Difference between revisions of "Alexander Hamilton"

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Alexander Hamilton by John Trumbull 1792.

Alexander Hamilton (January 11, 1757 - July 12, 1804) was one of the most important, and most conservative and nationalistic, of the Founding Fathers of the United States. After wartime service as chief of staff to General George Washington, he became a leading lawyer in New York. He called for a strong new constitution to replace the weak national government, and in 1788 he wrote half the Federalist Papers, which mobilized supporters of the Constitution and continues to be the single most influential interpretation of what the Constitution means. He was a leading intellectual of his time, and the driving force of the Washington Administration that shaped the young nation. Hamilton played a key role in:

  • the continued success of George Washington as his top aide
  • the ratification of the Constitution
  • the policies that made the United States an economic power
  • writing George Washington's Farewell Address, which remains one of the finest statements of conservative principles in political history
  • the compromise that placed the nation's capital at Washington, D.C.
  • the election of Thomas Jefferson as president rather than Aaron Burr
  • saving the young Union by blocking Aaron Burr from becoming governor of New York

As the nation's first Secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton's far reaching vision put the United States on an stable financial basis and promoted national unity. His Treasury took over state debts as well as debts owed by the national government, and funded them with long-term national debt, which in turn was paid by a new tariff on imports and a tax on whiskey. He set up the Bank of the United States, a central bank to make liquidity in financial markets possible. The nation's business and financial communities for the first time became united in a single economy, and provided critical support for Hamilton. To mobilize that grass-roots support he founded the Federalist Party, which operated in every state. It was the first popular political party in the world, but soon had competition from the Democratic-Republican Party founded by his great adversary Thomas Jefferson. In foreign affairs he was a strong supporter of Britain, and the well-balanced British political system. Working closely with Washington, Hamilton in 1795 secured the critical Jay Treaty over the intense opposition of Jeffersonians who favored France in its war with Britain. Despite an embarrassing sex scandal, Hamilton tried to keep control of the Federalist Party while John Adams was president, and orchestrated the creation of a powerful national army in 1798, which he and Washington were to head. Adams' achievement of peace with France frustrated Hamilton's plans, so he sabotaged Adams' reelection in 1800. Nevertheless he helped Jefferson become president when it appeared the scoundrel Aaron Burr might take the office. He was killed by Burr in a duel, and for most of the 19th century was a target of attacks by Democrats as undemocratic and even pro-monarchy. By the Progressive Era after 1900, however, Hamilton's nationalism, financial wizardry, and promotion of business and banking increasingly appealed to conservatives, who made Hamilton into a hero of their own. Hamilton was one of the great expositors of the American political creed of Republicanism, and set up programs that proved a strong, effective government of the people could be made operational without an aristocracy or monarch.

Early life

Hamilton was born out of wedlock in the British West Indies. A prodigy, he was handling merchant accounts as a teenager, and his essay on a hurricane attracted patrons who paid his way to the American colonies. Some scholars have argued that Hamilton’s origins can be reflected in his later life, where, unlike much of the Revolutionary generation, his views were more nationalistic, rather than tied to the interests of a particular region or state.


As a student at King's College (now Columbia University), Hamilton took a major role in the political debates over independence. Hamilton raised a company of artillery and was selected captain. Fighting the British invasion of new York City in late 1776, he came to the attention of George Washington, commander in chief of the Continental Army. Washington promoted Hamilton to colonel and made him his senior aide--in effect the chief of staff (although that title was not in use. Hamilton had a combat command at the battle of Yorktown that ended the war in 1781. Hamilton may have alerted General Washington to the existence of the Newburgh Conspiracy, in which disgruntled officers might have become a threat to civilian government. Washington prevented that.

New York

Hamilton became a leading lawyer in New York City, and married into the rich and powerful Schulyler family. Along with his close friend John Jay, he was active in anti-slavery movements. Hamilton was elected to the Continental Congress, the New York State assembly, and was chosen by the legislature as a delegate to the Philadelphia Constitutional in 1787/ he played a minor role in the convention.

