hamilton was Treasury Secretary, his anti-slavery activities did lapse, but he resumed them after he returned to New York and went back into private law practice, working again with the New York Manumission Society,” he writes. “Elected one of its four legal advisers, he helped to defend free blacks when slave masters from out of state brandished bills of sale and tried to snatch them off the New York streets. Does this sound like a man invested in the perpetuation of slavery?”

For her part, Serfilippi is taking the attention she is receiving from historians in stride. At 27, she is part of a new breed of researchers who are reviewing now-digitized collections of historical documents to take a fresh look at what happened in the past. She is pleased her discovery is shedding new light on a familiar figure and adding insight into his character.

More importantly, she hopes it will help deepen our understanding of the difficult issue of slavery in the nation’s history and its impact on individuals—the slavers and the enslaved. The driving force for Serfilippi was to get to know and remember the people held in bondage by the founding father. She recounts one correspondence between Philip Schuler and his daughter and the potent impact of learning the name of one of Hamilton’s slaves.

“Schuyler, just in letters to other people, will casually mention enslavement,” she says. “In one letter he writes to Eliza in 1798, ‘the death of one of your servants by yellow fever has deeply affected my feelings.’ He goes on to identify the servant, a boy by the name of Dick.

“That was a shocking moment for me. This is the first and only name of somebody Hamilton enslaved that I’ve come across. It’s something I’ve never stopped thinking about.”

About David Kindy

David Kindy is a journalist, freelance writer and book reviewer who lives in Plymouth, Massachusetts. He writes about history, culture and other topics for Air & Space, Military History, World War II, Vietnam, Aviation History, Providence Journal and other publications and websites.


Contents

The Burr–Hamilton duel is one of the most famous personal conflicts in American history. It was a pistol duel that arose from long-standing personal bitterness that developed between the two men over the course of several years. Tension rose with Hamilton's journalistic defamation of Burr's character during the 1804 New York gubernatorial race, in which Burr was a candidate.

The duel was fought at a time when the practice was being outlawed in the northern United States, and it had immense political ramifications. Burr survived the duel and was indicted for murder in both New York and New Jersey, though these charges later were either dismissed or resulted in acquittal. The harsh criticism and animosity directed toward Burr following the duel brought an end to his political career. The Federalist Party was already weakened by the defeat of John Adams in the presidential election of 1800 and was further weakened by Hamilton's death.

The duel was the final skirmish of a long conflict between Democratic-Republicans and Federalists. The conflict began in 1791 when Burr won a United States Senate seat from Philip Schuyler, Hamilton's father-in-law, who would have supported Federalist policies. (Hamilton was the Secretary of the Treasury at the time.) The Electoral College then deadlocked in the election of 1800, during which Hamilton's maneuvering in the House of Representatives caused Thomas Jefferson to be named president and Burr vice president. [2] At the time, the most votes resulted in an election win, while second place received the Vice Presidency. There were only proto-political parties at the time, as disdainfully noted in President Washington's Farewell Address, and no shared tickets.

Hamilton's animosity toward Burr was severe and well-documented in personal letters to his friend and compatriot James McHenry. The following quotation from one of these letters on January 4, 1801, exemplifies his bitterness:

Nothing has given me so much chagrin as the Intelligence that the Federal party were thinking seriously of supporting Mr. Burr for president. I should consider the execution of the plan as devoting the country and signing their own death warrant. Mr. Burr will probably make stipulations, but he will laugh in his sleeve while he makes them and will break them the first moment it may serve his purpose. [3]

Hamilton details the many charges that he has against Burr in a more extensive letter written shortly afterward, calling him a "profligate, a voluptuary in the extreme", accusing him of corruptly serving the interests of the Holland Land Company while a member of the legislature, criticizing his military commission and accusing him of resigning it under false pretenses, and many more serious accusations. [3]

It became clear that Jefferson would drop Burr from his ticket in the 1804 election, so the Vice President ran for the governorship of New York instead. [ citation needed ] Hamilton campaigned vigorously against Burr, who was running as an independent, causing him to lose to Morgan Lewis, a Democratic-Republican endorsed by Hamilton. [ citation needed ]

Both men had been involved in duels in the past. Hamilton had been the second in several duels, although never the duelist himself, but he was involved in more than a dozen affairs of honor [4] prior to his fatal encounter with Burr, including disputes with William Gordon (1779), Aedanus Burke (1790), John Francis Mercer (1792–1793), James Nicholson (1795), James Monroe (1797), and Ebenezer Purdy and George Clinton (1804). He also served as a second to John Laurens in a 1779 duel with General Charles Lee, and to legal client John Auldjo in a 1787 duel with William Pierce. [5] Hamilton also claimed that he had one previous honor dispute with Burr, [6] while Burr stated that there were two. [7] [8]

Election of 1800 Edit

Burr and Hamilton first came into public opposition during the United States presidential election of 1800. Burr ran for president on the Democratic-Republican ticket, along with Thomas Jefferson, against President John Adams (the Federalist incumbent) and his vice presidential running mate Charles C. Pinckney. Electoral College rules at the time gave each elector two votes for president. The candidate who received the second most votes became vice president.

