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Biography of Alexander Hamilton

Biography of Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton was the first Secretary of the Treasury of the United States. He made a major contribution in framing the constitution of the U.S. Know more about Alexander Hamilton in his biography...
Historyplex Staff
"There are strong minds in every walk of life that will rise superior to the disadvantages of situation, and will command the tribute due to their merit..." - Alexander Hamilton, Economist and Political Philosopher

Alexander Hamilton was the youngest son of Rachel Faucett Lavien and James A. Hamilton. The island Nevis, in West Indies, was his birthplace. He was born on 11th January. Incertitude prevails among historians about whether the year of his birth was 1755 or 1757. His father was a Scottish merchant and his mother a French Huguenot. His mother was previously married to John Michael Levine, a Danish proprietor. They got divorced and Rachel left her son Peter with his father. Rachel and James could not marry because of the Danish law and thus, their two sons, Alexander and James Jr., were illegitimate.

Early Life

The Hamilton family moved to St. Croix and soon after that James Hamilton, an unsuccessful businessman, abandoned Rachel and her two sons. Rachel then started a small store in Christiansted and appointed Alexander as a clerk. When she died on the 17th of February, 1768, Alexander was just 11 years of age. Alexander's half-brother, Peter, inherited some valuables of Rachel which were passed on to Alexander after Peter's death. Alexander worked as a clerk for an import-export firm, Beekman and Cruger, which did business with New England. Alexander was adopted by Thomas Stevens, a merchant in St. Nevis. Alexander's brother James, was apprenticed by a carpenter. Alexander continued to work as a clerk, and got valuable experience in business.

Being an illegitimate child, Alexander Hamilton was deprived of formal education. He learned French from his mother. He used his family books to educate himself. Alexander always had a keen interest in writing. In 1772, a hurricane hit Christiansted and Alexander wrote a letter to his father, describing the same. This letter was published in the Royal Danish-American Gazette, by Hugh Knox, a Presbyterian clergyman. People were impressed by his writing and Alexander was recognized as a youth with good character and great intellectual potential. They voluntarily collected funds for his education in the United States. With the help of money raised by his mentors, Alexander attended a grammar school in New Jersey and later, the King's College (now known as the Columbia University).

Revolutionary War

In 1775, Alexander Hamilton joined the Hearts of Oak, a militia company (type of military force, led by ordinary citizens), along with other students of the King's College. In March 1776, he was elected as a captain of the New York Provincial Company of Artillery, which had 60 men. He rejected the invitations of becoming an aide to Nathanael Greene and Henry Knox. He joined Washington's aide-de-camp in March 1777, as a lieutenant. His responsibilities increased, and included drafting letters to the Congress, state governors and powerful generals of Continental Army. He performed a variety of high-level important duties. In February 1781, Alexander Hamilton resigned and was appointed as commander of a battalion of light infantry in Marquis de Lafayette's corps, by George Washington. The Battle of Monmouth (June 1778), the Battle of Long Island (August 1776), and the Battle of Yorktown (1781) were important wars fought under the leadership of Alexander Hamilton. He resigned from his commission after the Battle of Yorktown.

Marriage and Affairs

On December 14, 1780, Alexander Hamilton married Elizabeth Schuyler, daughter of General Philip Schuyler. Schuylers were one of the richest, political families of New York. Alexander and Elizabeth had eight children: Phillip, Angelica, Alexander, James Alexander, John Church, William Stephen, Eliza and Phillip. Hamilton got close to Elizabeth's sister, Angelica. It is argued that they may have had an affair. Later in 1791, Hamilton got into an affair with Maria Reynolds, wife of James Reynold. His affair was made public by Aaron Burr and James Monroe. Hamilton confessed about the affair, after his retirement. This affair harmed his reputation to a great extent.

Congress and Army

The wartime Continental Congress had a decentralized nature and it was totally dependent on the states for financial deals. Alexander Hamilton was elected as a representative of New York state to the Congress of the Confederation. He supported Congressmen who wanted Congress to have the right to impose taxes, so that Congress would become independent of revenue from the states. All the efforts made by them to gain this independent revenue failed. When Hamilton was in the Congress, the army was dissatisfied, as soldiers were not paid for eight months, and the army had to pay a major amount from its own pocket. In May 1778, army personnel were promised half their pay as pension. Henry Knox and Capt. Alexander MacDougall, along with other army officers, demanded pay, pension and commutation of pension in a lump-sum payment. Alexander Hamilton and other Congressmen considered this conspiracy as a ray of hope in gaining an independent revenue for the Congress. However, in April 1783, the Congress disbanded the army and passed a measure of 25 years of impost. Annoyed with this decision, Alexander Hamilton proposed changes to be made in the Articles of Confederation. He resigned from Congress in July 1783.

After Resigning from Congress

After resigning from Congress, Alexander practiced law in New York. He started the Bank of New York, in 1784. He reinstated and restarted King's College, which was devastated during the Battle of Long Island, and renamed it as Columbia College. In 1786, he attended the Annapolis Convention as one of three delegates from New York State. The other two delegates were John Lansing and Robert Yates. During the convention, he put forward an idea of having a federal government that is revenue-independent. The other two delegates opposed this idea. He wrote the US Constitution, based upon the debates that took place during the convention, but never released it. At the end of the convention, he was not satisfied with the Constitution formed, but signed it. Alexander Hamilton was one of the Founding Fathers of the US Constitution, who also played a major role in its ratification in 1788. He employed John Jay and James Madison to write an essay in support of the Constitution. Out of the 85 essays, Alexander Hamilton wrote 51, Madison wrote 29 and Jay wrote 5. Now called 'The Federalist Papers,' these essays were highly appreciated.

As First Secretary of the Treasury

On 11th September, 1789, Alexander Hamilton was appointed as the first Secretary of the Treasury of the United States. He submitted five reports within the first year, of which, two reports were on public credit, and one each on operations of the act laying duties on imports, establishment of a mint, and manufactures.

By then, there were two major political parties in the United States. Hamilton and his followers called themselves the Federalists. And the opposition party was called Democratic-Republican Party. Both the parties started their own newspapers and used them for personal attacks. Alexander Hamilton was under constant watch of the congressmen. His affair with Maria Reynolds was always a matter of discussion. European creditors of the U.S. were to be paid by the Congress, and Hamilton used some part of it for domestic expenditure. Alexander Hamilton clarified that he did this by order of Washington, but Washington did not support him. Hamilton resigned from his post on 1st December, 1794.

Alexander Hamilton was appointed major general of the army during the Quasi War (1798-1800). He started a newspaper, the New York Evening Post, in 1801. During the presidential elections of 1796 and 1800, Hamilton made efforts to defeat the Democratic-Republican party. During the presidential elections of 1804, Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton became political rivals.

The Duel

Aaron Burr had become vice-president of U.S. after the 1804 elections. Charles D. Cooper's letter was published in the Albany Register, which said that Alexander expressed a despicable opinion about Burr in a dinner party held at New York. The letter annoyed Burr and he asked for an apology. However, Alexander refused to give an apology. They had many arguments through letters and finally a duel was scheduled on 11th July, 1804. The site for the duel was the bank of Hudson River at Weehawken, New Jersey. What exactly happened during the duel remains a mystery, but Hamilton was shot in his lower abdomen by Burr. Alexander Hamilton died on 12th July, 1804.

Alexander Hamilton's death was a great loss to the cabinet. His federal views proved to be of great benefit. Creation of a monetary standard and foundation of the banking system are his important accomplishments. The constitution and financial system of the United States owes a lot to this great man.