Hamilton authored 51 of the 85 Federalist Papers, while James Madison and John Jay composed the others. These essays, published anonymously in newspapers in New York and throughout the United States, helped turn popular opinion in favor of ratifying the Constitution, particularly in the decisive states of New York and Virginia.

Secretary of the Treasury

Perhaps Hamilton's greatest contribution to the success of the United States occurred during his tenure as Washington’s Secretary of the Treasury from 1789 to 1795. Through a system of tariffs and excise taxes (some of which, as demonstrated by the Whiskey Rebellion, caused a great deal of resentment), Hamilton placed the United States on sound financial footing. While Hamilton disliked taxes, he also realized that they were necessary. Hamilton not only favored close trade ties with Great Britain, the world’s leading commercial power, but he believed that the United States should emulate their economic system. In his Report on Manufactures, Hamilton envisioned the United States as a nation that would rely on manufacturing and commerce in order to become a great power. This (among other things) put him at odds with Thomas Jefferson, who envisioned the United States as an agrarian republic.

Federalist Party

Hamilton saw the need for political newspapers and subsidized numerous editors, most famously Noah Webster. In 1801, with $10,000 from investors, Hamilton started the New-York Evening Post.[1]

Adams and Jefferson administrations


Jefferson repeated attacked Hamilton as an enemy of American values--and Jeffersonians have echoed the criticism over the centuries. Jefferson said he was an enemy of popular government, did not believe in republicanism, admired the British system too much, and even wanted to set up a monarchy. Since the 1980s scholars have rescued rescue Hamilton from these interpretations and stressed his republicanism, arguing that Jefferson went too far in his attacks. Historians now portray Hamilton as a moderate, mainstream republican. They point to the Federalist Papers as a core statement of American values, and also Washington's "Farewell Address." One debate in the 1790s was whether true republican citizens should have "confidence" in their elected leaders, which was Hamilton's position, or maintain a "vigilant" scrutiny of them, which was Jefferson's. Hamilton stressed confidence in his vision of republican citizenship and freedom of the press. Hamilton's philosophy, argues martin (2005), is best understood as an energetic, elitist reformulation of republicanism


Hamilton's long standing rivalry with Aaron Burr eventually lead to Burr accusing Hamilton of slander. Hamilton replied that the anti-Burr statements he had made were not slander, but were instead the truth. The resulting argument brought a lifetime of feuding to a head in the form of a duel. The duel took place on the 11th of July 1804 at Weehawken, New Jersey. Hamilton believed that a gentleman shoots over his target, and that honor is served.[2] Burr had no such belief. Hamilton shot over Burr's head, but Burr's shot struck its target into Hamilton's body. Hamilton was taken away and after suffering horribly from the wound throughout the night, died the next day. [3] Hamilton's son, who was given the same advice by his father that a gentleman shoots over his target, had earlier died in a duel the same way.


No figure in American history has had so many ups and down, so many champions and detractors as Hamilton over the last two centuries. Historians continue to ask, "Was he a closet monarchist or a sincere republican? A victim of partisan politics or one of its most active promoters? A lackey for British interests or a foreign policy mastermind? An economic genius or a shill for special interests? The father of a vigorous national government or the destroyer of genuine federalism? A defender of governmental authority or a dangerous militarist?"[4]


Hamilton, along with Benjamin Franklin, is one of the very few non-presidents to be portrayed on American money. Hamilton's portrait is on the $10 bill, while Franklin is on the $100 bill.