The Democratic-Republican Party planned to have 72 of their 73 electors vote for both Jefferson and Burr, with the remaining elector voting only for Jefferson. The electors failed to execute this plan, so Burr and Jefferson were tied with 73 votes each. The Constitution stipulated that if two candidates with an Electoral College majority were tied, the election would be moved to the House of Representatives—which was controlled by the Federalists, at this point, many of whom were loath to vote for Jefferson. Hamilton regarded Burr as far more dangerous than Jefferson and used all his influence to ensure Jefferson's election. On the 36th ballot, the House of Representatives gave Jefferson the presidency, with Burr becoming vice president.

Charles Cooper's letter Edit

On April 24, 1804, the Albany Register published a letter opposing Burr's gubernatorial candidacy [9] which was originally sent from Charles D. Cooper to Hamilton's father-in-law, former Senator Philip Schuyler. [10] It made reference to a previous statement by Cooper: "General Hamilton and Judge Kent have declared in substance that they looked upon Mr. Burr to be a dangerous man, and one who ought not be trusted with the reins of government." Cooper went on to emphasize that he could describe in detail "a still more despicable opinion which General Hamilton has expressed of Mr. Burr" at a political dinner. [11]

Burr responded in a letter delivered by William P. Van Ness which pointed particularly to the phrase "more despicable" and demanded "a prompt and unqualified acknowledgment or denial of the use of any expression which would warrant the assertion of Dr. Cooper." Hamilton's verbose reply on June 20, 1804, indicated that he could not be held responsible for Cooper's interpretation of his words (yet he did not fault that interpretation), concluding that he would "abide the consequences" should Burr remain unsatisfied. [12] A recurring theme in their correspondence is that Burr seeks avowal or disavowal of anything that could justify Cooper's characterization, while Hamilton protests that there are no specifics.

Burr replied on June 21, 1804, also delivered by Van Ness, stating that "political opposition can never absolve gentlemen from the necessity of a rigid adherence to the laws of honor and the rules of decorum". [13] Hamilton replied that he had "no other answer to give than that which has already been given". This letter was delivered to Nathaniel Pendleton on June 22 but did not reach Burr until June 25. [14] The delay was due to negotiation between Pendleton and Van Ness in which Pendleton submitted the following paper:

General Hamilton says he cannot imagine what Dr. Cooper may have alluded, unless it were to a conversation at Mr. Taylor's, in Albany, last winter (at which he and General Hamilton were present). General Hamilton cannot recollect distinctly the particulars of that conversation, so as to undertake to repeat them, without running the risk of varying or omitting what might be deemed important circumstances. The expressions are entirely forgotten, and the specific ideas imperfectly remembered but to the best of his recollection it consisted of comments on the political principles and views of Colonel Burr, and the results that might be expected from them in the event of his election as Governor, without reference to any particular instance of past conduct or private character. [15]

Eventually, Burr issued a formal challenge and Hamilton accepted. [16] Many historians have considered the causes of the duel to be flimsy and have thus characterized Hamilton as "suicidal", Burr as "malicious and murderous", or both. [17] Thomas Fleming offers the theory that Burr may have been attempting to recover his honor by challenging Hamilton, whom he considered to be the only gentleman among his detractors, in response to the slanderous attacks against his character published during the 1804 gubernatorial campaign. [18]

Hamilton's reasons for not engaging in a duel included his roles as father and husband, putting his creditors at risk, and placing his family's welfare in jeopardy, but he felt that it would be impossible to avoid a duel because he had made attacks on Burr which he was unable to recant, and because of Burr's behavior prior to the duel. He attempted to reconcile his moral and religious reasons and the codes of honor and politics. Joanne Freeman speculates that Hamilton intended to accept the duel and throw away his shot in order to satisfy his moral and political codes. [19]

In the early morning of July 11, 1804, Burr and Hamilton departed from Manhattan by separate boats and rowed across the Hudson River to a spot known as the Heights of Weehawken, New Jersey, a popular dueling ground below the towering cliffs of the New Jersey Palisades. [20] Dueling had been prohibited in both New York and New Jersey, but Hamilton and Burr agreed to go to Weehawken because New Jersey was not as aggressive as New York in prosecuting dueling participants. The same site was used for 18 known duels between 1700 and 1845, including the 1801 duel that killed Hamilton's eldest son Philip Hamilton. [21] They also took steps to give all witnesses plausible deniability in an attempt to shield themselves from prosecution. For example, the pistols were transported to the island in a portmanteau, enabling the rowers to say under oath that they had not seen any pistols. They also stood with their backs to the duelists. [22]

