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Alexander Hamilton

Biography

Painting of Hamilton standing
Alexander Hamilton, 1805
by John Trumbull
Biography >> History >> American Revolution Biography:

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.

Painting of Hamilton during Revolutionary War
Alexander Hamilton in the Uniform
of the New York Artillery

by Alonzo Chappel
Revolutionary War

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

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.

Photo inside Independence Hall
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.

Later Career

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.

Dual with Aaron Burr

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.

Burr and Hamilton ready to duel
Duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr.
From a painting by J. Mund.
Interesting Facts About Alexander Hamilton Activities

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