  1. It is currently published by Rupert Murdoch under the name New York Post.
  2. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/hamilton/filmmore/pt_2.html
  3. Biography
  4. Ambrose and Martin, ed. The Many Faces of Alexander Hamilton (2006) p. 11

Further reading


  • Ambrose, Douglas, and Robert W. T. Martin, eds. The Many Faces of Alexander Hamilton: The Life and Legacy of America's Most Elusive Founding Father. (2006) 310pp, essays by scholars; excerpt and text search
  • Cooke, Jacob E. Alexander Hamilton: A Biography. (1982) by leading scholar
  • Flexner, James Thomas. "The Young Hamilton: A Biography". (1997)
  • Hacker, Louis M. Alexander Hamilton in the American Tradition. (1957) online edition
  • McDonald, Forrest. Alexander Hamilton: A Biography (1979) online edition biography focused on intellectual history esp on AH's republicanism.
  • McDonald, Forrest. "Hamilton, Alexander"; American National Biography Online 2000, 5000 words
  • Miller, John C. Alexander Hamilton: Portrait in Paradox (1959), full-length scholarly biography; online edition
  • Mitchell, Broadus. Alexander Hamilton (2 vols, 1957–62), the most detailed scholarly biography; online edition of vol 1
    • Mitchell, Broadus. Alexander Hamilton: A Concise Biography (1976), 395pp
  • Nevins, Allan. "Alexander Hamilton" in Dictionary of American Biography (1934)
  • Randall, Willard Sterne. "Alexander Hamilton: A Life". (2003) Popular. excerpt and text search

Political philosophy

  • Chan, Michael D. "Alexander Hamilton on Slavery." Review of Politics 66 (Spring 2004): 207-31.
  • Fatovic, Clement. "Constitutionalism and Presidential Prerogative: Jeffersonian and Hamiltonian Perspectives." American Journal of Political Science 2004 48(3): 429-444. Issn: 0092-5853 Fulltext in Swetswise, Ingenta, Jstor, Ebsco
  • Horton, James Oliver. "Alexander Hamilton: Slavery and Race in a Revolutionary Generation" New-York Journal of American History 2004 65(3): 16–24. ISSN 1551-5486 online version
  • Mason, Alpheus Thomas. "The Federalist--A Split Personality," American Historical Review 57 (1952): 625-43 online at JSTOR
  • Martin, Robert W. T. "Reforming Republicanism: Alexander Hamilton's Theory of Republican Citizenship and Press Liberty." Journal of the Early Republic 2005 25(1): 21-46. Issn: 0275-1275 in Project Muse
  • Rossiter, Clinton. Alexander Hamilton and the Constitution (1964)
  • Sheehan, Colleen. "Madison V. Hamilton: The Battle Over Republicanism And The Role Of Public Opinion" American Political Science Review 2004 98(3): 405–424. online abstract
  • Stourzh, Gerald. Alexander Hamilton and the Idea of Republican Government (1970),
  • Staloff, Darren. "Hamilton, Adams, Jefferson: The Politics of Enlightenment and the American Founding." (2005)


  • Bassett, John Spencer. The Federalist System, 1789-1801 (1906) old scholarly survey; online edition
  • Bowers, Claude G. Jefferson and Hamilton (1925), a slashing attack on Hamilton as unamerican aristocrat
  • Charles, Joseph. "The Jay Treaty: The Origins of the American Party System," in William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Ser., Vol. 12, No. 4. (Oct., 1955), pp. 581-630. online at JSTOR
  • Elkins, Stanley M. and Eric McKitrick, The Age of Federalism. (1993), the most advanced history of politics in 1790s online edition
  • Kurtz; Stephen G. The Presidency of John Adams: The Collapse of Federalism, 1795-1800 1957 online edition
  • Miller, John C. The Federalist Era: 1789-1801 (1960), scholarly survey
  • Nevins, Allan. The Evening Post: A Century of Journalism (1922) online edition ch 1 on Hamilton's ownership
  • Sharp, James. American Politics in the Early Republic: The New Nation in Crisis. (1995), survey of politics in 1790s