Burr, William Peter Van Ness (his second), Matthew L. Davis, another man (often identified as John Swarthout), and the rowers all reached the site at 6:30 a.m., whereupon Swarthout and Van Ness started to clear the underbrush from the dueling ground. Hamilton, Judge Nathaniel Pendleton (his second), and Dr. David Hosack arrived a few minutes before seven. Lots were cast for the choice of position and which second should start the duel. Both were won by Hamilton's second, who chose the upper edge of the ledge for Hamilton, facing the city. [23] However, Joseph Ellis claims that Hamilton had been challenged and therefore had the choice of both weapon and position. Under this account, Hamilton himself chose the upstream or north side position. [24]

Some first-hand accounts of the duel agree that two shots were fired, but some say only Burr fired, and the seconds disagreed on the intervening time between them. It was common for both principals in a duel to fire a shot at the ground to exemplify courage, and then the duel could come to an end. Hamilton apparently fired a shot above Burr's head. Burr returned fire and hit Hamilton in the lower abdomen above the right hip. [25] The large-caliber lead ball ricocheted off Hamilton's third or second false rib, fracturing it and causing considerable damage to his internal organs, particularly his liver and diaphragm, before lodging in his first or second lumbar vertebra. According to Pendleton's account, Hamilton collapsed almost immediately, dropping the pistol involuntarily, and Burr moved toward him in a speechless manner (which Pendleton deemed to be indicative of regret) before being hustled away behind an umbrella by Van Ness because Hosack and the rowers were already approaching. [25]

It is entirely uncertain which principal fired first, as both seconds' backs were to the duel in accordance with the pre-arranged regulations so that they could testify that they "saw no fire". After much research to determine the actual events of the duel, historian Joseph Ellis gives his best guess:

Hamilton did fire his weapon intentionally, and he fired first. But he aimed to miss Burr, sending his ball into the tree above and behind Burr's location. In so doing, he did not withhold his shot, but he did waste it, thereby honoring his pre-duel pledge. Meanwhile, Burr, who did not know about the pledge, did know that a projectile from Hamilton's gun had whizzed past him and crashed into the tree to his rear. According to the principles of the code duello, Burr was perfectly justified in taking deadly aim at Hamilton and firing to kill.

David Hosack's account Edit

Hosack wrote his account on August 17, about one month after the duel had taken place. He testified that he had only seen Hamilton and the two seconds disappear "into the wood", heard two shots, and rushed to find a wounded Hamilton. He also testified that he had not seen Burr, who had been hidden behind an umbrella by Van Ness. [26] He gives a very clear picture of the events in a letter to William Coleman:

When called to him upon his receiving the fatal wound, I found him half sitting on the ground, supported in the arms of Mr. Pendleton. His countenance of death I shall never forget. He had at that instant just strength to say, "This is a mortal wound, doctor" when he sunk away, and became to all appearance lifeless. I immediately stripped up his clothes, and soon, alas I ascertained that the direction of the ball must have been through some vital part. His pulses were not to be felt, his respiration was entirely suspended, and, upon laying my hand on his heart and perceiving no motion there, I considered him as irrecoverably gone. I, however, observed to Mr. Pendleton, that the only chance for his reviving was immediately to get him upon the water. We therefore lifted him up, and carried him out of the wood to the margin of the bank, where the bargemen aided us in conveying him into the boat, which immediately put off. During all this time I could not discover the least symptom of returning life. I now rubbed his face, lips, and temples with spirits of hartshorn, applied it to his neck and breast, and to the wrists and palms of his hands, and endeavoured to pour some into his mouth. [27]

Hosack goes on to say that Hamilton had revived after a few minutes, either from the hartshorn or fresh air. He finishes his letter:

Soon after recovering his sight, he happened to cast his eye upon the case of pistols, and observing the one that he had had in his hand lying on the outside, he said, "Take care of that pistol it is undischarged, and still cocked it may go off and do harm. Pendleton knows" (attempting to turn his head towards him) "that I did not intend to fire at him." "Yes," said Mr. Pendleton, understanding his wish, "I have already made Dr. Hosack acquainted with your determination as to that." He then closed his eyes and remained calm, without any disposition to speak nor did he say much afterward, except in reply to my questions. He asked me once or twice how I found his pulse and he informed me that his lower extremities had lost all feeling, manifesting to me that he entertained no hopes that he should long survive. [27]

Statement to the press Edit

Pendleton and Van Ness issued a press statement about the events of the duel which pointed out the agreed-upon dueling rules and events that transpired. It stated that both participants were free to open fire once they had been given the order to present. After first fire had been given, the opponent's second would count to three, whereupon the opponent would fire or sacrifice his shot. [28] Pendleton and Van Ness disagree as to who fired the first shot, but they concur that both men had fired "within a few seconds of each other" (as they must have neither Pendleton nor Van Ness mentions counting down). [28]

In Pendleton's amended version of the statement, he and a friend went to the site of the duel the day after Hamilton's death to discover where Hamilton's shot went. The statement reads:

They ascertained that the ball passed through the limb of a cedar tree, at an elevation of about twelve feet and a half, perpendicularly from the ground, between thirteen and fourteen feet from the mark on which General Hamilton stood, and about four feet wide of the direct line between him and Col. Burr, on the right side he having fallen on the left. [29]

Hamilton's intentions Edit

Hamilton wrote a letter before the duel titled Statement on Impending Duel with Aaron Burr [30] in which he stated that he was "strongly opposed to the practice of dueling" for both religious and practical reasons. "I have resolved," it continued, "if our interview 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." [31] [32]

Hamilton regained consciousness after being shot and told Dr. Hosack that his gun was still loaded and that "Pendleton knows I did not mean to fire at him." This is evidence for the theory that Hamilton intended not to fire, honoring his pre-duel pledge, and only fired accidentally upon being hit. [29] Such an intention would have violated the protocol of the code duello and, when Burr learned of it, he responded: "Contemptible, if true." [33] Hamilton could have thrown away his shot by firing into the ground, thus possibly signaling Burr of his purpose.

Modern historians have debated to what extent Hamilton's statements and letter represent his true beliefs, and how much of this was a deliberate attempt to permanently ruin Burr if Hamilton were killed. An example of this may be seen in what one historian has considered to be deliberate attempts to provoke Burr on the dueling ground:

Hamilton performed a series of deliberately provocative actions to ensure a lethal outcome. As they were taking their places, he asked that the proceedings stop, adjusted his spectacles, and slowly, repeatedly, sighted along his pistol to test his aim. [34]

Burr's intentions Edit

There is evidence that Burr intended to kill Hamilton. [35] The afternoon after the duel, he was quoted as saying that he would have shot Hamilton in the heart had his vision not been impaired by the morning mist. [36] English philosopher Jeremy Bentham met with Burr in England in 1808, four years after the duel, and Burr claimed to have been certain of his ability to kill Hamilton. Bentham concluded that Burr was "little better than a murderer." [37]

There is also evidence in Burr's defense. Had Hamilton apologized for his "more despicable opinion of Mr. Burr", [38] all would have been forgotten. However, neither principal could avoid the confrontation honorably, and thus each was forced into the duel for the sake of personal honor. [39] Burr also was unsure of Hamilton's intentions, and he could not be sure if Hamilton had thrown away his shot or simply missed his target when he fired into the brush above Burr's head. According to the principles of the code duello, Burr was entirely justified in taking aim at Hamilton under the hypothesis that Hamilton had shot first. [ citation needed ]

Burr knew of Hamilton's public opposition to his presidential run in 1800. Hamilton made confidential statements against him, such as those enumerated in his letter to Supreme Court Justice Rutledge. In the attachment to that letter, Hamilton argued against Burr's character on numerous scores: he suspected Burr "on strong grounds of having corruptly served the views of the Holland Company" "his very friends do not insist on his integrity" "he will court and employ able and daring scoundrels" he seeks "Supreme power in his own person" and "will in all likelihood attempt a usurpation," and so forth. [40]


Hamilton Alexander - History


Alexander Hamilton, 1805
by John Trumbull
  • Occupation: Lawyer, Politician, First Secretary of the Treasury
  • Born: January 11, 1755 or 1757 Charlestown, Nevis (now St. Kitts and Nevis)
  • Died: July 12, 1804 in Greenwich Village, New York
  • Best known for: One of the Founding Fathers of the United States

Childhood and Early Life

Alexander Hamilton was born on the Caribbean Island of Nevis. His mother and father never married and his father left the family while Alexander was still young. When Alexander was around eleven years old, his mother passed away leaving him orphaned.

Alexander eventually found a home with the merchant Thomas Stevens. He worked as a clerk at a trading firm where he learned a lot about business. When Alexander was fifteen, he wrote a letter describing a hurricane that had occurred on the island. The local leaders were so impressed with his writing they agreed to send him to New York for an education.

Once in New York, Hamilton attended King's College where he became involved in colonial politics. Hamilton often met with fellow patriots at the Liberty Pole at King's College, where they would discuss current issues. During this time, Hamilton also wrote his first political writings in which he defended the patriot's cause.


Alexander Hamilton in the Uniform
of the New York Artillery

by Alonzo Chappel

The Revolutionary War cut short Hamilton's education at King's College. The school was forced to shut down when the British Army took control of New York City. Hamilton decided to fight for the patriots. He joined the New York militia and served as an officer during the Battle of White Plains.

Hamilton's abilities were soon noticed by high ranking officials and he was offered a job as an aid for General George Washington. For the majority of the Revolutionary War, Hamilton served at George Washington's side. He sent letters and managed communications throughout the war, often getting involved in diplomacy and intelligence.

As the war came to an end, Hamilton wanted to once again command a fighting unit. Washington eventually gave Hamilton command of a battalion of light infantry. Hamilton's command played a key role in the victory at the Siege of Yorktown, which led to the end of the Revolutionary War.