  • Edling, Max M. "'So Immense a Power in the Affairs of War': Alexander Hamilton and the Restoration of Public Credit." William and Mary Quarterly 2007 64(2): 287-326. in History Cooperative
  • Flaumenhaft, Harvey. The Effective Republic: Administration and Constitution in the Thought of Alexander Hamilton Duke University Press, 1992 online edition
  • McDonald, Forrest. The Presidency of George Washington (1974).
  • McNamara, Peter. Political Economy and Statesmanship: Smith, Hamilton, and the Foundation of the Commercial Republic. (Northern Illinois University Press, 1997). 256 pp.
  • Nettels, Curtis P. The Emergence of a National Economy, 1775–1815 (1962). general survey of economic history and policy
  • White, Leonard D. The Federalists (1949), detailed coverage of how the Treasury and other departments were created and operated.
  • Wright; Robert E. Hamilton Unbound: Finance and the Creation of the American Republic Praeger (2002) online edition

Foreign Policy

  • Bemis, Samuel Flagg. Jay's Treaty: A Study in Commerce and Diplomacy (1923) online edition
  • Coleman, Aaron N. "'A Second Bounaparty?': A Reexamination of Alexander Hamilton during the Franco–American Crisis, 1796–1801," Journal of the Early Republic, Volume 28, Number 2, Summer 2008, pp. 183-214 in Project Muse
  • Combs, Jerald. A. The Jay Treaty: Political Background of Founding Fathers (1970) Combs dislikes Hamilton's quest for national power and a "heroic state" dominating the Western Hemisphere, but concludes the Federalists "followed the proper policy" because the treaty preserved peace with Britain
  • Harper, John Lamberton. American Machiavelli: Alexander Hamilton and the Origins of U.S. Foreign Policy. (2004) online review
  • Lycan, Gilbert L. Alexander Hamilton and American Foreign Policy: A Design for Greatness (1970),
  • Smith, Robert W. Keeping the Republic: Ideology and Early American Diplomacy. (2004)
  • Walling, Karl-Friedrich. Republican Empire: Alexander Hamilton on War and Free Government (1999),


  • Ambrose, Douglas and Robert W. T. Martin, eds. The Many Faces of Alexander Hamilton: The Life & Legacy of America's Most Elusive Founding Father (2006)
  • Freeman, Joanne B. Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the New Republic (2001). essential on the meaning of duels; online interview
  • Kennedy, Roger G. Burr, Hamilton, and Jefferson: A Study in Character Oxford UP, 2000 online edition
  • Knott, Stephen F. Alexander Hamilton and the Persistence of Myth University Press of Kansas, (2002) (ISBN 0-7006-1157-6).
  • Trees, Andrew S. "The Importance of Being Alexander Hamilton." Reviews in American History 2005 33(1): 8-14. Issn: 0048-7511 Fulltext: in Project Muse
  • Trees, Andrew S. The Founding Fathers and the Politics of Character. (2004)

Primary sources

  • Freeman, Joanne B., ed. Alexander Hamilton: Writings (2001), The Library of America edition, 1108 pages. Most of Hamilton's major writings and many of his letters excerpt and text search
  • Syrett, Harold C. ed. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton (27 vol, Columbia University Press, 1961–87); includes all letters and writing by Hamilton, and all important letters written to him; this is the definitive letterpress edition, heavily annotated by scholars; it is available in larger academic libraries; there is also a separate Law series.
  • Morris, Richard. ed. Alexander Hamilton and the Founding of the Nation (1957), excerpts from AH's writings, by topic, 617pp
  • Morton J. Frisch ed. Selected Writings and Speeches of Alexander Hamilton. (1985), 528pp. online edition
  • The Works of Alexander Hamilton edited by Henry Cabot Lodge (1904) full text online at Google Books online in HTML edition. This is the only online collection of Hamilton's writings and letters. Published in 10 volumes, containing about 1.3 million words. full text online at archive.org
  • Federalist Papers] under the shared pseudonym "Publius" by Alexander Hamilton (c. 52 articles), James Madison (28 articles) and John Jay (five articles)
  • Cooke, Jacob E. ed., Alexander Hamilton: A Profile (1967), short excerpts from AH and his critics.
  • Cunningham, Noble E. Jefferson vs. Hamilton: Confrontations that Shaped a Nation (2000), short collection of primary sources with commentary.
  • Taylor, George Rogers. ed, Hamilton and the National Debt 1950, excerpts from all sides in 1790s online edition