After the war, Hamilton left the army and went back to New York. He studied on his own for six months before passing the bar and becoming a lawyer. He also became a member of Congress where he became increasingly frustrated with the lack of power afforded the federal government in the Articles of the Confederation. After leaving Congress in 1783, Hamilton started his own law firm, founded the Bank of New York, and helped to form Columbia College.

The Constitution and the Federalist Papers

In 1787, Hamilton joined the Constitutional Convention. Hamilton's goal was that the Constitution would form a strong federal government. Although, Hamilton was not totally happy with the result, he urged his fellow members to sign the Constitution.

In order to help the states understand the need for the Constitution and to get the Constitution ratified, Hamilton (together with John Jay and James Madison) wrote a series of papers called the Federalist Papers. These papers contained 85 essays. Each essay defended a section of the Constitution. Hamilton wrote 51 of these essays. The Federalist Papers played an important role in the ratification of the United States Constitution.


The Constitutional Convention took place
inside Independence Hall in Philadelphia

Photo by Ducksters

Secretary of the Treasury

In 1789, Hamilton was appointed as the first Secretary of the Treasury by President George Washington. As the first Secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton helped to form the financial infrastructure of the United States Government. During his time as Secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton established the First Bank of the United States and created plans for the United States Mint. He helped to establish revenue for the government through excise taxes and customs duties. He used this revenue to help pay off the debt the country owed from the Revolutionary War.

Hamilton resigned from the Secretary of the Treasury in 1795. He returned to New York where he worked at his law practice. He continued to remain close friends and an advisor to President Washington. When it looked like war would break out with France, Hamilton took the position as Major General in the army. However, he never led the army to war as peace was established with France.

During the 1804 election for governor of New York, Hamilton supported Morgan Lewis for governor. Morgan Lewis was running against Aaron Burr, who Hamilton did not like. After Morgan Lewis won the election, a newspaper reported that Hamilton had said some mean things about Aaron Burr. Aaron Burr demanded an apology. Hamilton refused to apologize. Each man felt their honor had been insulted. Aaron Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel.

The two men met on July 11, 1804. They fought the duel with pistols. Each man fired. Hamilton's bullet hit a tree branch somewhere above Burr's head. Burr's shot hit Hamilton in the body. Hamilton died the next day.


Duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr.
From a painting by J. Mund.

Descriptions of Alexander Hamilton:

George Washington to John Sullivan, 4 February 1781

How far Colo. Hamilton, of whom you ask my opinion as a financier, has turned his thoughts to that particular study I am unable to answer because I never entered upon a discussion on this point with him but this I can venture to advance from a thorough knowledge of him, that there are few men to be found, of his age, who has a more general knowledge than he possesses, and none whose Soul is more firmly engaged in the cause, or who exceeds him in probity and Sterling virtue.

William Pierce, “Character Sketches”, 1787

Colo. Hamilton is deservedly celebrated for his talents. He is a practitioner of the Law, and reputed to be a finished Scholar. To a clear and strong judgment he unites the ornaments of fancy, and whilst he is able, convincing, and engaging in his eloquence the Heart and Head sympathize in approving him. Yet there is something too feeble in his voice to be equal to the strains of oratory,— it is my opinion that he is rather a convincing Speaker, than a blazing Orator. Colo. Hamilton requires time to think—he enquires into every part of his subject with the searchings of philosophy, and when he comes forward he comes highly charged with interesting matter, there is no skimming over the surface of a subject with him, he must sink to the bottom to see what foundation it rests on.—His language is not always equal, sometimes didactic like Bolingbroke’s at others light and tripping like Stern’s. His eloquence is not so defusive as to trifle with the senses, but he rambles just enough to strike and keep up the attention. He is about 33 years old, of small stature, and lean. His manners are tinctured with stiffness, and sometimes with a degree of vanity that is highly disagreeable.

“A Citizen and Real Friend”, 21 March 1788

The publications of Col. Hamilton, in defense of the liberties of America previous to the late war, when a youth in the college of New York his great military services, and the confidential line in which he stood with that good and great man General Washington, during that war, are indubitable proofs of his virtue. As a lawyer, a politician, and a statesman, Col. Hamilton is certainly great as a public speaker he is clear, pointed and sententious he excels most men in reply, being possessed of the powers of reasoning in an eminent degree, and he is endowed with a most benevolent and good heart.

Samuel Blachley Webb to Catherine Hogeboom, 27 June 1788

We have been entertained for upwards of two hours this morning by Colonel Hamilton in one of the most elegant speeches I ever heard. He is indeed one of the most remarkable genius’s of the Age, his Political knowledge exceeds, I believe, any Man in our Country, and his Oratorial abilities has pleased his friends and surprised his Enemies.

Melancton Smith to Nathan Dane, 28 June 1788

Hamilton is the champion, he speaks frequently, very long and very vehemently—has, like Publius, much to say not very applicable to the subject—

Louis Guillaume Otto, “Biographies”, Fall 1788

Great orator, intrepid in public debates. Zealous partisan, to an extreme over the new Constitution, and declared enemy of Governor Clinton, whom he had the courage to attack publicly in a newspaper without any provocation. He is one of those rare men who have distinguished themselves equally on the field of battle and at the bar. He owes everything to his talents. An indiscretion got him into trouble with General Washington for whom he served as confidential secretary other indiscretions obliged him to leave Congress in 1783. He has a little too much pretension and too little prudence.

Here is what M. Luzerne said about him in 1780: “Mr. Hamilton, one of the aides de camp of General Washington who has the most influence with him, man of spirit, of a mediocre integrity he left the English territory where he was born of low extraction . . . Also a favorite of M. de Lafayette. Mr. Conway thinks that Hamilton hates the French, that he is absolutely corrupted and that the connections that he will appear to have with us will never be anything but deceptive.”

Mr. Hamilton has done nothing that could justify this last opinion he is only too impetuous and because he wants to control everything, he fails in his intentions. His eloquence is often out of place in public debates, where precision and clarity are preferred to a brilliant imagination. It is believed that Mr. Hamilton is the author of the pamphlet entitled The Federalist. He has again missed his mark. This work is of no use to educated men and it is too learned and too long for the ignorant. It has, however, made him a great celebrity and a small frigate has been named Hamilton which was pulled through the streets of New York during the great federal procession. But these parades only make a momentary impression here and as the Antifederalist party is the largest in the state, Mr. Hamilton has lost more than he has gained by his zeal on this occasion.

A stranger in this state, where he rose by benevolence, Mr. Hamilton has found the means to run off with the daughter of General Schuyler,* a great proprietor and very influential. After being reconciled with the family, he now possesses the esteem of his father-in-law.

John Adams to John Trumbull, 25 April 1790

Our Secretary [of the Treasury] has however I think good Abilities and certainly great Industry. He has high minded Ambition and great Penetration.–He may have too much disposition to intrigue.–If this is not indulged I know not where a better Minister for his Department could be found. But nothing is more dangerous, nothing will be more certainly destructive in our Situation than the Spirit of Intrigue.

Samuel Johnston to James Iredell, 25 February 1790

The great difficulty seems to rest on the ways and means but your favorite, the Secretary of the Treasury, whose application is as indefatigable as his genius is extensive, encourages us to hope that they may be found.

George Washington to Alexander Hamilton, 2 February 1795

After so long an experience of your public services, I am naturally led, at this moment of your departure from office—which it has always been my wish to prevent—to review them.

In every relation, which you have borne to me, I have found that my confidence in your talents, exertions and integrity, has been well placed. I the more freely render this testimony of my approbation, because I speak from opportunities of information which cannot deceive me, and which furnish satisfactory proof of your title to public regard.

Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 21 September 1795

Hamilton is really a colossus to the antirepublican party. Without numbers, he is an host within himself. They have got themselves into a defile, where they might be finished but too much security on the Republican part, will give time to his talents & indefatigableness to extricate them. We have had only middling performances to oppose him. In truth, when he comes forward, there is nobody but yourself who can meet him. His adversaries having begun the attack, he has the advantage of answering them, & remains unanswered himself. . . . For god’s sake take up your pen, and give a fundamental reply to Curtius & Camillus.

John Adams to Abigail Adams, 9 January 1797

Hamilton I know to be a proud Spirited, conceited, aspiring Mortal always pretending to Morality, with as debauched Morals as old Franklin who is more his Model than any one I know. As great an Hypocrite as any in the U.S. His intrigue in the Election I despise. That he has Talents I admit but I dread none of them. I shall take no notice of his Puppy head but retain the same Opinion of him I always had and maintain the same Conduct towards him I always did, that is keep him at a distance.

John Beckley to Ephraim Kirby, 25 October 1799

The turbulent and intriguing spirit of Alexander Hamilton, has again manifested itself, in an insidious publication to defeat Mr. Adams’s election, and in a labored effort to belittle the character of the president, he has in no small degree belittled his own. Vainly does he essay to seize the mantle of Washington, and cloak the moral atrocities of a life spent in wickedness and which must terminate in shame and dishonor. His career of ambition is passed, and neither honor or empire will ever be his. As a political nullity, he has inflicted upon himself the sentence of “Aut Caesar, aut Nullus.”*

*Either Caesar or nothing either first or nothing.

Robert Troup to Rufus King, 31 December 1800

The current of public opinion still sets strongly against the discretion of Hamilton’s late letter respecting the character and conduct of Mr. Adams. I do not believe it has altered a single vote in the late election. . . . The influence however of this letter upon Hamilton’s character is extremely unfortunate. An opinion has grown out of it, which at present obtains almost universally, that his character is radically deficient in discretion, and therefore the Federalists ask, what avail the most preeminent talents—the most distinguished patriotism—without the all important quality of discretion? Hence he is considered as an unfit head of the party—and we are in fact without a rallying point.

John Adams to Benjamin Rush, 25 January 1806

Although I read with tranquility and suffered to pass without animadversion in silent contempt the base insinuations of vanity and a hundred lies besides published in a pamphlet against me by an insolent coxcomb who rarely dined in good company, where there was good wine, without getting silly and vaporing about his administration like a young girl about her brilliants and trinkets, yet I lose all patience when I think of a bastard brat of a Scottish pedlar daring to threaten to undeceive the world in their judgment of Washington by writing an history of his battles and campaigns. This creature was in a delirium of ambition he had been blown up with vanity by the tories, had fixed his eyes on the highest station in America, and he hated every man, young or old, who stood in his way or could in any manner eclipse his laurels or rival his pretensions.

James Kent, “Memoirs”

Colonel Hamilton was indisputably pre-eminent [at the bar]. This was universally conceded. He rose at once to the loftiest heights of professional eminence by his profound penetration, his power of analysis, the comprehensive grasp and strength of his understanding, and the firmness, frankness, and integrity of his character.


History of Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton has gained new popularity recently, in large part due to the 2015 Broadway musical “Hamilton” by Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Birth of Alexander Hamilton

He was born in Charlestown, Nevis, in the Caribbean, out of wedlock to Rachel Faucette, of British & French Huguenot descent. She had been married to and had a son with Johann Michael Lavien when she fell in love with the Scottish James Hamilton. She left her husband and their son and moved in with Hamilton, where she lived with him in Nevis and on St. Croix. Alexander took his natural father’s surname.

His Scottish father, though he owned his paternity of Alexander, had abandoned them when Alexander was around ten when he’d learned her original husband intended to divorce her on the grounds of “adultery and desertion,” hoping to “spare her the charge of bigamy.” His mother ran a small provisions shop, operated by the five female slaves she owned. When she died of yellow fever when he was 13, she left him 34 books, and he was mostly self-educated.

Education

He became an accounting clerk with a local import-export firm and later apprenticed with a merchant. He became good enough as a trader that he ran the firm for five months in 1771. Denied an education in a church school due to his illegitimacy, the young Hamilton had caught the attention of the local Presbyterian minister and occasional doctor, Hugh Knox, The minister noticed his ambition and intelligence and mentored him with a firm intellectual and spiritual grounding, adding classics, literature, and history from his vast library.

With the help of wealthy local citizens, enough money was raised to send him to the mainland, hopefully, to study medicine. Though he passed the entrance exams for Princeton, he decided instead to attend King’s College in New York City, now Columbia University.

Lt. Colonel Hamilton, NY Artillery

Hamilton became interested in revolutionary politics meeting other men with similar sympathies and wrote anonymously against Loyalist pamphlets. But his education was cut short when British troops occupied the city, and the college closed its doors.

Precocious, vigorously outspoken, and limitlessly ambitious, Hamilton polarized the opinions of his contemporaries. He joined the New York volunteer militia along with some of his classmates. He was self-taught in military history and army tactics and was quickly promoted with his company becoming an artillery unit.

American Revolution

Hamilton, still in his twenties, was among the inner circle of General George Washington‘s army during the American Revolutionary War and the subsequent early National period. He became Washington’s aide-de-camp as a Lieutenant Colonel and was in charge of correspondences with Congress and the writing of orders for the Continental Army.

Aides-de-camp Office, Washington’s HQ, Valley Forge

After four years in the role, he expressed to Washington his intention to return to active combat duty, but Washington was promoting other officers with more field experience and higher rank. Hamilton eventually sent a letter to Washington resigning his commission if he did not get a field command. Washington acquiesced and gave him a battalion of light infantry to command.

Surrender of Lord Cornwallis

Hamilton distinguished himself, gaining the glory that he thought would only come with battle, at the Storming of Redoubt #9 and #10 where, along with French support, he took the fortifications at the Battle of Yorktown. The British General Cornwallis surrendered there, and the war was essentially over. Hamilton retired with the rank of Major General.

Founding Father?

Ron Chernow’s 2004 biography, Alexander Hamilton, spends a lot of time on his youth and how it impacted his later life. While ambitious and accomplished, Hamilton had not been born to the upper-class planter society like Washington, Jefferson, and Adams. He became friends with John Jay and James Madison, but few others of the Founders.

And as we’ve seen, although his parentage was British, French, and Scottish, rumors persisted during his lifetime that he was of mixed blood. Contemporaries like John Adams called him a “creole bastard.”

Career and Congress

Hamilton practiced law successfully in New York City. While serving, he called for the funding of the national government by the states and the assumption of state debts by the federal government. He drafted a call to revise the existing Articles of Confederation, the first documents of the U.S. government after the Revolutionary War, which Hamilton considered too weak for current needs.

His writing contained many of the elements that would appear in the U.S. Constitution, including both a strong federal government that had the power to collect taxes and fund the army, as well as the separation of powers feature of Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches of the government.

The Federalists Papers

While serving as an assemblyman in the New York State Legislature, he was chosen as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1787, where he called the United States “a Hercules in the cradle,” believing in a strong central government and in curbing States’ rights. While he did not agree with all the elements of the Constitution, he signed it nonetheless and urged others to do the same. He recruited both John Jay and James Madison to write essays to defend the Constitution. These became known as The Federalist Papers he wrote 51 of the 85 essays.

Government Service

As the first Secretary of the Treasury from 1789, he was the principal driving force of Washington’s administration and the creator of the U.S. central banking system, the establishing of the U.S. Mint, and a “System of Cutters” which became the birth of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Affair Scandal

Hamilton was the first American politician that was involved in a highly publicized sex scandal. In 1791 Maria Reynolds claimed that her husband had abandoned her and appealed to Hamilton for funds to return to her relatives. When he delivered the funds to her, as Hamilton reported,

“Some conversation ensued from which it was quickly apparent that other than pecuniary consolation would be acceptable.”

Their affair lasted for about a year. Her husband began to blackmail Hamilton, and he paid, lest exposure of the affair ruin his public reputation. Nevertheless, in 1797 a journalist exposed the affair leaving open the suggestion that the Hamilton, the Secretary of Treasury, used public funds for paying the blackmail. Hamilton published a 100-page booklet asserting that he had used his own private funds.

Abolitionist?

Much has been said of late about Hamilton’s interest in the abolition of slavery in America. He, along with John Jay and Aaron Burr, were among the founders of the New York Manumission Society in 1785, which established the New York African Free School in 1787 for poor and orphaned children of slaves and free people of color.

While the society was instrumental in having a New York state law passed in 1785 prohibiting the sale of slaves imported into the state, it did not accomplish the abolition of slavery. Most other Northern states had already banned the slave trade, with the notable exception of New Jersey. However, it would not be until 1807 that the Federal government would pass such a law. However, this did not stop the practice of slavery.

It would not be until 1799 when John Jay, as Governor of New York State, signed the Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery into law. Yet this did not address what civil rights freed slaves might enjoy. At the time, there were over 30,000 slaves in New York they would not enjoy emancipation until July 4, 1827, almost 36 years before the U.S. Emancipation Proclamation.

Political Rivalries

As a leader in the Federalist political party, Hamilton opposed the Democratic-Republican candidates, including John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, for the 1800 election. Hamilton wrote a pamphlet intended only for fellow Federalists called a Letter from Alexander Hamilton, Concerning the Public Conduct and Character of John Adams, Esq. President of the United States. However, it fell into the hands of the Democratic-Republican Party, both destroying Hamilton’s reputation among the Federalists and hurting Adam’s election campaign, guaranteeing Jefferson’s candidacy.

Jefferson ran with Aaron Burr, but they tied for votes. Hamilton had disagreed with Jefferson on many subjects but he disliked Burr more, calling him a “mischievous enemy,” a “profligate, a voluptuary in the extreme” and that electing him as President would be tantamount to “signing their own death warrant.” They had been rivals since Burr defeated Hamilton’s father-in-law for a seat in the U.S. Senate, weakening the Federalist Party. Consequently, Hamilton threw his weight behind Jefferson.

Law required that the House of Representatives decide on the issue, naming Jefferson as President and Burr as Vice President. Nevertheless, the rivalry between Hamilton and Burr continued and escalated.

In 1804 a letter was published in the Albany Register opposing Burr’s candidacy for office claiming

“General Hamilton and Judge Kent have declared in substance that they looked upon Mr. Burr to be a dangerous man, and one who ought not be trusted with the reins of government.”

Burr called for a public denial, Hamilton verbosely denied that he could not be responsible for the letter’s interpretation — though he did not fault it — and eventually, Burr formally challenged him to a duel, which he accepted. He determined in his own mind beforehand that he would “waste” his shot, not intending to kill Burr. He wrote before the duel a:

Statement on Impending Duel with Aaron Burr in which he stated that he was “strongly opposed to the practice of dueling” for both religious and practical reasons. “I have resolved, if our interview 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.”

Death of Alexander Hamilton

Staging the duel, not in New York, but New Jersey, which was less aggressive in prosecuting illegal duels, they arrived in Weehawken, a well-known dueling location. Indeed, Hamilton’s oldest son Philip had previously died in a duel on that site. Hamilton and Burr arrived at 6:30 AM with their seconds. Who fired first is not ascertainable. Hamilton fired intentionally in the air into a tree. Burr’s shot struck Hamilton, mortally wounding him.

Hamilton was taken to a nearby home and, because he was an Episcopalian at this time, received communion from an Episcopal Bishop. There he was seen by his wife and children.

He was not yet fifty when he died in 1804. He was buried in Manhattan. Though Burr was charged with murder, it never reached trial. Initially, he fled to Georgia, but he returned to Washington, D.C., to finish his term as Vice President. His political career was ended.

Hamilton — The Musical

What about the recent Broadway show “Hamilton” currently available on Disney+ TV? How accurate is it historically? I’ll discuss that in my next article.


Watch the video: Lin-Manuel Miranda Performs at the White House Poetry Jam: 8 of 8 (July 2022).


Comments:

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